Question

Sonos support for Hi Res Audio


Has anyone heard plans for Sonos to support higher resolution audio formats? Am looking at systems for a house I am setting up and want a WiFi-based solution. I have begun reading about companies like BlueSound but, so far, I have not found anyone who offers a complete turnkey solution like Sonos. There are advantages to have a mix of components, e.g., Dynaudio Xeo4, but they don't support a Sub. The industry looks to be still grappling with ad hoc/non-standard solutions so Sonos wins on totality with the (current) trade-off on the high end file formats. Thoughts/inputs appreciated...

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There are absolutely no plans to support higher resolution audio formats now or in the future. In short, Sonos (like every scientifically valid experiment ever done) sees no audible benefits. The definitive statement was made years ago when WhatHiFi interviewed Sonos cofounder Tom Cullen:

“We’ve looked really hard at it”, says Tom. “Of course we want to make sure we’re not missing anything and we feel pretty good that we’re not. There are arguments you could make about deeper bit depth, but we are unable to make a meaningful argument on sample rate. We tried, we can’t – the math just isn’t there.”




http://www.whathifi.com/features/sonos-plans-brighter-and-brighter-wireless-music-future
However hires can be converted if using Plex or Roon and sent to Sonos or alternatively you may wish to look at the Denon or Bluesound range of players for native support.
Thanks. I can only imagine that Mr Cullen was referring to financial math on cost/benefit.

As an engineer, there is no argument that higher bit depth and finer slices (faster sample rate) will, by definition, better approximate the original source. While it may be true that many humans will not be able to differentiate the audible improvements - I can.

Its possible, that Sonos may not have been considering the availability of "better than CD" audio files - ahem. Apple made a similar argument on their file format and for a large percentage of the population that listens in their cars or while outside doing chores/exercise the smaller file format and lower resolutions are more than adequate.

Yesterday, it made good business sense to offer a product that consumes 1/6th the memory space. However, memory gets cheaper every day so I hope this debate is alive within Sonos as the industry is moving towards hi-res formats. In this business, you can be the King one day and the Jester the next... Sonos' challenge will be with their existing product architectures and when/where to adopt the electronics for the hi-res formats. Right now they have time to move forward and still lead but better offerings are emerging. Trueplay DSP can only compensate so much for an inferior source...
No, not financial math. He meant the actual math of the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem. Otherwise why mention the slight chance of the increase in bit-depth being heard or that there was no basis for increased sampling?

And I'm afraid your engineering background has led you astray. There is no such thing as "finer slices" in audio sampling using Nyquist-Shannon, upon which all sampling codecs are based. The popular "jaggies in a sine wave" representation is inaccurate and misleading, there is no decrease in "the jaggies" between samples that will "better approximate the original source" when you increase the sampling rate. You can ask Sony about this, they got sued for advertising the "less jaggies" in the sine wave representation of hires audio because it was not mathematically accurate.

The truth is, an audio wave (or any other wave) is perfectly represented by a sample rate 2X the maximum frequency, and since no human being can hear over 20 KHz, a 44.1 KHz sampling frequency can perfectly represent all audio up to and beyond the limits of human hearing. This is the math Cullen was speaking of. For a clearer (and pretty extensive) expose on this, see this article, brought to you by Xiph.org, the makers of FLAC:

https://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html
The pertinent parts of Monty's article (linked above), on the Nyquist-Shannon (or Nyquist):

The most common misconception is that sampling is fundamentally rough and lossy. A sampled signal is often depicted as a jagged, hard-cornered stair-step facsimile of the original perfectly smooth waveform. If this is how you envision sampling working, you may believe that the faster the sampling rate (and more bits per sample), the finer the stair-step and the closer the approximation will be. The digital signal would sound closer and closer to the original analog signal as sampling rate approaches infinity.

And say, "Ugh!" It might appear that a sampled signal represents higher frequency analog waveforms badly. Or, that as audio frequency increases, the sampled quality falls and frequency response falls off, or becomes sensitive to input phase.

Looks are deceiving. These beliefs are incorrect!

