Sony's (Expensive) Audiophile microSD Card

Attention audiophiles: duck and cover! Another questionable product aimed squarely at us so we're in for it now (again)! While Sony claims the SR-64HXA, a Class 10 64GB microSDXC card which will cost ¥18,500 (roughly $155), produces less electrical noise when reading data as compared to a standard microSD card, the mainstream press ain't buyin' it and they're throwing stones our way (again).

The WSJ says, "For audio freaks, the quest to reduce noise never ends, even if it means sometimes paying a high price for equipment–say, $1,000 for a one-meter audio cable."

Gizmodo UK is even more to the point, "It's literally a big lie, like those gold-plated HDMI leads, with Sony claiming buyers will hear 'less electrical noise' when listening to music saved to it."

The Verge shouts, "More placebo than cure."

BGR says, "Sony just unveiled the stupidest product in the history of the universe".

Ars Technica reports, "It’s not obvious what effect the SR-64HXA will have on music; Sony says only that the card will produce 'less electrical noise when reading data,' a statement that contains no quantitative technical details. However, a total lack of details isn’t something that stops a certain class of audio-obsessed consumer from spending crazy sums of money on products that do basically nothing."

HotHardware is the sneakiest, "The retail packaging has a pic of Sony's recently released Walkman NW-ZX2, a $1,200 media player for audiophiles with 128GB of built-in storage and microSD card slot. We suppose if you're already dropping that much on a music player, what's another $160 to keep the illusion of superior audio alive?"

Will the Sony SR-64HXA deliver an audible improvement? I have no idea unless and until I try one.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Sony isn't sure if there's really a market for audiophile microSD cards either:

“We aren’t that sure about the product’s potential demand, but we thought some among people who are committed to great sound quality would want it,” a Sony spokeswoman said.
One thing I do know for sure, non-audiophiles sure do love, and I mean love, slinging uninformed and/or oversimplified shit at audiophiles.

COMMENTS
bobflood's picture

I see that you found it.

At the least stuff like this keeps the site visitor count up so the advertisers will pay more for space. I would actually like to see some tests on this one as they are claiming less electrical noise so that should be fairly easy to measure and compare to a standard SD card.

Then if there is a measurable difference in electrical noise, a subjective listening test to see if it matters. I wonder that even if there is less noise, would that type of noise even pass to the output stages of a player or not.

Who knows, it might actually work but Sony set themselves up for ridicule because they did not even bother to offer any backing data. It sounds like even they were not sure but figured that they would just take a flyer on it.

I hope you get one in and try it.

Bob

CG's picture

"Measurable difference in electrical noise..."

Ahh, but there is! http://www.gizmobolt.com/2015/02/20/sony-sr-64hxa-64-gb-microsdxc-card-i...

Here's the thing... They measured an electrical difference. (Unless they're just plain lying - lets presume they are not. I don't think they are, but I'm nobody.) Now what? To date, not too many people outside our little club think that matters. They might consider it does, maybe, if 10,000 people conclusively verify that through a double blind test of some sort. But, few will consider the product worthwhile.

That's just the way it is. To be entirely fair, after reading the reviews on some of these sites, I find that I don't care at all about many of the products they review. It's just not in my interest view. If these products excite them, great! They just aren't for me.

Why so many of these folks are so rabid, I can't imagine.

deckeda's picture

The oversimplifications are mare harmful to everyone than any potential rip-off they purport to "protect" audiophiles from.

The writers of these hate pieces display a painfully obvious lack of self esteem when they snicker.

I appreciate reading when someone has tried something and reported it didn't do anything special for them. I'm astute enough to understand--all by myself, thanks very much!-- an alternative might therefore be a better value.

But to loudly disparage something based solely on price is an utter bore. The editors and publishers must share similar cluelessness about their so-called critical writing.

Archimago's picture

Is really *why* these sites would be making fun of audiophiles. And why would Sony make an SD card like this targeted to audio. More people store digital photos on SD cards than music, right? Why not suggest that perhaps this improved the background noise of RAW images? Would that fly in the eyes of digital photographers? Would digital photography blog sites ever have a post like yours Michael without any sense of critical consideration? Or the comments of approval from a few here?

And consider what the caricature of the audiophile has become in light of the fact that public understanding of technology has advanced over the years... Have we kept pace? Have the traditional audiophile blogs and magazines and reviews helped to educate rather than sell product?

What if they're right?

