From The Editor's Desk: An Audio Renaissance
As the saying goes, "Without Input There Is No Output," and without microphones there wouldn't be audio recordings. Microphones were invented and perfected to serve basic communications and later for broadcasting — essentially connecting people. When Alexander Graham Bell patented the first microphone, in 1876, the concept was part of his basic wire transmission system. Microphone design quickly evolved to serve the needs of telephony, public address systems for concert halls and public events, and even hearing aids. But in fact microphones were almost simultaneously used for sound recording. The earliest known recordings of the human voice (phonautograph recordings) made in 1857, used a basic transducer and a vibrating stylus that generated modulated lines of sound waves on sheets of paper. But it was with telephony and radio broadcasting that microphones were later perfected and finally allowed the first electrical recordings in the 1920s, in which a microphone converted the sound into an electrical signal.
Microphones are now once again connecting humanity. Ironically, at a time when everyone on the planet has a phone in their pocket, we are plugging in microphones to input our voices directly to computers in order to better interact remotely — because that is how we are able to keep connected and working during the pandemic.
Long before we would dream of speech recognition, we perfected microphones to new levels. We miniaturized them and created new topologies that are flawless in terms of fidelity. And yet, consumers sheltering at home are again revisiting the "radio sound" and the natural boost that enhances the classic voice proximity effect to either record podcasts, stream performances live from home, or simply to communicate leveraging the "high-fidelity" voice quality allowed (sometimes) on VoLTE networks or by VoIP connections.
The pandemic truly disrupted this segment of the audio industry in interesting ways. Even though most people have smartphones, headsets, wireless earbuds optimized for calls, even computers with built-in microphones for conferencing, millions reacted to the fact that they were spending more time at home by investing in large capsule microphones positioned with cool desktop mounts, or with articulated boom arms, shock mounts and pop filters—radio-studio style. Some microphone companies saw their classic broadcast oriented microphones sell in quantities they could have never imagined. The familiar shape of the Shure SM7B showed up in the homes of so many famous singers and musicians that it almost became a 2020 icon.
And podcasting absolutely exploded, with people adopting the concept and taking it to new heights, while companies such as Spotify spent hundreds of millions of dollars in podcast content and related technologies. Røde Microphones, which had introduced in 2018 the extremely successful RØDECaster Pro Podcast integrated production studio, gradually expanded the system's features and podcasting range of accessories in direct response to market demand. With people at home looking for even more products to complement their RØDECaster Pro podcasting consoles — from cables to color-coded rings — they sold like crazy.
Actually, as Edison Research recently revealed, apart from the explosive growth in podcasting (production and consumption), News/Talk content (broadcast and streamed) also increased.
And while humanity is learning new lessons from this global pandemic, using technology in ways that will make sense for the future, we are learning to value simple things like the ability to remotely control devices, or simply being able to sanitize equipment after use. And those are basic requirements that will remain valued from now on.
Truly interesting trends are addressed in this edition of audioXpress, where we discuss how big and small manufacturers have adapted in 2020 and redefined successful new strategies. 2020 was the year of the audio renaissance, someone wrote and I totally agree.
Ironically, a year ago I enthusiastically wrote in audioXpress how 2020 would be the International Year of Sound (#IYS2020 - www.sound2020.org) — an initiative proposed by the International Commission for Acoustics (ICA) in response to a UNESCO Resolution.
As it happened with everything in 2020, the International Year of Sound wasn't as expected. We only have even more reasons to want to celebrate it. As soon as possible.