Hi-Resolution Audio and Sonos

  • 14 December 2018
  • 118 replies

This topic form is intended to uncover the truth about what Sonos products (if any) actually support Hi-Res audio (ex. 24bit/192KHz, DSD, MQA). Further more I would like to exclude personal opinions about PDM (pulse-density modulation) vs DSD (the format used by in SACD). Weather you can hear the difference between a 256k AAC version vs a uncompressed 24bit or DFS file is worthy discussion, but just not on this topic. Again I would really like to understand what Sonos is doing or planning to do to support Hi-Resolution audio. There is a flood of Hi-Res content being released from master studio recordings. This trend is on the rise.

118 replies

I don't think anyone is disputing that there is a huge range of qualities in audio equipment. I have no problem with your desire to listen in a way that allows you to hear every element, every nuance of tone and feeling. That's your business.

But this thread is about whether it makes sense for Sonos to add HiRes to the system. And HiRes, and even 16 bit lossless, are off the radar of 99.999% of Sonos' target market, I would suggest.
My school must have been retarded because we did not dive into Nyquist–Shannon in year one.

I am no engineer, but I am guessing there is lot of ground to cover in electronics engineering before getting to DSP, sampling theory and principles, and the theorem. And if it is covered as early as year one, it would not be grasped by most students.
And I also find it difficult to believe that an engineering textbook would promote this pseudo science; these beliefs arise from a mish mash of reading half baked sources of information that proliferate on the net.
I can well imagine the kind of harsh responses that would be seen to this rubbish on Hydrogen Audio, where providing blind listening test based conclusions backing such claims are part of the terms of service. Of course, believers cast doubt on the concept of such tests as well, which circles us back to the science v religion situation of people basically living in two different universes.
I'd guess that the margin of profit on a thousand speakers would be a larger amount of money than the margin on ten speakers.

That is why price points have little correlation with speaker sound quality with today's tech. What Sonos sells for USD 200 has to be sold at many times that price by the little (in comparison to USD 2 billion) audiophile maker to get an adequate return on his investment. There is therefore little to none additional engineering value in such a speaker that may be priced at USD 1000, compared to the USD 200 Sonos product. The audiophile make also has to spend much more per unit on marketing spend to convince audiophiles that such value exists for the additional USD 800 spend. The reality is that all this additional spend that drives the USD 1000 price is there only to support low manufacturing and marketing scales.

So those that say the Sonos is not an audiophile brand are implicitly saying that Sonos offers more sound quality/dollar than the audiophile brands out there, that are severely handicapped by their minuscule scales. Of course the clever marketers will turn this situation around using an elitist pitch for their kit, to which human nature is commonly a willing victim. Everyone is a snob, some hide it better than others. And so the little audiophile makes also have their own little stall in the market, by catering to this human trait.

It wasn't so some decades ago; it took all the progress over this time in solid state and digital tech in componentry that made it possible for excellent output quality to be available at low prices to those that had the ability to achieve scale.

PS: of course, a by product of this is that there really is a lot less to discuss these days on the sound quality subject, which means that there is a lot of noise and heat on things that apparently have scope for discussion, like Hi Res. Lot of that, but no forward motion.

Another great blog post by Mark Waldrep, an expert on HD-Audio in the studio, where it actually matters.



“Let’s push for lossless CD quality streams and better sounding masters. Forget about MQA and any company — hardware or software — that tells you to get behind “hi-res” audio or music.”

Sums it up nicely.

Gentlemen, differing opinions aside, let's reel it in, shall we? Clearly this is a topic that you all feel passionate about but try to keep personal attacks out of it. Thanks.

Nyquist-Shannon is not opinion, nor is the fact that the linked article is 100% hogwash.

Another great blog post by Mark Waldrep, an expert on HD-Audio in the studio, where it actually matters.



And there it is folks, when confronted with science, they are left with nothing but insults. Yet we are the "bullies"?

I'd love to watch @nevalti post his nonsense over on hydrogenaudio. The industry experts over there would chew him up and spit him out, lol.

However, I doubt Sonos can hold out against the great unwashed forever. Marketing forces being what they are, it's likely Sonos will, eventually, need to support "hi-rez", at least the way its competitors do, on one device, without needing it to be slung throughout the house, which most networks simply won't support.

I went to a concert today ((Tchaikovsky 5th) and it was almost ruined for me as I had to sit in row J instead of my preferred row M.