All signals with content entirely below the Nyquist frequency (half the sampling rate) are captured perfectly and completely by sampling; an infinite sampling rate is not required. Sampling doesn't affect frequency response or phase. The analog signal can be reconstructed losslessly, smoothly, and with the exact timing of the original analog signal.
You make your case eloquently. And provided you have discerned an audible difference in a blind trial, I'll accept that, as we all know the power of suggestion. But as someone who was until fairly recently a Sonos reseller, I can say that 99% of the target market haven't heard of lossless, let alone hires, and are very happy with the quality they get from a pair of Play:1s streaming MP3s. As they should be.

So maybe it will change tomorrow, but there have been people on this forum predicting the demise of Sonos for lack of hires for years, and nothing has changed that I can see in the situation.
While it may be true that many humans will not be able to differentiate the audible improvements - I can.
Unless the improvements you detect can in fact be explained by the better mastering which often goes into so-called 'hi-res' releases, this sounds awfully like the traditional 'audiophile' 'golden ears' mantra that if we can't hear the difference we must all be cloth-eared. There was a famous fable on a similar theme.

Unless the improvements you detect can in fact be explained by the better mastering which often goes into so-called 'hi-res' releases, this sounds awfully like the traditional 'audiophile' 'golden ears' mantra that if we can't hear the difference we must all be cloth-eared. There was a famous fable on a similar theme.


And if the poster can differentiate the quality difference between like-sourced masters at 16/44.1 and 24/96 in a double blind test, they would be the very first in history to do so, and their ears would be worth millions to the hires companies who have yet to scientifically prove there is any benefit to hires audio.
I'm aware of the Nyquist sampling theorem but now I understand the math comment - thank you. I did originally comment that Sonos may not have considered hi-res recordings in their statement.

Every digitization regardless of its resolution distorts the original signal which generates audible differences when it comes to harmonics, imaging and other nuances that are not readily described by math. It is that distortion that may/may not be heard in the different recordings. I do agree that the jagged-edged waveforms used in marketing materials are an exaggeration and that most people will never hear the difference but since it is my money and I'll let my "golden ears" decide.

I want Sonos to succeed as I have thousands of dollars of their equipment and love their simplicity. My concern, which is represented in these replies, is that they will tree-hug on their current file format and other companies will catch them on the User Interface, system simplicity then pass them with support of hi-res formats whether people can hear the difference or not. Perception is reality and if people believe something is better, all things being equal, they will buy it and the math will not matter.
There are two separate issues here: sample rate and bit depth. Nyquist-Shannon pretty much nails the 44.1kHz sample rate as adequate for humans. Bit depth is a little less certain - in the Tom Cullen quote he says "There are arguments you could make about deeper bit depth". I'd be interested to know what they are. I note that Sonos uses 24 bit internally to process digital volume changes to maintain a useful dynamic range at low volume.

The difference in volume between the loudest and second loudest 16 bit signal values is 20*log10(32768/32767) = 0.0003dB. This difference is completely inaudible, so there's no point in having finer steps at loud volumes. However, at the lowest volume the difference is 20*log10(2/1)=6dB. This is an audible difference, albeit at very low volume.

The human hearing spans a dynamic range of 120dB whereas 16 bit audio has a dynamic range of 96dB. Hence this 6dB difference might matter. However, a clever processing technique called "dither" comes into play here. I don't claim to fully understand it, but it essentially adds a little bit of uncorrelated low volume noise to reduce low volume correlated quantization error. The ear is much better at hearing correlated noise than uncorrelated noise, so this (apparently) can increase the dynamic range of CD-quality audio to about 120dB. This presumably reduces or removes the need for greater than 16 bit resolution.

Finally I should point out that when recording or mixing songs in a studio, this is usually done at 24 bit or higher. There are many mathematical operations at this stage (compression, adding FX, combining tracks etc) and these all have a round-off error - every digital computation does. Using 24 bit keeps this round-off error outside the eventual 16 bit range of the CD. The final step in producing a song is to downsample from 24 bit to 16 bit and add dither.

Cheers, Peter.
I'm aware of the Nyquist sampling theorem but now I understand the math comment - thank you. I did originally comment that Sonos may not have considered hi-res recordings in their statement.

Every digitization regardless of its resolution distorts the original signal which generates audible differences when it comes to harmonics, imaging and other nuances that are not readily described by math. It is that distortion that may/may not be heard in the different recordings. I do agree that the jagged-edged waveforms used in marketing materials are an exaggeration and that most people will never hear the difference but since it is my money and I'll let my "golden ears" decide.

