The Consumer Electronics Show is in full swing, and so far the biggest news out of it is that Sony is bringing back the Walkman. But it’s a very different Walkman from what you remember; it’s a high-end digital music player and it costs used-car money at $1200. Here’s everything you need to know.
I’m sorry, I could swear you just wrote “$1200” up above.
You’re right, I did. That’s really the price.
This thing looks like my phone.
More or less that’s exactly what it is. It’s got a touchscreen, it runs Android 4.2, you can download apps from Google Play, and so on and so forth.
So why does it cost six times what the iPod Touch does?
Because it’s not just any junky MP3 player! According to Sony, it is a high resolution audio player that will play back your music in better fidelity than you have ever experienced! No more will you be cursed with lossy audio! Now you can finally hear all the terrible music you secretly love as it was meant to be heard, thanks to a custom Sony processor!
Shake it off! Shake it off!
Stop that right this instant! I just got that damn song out of my head!
Sorry. So what is ‘high-resolution audio?’
Digital audio works by essentially slicing a song into pieces. The thinner those slices are, in theory, the more fidelity you have to the original recording. Thus, high-resolution audio is audio played back at a higher bitrate, namely 96kHz/24bit or higher. For contrast, your average MP3 is compressed at 44.1kHz/16bit.
Makes sense to me! I bet I can really hear the difference!
Actually, you can’t. The average human has a hearing range from 20Hz all the way up to 20,000Hz, better expressed as… 20kHz. Yes, those allegedly crappy MP3s are compressed at twice the range of human hearing. Any compression beyond that, practically speaking, is overkill.
That said, there are both theoretical and concrete benefits to high resolution audio, especially when it comes to preserving live performances. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to have better fidelity. But in terms of day-to-day music listening, MP3 is actually more than most of us will ever need.
Well, first of all, audiophiles tend to spend a lot of money on better fidelity, and good luck convincing them they can’t hear it. They all have magic ears that can hear the fart Mick Fleetwood squeezed out while harmonizing on “Tusk”.
Secondly, while you can load this thing up with MP3s, Sony would obviously prefer you bought everything all over again in a high-resolution audio format, especially if it happens to be from their music division. And did we happen to mention that high-resolution music will also require a pair of fancy headphones to properly pump out all that fidelity you can’t hear?
Ah. So this would be another attempt to shore up music industry profits.
Shocking, we know. That said, if you really want absurdly high fidelity in your music, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you understand exactly what you’re buying. And preserving music at a higher fidelity than human hearing is hardly a boondoggle in the long run. There’s something to be said for preservation, even if we can’t hear it. But we suppose haters gonna hate, hate, hate…