At times, companies try to promote their new products with unverifiable or unsupported claims. This time it’s Panasonic who issued a press release about the SC-PMX152 and SC-PMX82, their new CD players. They seem fine, but there’s one thing that definitely does not work here: Panasonic claims the players can “re-master” common CDs and make them hi-res. Which is pure snake oil.
The company writes that “the SC-PMX152’s CD High-Res Re-Master function […] lets you enjoy a wide range of sound from various sources – including your favourite CDs, MP3s and smartphones. By delivering high-frequency sounds of 20kHz or more, far beyond ordinary CD playback, the CD High-Res Re-Master produces sounds that rival high-resolution audio.” To pile it on, “The Bluetooth Re-Master also compensates for any audio signals that are lost due to data compression when streaming Bluetooth sounds. This feature gives you high-quality playback of sound sources from Bluetooth-compatible devices such as smartphones and tablets.”
That’s an impressive feat, isn’t it? Except it’s not really possible. Let me delve a little into detail. When you digitally record a sound, two measures come into play: bit depth and sampling frequency. To put it simple, greater bit depth allows to discern quiet sounds from loud sounds (it’s called dynamics), while a higher sampling frequency makes it possible to capture more details and nuances. To compare this to digital pictures, bit depth represents all the different colours you can use, while sampling frequency is the resolution. The better the bit depth, the more colours you can use and the more vivid the pictures become; a bigger resolution means you can better portray all the tiny details. This is an over-simplified explanation, of course, but it’s enough to understand what we’re talking about.
Now, the point is: can you recover lost details from a digital picture? In short, the answer is no. Many attempts have been made in the past, but to no real avail – once information is lost, there’s no way to recover it. You can do things like upscaling, but it will never be the same as the original – you will see apparent differences. Google is now experimenting with AI to recover details, but it’s guessing what should be there and its accuracy has still to be improved a lot to be useful. The same applies to audio – and that’s why you should not buy “high resolution remasters” of Dire Straits: those were digitally recorded in 16 bit, 44.1 kHz quality, so “high resolution” is nowhere to be seen. Panasonic can make use of algorithms that process data and try to guess what could fill the holes, but you won’t hear any difference – the process could actually introduce artefacts and distortions, much like those edgy curves in upscaled pictures.
The issue with Panasonic’s new CD players is that the company claims it can get high resolution audio from a low resolution source – not just from CDs, but from Bluetooth and even unspecified-bitrate MP3s. Anyone in their right mind this simply cannot be true. What if I told you that $1 earphones can be made to sound just as good as $3,995 Audeze LCD 4 just with equalization and a few black magic tricks? You’d call this quackery, and rightfully so.
If this “hi-res re-master” thing was real, we’d see plenty of products which could do the same and a service such as Tidal would make no sense to exist. Heck, all the audiophile world would burn to the ground if this was true. But it’s not, sorry.
The SC-PMX152 and SC-PMX82 seem like otherwise very good and capable products. Panasonic’s lack of explanations on the so-called “re-master” process and their very broad assertions, however, cast a shadow on what could otherwise be potentially very interesting devices.