I want Sonos to succeed as I have thousands of dollars of their equipment and love their simplicity. My concern, which is represented in these replies, is that they will tree-hug on their current file format and other companies will catch them on the User Interface, system simplicity then pass them with support of hi-res formats whether people can hear the difference or not. Perception is reality and if people believe something is better, all things being equal, they will buy it and the math will not matter.


Sorry, you are incorrect, and the science is on my side. The jagged edge waveforms are not "an exaggeration", they are a complete and total misrepresentation of the math. The original wave is reproduced perfectly and completely, there is no difference from the original, as Monty has demonstrated with his oscilloscope videos available from the link I provided. Your "golden ears" simply do not exist. Nobody has ever proven, using scientific means, that there are any qualitative differences between a file sampled at 44.1 khz and another from the same master sampled at hires rates. If you truly believe you can do so, I suggest you submit yourself to a University or audio production lab for testing, because if what you say is true, you are indeed a unicorn.

As to perception being reality, that may be for those who are susceptible to snake oil. I for one am glad Sonos does not waste time and resources on such nonsense.
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...My concern, which is represented in these replies, is that they will tree-hug on their current file format and other companies will catch them on the User Interface, system simplicity then pass them with support of hi-res formats whether people can hear the difference or not. Perception is reality and if people believe something is better, all things being equal, they will buy it and the math will not matter.

I'm certainly not the technical expert some on this board are, so I truly appreciate this discussion and the expert replies. Love when I learn something about which I'm passionate...

But as a business executive in my day job, I do think there *may* be a worthy discussion about the "perception is reality" comment. **Let's provide a community discussion that the executives at Sonos feel they need to read here.**

And hear me that this has NOTHING to do with the reality of wether anyone can *actually* hear any difference in HiRes or not. (I truly believe 99.99% of the people who *think they can* would have absolutely no ability to truly perceive a difference in a blind test despite their insistence that they can. But I digress...) We know where many on this community reside on the technical argument and I'm willing to bow to their knowledge. I've learned a lot reading the links and discussions over the past few months.

BUT Marketing and reality are - clearly - not always connected. If it were, nobody would believe Bose is quality equipment (Whoops! Sorry... that was probably uncalled for...).

Let's look to the future here are some thoughts....:

There will be a segment (likely small) that will be convinced that "if it isn't 24 Bit, it isn't worth listening to" ... or some such nonsense. The key is if it will become a standard that becomes necessary for companies to align to... Look at the number of Televisions that **need** to be 4K (and shooting to be somehow even better...) despite there being so very very very little content that is 4K... or maybe ever will be.... and where the human eye, at 7 FT viewing distance, certainly cannot discern any meaningful value of higher resolution. There is a pervasive cultural thought that "I deserve the best" that is building, not shrinking, in many many "western" cultures.

BUT.... This hasn't *always* been true - there are clear examples to look at in the business world to learn from: look at Beta Vs VHS (Yes I'm that old - deal with it people 🙂 ) Clearly Sony had the "better" video format... one that actually could be discerned by the average user... but this format, lacking broader application, and release from the constraints that Sony put on it as a means to increase licensing fees, failed to succeed. Despite clearly being a "better mousetrap".

I'm convinced that we have a society that is very focussed on Specs and numbers at the moment... but at the same time, one that doesn't truly care about "facts"... particularly on complex topics... they can't discern what to believe anyway. So more is better, 2160 would be better than 1080... OBVIOUSLY! so 24 is better than 16... DUH!! ""I can hear the difference... you mean YOU CAN'T???""

But I can't see a successful approach that demands licensing fees and "certification" and yada, yada... I don't think the business systems of the future will allow that. But systems/formats, if they exist, (hey experts - here's your part 🙂 )that are 24, open source, and available (think VHS -not Beta with its constraints and controls) ... THAT could make a serious dent in the need for systems to say they are compliant.... even if nobody will actually ever listen to files of that format... it's about the ability to...

