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...

This topic has been closed for further comments. You can use the search bar to find a similar topic, or create a new one by clicking Create Topic at the top of the page.

105 replies

triple shielded optimized power cable for that extra bit of depth :D
But if the cable costs less than $1k it clearly doesn't warrant the slightest consideration.
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...
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.
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!"


And is wireless tech the potential 'Achilles heel' for Sonos?

To answer my own question: I'm more of the view that wireless tech, or at least the user management interfaces and abilities for wireless tech, will continue to develop as a result of demands from many many places. I think that bodes well for Sonos's future... and given that I now have an internet connection that will give me 300Mbs download speeds where just a few years ago that would unheard of and only available in a corporate space, it bodes well for access to larger data files for consumers that would have been probablematic just a few years ago... so HiRes, or whatever next development occurs in formats and files, shouldn't be a challenge except perhaps in needing changes to hardware for the future that could limit backward compatibility.... perhaps there would need to develop a Sonos2.0 and SonosNet3.0?


Unless Sonos undergoes a complete philosophical change, I highly doubt hi-res audio will ever be supported, no matter how much the technology improves. Sonos' philosophy on hi-res has nothing to do with the technical ability to do it or the size of the market (though of course the minuscule market has to be part of the equation). The only public statement ever made on their reasoning for not supporting Hi-res audio is they just do not believe it sounds better. Period. When you flat out don't believe in something, there has to be a huge market influence to change that belief, and that market does not exist, despite audiophiles predicting it will be the next big thing for going on 20 years,

Think about this, since the invention of Hi-res audio (SACD and DVD-A), DVD's have come and gone, Blu-rays are now obsolete, 4K Blu-rays are now slated to be the next big thing, and yet Hi-res audio has either failed miserably (SACD and DVD-A) or never gained anything close to a significant fraction of the digital audio market. You would think if something is going to be the "next big thing" in audio, it would take less than 15 years and 3 generations of the "next big thing" in a sister technology to do it.
And is wireless tech the potential 'Achilles heel' for Sonos?

No, it's the fact that they are (rightly, IMHO) extremely concerned about keeping as much of their kit fully compatible as possible, and as flexible as possible. In particular, it's not easy to get 32 devices playing in perfect sync, and it makes it many times more difficult if the file sizes are hugely increased.

So they are not going to make any change that means that customers existing kit is obsolete. And they're certainly not going to do it when there is no evidence whatsoever that HiRes sounds better - quite the reverse, in fact.

I agree that their marketing people would probably prefer to tick that box, but alienating a large chunk of your customer base is probably not a good trade-off.
By the way, for those who wish, here is a link to a series of videos with Monty's explanation of sampling theorem and why higher sampling rates do not yield "finer slices" that "better approximate the original source", only higher frequencies that no human being can hear. In it, he matches analog waveforms with their digital counterpart, proving the original wave is exactly and perfectly duplicated when sampled at the proper Nyquist frequency. Measured with an oscilloscope. there is nothing which "distorts the original signal (and) generates audible differences when it comes to harmonics, imaging and other nuances that are not readily described by math". The input matches the output exactly, as measure electronically on an analog scope, a measurement far past the level that human ears could ever hear a difference.

https://wiki.xiph.org/Videos/Digital_Show_and_Tell
Bandlimiting the signal to 22.05 KHz is what allows one to exactly reproduce the original signal.
If I may correct the above: " to exactly reproduce the original signal to within the band limits". Audibly this does not matter because signal content above 20 kHz can't be heard by humans.
My A HA moment in this was when I finally realised that a sine wave can be perfectly copied if one has the information of just two points on it; not being very math literate I had wandered down the false path of thinking that more the points on the wave form that are known/captured, the less jaggy the reproduced sine wave; I now realise that information of more than the two necessary points is just redundant information of no value.
But this jaggy/fine slices misunderstanding lends itself to profound sounding statements that audiophiles still use, for example: the soul of the music lives between the zeros and ones of any digital sampling based attempt to record it and can therefore never be fully captured except via analog methods; ergo, digital is always a compromise.
Userlevel 5
Badge +11
A long, long time ago I had a cassette player. It came with the usual almost free earphones. I bought some cheap, but reasonable earphones and the sound quality improvement was immense; listen to that wow and flutter too.

Are the hi-res requesters suggesting that Sonos equipment is of sufficient, or better, qualty that would enable the difference to be heard? What have those who can tell the difference listened to their revelation upon. Is it comparable?

Betamax and VHS were desperate must haves as nothing like it existed before. Sony, because they yet again want to rule the world, played silly beggars. The rest got fed up and so VHS was dominant in the domestic arena whilst Betamax took the professional side. Lots of money to be made.

Again with CD, lots of money to be made on a completely new multi-purpose medium. Record companies, again squabbling like spolit brats, were forced into Orange book by the computer industry who knew what the next best thing was.

DVD to replace video tape. Lots of money!

CRT to plasma to LCD and beyond - again completely new and lots of money to be made. Domestic TV screens dramatically increasing in size due to availability and price.

