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August 2020
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

Looking Towards The Future
Enjoying the past 25 years of hi-fi, and looking forward to the future.
Editorial By Steven R. Rochlin

 

Looking To The Future Enjoying the past 25 years of hi-fi, and looking forward to the future.

 

  As Enjoy the Music.com celebrates our 25th Anniversary this month, I want to focus more on the future than the past. During my 20th Anniversary message, there were highlights of progress within the high-end audio community. Within this month's editorial, I'll be focusing on the next 25. While many of us enjoy amazing music via our turntable and dare we add reel-to-reel system, the future of streaming music is brighter than ever! For some of you reading this, there was a world of music pre-Internet as we searched through that book within the record store to order rare albums. Then came the Compact Disc (CD), and thus began a world of consumer-based digitized stereo audio. For many readers, especially those under the age of 45, digital audio was the norm. It is not lost on me that Fraunhofer's lossy mp3 is also celebrating its 25th anniversary. Within this editorial celebrating 25 years of Enjoy the Music.com I want to focus on the recent past, yet mainly write about the future of music and the high-end audio industry.

 

Looking To The Future Enjoying the past 25 years of hi-fi, and looking forward to the future.

 

Video Games
While my first video game system was the Magnavox Odyssey, years later we had the Atari 800 with a BASIC cartridge. Back then, we went to the video arcade and played Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and if you wanted fancy there was the highly advanced laserdisc play of Dragon's Lair and Firefox. These were primitive 1980's systems by today's standards. Imagine what today's 30-somethings grew up with game-wise and the immersive audio within these gaming systems. Anyone who has enjoyed 'high quality' gameplay during the past decade or so can attest to the enveloping soundscape within the latest video games. So why am I bringing up video gaming within a high-end audio 25th Anniversary article?

 

Looking To The Future Enjoying the past 25 years of hi-fi, and looking forward to the future.

If you know what this is... Virtually no one under 40 does, ask them.

 

An Immersive Experience Is The Norm
During one's youth we humans became 'programmed' to how audio 'should' sound. What becomes the daily norm as a child greatly affects your expectation about audio / hi-fi during their future. With said norms being the iPod and Xbox, for example, those under 30 inherently expect easy access to their music while also enjoying multi-channel / immersive sound. My very first Xbox, for example, I found that gameplay was enhanced by using a multi-channel speaker system versus mono or stereo. Within some games, being able to detect sounds behind you gave an advantage to scoring higher points and / or completing a level. While many of you may be nodding in agreement, you may also be wonder what this has to do with high-end audio and music? This also begs the question, how long until musicians and Soundscape CreatorTM have produced enough content to bring forth a new type of audio enthusiast called ImmersivephileTM?

 

Looking To The Future Enjoying the past 25 years of hi-fi, and looking forward to the future.

 

Musical innovators, such as Pink Floyd, experimented in quad (four channels of audio) back in the 1970s. Few took advantage of this technology within their home. During the early 1990s QSound, a filtering algorithm that manipulates timing, amplitude, and frequency response to produce an enveloping sound via stereo, arrived. In 1999 we saw the launch of the DVD-Audio format. Fast-forward a year to 2000 and some form of enveloping sound became the norm within virtually all video games. With recent youth being accustom to immersive sound, is it any wonder that today's aural artists are creating music that far exceeds the basics of mono and stereo. As musical creators, they have not been (overly) 'programmed' with creating music for only two channels.

Rest assured that with such a deep collection / selection of albums recorded for many decades in stereo, today's normal high-fidelity two-channel audio system will be around for decades to come. Yet we as an industry must also recognize that new musical artists 'hear the world' in a 'different' manner. Their world has always been filled with aural envelopment. Actually, all of us have always enjoyed immersive sound because that's how humans hear the natural world that surrounds us all. Yet for music, we 'old guys and gals' got programmed that music is a two-channel affair. Two-channel audio has a very solid foundation and will continue to be an important part of many music lovers' lives. Yet this may not be 100% true with today's under 30 music lovers.

The advantage for our industry embracing a multi-channel immersive world is selling more speakers, more amplifiers, etc, while also bringing more realism we desire. As best I can tell, audiophiles have a goal to enjoy the music as it sounded during the live acoustic performance. If the original recording is not 100% acoustic on a standard front of the venue stage, then as the artists intended. It is this last point that should remind us all that many of the albums we love were never 100% acoustic with minimal mic'ing. Just some food for thought.

 

Looking To The Future Enjoying the past 25 years of hi-fi, and looking forward to the future.

 

According to Engadget on July 29th (2020), "Music tracks encoded with Dolby's immersive Atmos Music tech recently started appearing on Tidal and other streaming services, but most are from artists backed by major labels. Now, Dolby and Pro Tools developer Avid are making it easier for independent artists to encode and distribute Atmos Music. That makes it more likely you'll get to hear next-level immersive audio from smaller artists on your streaming service of choice."