I'm certain Sonos are looking at this in a strategic framework *all the time*... but I'm curious if the community sees a move to "More is better" happening more often, are those on this board hearing this type of discussion more often?? We can be the proverbial canary in the coal mine for Sonos... we can be strategically valuable if you'll engage in this discussion.... Are we hearing this discussion more often? Despite the technical defense of where Sonos is now - which IMHO they have called well and are in a great space...

What is the future in this space... what do you see friends and people demanding... wether it makes sense of not... Do you think support for some version of "HiRes" is needed if even for a "we can do that if you need it" response?
Rather than small differences between audio formats, perhaps we should be more concerned with the 1dB compression applied to all outputs of the Connect, and I presume to all other speakers as well.
Hires was originally requested on the old forum 10+ years ago as a soon to be "must have" that Sonos cannot succeed without. That thread was resurrected with an almost uncanny clock-like precision about once every 6 months. Each rebirth came with yet another claim that hires was about to take over the audio market and Sonos' death was imminent without hires support. The claim that hires audio is going to take over the market, though oft repeated back to the days of SACD and DVD-A, never came true.

As of today, 10+ years after the initial claim, hires is still a niche (hires), of a niche (lossless audio) of a niche (local music downloads) market, and despite the 20+ declarations of Sonos' impending doom, Sonos is quite alive and well. The streaming market comprises 92% of Sonos usage. Of that, only one service even offers hires (in the form of MQA), and their entire user base of both regular lossless and MQA streaming is less than 1% of the streaming market. The number of their users actually using MQA is obviously a small fraction of that, given the scarcity of MQA hardware.
Also remember that only those that dabble or have dabbled with this are the ones that usually speak here on this subject, so this isn't a good sample of the target market. The silent ones may well be a very large majority; a speculative comment that Sonos will have a better handle on, almost certainly. And I suspect the silent on this subject majority is more interested in things like voice control, home automation integration, native app streaming, smart playlists and the like that are the areas that Sonos has declared as priorities. I expect that the Sonos target market does not give a damn about Shannon Nyquist, even if it has heard about them;Sonos is NOT a niche market player.

As some one that has thankfully left behind the audiophile world for the world of music, I am very content with what Sonos delivers on the sound quality front. Which isn't a surprise really, considering that there has been no dramatic step forward in general in the world of home audio sound quality since digital media in the form of CDs was invented/introduced some thirty years ago; that was certainly a great leap forward. Everything since then has been on the content delivery side, and as a corollary, audiophile marketing efforts have become more frenetic.
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I hear you jgatie... (and with your experience here, and knowledge I've seen you openly share, understand I have a lot of respect for your views)... But this is where it may be easy to become isolated in assuming that what has always been true in the past will continue to be true in the future.

perhaps an example... I have a friend who spent *millions* of dollars on an amazing HiDef film recorded with orchestral arrangements in 7.1 audio (he's an artist) ... because he was certain the demand would develop for an experience for quality visual art with a 7.1 audio system that would push the boundaries for artistic expression in both audio and visual. (as opposed to being a "film", it was truly "art"). That *amazing* project continues to, essentially, sit in a can... at a great cost. (really.. an amazing personal cost for an artist dedicated to an amazing work.)

Making these calls right clearly matters. I just see more and more and more pervasive use of "more is better" thinking in all areas of retail that makes me wonder if it may move outside the ranks of "the audiophiles" (read that with a god-like voiceover please) to become a mainstream viewpoint...

Or... Sonos can rest comfortable that the world will be very happy with easy access to "mp3s". Which may also be true... I'm just wanting to push the conversation a bit so we can create a valuable view for the Sonos staff reader - because don't kid yourself.. they read this.. and they should when it matters and speaks to what they want to know.

So folks.. what do YOU think? Where's the future going?
For the jgatie, I do have outstanding hearing and, yes, I have been tested at medical facilities so i am atypical and noted that in my posts.

What is fascinating about this board is how fanatical some are about the science of what inherently is a personal matter. Sharkb8t and Peter Mc are going where I hoped we'd get to namely constant improvement either for technical or business merits.

