Where Do We Go From Here?
Modern times bring modern solutions. First came recording audio over 100 years ago using a now-primitive needle scraping wax. Eventually we humans invented the microphone, to eventually amplifying musical instruments to the point of going full-out synthesizing via Moog and others producing 100% electronically-created musical instruments. Music lovers over the generations have gone from the wax cylinder and vinyl LP recordings to today's pure digital Hi-Res Music. What was once a challenge to find that special rare vinyl LP record within your 2000+ collection has become to today's computer search feature that instantly streams your fave tune from the millions of albums available online. How are those 'Classic Audiophile' types going to accept the 'Modern Audiophile' is still yet to be fully grasped imho.
Binaural and multi-channel sound within the consumer electronics industry has been around for decades. So has Roland's Q Sound that was developed during the 1980's, which is the aural soundscape cornerstone of Roger Water's breakthrough album Amused To Death. To quote Wiki:
"QSound is the original name for a positional three-dimensional (3D) sound processing algorithm from QSound Labs that creates 3D audio effects from multiple monophonic sources and sums the outputs to two channels for presentation over regular stereo speakers. QSound was eventually re-dubbed "Q1" after the introduction of "Q2", a positional 3D algorithm for headphones. Later multi-speaker surround system support was added to the positional 3D process, the QSound positional 3D audio process became known simply as "Q3D".
It has not passed by unnoticed that Sony has just announced their 360 Reality Audio, which will be supported by the likes of Tidal, Qobuz, etc. Sony says that "360 Reality Audio makes it possible for artists and music creators to create a 360-degree musical experience by mapping sound sources such as vocals, chorus and instruments with positional information of distance and angle to suit their creative and artistic purpose. When listeners play back the resulting content, they can enjoy a music experience that immerses them in sound from every direction as intended by the content creator."
While I get the whole two ears, two channel thing on both a technical and human perception level, anyone who has heard a high quality 360-degree audio experience must surely come away scratching their head at the possibilities the future holds for us all. During these throwback times of rejuvenated popularity with vinyl LP turntables and cassette magnetic tape, and we love reto, there's also a focus on ease of delivery (Internet), simple to access (digital streaming), and in bringing music lovers closer to the artist. Classic Audiophile presentation is a known, yet new and far more reaching 360 degree sound schemes is something Modern Audiophiles may not have fully grasped. If you're at a classical music concert hall, then generally those Classic Audiophile sound schemes work fine. But what if you're a true sound / music creator and want to share the soundscape of riding a roller coaster. Obviously sound comes from below you because of the tracks and around you due to various coaster acrobatics. So the musician's, or sound's, 'performance venue' are very different. Music artists are just that, artists that may choose to create a 360 degree soundscape.
Speaking of musical artists, it is no accident that Roger Water's Amused To Death has sounds that seem to fill your aural space in 360 degrees from just a pair of speakers. While this saying is getting fairly beaten to death nowadays, immersive sound may be precisely "what the artist intended". Music is art, hi-fi audio gear is engineering. As a classically-trained acoustic musician myself, and there are many of us within high-end audio, it will be curious to revisit this article a decade from now to see where our industry has evolved.
As a personal side note, am right now engineering a new, and extremely extensive, acoustic percussion and drum set. While my love is for using acoustic instruments, there are ideas and concepts I've had for over 30 years that I wanted to express. Alas, these concepts can not be accomplished via today's acoustic instrumentation. There is a personal internal struggle that, while I'd love to be 100% acoustic, it simply is not possible within today's product offerings. To create the ability of this musical artist's concepts I've had in my head for decades would take an enormous amount of R&D to make acoustic versus the ease of today's modern electronics.
Evolution is not always easy, or 'clean', as there are usually road bumps, naysayers, and of course the old-school stereo audiophiles who simply "always did it that way" to those who embrace new technology and adapt to create state-of-the-art audio gear (whatever state-of-the-art is at that time in human history). At one point hornspeakers and vacuum tube amplification were both state-of-the-art. As an example, today we can all look back and shake our heads at 1997's state-of-the-art mp3 lossy audio. Because we knew mp3 was, well, not that great sounding someone came up with...
Digital Audio Ramblings
As access to bandwidth greatly increases, both wired and wireless, any debate for "needing lossy compression" becomes moot. Internet bandwidth will be like running water from your faucet of today versus hauling water from a hand-dug well as early humans did. I love the water analogy as it is something that, for most of you reading this, is simply there in abundance. Today's slow 100MB of bandwidth with relatively high latency will soon be measured in Gbs and latency will be close to nil. With that said, what are we going to do with all that bandwidth?
Like print magazines, the vinyl LP and other formats may always have their fans. Even a digital man like me, who was an analog kid, loves the whole process (Ritual? Religion?) of cleaning and playing a finely crafted vinyl LP. There are indeed times I prefer my media on printed paper versus a tablet computer. Some day in the future us cars guys might yearn for an automobile manufacturer that still offers stick shift versus the modern equivalent. Much further down the road, we might even yearn for physical ground-based roadways.
Bringing this back to audio, one could ask themselves if immersive sound such as binaural, Q Sound and the future of Sony's 360 Reality Audio, spell the demise of stereo 'philes? I doubt it, at least for the next few generations of humankind. As we tend to have longer lifespans, older technologies also follows suit. Even my dad, who was a state-of-the-art guy in the 1950's though the 1980s, is now choosing to 'ignore' the modern possibilities. He wants his audio system to be the way it always was, because that's the way it is and it's easy to use and something he is familiar with (and tired of learning new audio things, which in his defense he learned a lot of different techniques with audio for many decades). Guess at some point he wanted to get off the proverbial 'audio roller coaster'.
As a side note, just saw a video where they tasked two teens to use a rotary telephone. I found the video quite enlightening as it shows how old-tech of yesteryear is today's... curiosity.
Am amazed at the progress high-end audio has undergone in a mere 30 years. That's barely a blink of the eye when one considers the age of Earth and human existence. What was once only a few printed high-end audio magazines at newsstands is now hundreds of online sites and, yes, quite a few print publications still remain yet I see virtually none at the newsstand in airports worldwide. One of our Internet partners, Australian Hi-Fi Magazine, just celebrated their 50 year anniversary. I believe only Hi-Fi News & Record Review can hold the same type of claim. Of course both magazines now also have very active websites.
We Love Hi-Res Audio And Hi-Res Music
Where will we be in 2020… and 2049 when Napster turns 50? Stereo will surely still be with us in 2049, yet will it be a mainstream audio type or something that harks back to the early days of Classic Audiophile hi-fi? For today in early 2019, many manufacturers are trying a variety of things to bring newfound experiences to satisfy music lovers worldwide. Considering the incredible progress high-end audio and the music industry has made during the past 30 years, one thing is for certain and that is the death of lossy compressed music. Bandwidth, storage, and access will simply be there in abundance… like running water through your faucet is today.
We do indeed live in interesting times.
Visualization of routing over SpaceX's proposed Starlink (Internet) network.
We look forward to attending the many shows during 2019 as once again Enjoy the Music.com is sponsoring the Thursday night industry/press party for AXPONA 2019 and RMAF plus both event's seminars. In a week or so we'll be at the inaugural Florida Audio Expo 2019 and hope to see you there! Everyone at Enjoy the Music.com hopes you love what we have to offer within our February 2019 issue.
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