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Is Sony's Walkman set to make a comeback?

Lucas Mearian | July 24, 2014
Some question whether you can really discern the difference between Sony's new high-definition music players and compressed audio files.

Sony appears to be making a big push to revive its 35-year-old Walkman music player with the new Walkman ZX1 high-resolution audio device.

The 128GB digital music player is among a couple dozen products Sony has rolled out over the past year, all aimed at audiophiles who believe they can discern the difference between compressed music formats and uncompressed "ultra-high quality" files.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Sony has launched more than 25 types of high-resolution audio devices since September, 2013. The company says the new devices account for "more than 20% of all audio sales for the October through March period."

The Sony Walkman ZX1 with 128GB of capacity and the ability to play high-definition audio (source: Sony).

Sony did not respond to a request from Computerworld for comment on ZXI Walkman sales figures, but according to the Journal, the new high-definition Walkman is selling out in Japan, where it was first released in December. In February, the ZX1 was released in other regions of Asia and Europe. It has yet to be released in the U.S.

Among consumers, the most popular file format, or codec, is still MP3 -- the compressed file format referred to as "lossy," meaning data is lost in the translation from the original master to the compressed format. "High definition" or analog audio is recorded by sampling it 44,100 times per second, and then the samples are used to reconstruct the audio signal when playing it back digitally. An uncompressed file on a CD for example, uses 44.1KHz or a 1,411Kbits of data per second (Kbps).

In online music stores such as iTunes, an MP3 music file offers a bit rate of up to 256Kbps. Uncompressed audio files, however, can take up to ten times the amount of storage space on a device drive.

The original Sony Walkman released in 1979 (Source: Sony).

For example, a typical album of songs stored as uncompressed WAV files takes up 640MB of space. The same album of songs in MP3 format can vary in size depending on the quality a user chooses during the ripping process (if they're copying it), but in general it will take up about 60MB.

There are other lossless formats beyond WAV (short for Waveform Audio File Format), including FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec), AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format), WMA (Windows Media Audio), and Apple's ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec). These lossless file formats have been gaining popularity because they require less storage space than WAV files. They first compress the data and then, like a zip files, allow it to be opened and heard in the original, uncompressed format. The highest resolution lossless file, for example, has a whopping-high bit rate of 9,216Kbps, or 36 times more data than an MP3 file from iTunes offers.

 

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