If three rows make such a vast difference, is it not conceivable that the acoustics of your living room have a much greater impact on 'sound quality' than whether the music is 16 or 24 bits? An honest question.
Userlevel 6
Badge +14
I'm pretty sure it's because the number of "I keep getting dropouts on my Sonos!" calls/complaints would shoot up due to the extra bandwidth required - especially for systems just on the edge now. Which doesn't benefit Sonos one iota.

One detail about your testing methodology that I forgot to inquire about: How did you match levels between the various formats and the live performance? In a testing session humans tend to prefer the louder presentation -- even if they are otherwise identical. Tiny level differences that are very difficult to accurately determine (subjectively or analytically) will sway the listening jury.


With respect to attempting to send hi-res audio to multiple rooms, I recently attended a seminar laying out techniques for distributing 2k, 4k,and 8k video to multiple rooms over a LAN. There are similar, sometimes ugly, discussions about the need for 4k or 8k, display size, color space, frame rate, data compression, viewing distance vs the ability of humans to discriminate the difference.

In the seminar we were concentrating on raw data handling techniques, not subjective differences. While the quantity of data required for hi-res audio is nowhere near that required for transporting multiple high resolution video streams, it was clear that we would need better than average quality networking support for reliable hi-res multi-room audio support. In addition to the need for more sophisticated networking hardware, system layout and setup are critical too. Currently, this sort of network is beyond the capability of the typical DIY installer. (and much more expensive)

SONOS is designed for high reliability on home networks -- which are typically haphazard at best. The additional data required for multi-room hi-res would stress the typical home network -- resulting in much louder complaints of "doesn't work" than complaints of "isn't hi-res".

"Wi-Fi 6" is beginning to roll out. In a few years it will become pervasive and we could re-visit the practicality of wireless multi-room hi-res home audio. Note that every Wi-Fi gadget in the home will need to be replaced in order to fully realize the potential of Wi-Fi 6. By then, 10G networking will become more common too.

I'm pretty sure it's because the number of "I keep getting dropouts on my Sonos!" calls/complaints would shoot up due to the extra bandwidth required - especially for systems just on the edge now. Which doesn't benefit Sonos one iota.5 years ago that would be a totally valid complaint. I just visited my girlfriend's parents who are farmers, they have fiber internet in the middle of nowhere.

Internet bandwidth is not the issue. Witness the fact that people routinely stream 4K TV. It's the requirement to pump multiple streams around the house over the average DIY wireless network, whilst maintaining sub-millisecond sync, which could be compromised by potentially increasing per-stream bandwidth by a factor of 6.
This is basic electronics. The more samples you take, the better you can reproduce the original signal irrespective of what frequency it has.
It is what you have been led to believe. It is not basic electronics, I am afraid. Only people like me, that are not engineers, fall for this belief until someone patiently takes them through the basics of digital signal processing. Of course hi res hawkers do their best to mislead via the stair steps/jaggies pictures and words.
Userlevel 7
Badge +21
As far as local bandwidth issues, take a look around here at the number of folks trying to add an audio device to their Connect that need to go to compressed audio to get it usable.

I'm a firm believer in Boost mode, with or without a Boost, and keeping my Sonos traffic off my LAN so I can configure my WiFi as I wish with no consideration of the Sonos restrictions/requirements. I'm a fan of wiring everything easy to connect to Ethernet too. These two solved long term aggravations here and with the addition of static/reserved IP addresses for all Sonos gear solved all my Sonos issues.
Whilst I appreciate this may well be a "science vs faith" irresolvable argument, a few comments:

1) 128 vs 320 vs CD Quality
2) Bluetooth headphones vs. same headphones connected via cable to the music player
3) Playing the CD on your kenwood head unit vs. playing music through HDMI adapter connected to your iPhone

i can hear differences in sound quality in all the above scenarios.

Of course you can. 128 & 320 are lossy. Bluetooth is lossy (very, depending on the codec).

if high-res made no difference, then hearing music live and through a CD would be the same. Because you are comparing the original analog source with a recording of the same.

Not apples for apples at all. As Kumar remarked, the live experience is totally different from a stereo recording, if for no other reason than the spatial context.

if high-res made no difference, how come all the samples from voice to instruments of sound libraries like east west audio came in 24 bit vs. 16 bit which supposedly is all we need?

Simple. Digital audio software works in 24bit (or higher) to provide space above and below the music information to allow for errors during all the necessary computations. At the end of the process, correct engineering aligns the music samples into the 16-bit space which, remember, has a dynamic range exceeding that of human hearing.

the comparison I made of playing back CD quality vs. high-res of my mix was not on Sonos. It was on a regular wired system. I can sure make out the difference. So do all the sound engineers at the studio as well. We hear what we hear. Theory and books are not going to change our experience.