What if Sony's move is actually condemnation of the state of affairs in the audiophile world? ... Those audiphile guys... They'll buy anything... Just throw up a graph with no sense of scale to show how bad noise is up to the MHz range (RE: the gizmobolt link above)... They'll *believe* this sounds better!

Michael et al. I would advise a more critical evaluation. "Listening" is important, but when we're talking about fringe claims around science, it's not good enough - and guess what, most people know this. Pure subjective attitudes around reviews without any shred of critical evaluation will only reduce the hardware side of the hobby, perpetuate stereotypes, and open the door to more criticism.

People will always love the music (software side) for the artistry. That's not the concern (other than the terrible Loudness War issue - another major discussion altogether).

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...have helped to educate rather than sell product.

I know exactly where you stand on this subject and you should know exactly where I stand. Frankly, I find most of your posts here to be nothing more than adverts for your own blog, Archimago. And I wish you the best of luck with your site but I am getting tired of your endlessly repeating the same thing, over and over again here.

Headphone Nut's picture

...in his analogy to image files. Love and respect your web site Michael, but there is no difference between an image file and a music file with respect to storage and yes, also transport via cabling, etc. So, claiming a digital music file sounds sonically superior via one form of storage or cable is exactly like claiming a .JPEG image file has superior visual image properties via one form of storage or cable, as Archimago points out. In the digital world, assuming proper implementation of industry standards, the encoded music file or image file is completely and I mean 100 percent sealed from external noise and the storage and/or transport elements - industry standards ensure this - it what makes it all work so well. Hopefully, these low-level discussions regarding storage and digital cabling will soon fade and we can return to the things that actually do make a noticeable sonic difference - recording techniques, transducers, etc.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I have no idea if this microSD card makes a sonic difference but I would know more if I gave it a listen.

Thank you for your kind words on AudioStream.

CG's picture

Actually, there is a difference.

When you transfer an image file, it's a block that is received by your computer, processed, then displayed. There isn't any real time noise considerations.

With audio, it's a constant, albeit bursty, transfer. Not entirely real time, but noise on the next packet could affect conversion of the previous packet to analog.

Now - what about video? Good question! I think the answer might be that video is only usually 8 bits. So, it would be less sensitive to noise in conversion. That might change with the newer HDR formats.

It's a matter of comparing apples to apples.

One more point... If digital networking was so resilient to noise and the like, why is error checking and forward error correction used? Sadly, that approach can't be taken in the conversion or analog end of things.

Headphone Nut's picture

...you are confusing file decoding with file transport/storage.

CG's picture

Ahh, no.

Which part did I not explain well? I do that sometimes.

skikirkwood's picture

Really? With an Alexa ranking of 577,754 in the U.S., I doubt the revenue from ads on Archimago's blog could buy him a cup of Starbucks coffee everyday. Yet you are posting articles praising the sonic benefits of incredibly expensive ethernet and USB cables, where there are none. But I do see a large banner ad from Audioquest at the top of many pages of audiostream.com.

While I've been a huge music and high-end audio fan for decades, I never spent a lot of time reading about audio. Then Neil Young launched his Kickstarter campaign for Pono, and I was surprised by the negative reaction of so many "audiophiles". So I plugged in 15 or so audio blogs and online magazines to my Feedly news reader, and read everything I could about modern digital audio.

I found two blogs that really stood out in terms of educating someone like myself on the state of the art of audio today - Archimago's blog, and Mark Waldrep's blog. Whereas I found many traditional audiophile magazines, Audiostream included, appear to be nothing more than a forum to help sell advertising of high-end audiophile products.

Perhaps with the migration of print media to the Web, and the expectation among consumers that online content should be free, the idea of having an online magazine such as Audiostream publish objective content to their readers that is unbiased and educational is inherently in conflict with the business goals of maximizing advertising revenue. I would hope not. But for now, that certainly seems to be the case.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I found two blogs that really stood out in terms of educating someone like myself on the state of the art of audio today - Archimago's blog, and Mark Waldrep's blog.
Excellent. That's what's great about the web, we can all find sites we enjoy.
Whereas I found many traditional audiophile magazines, Audiostream included, appear to be nothing more than a forum to help sell advertising of high-end audiophile products.
Appearances? It's OK to be wrong, Jim. The important thing is once we learn we are wrong, and you most certainly are, is to admit it. You may also want to apologize since your accusations based on appearances reflect directly on my character. And that bothers me, Jim.

