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audioXpress Magazine

June 2024


Different Listening Perspectives
Automotive audio today is designed for immersive experiences.
Editorial By J. Martins


audioXpress June 2024


  I recently attended a very successful AXPONA (Audio Expo North America) 2024 edition in Chicago, IL, where I was pleasantly surprised with the vibrant showcase of audio systems that filled the largest number of rooms in the history of this show. Hundreds of rooms with lots of innovative speakers to discover (some doing their premiere here, instead of waiting for the High End show in Munich), but also lots of new electronics, including many network audio streamers, which were clearly the most popular audio source, followed in a distant second by vinyl and CD which are both mandatory as many attendees bring their own physical media to listen to for reference. These high-end streamers are now a core hifi component because they allow an aggregation of streaming services, enabling sessions to freely pick tracks from the Tidal, Qobuz, or Apple Music, all of which now offer lossless streaming options or local NAS and storage devices for Hi-Res PCM and DSD files.

On the second day of the show, I noticed that the hotel Wi-Fi network that had worked reliably until then was suddenly absent. Apparently, the excellent facilities of the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel & Convention Center were no match for the hundreds of simultaneous FLAC streams demanded by an audio show. Or maybe it could just have been a local outage in Schaumburg's telecom service I did not inquire, since services resumed as I was reaching the hotel convention area again.



Using streaming services to quickly find a particular song has been a practice at audio shows for quite some time but was previously not something to brag about until lossless streaming became available. In general, there was a preference for playing files from a local server, enabling access to uncompressed masters and high-resolution files. Now, with the availability of "CD-quality" 16-bit files streamed in lossless flavors it seems everyone just accepts it, and no one seems to bother hiding it from the attendees also because in most cases that's what they already do at home.

AXPONA was a "stereo-only" showcase. There's absolutely no interest in playing the "Spatial Audio" mixes that are available through the same services. And for some reason, streaming lossless FLAC of standard CD quality files is considered "hifi" enough, and there's far more enthusiasm for rediscovering expensive and extremely inconvenient analog alternatives, such as listening to reel-toreel recordings.


audioXpress June 2024


From Chicago I moved to Las Vegas, NV, to attend the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual convention. Every NAB Show is a vibrant showcase of the latest cutting-edge technology for content production, from TV and radio to movie production, to "the Creator Economy," which these days means streaming, podcasting, and any content distributed directly on the web and social media.

In these environments where a massive percentage of today's content is generated 24-bit digital audio at a minimum of 48kHz is standard for hybrid AoIP/cloud infrastructures, where codecs are as common as the number of "native" file formats. Audio is mostly recorded at the industry standard 24-bit/96kHz using Broadcast WAV files, and absolutely no one calls this "hi-res." It's just audio.

In post, mixing 5.1 surround and Dolby Atmos is now the default for any type of scripted content. This means that productions expect to use music already mixed for immersive formats.

The NAB Show is also where the podcasting community shops for technology. And podcasting is increasingly a sophisticated multiplatform environment with high production values, where the use of artificial intelligence for things such as editing and transcription is becoming very common, and mixing for Spatial Audio is also becoming common practice.



As this issue of audioXpress focuses on Automotive Audio, an extremely important listening environment that is definitely not designed for "stereo," this also puts things into a totally different perspective. According to Edison Research' latest Share of Ear report, 53% of today's 13 to 34-year-olds are listening to radio every single day, mostly in the car. Also according to Edison Research, the US podcast audience today approaches 100 million weekly listeners.

Automotive audio today is designed for immersive experiences with access to "on-demand" streamed forms of contents, where digital-native "hi-res" immersive podcasting will thrive.



J. Martins




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