Home audio...erm...erm...zilch other than delivery of music.

Meanwhile wireless, fast internet connections, mobile phones and tablets eliminating the need for fixed physical music delivery systems in tandem with availability of streaming and purchase of ephemeral digital media changes consumption irrevocably.

Sonos? Brilliant muti-room, multi-user wireless system which fits into the current environment perfectly. And likely the near future environment too.

Home audio...fixed...still zilch innovation.

Mesh networks? Will these replace the need for CAT cabling in the home?

IOT is still thrashing about like a disgruntled just landed shark with no coherent standards or systems. When that gets itself sorted out into a single hub, like your router, to which everything connects and plays relatively nicely together it will remain a wish list item.

Voice control. Not for me whilst it persists in going via the internet but I will get an Alexa puck to control, hopefully, my Sonos in the kitchen - only option at present because the switches that will do what I want to involve buying yet another damn hub.

i see Sonos being around for a good while yet. Who knows, maybe in future they may want to licence their technology to other manufacturers. The competition would be good for all.
Badge
SHARKB8T wrote:
Anyone else think it would need to have?

Wide anti vibration feet to grow the sound stage and triple shielded optimized power cable for that extra bit of depth 😃
Given that it is a wireless system, how about Sonosnet 3.0 that does air ionisation for a purer signal that yields a holographic sound image?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Userlevel 5
Badge +10
... read the Dynaudio website on their views on hi res... perceptions are being set.

ok... tried... I really did.. but WTF are they thinking layering loads of pictures with convoluted descriptions and limited clarity on what each truly delivers.

As a potential consumer, I have absolutely no idea what of their line world be of interest to me, or what I'd want to invest in... does their home theatre solution connect with what I *think* is their whole home wifi solution? (their XEO wireless multi-room?) There is a clarity of purpose that I think companies need to identify in their marketing. It seems Dynaudio are selling the 24 Bit thing strongly "...all can handle all can handle full-fat 24-bit/192kHz hi-res files through their entire signal path for zero-compromise sound"...but truth is, I still can't figure out if there is anything there I'm interested in... Not to say they are not great products... just that I can't get through their marketing noise to find out if I'd be interested...

I'd say this to Sonos... keep the marketing message clear and precise. It may be that "full-fat 24-bit/192kHz hi-res files" matter... but the current Sonos clarity of purpose serves so very very well thought out and articulated that I think *that* is important to highlight. Sonos don't do stand-alone speakers to add to an amplifier and audio system (they obviously could build these if they wanted)... that has value in carving out their future space with clarity I think...
Part of the improvement in home theatre has been the audio component. Watching a movie with Sonos 5.1 is very immersive. Or even just an excellent home stereo works very well. In the field of home audio, I would say that Sonos has nailed a couple of key improvements: different music in different rooms using the same system, and the SAME music in all rooms in perfect sync. I love filling the house with music.
What is fascinating about this board is how fanatical some are about the science of what inherently is a personal matter.
I'm glad we at least have what appears to be an honest admission of confirmation bias.
That web site gives a good explanation, but there is a lot hidden in the assumption of a bandlimited signal. Without this assumption, there are infinitely many analog signals that can fit exactly through the digital samples, but they all contain frequencies above the Nyquist. It is the bandlimited assumption that allows one to draw a stairstep, because it filters all other possibilities. So I disagree with Monty - if one assumes a bandlimited signal, it is perfectly reasonable to draw a stairstep.

Here's an analogy. Weather models use a spatial grid typically 50km square to perform their calculations. If you don't happen to live exactly at one of these grid points, you can still expect the weather forecast to apply to your location pretty well. Implicitly, a stairstep is drawn between the weather grid points on either side of your location. There may be slight differences due to trees, lakes, buildings, concrete etc, but the grid point forecast is pretty accurate and perfectly useful.

Cheers, Peter.
That web site gives a good explanation, but there is a lot hidden in the assumption of a bandlimited signal. Without this assumption, there are infinitely many analog signals that can fit exactly through the digital samples, but they all contain frequencies above the Nyquist. It is the bandlimited assumption that allows one to draw a stairstep, because it filters all other possibilities. So I disagree with Monty - if one assumes a bandlimited signal, it is perfectly reasonable to draw a stairstep.

Here's an analogy. Weather models use a spatial grid typically 50km square to perform their calculations. If you don't happen to live exactly at one of these grid points, you can still expect the weather forecast to apply to your location pretty well. Implicitly, a stairstep is drawn between the weather grid points on either side of your location. There may be slight differences due to trees, lakes, buildings, concrete etc, but the grid point forecast is pretty accurate and perfectly useful.

Cheers, Peter.


Well that's exactly what Monty is saying. Bandlimiting the signal to 22.05 KHz is what allows one to exactly reproduce the original signal. Limiting the frequencies eliminates the infinite number of signals above the Nyquist, so there are no more stairsteps. There is absolutely no estimations being done as in your analogy, the exact wave is reproduced.

This is the very reason the courts made Sony stop using the stairstep diagrams.