I'll be the first to admit that I know just enough about today's advanced audio technology to get my face slapped. So at the risk of asking some stupid and embarrassing questions... Oh, what the hell. Here goes.
I saw Bret's video clip about the new Merging Technologies Horus converter. From this description, it would appear to be a technological tour-de-force that pretty much leaves all of the other converters I've read about choking in the dust. Modular I/O, built-in mic pres and 24 channels of ADA in a single box, not to mention their IP ethernet transfer system... Whew! Unless it's priced like a Maybach or it sounds like nails on a chalkboard, it should be a winner. But what do I know?
Here are some other things I don't know. Why are 352.4kHz DXD, 384kHz and 2.82MHz DSD key selling points for this product - or any other audio products for that matter? Are you guys and gals routinely working at 192kHz right now? A lot of gear is capable of this performance, but are the production and consumer markets really demanding even higher resolutions?
Several years ago Super Audio CD and DSD were supposed to free the audio world from the 20Hz-20kHz cage and finally give us back sound quality that even exceeded - wait for it - VINYL! Sadly, both formats tanked because - as I understand it - the vast majority of consumers could not play back these high-res products in their existing, ubiquitous CD players.
Most of today's music consumers have never experienced high-quality audio on vinyl, SACD or DSD. Their frame of reference is standard CD quality and "download" quality. And that seems to be good enough for them - just like cassettes were once good enough for me. For the record, I deny that I ever listened to 45s and 8-tracks. Like Disco and leisure suits, they're a nightmare of my misspent youth.
Oh, and if anyone would care to explain DXD and "1 bit" DSD recording technology to me, I'll buy the coffee. :-)
That's a lot of questions there Russ and not sure I could even attempt to answer them all. As far as the Merging Technologies Horus, your phrase "a technological tour-de-force that pretty much leaves all of the other converters I've read about choking in the dust." pretty much sums it up.
Many of the features are forward thinking. Even today's interfaces include the ability to record at 192K but relatively few take advantage of it. Some do.
The 1 bit recording formats basically enable a much lower data footprint for higher sample rates, from my limited understanding.
There are many much more capable people on here to answer these questions than I. I use my ears more than my mind sometimes :) I do long for improvement in digital audio and hopefully companies like Merging Technologies will lead the way in making some of the advancements more commonplace. The possibility exists for these increased resolutions to filter down to the consumer level.
I often wish that audio would continue to increase in resolution and quality on the consumer level much like digital video, but for some reason it does not.
The wiki on DSD is a pretty good source for understanding the technology and at least they have developed a physical CD to play the format.
Thanks for your response! I share your wish for higher resolution consumer audio products. But, as a marketer, I think the reasons why HD audio hasn't developed have less to do with the industry and more to do with the consumer. So at the risk of opening yet another can of worms... Oh, what the hell. Here goes.
IMHO, there are several barriers to the distribution and widespread consumer acceptance of HD audio. Chief among them are a "technology barrier" and an "aesthetic barrier."
While the technology for creating HD audio exists - Horus and many other 192+ devices are already available - the technology for delivering HD audio to mass market consumers does not. Sure, there have been experiments with SACD, DSD and apparently DXD. However, for better or worse, the technology driving today's consumer audio purchases is the digital download. Until the industry cracks the code and creates an HD audio download format that's fast, cheap and compatible with existing ubiquitous devices, any case for HD audio is unwinable.
Even the HDTV revolution doesn't provide an adequate model for the wholesale consumer adoption of HD audio. Yes, when the revolution started, the "pay-per-service" cable model was already in place and widely accepted. It also helped that President Reagan declared the development of HDTV "a matter of national interest." But, at that time, TV was the individual's primary connection to the world and, like it or not, a far more important medium than radio. TV has always had a far greater power to inform and entertain mass audiences than radio and, let's face it, music.
The army of people who engineered the drive to HDTV better understood the potential of digital technology and the frenetic pace of technological development. There were able to look further into the future and plan for digital advancements and growth. The people who developed CD technology years before couldn't or didn't see that far ahead. As a result, HDTV was specifically developed to deliver high-definition content that could be viewed on high-definition screens and retasked for SD units, as well. The industry offered both formats to consumers and let them decide which had overall greater value to them.
The consumer verdict was resounding. SD televisions and monitors are history, as is analog terrestrial TV transmission thanks in part to a government-subsidized mandate for digital transmission. HDTV is the present and the future. It empowers the expansion of Internet-based, consumer-directed content delivery. Indeed, IPTV is poised to relegate cable systems to the role of ISPs rather than programming distributors.
However, there is no analogous grassroots national impetus or demand for HD audio. While video consumers now watch, record and download HD and SD programming, audio consumers can only listen to low-res CDs and download even lower res music files. And until there is a sea change - an overriding reason why we audio consumers should demand higher quality audio and change our buying habits - that's what we'll have to live with.
The force behind this sea change has to start with breaking the download technology barrier. Without a workable download solution, HD audio will never get off the ground. But that can only give HD audio a foothold on the climb to mass consumer acceptance. HD audio can only become an unstoppable market force by breaking the aesthetic barrier.
A picture is worth a thousand words. In a side-by-side comparison test between an HD monitor and an SD set, which will the consumer choose? No brainer. The difference between HD and SD is not just noticeable, it's stunning. There is no comparison.
Years ago when I heard my first SACD it was a revelation. The difference between standard CD and SACD was absolutely manifest - night and day. It was a DG recording of some famous orchestra playing some classical masterpiece I'd heard dozens of times before. And it was like I was hearing it for the first time. If you can believe it, the sound was almost too good. I also heard the musicians' breathing and body movements as they played. I felt like I was on stage at the podium with the conductor. It was stunning.
If consumers could do an A/B test between low-res and high-res audio, I, for one, am certain they would have a similar reaction. But they can't because there is no basis for comparison. Consumers only know CDs and MP3s. They literally don't know what is possible - what they're missing - unless they sit in a control room and hear it for themselves. Consumer perceptions and demands can't change unless they have a readily available basis for comparison. This requires a superior technical solution that can be demonstrated, compared to the existing standard (either personally or via a trusted third-party) and proven superior. The consumer will decide if the proof is convincing enough, if the new and improved alternative is desirable enough, if the net personal benefit is great enough - to warrant the commitment and hard-earned dollars required to abandon the old standard and adopt the new one.
If the audio industry or electronics manufacturers are reluctant to develop the technology and products required to bring HD audio to the mass consumer market because of the inherent financial and marketing risks and expenses involved, they should ask themselves these questions:
If somebody breaks the technology barrier and develops new future-oriented HD audio file download paradigm, if somebody breaks the aesthetics barrier and takes the initiative to seed the mass consumer market with head-to-head technology/product comparisons, if somebody does the math and figures out how to exploit this massive, latent market, HD audio can become the next successful, profitable, must-have consumer medium. It will be a boon to the electronics industry, the music industry and consumers alike.
Does anyone know whether organizations such as the Consumer Electronic Association, the National Electronics Distributors Associations, the AES and the SAE are even investigating or spearheading this? Are there any efforts underway to develop and adopt a global HD audio playback/download standard? Is there a Sony, Philips or an Apple committed to HD audio right now?