Science graduate, Eric Kingdon joined Sony in 1983 around the time the compact disc was released. He worked on projects such as the Mini-disc, SA-CD and Blu-ray, designed the E series electronics as well as the brand’s speakers for the European market. He is the sound supervisor for Sony amplifiers as well as home-cinema audio and video sources. Passionate about sound and a real lover of music, Eric collects vintage products, especially quadraphonic vinyl records. He is also a film and home cinema enthusiast.
If you could resume the Hi-Res Audio certification in one sentence, what would it be?
Eric Kingdon: In a simple way, we could say lossless music that has been recorded at a better quality than CD. The RIAA (i.e. Recording Industry Association of America) themselves have provided general guidelines concerning the bit rate and sampling frequency for this purpose as well.
Why did Sony create Hi-Res Audio certification?
E.K.: We originally created the idea to simplify the message for consumers and to make it easy for people to have some reference level, or guide. This way, products that we believed would offer a definite improvement and benefit would be labeled Hi-Res Audio. Of course, this does not mean you have to only buy these devices, other new and older products may also deliver a great experience for high resolution sources as well.
What are the technical requirements for an audio product to get the Hi-Res Audio label?
E.K.: There are a variety of areas we look at on Sony products, for example: frequency response or bandwidth consistency, file playback ability and so on. Due to the extended response and extra details of high resolution music, the conception of Hi-Res Audio products is very meticulous.
How do ultra-high frequencies that human ear can’t catch improve the overall listening experience?
E.K.: An interesting question. The high frequencies that higher resolution encapsulates, offer a greater chance to capture the natural harmonics that exist within music. This gives a better sense of the true timbre or tonality. To put it simply, a Bosendorfer (i.e. a piano) sounds like a Bosendorfer. Also, the higher sampling rates mean the filtering in the output stages of players can be much more gentle by design, another sonic benefit. The proof is in the listening as they say…
Do Hi-Res Audio Sony products improve the listening experience of low res audio materials too?
E.K.: We have tried hard to ensure that our audio products make the most of any musical source. There are many ways to develop products in this way and many stories I could share. From a pure technology standpoint, the use of DSD re-mastering on the Sony HAP-Z1ES HDD player offers enhanced playback quality of CD quality source files.
Can you tell us about the Sony DSEE technology?
E.K.: This technology can offer an improved playback experience for low bit rate files derived from a variety of sources. Partially by reconstructing the upper frequency waveform for those signals which are curtailed, or missing from the file due to compression (i.e. MP3, WMA, AAC, etc.). In addition, the system takes into account the natural ‘decay’ of notes in order to deliver a more natural ambience, so that the atmosphere and acoustic can be enjoyed. The HX version performs a similar task, but to a higher resolution sampling and bit rate.
Will the whole catalog of Sony music be available in Hi-Res audio soon ? Or is it a long way to go ?
E.K.: Sony Music has a prodigious and very diverse catalogue of music, stretching back a long way. Those guys care very much about the quality of sound and are at the forefront of modern recording technologies. To transfer a recording, or originate a recording in high resolution can be a complex process, it can take time. For example, before the launch of SA-CD re-mastering to DSD has been happening. We will try our best to deliver as much music in as diverse formats the markets and more importantly the artists request.We have long history of close co-operation between the hardware and software sides of the business. To be honest this is important for both the music and motion picture businesses and is a strong point of difference for Sony. Many years ago we undertook archiving of many classic recordings which were at risk through natural ageing. You can continue to enjoy the results of some of these recordings for the future.
Can we expect the DSD format to be used or does Sony plan to go hi-res PCM only ?
E.K.: Each format has its own merit and so we will continue to work with and develop hardware for both technologies. DSD has already moved to faster sampling rates, like 5.6 MHz and even beyond, with superb results.
Can we talk about the Sony LDAC codec, which allows the user to listen to Hi-Res Audio files via Bluetooth.
E.K.: The LDAC system currently is able to deliver a better quality signal than previously possible via Bluetooth. This is a bonus for those people wanting simple and convenient quality wireless connection. You can even choose to vary the data rate according to connection condition.
How would you compare the listening experience of a Sony smartphone paired with LDAC headphones and a Hi-Res Audio Walkman?
E.K.: Both are good, the new Xperia phones will be the preferred choice if convenience is paramount. If you want the very best sound quality, then probably a dedicated music player with a premium set of headphones, like the Sony NWZ-X2 and Sony MDR-Z7 headphones, would be the perfect choice.
What is your best musical recollection ?
E.K.: I am lucky to have many, but perhaps there’s one that definitely sticks in my mind. I was lucky enough to hear the great soprano Mirella Freni sing with the London Symphonic Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davies. I will never forget the mixture of power and beauty of her voice. Afterwards, I was introduced to her, she was charming and unforgettable. I often think how remarkable it is that she made her debut in Carmen, the year I was born.
What electronics do you use at home ?
E.K.: I have several systems, some classic, but currently I use the Sony TA-ER1 preamp and twin TA-NR1 mono power amplifiers, with AR-1 speakers. For high resolution file playback the HAP-Z1ES HDD player, CD/SA-CD’s from a tuned SCD-XA9000ES, with a PSX-9 for vinyl.
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