alt2014 – the year of high-res audio?

It’s two-and-a-half years since our October 2011 cover declared 24-bit music files to be “The New Hi-fi”, so we’re delighted that manufacturers both minor and major have become similarly enthused and are now preparing a profusion of high-res audio equipment for 2014 release. On the other side of the chain, ever more music is being made available at high resolution, both from download sites and on Blu-ray Discs using the increasingly widely accepted ‘Pure Music’ standard pioneered by the French division of Universal Music (and already available in your local record store).

Most visible at CES were portable players. We review the already-available Fiio X3 in the Feb-March issue of Sound+Image, and we’ve previously celebrated the Astell & Kern AK120 (made by iRiver). Both companies have new players on the way. Fiio was showing the Fiio X5 (above right), a model that sits above the X3 and supports DSD in addition to FLAC, ALAC, WMA, WAV and APE high-res formats up to 24-bit/192kHz. It introduces twin micro-SD card slots in addition to its internal memory and, as with the X3, you can use it as a standalone USB DAC.

The company has also leaked on forums that it is working on a Fiio X1, with a target price of US$100 and playback abilities “almost same as X3/X5, but it can’t support DSD playback and work as USB DAC”.

altMeanwhile Astell & Kern showed that its luxurious AK120 was a mere stepping stone to the new AK240 (pictured right), which raises the bar still further to include 256GB internal storage plus microSD expansion, and using dual Cirrus Logic 4398 DACs chipsets to achieve native DSD support in addition to all the other main high-res formats. Another first is the inclusion of Wi-Fi, giving the ability to connect direct to high-res download sites to import new music, though this depends on availability by country of sale, and many sites (such as HDTracks.com) still do not officially serve Australia.

Also from Korea is newcomer Calyx with the Calyx M player (above centre), the specs for which are still being adjusted only two months from its estimated delivery — the promised Wi-Fi has now been removed, while an SD card slot will join a microSD slot and 64GB of internal memory on this neat player that doubles as a USB DAC. Its target price is US$999.

Sony also has a high-res player — we saw the NWZ-ZX1 “high-resolution audio Walkman” (top left) at IFA in Berlin last September, but were told it wouldn’t be coming to Australia. Since then, however, the company has cemented high-res playback as a key plank in its global audio strategy, and we now have confirmation that the ZX1 is indeed coming to Oz, in addition to the HAPS1 500GB HDD audio player and UDA1 high-res audio DAC. Hoorah!