You may enjoy our Industry Voice section, located under Blogs, where we interview industry people including Mark Waldrep. I think you'll find it both educational and interesting.

JohnKing's picture

is going to wake up one day to discover that there is a lot of world past the visible horizon of conventional audio theory and measurement.

Good on Sony and the other companies who continue to spend research time and money with a goal of better sounding audio. If Sony has created an entirely new manufacturing die for this SD card in order to add components not found in the corner variety store models, of course it will be more expensive. And if listening tests bear out their claim for quality improvement then it will certainly be worth the asking price to higher end folks who use these cards.

Sheesh. Live and let live.

stevebythebay's picture

an electrically quieter SSD drive for my source. That is if this product somehow gains a foothold.

bobflood's picture

a breather. There needs to be room for both sides in this hobby.

Pure objectivism alone won't hold sway and neither will pure subjectivism. Without some form of objective criteria we will be left at the mercy of claims like opening a quantum tunnel to an audiophile alternate universe where jitter, noise, wow, rumble, flutter and whatever other boogie man you care to name can be banished if you will just buy this or that product.

Without subjective analysis many good ideas and products will languish because their effect cannot be completely proven.

One thing that separates Stereophile magazine from almost all the rest is that JA still actually measures and tests products on a purely objective basis and is not afraid to call out a problem. His most recent one was when he found problems with the new PS Audio DAC when his own reviewer gushed about it. This forced PS to retest and sure enough there were problems and the firmware has been revised three times. Would this have happened without objective testing?

A little more objectivism would take us out of the sights of the public and some of these writers. It would be harder for them to flame us if we could say:

"Look, we tested this or that and it works because we can hear it and here is the engineering data to support it. It is expensive because this is a small hobby with no economies of scale and anyway it is our money to spend so buzz off."

I stopped looking for acceptance and approval for my involvement in this my hobby a long time ago. Now I try to make sure that I don't ever criticize any of my friends' hobbies no matter how I might personally feel about them.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I would like to provide measurements for the gear we review on AudioStream but it is not currently possible due to, among other things, budget constraints.

That being said, I have heard all kinds of downright silly arguments generated from so-called objective data. One of the silliest endeavors being an attempt to determine why some people prefer listening to records, you know vinyl, armed with nothing but data. This is, imo, the poster child of not getting it.

stevebythebay's picture

mean a thing if I can't actually perceive the former. My recent experience with the Synergistic Research Atmosphere is an example. No matter what I did to try and obtain any notable difference with it on or off or in its many settings I could hear nothing. I've heard the same from a number of other dealers. Though I've had great success with most of their other products, this one failed. That's likely more to do with me an others who aren't built to "get" it. Seems like some obverse of sensitivity to DLP rainbow artifacts in video. I'm insensitive to the so called Schumann Resonance. So, it's always great to have a measurement to confirm what I hear or see, but that doesn't change the effect.

Steven Plaskin's picture

As my experience with the Atmosphere grows and I have more people over to hear it, I believe there is a physiological sensitivity to these low frequencies that can vary from person to person. Some people seemed to be more sensitive to the Atmosphere than I am. Their reported impressions were even more intense than my own.

bobflood's picture

scientific method as a weapon not a tool and this is a travesty. That said, it cannot and should not be discarded in favor of purely subjective methodology. It is the continued erosion of objective evaluation in the audio hobby that leaves us open to all these criticisms of just advertising for the manufacturers in a way that legally they could not do.

I am old enough to remember a time when there were many Hi-Fi publications and they all did objective testing and I don't remember a level of cynicism and ridicule like what we see today.

There has to be a mix of both approaches or else we need to just get used to the current state of affairs.

I know that it is not inexpensive to run these tests and any one reviewer is not going to be able to take it on but when the manufacturers won't even provide the data in a useful way, what else is the public left to conclude.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
"...ridicule like what we see today."