Bad conversion to 16-bit would manifest on whatever platform.

Nyquist-Shannon has its place - but you have to consider that there are a lot more factors in play when music is played back which contribute to the overall experience - all of which can increase or decrease your musical experience. So, we can’t just quote theorems and generalize it for everyone in every context using a wide variety of equipment.

Those that maintain that there are all kinds of other magical factors in play tend to be labelled as "subjectivists", which rather takes me back to my opening sentence....
I am listening on my desktop to an Echo Dot wired to the line in of my Connect Amp, playing Tab Benoit: These Blues Are All Mine. As good as it can get at the desktop via small bookshelf speakers. I don't care what are the numbers for the source, they don't matter. If I like the music, they are irrelevant red herrings. And if I don't, nothing via adding more numbers will make me like it.
Steve Guttenberg, world renowned. The real deal. Don’t read anything else. What he says is exactly what I am saying as well. He writes better.


Lol. Steve Guttenberg is one of the worst audiophools out there. Go look at a couple of his YooToob videos; he bungles his way through, has zero technical knowledge, and contradicts himself constantly. Try to pin him down an ANYTHING; he simply waffles.
None support higher than 48 kHz.

All support 24 bit at 48 kHz or less. Try it out and tell us how how it sounds.

There are no plans to support higher resolution audio. Even the support of 24 bit is a bit of an accident. If you are dead set on Hi-Res support, you should be looking for another product.
None support higher than 44 kHz. 48kHz

And the 'support' of 24-bit is evidently based on reading the 24-bit files then immediately truncating to 16-bit. Also, I don't know whether all formats are readable. 24-bit FLAC and WAV apparently work.
None support higher than 44 kHz. 48kHz

And the 'support' of 24-bit is evidently based on reading the 24-bit files then immediately truncating to 16-bit.

Yeah, I corrected that.

And you keep ruining my fun! 😠
Badge +2
I understand that this was banned by the original post, but I can’t resist.
Hires audio is pointless. Red book CD is as good as it gets and Sonos supports it. So who cares? Why bother investing time, effort, energy, disc space etc to something for absolutely no benefit whatsoever?

Martin is a producer.  His experience with digital sampling theory and the math behind it is probably slim to none.  His position in the realm of “experts” can be likened to the difference between an expert Photoshop user, and the guy who programs the Photoshop application.  You do not need to be an expert on low level image processing to be the former, you most certainly have to be for the latter. 

The same can be said for a guy like Martin vs a guy like Monty at Xiph.  Some of the most absurd, incorrect “facts” I’ve ever heard about digital audio have come from producers and artists.  Just ask Neil Young, he lost his shirt touting the advantages of Hi-res.  Great artist, one of my favorites, but the extent of his actual knowledge about digital sampling couldn’t fill a thimble.

Whatever the truth - and I am agnostic - what relevance does this have for the reality of 99.999% of Sonos listening? None I would suggest. How many more units would Sonos sell if it supported HiRes? I don't know but I suspect not many.

But I am pretty sure nobody is going to persuade anyone else about sound quality by writing about it. On either side of the argument.

HiRes will come to Sonos if and when it makes commercial sense.
And there it is folks, when confronted with science, they are left with nothing but insults and personal attacks. Yet we are the "bullies"?

Tell you what golden ears, do that same test at your home using tracks from the same master run through any computer and any DAC you want, but run it through the A/B/X software on foobar2000. Anyone who can't be bothered to do that can hardly expect to have a valid opinion.

Be sure to post the screenshots of your results!
People who think that 16/44 is 'perfect', the pinnacle of music reproduction, are rather like the idiots who believe that all amps sound the same, or cables, or DACs etc.
I just noticed this rather disreputable debating tactic: caricature and misrepresent the opposing views so that you can ridicule them. Disappointing.

I have another question for @nevalti. Who organised / funded the 'proper' test of hires he attended? Was it a hifi retailer with hires equipment to sell? Just interested to know, as I have known hifi retailers to organise such demos.
Userlevel 7
Badge +21
What is stopping Sonos from supporting 24 bit 192 khz?

The same thing that stops Sonos from doing so many things, it won't make them more money than what they are selling now.

Look at how long Sonos resisted doing a mobile/battery speaker and now we have one. Why, they saw a potential profit in it at this point.