Audio News for June 3, 2008

by | Jun 3, 2008 | Audio News | 0 comments

Consumer Demand and the Evolution of Audio Technologies –  The constantly accelerating pace of change forces frequent replacement of most of our electronic gadgets, often before they have lived out their useful lives.  Computers, cell phones, appliances, you name it.  Upgrading has caused major changes in the area of recorded music.  78-rpm shellac discs were around for well over a half century before being replaced by the long play record around 1950, quickly followed by the stereo LP in l958.  Open reel tapes offered better stereo several years earlier, but their high price structure kept them out of the mainstream. The compact cassette, which had been introduced only for speech use earlier, began to share music sales when it was refurbished as a music format in the early 1970s. While it never equaled the fidelity of the best vinyl, some audiophile cassettes came very close.  (I once wrote a magazine column reviewing just audiophile cassettes.)  Some people upgraded by dubbing their entire vinyl collection to cassettes and gave away or sold their LPs. Also in the 70s various vinyl approaches to enhanced fidelity became popular with audiophiles – including direct disc cutting, 45 rpm, and half-speed mastering.  This was also the Quad Era – that upgrade didn’t last very long due to competing formats and technical glitches which delayed the advent of surround sound for about a quarter century.

In 1982 the digital compact disc was introduced.  Those who were captured by its freedom from noise and scratch and its much greater convenience jumped on the CD bandwagon, replaced their vinyl favorites with CD versions and junked their turntables. Those of us not completely convinced kept our vinyl – which after a period of “obsolescence” has now bounced back as a very healthy niche market, with super-hi-end pricing of both equipment and audiophile vinyl releases. Around the turn of the century to the 21st two new incompatible hi-res surround sound formats were launched: DVD-Audio and SACD.  The first has pretty much followed the history of Quad, but 5300 SACD titles have been released – primarily in the classical genre, and have finally made Surround Sound for Music an effective and viable technology.

In the second half of the 1990s computer-savy collectors began to transfer their CD collections to MP3 files stored on their computers and iPod-type mobile players.  Then the downloading of music files became the next upgrade – at least as far as convenience, which seems to be the main attraction of this technology advance.  To the detriment of musical fidelity. Now the playback of music is happening on such portables or computers with usually very poor speakers or earbuds rather than on a home audio system.  The mass market has found in the new technologies a whole different way to access their music, and never mind if the sonics are compromised. The latest upgrade has grown out this, and it is the storage of digital files on a home music server for playback thru a high-quality DAC and the usual quality amps and speakers – even thruout the home.  Audiophiles are excited by its not being limited to storage and playback of data-reduced MP3 files, but via a large hard drive handling not only standard 44.1K CD format but various higher-res lossless and uncompressed formats – even surround sound. The convergence of home AV and the computer world is now happening in ways not envisioned even a decade ago. Technological innovation is not going away in this area – in fact it is moving at a faster pace all the time.

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