I encourage folks to read the Dynaudio website on their views on hi res... perceptions are being set.
Kumar, I remember you were concerned about normalization of tracks some time ago. One could argue that high-fidelity includes preserving the relative volume of tracks within an album, which is particularly important for tracks that flow from one to the next. I think the ability to turn this off is worth fighting for, perhaps in conjunction with the compulsory compression. Beyond that, I agree that there is little to be gained in striving for higher quality audio. Better to put effort into ease of use :D

Cheers, Peter.
Where's the future going?
Good question; and I have replied to an extent in my preceding post with respect to what Sonos says it is addressing.
Speculating a little more, with home automation and voice control in future, there may be a case for a much more immersive home audio experience than just many speakers in one room. But delivering that experience will have to start at the recording/mastering stage, with much more on the reproduction side than multiples of 16/44 which are just red herrings when limited to just that.
Kumar, I remember you were concerned about normalization of tracks some time ago. One could argue that high-fidelity includes preserving the relative volume of tracks within an album, which is particularly important for tracks that flow from one to the next. I think the ability to turn this off is worth fighting for, perhaps in conjunction with the compulsory compression. .
Lol. I agree that volume normalisation is - IMO - a missing element of playlist use at this time. But unless I see it happen to a noticeable and effective extent, I don't see there is anything worthwhile to be turned off:-). At the point it will be, yes, a turn off option would be a good thing to have and I can't see offering that being a big deal. But only at that point.
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Thanks Kumar! (I also totally have a ton of respect for your view here! I've seen so many quality posts form you!)

I totally get that this is a biased group... most of us are here because we love what Sonos do now... I get that... that doesn't mean that we can't help look to the future... there's a new CEO fervently looking into the future... I think he wants all the help he can get in discerning the future. We can help.

I love your comment:

"...voice control, home automation integration, native app streaming, smart playlists and the like that are the areas that Sonos has declared as priorities. I expect that the Sonos target market does not give a damn about Shannon Nyquist, even if it has heard about them;Sonos is NOT a niche market player."

totally hear you.... and I think I agree with you.

Is that the key that will drive the future consumer? I can't believe that any possible investment in an audio system that is "better" (either in spec or design) would attract me, personally. But I'm concerned that the future focus on "specs" versus real application will play a *stupid* role in the future of these systems. Does function, and UX trump technical audio spec when the consumer can't actually hear a difference, but wants to be able to say "Bob... Play Lady Gaga!".

Once upon a time I walked longingly through O&B stores... but it was the Sonos' solution that made me seriously invest. I would not have ever consider investing what I have now invested in my Sonos system in O&B... because Sonos made it incremental, and made it consumable one step at a time with an awesome audio experience... but true... if it didn't work on my platform, or connect to my Spotify account... that would likely have been a non-starter for me.... (I definitely recall specifically looking for Spotify support...)
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Beyond that, I agree that there is little to be gained in striving for higher quality audio. Better to put effort into ease of use :D

Cheers, Peter.


A pervasive thread here.... and I think one that perhaps starts to build a resonating theme.... UX, connectivity, "ease of use"... Is that what the future customer can be made to see if valuable over "higher res"...

If so... (god forbid I say this 🙂 ) does that mean Sonos needs to find a way to meet the "let me use this awesome speaker as a computer speaker" problem with a solution? :8
I sometimes wonder if voice control is the new 3D TV. I'm not sure I want the internet listening 24/7. And imagine the occasional comedian on TV yelling, "Alexa, order a pizza!"
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I sometimes wonder if voice control is the new 3D TV. I'm not sure I want the internet listening 24/7. And imagine the occasional comedian on TV yelling, "Alexa, order a pizza!"

OMG I almost spit out my drink reading this! LOL 😃

But your comment of 3D tv is interesting... do you mean that while it will be a flash in the pan demand... ultimately will get little use? Or that a better working solution for this needs to be available? (Current home 3D... well kinda sucks... but there seems little demand for better) I still see people talking to "the computer" like in Star Trek... in their home. (Now if Sonos can just contract for Nurse Chapel's voice!) ... but seriously, I also wonder if it will actually go mainstream in a real way or ever really be a fringe experience.
Sorry for any mess 🙂 Yes, I think there is a reasonable chance that voice control will be a flash in the pan. I don't see lots of people using Siri or equivalent. I do see messaging rather than phone calls. Somehow voice control disrupts the privacy and quiet that is all too difficult to achieve these days. The current method of controlling Sonos works well because most of us have an iDevice or similar within arms reach most of the time.