Welcome to the Internet ;-)

stevebythebay's picture

However, just because we don't know what or how to measure something that we clearly perceive should never stop us from the exploration of musical experiences. But it does mean that doing so comes at a cost: at the very least time. All learning is an effort. With willing participation of dealers, who after all invest their own time and money to bring product to market, we can hope to achieve sonic nirvana, measurements be damned.

ktracho's picture

It's one thing for a small company to make claims and then not provide any data to back up their claims. It's another for a large company like Sony to do the same. The least they could have done is provide a reviewer with a sample, and have the review published on the same day the product is announced. Such a review could still be suspect, but at least they could say something like, "Some people have found this product improves sound quality, YMMV." If they really wanted to "prove" that it does, they could additionally pay for a third party to conduct a blind test with "random" people. The fact they didn't do either throws fuel on the fire. After all, it's not like they were afraid other companies might beat them to the punch.

bobflood's picture

that there is no logical end to this. With computer based audio you are in fact dealing with a computer which inherently is a very active electrical environment with many sources of "noise". Will we be told we need audiophile motherboards, audiophile memory and so on. If you look at the CA website you will see all kinds of discussion about these very things. We have audiophile SATA cables, audiophile power supplies, audiophile USB cards and much more. The new audiophile OS is Windows Server 2012 with major modifications. Get the picture?

It would be very easy to spend many thousands on an audiophile computer rig. But, for people without a bottomless source of money, the question is: What really works?

This is where some objective analysis is called for. People need to know how to best use limited funds to pick. Pure subjectivism is fine if you can just buy it all and see what works and discard what doesn't, but most people cannot do that.

We live in a world of very limited resources for the vast majority of people and they just can't afford to waste much and so want reliable information in order to decide.

DH's picture

I'm not sure I get your post. There already are "audiophile" computer parts. Generally the idea is to create less electrical noise and interference.
John Swenson has measured these differences and shown that such things do make a difference in output and improve sound quality.

For people without a lot of money, there are plenty of inexpensive computers, laptops, and tablets that will do a good job.

Even within audiophillia there are inexpensive components like some of the Schiit line that cost only tens of dollars (not hundreds or thousands)that improve SQ. They give a lot of the performance of expensive components for much less money.

As in all audiophillia, the diminishing returns curve tends to be steep. No one has to climb that hill if they don't want to. Musical enjoyment and good quality playback can be found without getting to the multi thousands of dollars.

24bitbob's picture

Agreed.

I venture that many people buy this sort of stuff based on reviews they see on sites like this, and few will ever audition it before buying. There is also the 'peer pressure' element where people are subliminally coerced into believing they hear differences when none exist, again based on impressions formed from reviews (Hands up if you're sure that you're free of that influence).

Along with unscrupulous manufacturers, who cannot, or do not provide any substantive evidence for their claims, you have a mix which drives people to part with hard earned cash for products of questionable value. That's unethical, and in some countries illegal.

I believe that Michael, and others who write these reviews, have a duty to offer some objective basis, beyond what they hear, for their recommendations. Let the buyer beware, but sellers have an obligation of disclosure. Reviewers should tread the path between, challenging sellers on their wares, as well as challenging buyers on their listening skills. In my view, too few reviewers properly challenge sellers on behalf of buyers.

CG's picture

I get your point.

How much are you prepared to compensate Michael and the others for their time and the necessary equipment to perform this service?

If a manufacturer doesn't provide the information you want, and there could be a zillion reasons for not doing so, why does that make them unscrupulous? They certainly could be, but is not providing certain information unscrupulous on its own?

Disclaimer: I rarely spend money, hard earned or otherwise (what isn't hard earned?), on audio equipment. I tend to build my own, just because I find that fun and rewarding in its own way. The breadth of possibilities also is only limited by my own abilities, time, and the basic components like transistors and the like currently available. So, if I build something on my own that I find to be an improvement - or a step back - from what I had before, am I fooling myself?

Maury's picture

As others have intimated this is mostly Sony in (marketing) Failure mode. If you have a product designed to produce a specific effect then you either present the results of objective measurements or of controlled subjective listening tests. If you can't be bothered with that then at least provide the device to the major audio reviewing sites and ask them to do a listening test before issuing a review. For Sony to go out and put gasoline on the fire by stating that they don't even know whether there is any interest they invite ridicule. Does Sony lack the funds for even a minimal market survey? In this case audiophiles should be as ticked off by Sony as the audio sites that don't caveat their criticism until they actually take a listen.

tubefan9's picture

I love this website, and also love archmago's blog. This is the far left subjective, and archmago the far right objective. Nothing wrong with either. As far as I can tell archmago doesn't have much to gain by promoting his blog, no ads there besides some amazon links.

One of you guys should start a kickstarter to get proper equipment if budget constraints exist. I know id donate $20 to either of the sites for more information. I read these sites because I love to buy things! I recently took the plunge and bought a Mytek 192 (based on glowing reviews here) and love it every day.

tubefan9's picture

maybe too much love in that post!

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