Sony Electronics has thrown their hat into the high res ring in a big way with their HAP-S1 High Resolution Music Player ($1,000). This self-contained box will play back just about every file you can lay your hands on, including DSD, FLAC, PCM, and lowly MP3. It’s a two-channel class AB amp with analog out, two sets of analog inputs, an Ethernet input, USB, optical and coaxial inputs, WiFi, and a headphone jack on the front.
It feels gorgeous to use: the casework is a cool, heavy brushed aluminum (and available in black or silver) and the buttons and knobs work with satisfying authority. I found the interface relatively self-explanatory and intuitive, as well, although I didn’t have a chance to experiment with the associated app or remote control, nor did I get to see the file transfer software. I listened to James Taylor’s “Your Smiling Face” on the headphones, and that sums up my affect while I tried it out. The sound is pretty much the best of what I associate with Sony: uncolored and super clean, but not too thin.
There are weaknesses here: while there’s a USB input, it’s my understanding that music can’t be played from a USB drive. Any files also first have to be transferred to the HAP-S1’s internal 500GB harddrive in order to be played; there is no option to stream from another device, which strikes me as limiting. It’s also my understanding that it’s not compatible with popular streaming services like Pandora (although it does offer vTuner for internet radio streaming), which probably isn’t a huge deal for the majority of folks who are looking for a high res player, but it does limit its use somewhat as a household all-rounder.
Otherwise, it’s that ability to be something of a plug-and-play all-in-one unit that makes this really appealing. I don’t think an audiophile who wants an easy solution to computer audio is going to be disappointed with this purchase, but I think where it really shines is as an option for a music lover who wants to be able to move beyond a pocket device and bring high res digital music into their home easily and with a minimum of fuss: just add speakers, and you’re good to go.