Time To Embrace Evolution
Audio amplifiers — from the latest OEM amp modules and topologies to the most advanced and efficient devices and integrated circuits — target different applications, while developers focus on different requirements.
Meanwhile, there's a quiet revolution happening in audio amplification. Essentially, it is the direct result of strong innovation in Class-D technology, with incremental improvements introduced on multiple fronts, together with the demanding requirements of new high-volume applications in mobile and personal audio, wireless speakers, and automotive audio. The reality is, in the consumer space at least, there was never so much activity in the segment.
And multiple target applications is the reason why so many advanced products launched over the last decade, while showing technical merit and measurable benefits, very seldom have we found widespread recognition by the audio industry outside of their intended target market.
Many times we have seen new products that benefited from advanced performance in specific criteria (e.g., energy efficiency, dynamics, or distortion) being criticized as disappointing over subjective criteria, such as perceived sound quality. And that is the reason why we can find products — in totally extreme segments — where inventors and/or manufacturers have not fully explored the product's unique propositions and advantages.
That is also the reason why so many great Class-D amplifiers have reached the market and were poorly received by demanding users in the high-end audio segment, where the criteria for evaluation is frequently subjective and hard to confront.
As Stuart Yaniger writes in this edition, for far too long, Class-D amplifiers were quickly disregarded with statements such as: "It's improving, but they're not there yet." In audioXpress, we like to evaluate things objectively and that is why we review some of the latest products that serve to show how things are not only improving but reaching a level of perfection that is even difficult to measure with standard lab-quality audio analyzers.
As Yaniger also writes this month: "...it is no secret that I believe an amplifier's job is to make a small signal larger — things like "conveying the emotion of music" are, in my view, best left to the musicians and producers. So the best amplifier is one that has no sound of its own."
I understand that some of our readers will disagree with this view, and that is precisely why the audio industry still has room for manufacturers who sell $50,000 USD analog monster-monoblocks that remained basically the same designs for at least 30 years — and whose clients continue to praise them as the best thing there is, because they "deliver exceptional musicality," while other companies are now focusing on the latest "smart" audio systems, which of course include an advanced stereo amp with integrated DSP, the highest power efficiency and all the connectivity needed to enable applications for today's market and lifestyles — while costing less than $40 because they target product applications manufactured in the millions, not hundreds.
And that is why we also embarked on a visit to Roskilde in Denmark, to show a bit more about audio development house Purifi Audio, which is a great example of a new company working on the cutting edge to break the barriers of audio fidelity and elevate the threshold of what high-end audio can be — objectively.
As our readers can also attest this month, even a DIY project from an expert such as Dimitri Danyuk — who has been the principal hardware engineer at Harman Luxury Audio since 2013 — serves to show how amplifier performance can be significantly improved when there's an understanding of what was previously done, and what we are trying to achieve.
In this month's market update, we also discuss a wide gamut of breakthrough solutions in audio amplification, from new-generation devices designed to boost the audio quality and efficiency of phones, wireless speakers, and wearables, to truly smart amplifiers that are meant to solve the challenges of speaker management.
And to add a valuable perspective, Richard Honeycutt travels into the past to reflect on the early inventions that formed the foundation of the live sound equipment we have today — and serves to show how much audio amplification has evolved.