The Good, Bad, And Real Assessment
The Good, the Bad, and the Real Assessment Over the past few weeks, we finally had the opportunity to attend the first trade shows since the start of the global pandemic, more than two years ago. And when I say trade shows, I mean real trade events with a significant number of exhibiting companies attending, and large numbers of visitors who were there to do business. Events with large numbers of new product unveils.
Whatever we say about our own — and our economy's — adaptability to a remote, online model, when people were confined at home and business needed to continue, nothing really replaces actual interaction at a trade show. Because it's not about the things we plan and need to do. It's mostly about the discovery, the unexpected, and everything that no one could have predicted.
And that's the main reason why many audio manufacturers have reserved some important announcements for an industry comeback, even though they could have planned a "virtual" web streaming presentation prior to shipping. But nothing replaces the physical experience, particularly when it comes to audio products — and that's good and bad.
In many cases, I find myself looking with wonder at products that I actually wrote about when they were announced. It was just that those announcements happened "virtually" and there's a disconnect with the actual experience of seeing, hearing, and touching. So, attending trade shows these days is like entering a candy store. But I also felt disappointment about some products that didn't impressed me, after touching or listening. Sometimes, revealing the effect of our emotional connections to a brand, a message, a design... and the disconnect with reality.
That should be obvious to someone aware of marketing techniques — but it's not that easy. It actually works exactly as detailed in scientific research about listening tests and how we are all conditioned by our own preconceptions, bias and autosuggestion.
As I had to focus on audio amplifiers for this issue of audioXpress, I couldn't help to question what manufacturers say about the performance of their products and technologies. Of course, there needs to be a bit of marketing, but reporting about multiple products that are only now available in prototype form or first production samples is extremely difficult to do objectively. That is why we were glad to at least receive some measurements from the actual manufacturers as was the case with the two recent announcements from Hypex Electronics of its new Nilai500 DIY amplifier module, and the new NCOREx Class D amplifier modules, the first of which is featured on our cover this month (together with the d&b audiotechnik 5D installation-focused amplifier and DPS with audio networking, also a remarkable new product).
While we wait for the opportunity to actually review these new amplifiers and perform our own set of measurements, we all share our readers' excitement about these technology evolutions and what they promise. That is why the trade show experience is invaluable, finally allowing the opportunity to actually listen and gather some real impressions — good and bad, largely subjective, but real.
This absence of contact with real products also should have taught us that we need to reinforce the way we make audio quality assessments based on those subjective listening impressions.
That is why I applaud the recent announcements of two new audio quality evaluation tools that will contribute to those much needed references. First is Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS), a new binaural perception-based software tool, intended to replace human evaluation with novel metrics in the assessment of audio quality. A much-needed approach for characterization of headphones, earphones, speakers, and any audio system, including automotive audio designs, researched, documented and validated by audio test and measurement company HEAD acoustics. Look for MDAQS on audioXpress.com.
The second related announcement was a new Preferred Listening Response Curve that could define the next standard in high-resolution earphones, the result from a new research by Knowles Corp. The research, intended to guide product designers, reflects the findings of an internal effort to determine the best and most satisfying music listening experience for consumers, and proposes an evolution of the Harman response curve specific to in-ears that takes into consideration frequencies above 10kHz. Again, search for Preferred Listening Response Curve on our website.