 

Desktop Speakers
Another growing product category is self-powered speakers. Many manufacturers have been busy offering a wide variety of powered models, and if your company produces desktop speakers it may be wise to include, at a minimum, a powered version. Other features that could be considered a minimum is Bluetooth (ugh), and pay attention to adding a high-quality headphone amplifier. Without a doubt, this sector has been growing by leaps and bounds, with some manufacturers adding app control, DSP, and a built-in Hi-Res Audio DAC for streaming services and networked NAS. Within the pro audio sector, additional technology advancements include built-in room correction, IP control, and other features. Imho audiophiles should read about the technology within the most advanced nearfield recording studio monitors to learn about the many modern features that may trickle down to the broad consumer environment. While portable audio and headphones are now a mature and 'known' species, high-end home audio is only recently taking advantage of advancements within desktop / nearfield monitor technology that pro audio has enjoyed for some time.

 

Looking To The Future Enjoying the past 25 years of hi-fi, and looking forward to the future.

 

Music Streaming
When Enjoy the Music.com was first launched in 1995, only a year earlier CompuServe provided the world's first legal download. Sadly, the music industry lagged far behind what was technically possible at the time, and Napster gave major labels a kick in the arse to get their shit act together. Decades later, in 2020 we can easily enjoy true lossless Hi-Res Music at 24-bit/192kHz. Gone are the days of hoping to find your fave vinyl LP album at the record store as the 30-somethings of today have access to virtually any modern song / album at the touch of a button. Tens (hundreds?) of thousands of recording studio quality albums are now available for a mere $20 a month. That's an incredible bargain when you consider how much a single album on vinyl LP or CD cost back in the 1980s. High-end audio manufacturers looking towards the future should, imho, hire a few people under 35 to better understand this growing sector within today's marketplace. The way those under 35 perceive and use their music 'collection' may be far different than how many of us did back in the 1970s.

 

Speaking Of Under 35 Year Olds
When Enjoy the Music.com was first launched, few could create a web site on the Internet. For those curious, I was around 30 years old at the time. There were a few writers who aspired to work for a variety of print publications back in the day, as that's all there was way back when. All that has changed, and am happy to report many of today's 35-ish music enthusiasts are creating their sites online. Print publications being the only source for information have been reduced to some extent, and in fact we're seeing some print publications migrate to online-only status. As an old-timer of sorts, I love it when a hi-fi magazine publishes great articles combined with beautiful images printed on high-quality paper. Decades ago I'd lust over MJ Audio Technology magazine, which published on very high-quality paper. Also, their best photographs were taken by an 8" x 10" large format film camera, and so the photo on the page was a 1:1 of the original film negative (delightful!). With advancements in digital cameras and optics, today we can debate the advantages and cost of digital versus film photography.

 

Looking To The Future Enjoying the past 25 years of hi-fi, and looking forward to the future.

 

Many talented technology writers I've e-mailed over the past few years enjoy their freedom of reviewing for their site. In recent years, we've been blessed by having many new web magazines make their mark within the audiophile industry. They are fiercely independent, plus they desire to freely speak their mind without a heavy-handed editor making their reviews sound like just another cookie-cutter review. Many have built a solid reputation, as they serve an enthusiastic audience by paying attention to their requests. Today there is a wider blurred line between reviewing and selling, as in the early days of the web eTown was amongst the first site to review gear, and then you could buy it from eTown too. Back then there were murmurs of conflict of interest. Today, the perceived 'conflict of interest' in reviewing a product, and in selling it directly or via an affiliate program, is a blurry line that is becoming more acceptable. Over the years manufacturers have asked Enjoy the Music.com to help design a product, and then help sell it too. We've always turned down these offers.

 

The Future Of Hi-Fi Magazines And Gear
None of us knows with 100% certainty the future, yet as a betting man I foresee more high-fidelity audio review sites on the Internet, plus many of us are more aware of being environmentally friendly. If you're going through the efforts to publish on paper material and physical delivery, make the most of it. I'd love to see a new print publication that rivals M&J from decades ago; the writing was excellent and the photos were unadulterated audio erotica! We need more high-end audio shows to spread the good word so more enthusiasts can experience what high-end audio can offer. It brings me joy to see many new photojournalists embracing the hi-fi lifestyle, and modern music enthusiasts on discussion boards helping guide manufacturers to create new product categories / features.

 

Looking To The Future Enjoying the past 25 years of hi-fi, and looking forward to the future.

 

Stereo has served us well for many decades and will be with us for a long, long time. Sure we can embrace reel-to-reel, the vinyl LP, and CD too, yet also deliver the 'promise' of recording studio-quality sound within our home and on-the-go too. Today's youthful musicians are more attuned with being a Soundscape CreatorTM, and in turn the very best 'listeners' will be called an ImmersivephileTM. I predict that in the near-ish future this will bring forth the next chapter of our hobby. We want to hear their musical creativity as the artist intended... no matter the format or channel count.

Of course... "That's up to you. Your future hasn't been written no one's has. For better or for worse, your future is what you make of it. So make it a good one."

Doc Brown, Back To The Future III

 

As always in the end what really matters is that you...

 

Enjoy the Music,

Steven R. Rochlin

Note: Soundscape CreatorTM and ImmersivephileTM are trademarked by Steven R. Rochlin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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