Will high-resolution technical advancements finish high-end audio?

Will high-resolution technical advancements finish high-end audio?
Yes, and soon . . .
5% (7 votes)
Yes, but in the long term . . .
7% (10 votes)
Possibly . . .
9% (13 votes)
No, but it will change for the worse . . .
3% (4 votes)
No, it will get better . . .
42% (60 votes)
It's more complicated than that . . .
34% (48 votes)
Total votes: 142

Last week's "Soapbox" stirred up a hornet's nest of comments. Kevin Wilkinson postulated that high-resolution technical developments like DVD-Audio and SACD might spell doom for the High End. On the other hand, they could contribute to its rebirth. What do <I>you</I> think?

David's picture

High-resolution formats will change the state of high-end audio, but not really for the worse. High-quality audio will be less of a niche market. The advent of mass-market 24-bit/96kHz digital raises the bar of audio quality in cheap mass-market components. Overall, in the short term, mass-market audio is coming closer in quality to the High End, but once designers are more familiar with the newer technology, high-end designers will reap the potential of high-resolution digital in their no-compromise designs. In the early days of CD, even the high-end CD players were not all that wonderful, but now 16-bit audio has likely reached its potential, and it is very good. The same will apply to 24-bit audio. The great thing is that even the early-generation mass-market DVD players sound pretty good. Just think---in 10 years, the current 24-bit designs will seem crude and unlistenable. I haven't even mentioned surround sound yet. I believe that surround sound for music will increase the public's interest in listening to music as more than just background noise. Look what it did for home theater. Before surround sound in home movies, there wasn't such an explosion of consumers looking for quality in their audio systems. As far as I saw, most people wouldn't even connect their VCRs to decent stereos. Surround sound came out, and BAM! everyone just has to have a home theater. Now the average person owning a home theater has by far a better system than what they would have purchased if there was no surround sound. Most people don't know the joys of well-reproduced music. They go out and buy decent-sounding equipment for movies. They also play their music on these systems, then they begin to understand the differences that quality makes. Once surround sound for music becomes more widespread, the public will eventually drift away from CD toward DVD-Audio. With the current confusion brought on by the new technologies and the current trends focusing on mainly home theater, it could seem that the High End is disappearing, but it is not. It is simply in a temporary transitional state. Once the High End gets a hold on the new technology, they will run with it, and we will experience reproduced music as we could only dream of before. At the same time, the state of mass-market audio will be greatly improved, and the average consumer will experience levels of sound quality they didn't even know existed.

Jim Merrill's picture

The software media format has not been the weakest link in the playback chain. Making it even stronger only revalidates the need to strengthen the other links: amps, speakers, room acoustics, etc.

Rodney Gold's picture

You have to have the other accesories to take advantage of the better front end , however with existing equiment the sound should improve (depending on recording and mastering techniques of course) Even tho we have neeb told CD is a mature medium , the better transports and digital cables still make a difference , why should it be otherwise with an enhanced format? Perhaps it will act as a spur to jaded audiophiles , if there is indeed a big sonic improvemnt , might it not spill over to the rest of the gear?

Martin Bruczkowski's picture

EVERY major category of consumer product has its own "High End," be it cars, food, or hi-fi, and no amount of technical development in any field has ever killed the market for luxury products. Marketing experts will see to it that no matter how inexpensive the technology for perfect sound reproduction, a market shall exist for those who can afford paying 10 times more. If all else fails, they'll use the "pride of ownership" lure . . .

Al Marcy's picture

You guys are in a rut. Even with live mike feeds, there is a long way to go in sonic (re)production. Please give the "Resolution" topic a much-needed rest. When I see the headline "No Resolution Posturing In This Issue," I will resubscribe. Some of us did bit-twiddling for a living. The thrill is GONE!

Stephen Curling's picture

Technology marches onward until the death of man. Nothing anyone can do about it. With that in mind, technoids will find more ways of utilizing new technology, including high-end audio. With products like DVD the amount of musical data presented can be staggering, but compared to the real things, it's not nearly enough. Technology marches on . . .

Scot Forier's picture

New formats once they catch on, change things for the better. I don't think the general public wants or cares about higher quality sound formats.

Curt Simon's picture

I became interested in the quality of sound reproduction when I became interested in orchestral music. At that time, the quality of equipment put out by the mass-market producers was abysmal, as was the quality of digital (re)mastering. But the good guys won! One can assemble an extremely musical system for less than a thousand bucks. Ten years ago, that was how much one had to spend on speakers alone. Put differently, the marginal increment in quality per dollar spent has fallen dramatically. Those of us who were in the hobby for the music are happy, while those who were in it for the equipment will continue their quest. Why do I still read Stereophile? Because I am still interested in technological developments in the industry. However, I have long since gotten off that upgrade-every-two-years train.

G.  Strausser's picture

High end audio will always be a very small niche hobby. No matter what the technology, how good or how bad, there will always be small group of insane paranoid audiophiles that will be tweeking and obsessing over the equipment because it is fun and keeps us off the streets.

Federico Cribiore's picture

This issue is inane. The High End is about good sound, not exorbitantly priced gear from niche manufacturers. If high-resolution advancements bring good sound down to a level where anyone and everyone can afford it, HOW CAN THAT BE BAD?!?

tony esporma's picture

Higher quality sound will indeed help the High End. However, note that the problems with High End have nothing to do with sound quality, it has to do with marketing.

mkliau's picture

technology will not make high-end audio better b/c better will always weight heavier on taste

John Atkinson's picture

I am tired of CD sound quality. I have heard 24/96; I want it now, and believe sufficient audiophiles agree with me.

Todd A.  Lee's picture

No matter how far you push the envelope via bit rates and sampling rates, the only thing that will ever threaten the High End is an economic depression. People who have a lot of money and golden ears will always buy the most expensive equipment because that's just another way that they distinguish themselves from common folk.

Jay Brandes's picture

Every time that we have gotten a new music format with improvements in S/N, resolution, etc. (think LP, CD), the stereo industry has responded with improvements in associated components. We are hopefully seeing the start of a new era, one in which all components get better. Think back to 1980, before CDs were introduced. Compare the speakers, amplifiers, cables , even turntables, and other items to those found today. Same goes for equipment from the '50s and pre-transistor '60s as compared to the '30s and '40s.

Isiah Johnson's picture

I know that our egos may be hurt just a little to know the average Joe did not have to work nearly as hard as we did to get great sound after these new technologies come out, but we will get over it. Pretty soon, we can start using the old cliché, as our fathers and grandfathers did: "Well, back in MY day . . . "

Scott Miller's picture

There's already no justification for $5000 CD players and turntables, or $800 line conditioners, or $100 per foot speaker cables--yet people are making money selling these and similar things. There's a sucker born every minute, so of course "high-end audio" will stick around, in one form or another.

tony esporma's picture

Higher quality sound will indeed help the High End. However, note that the problems with High End have nothing to do with sound quality, it has to do with marketing.

Scott Ward's picture

What are you, nuts or something? Higher resolution bad for high fidelity? Give me a break. All that the best possible outcome (an ultra-high-resolution input source that is free) would do is allow us to spend a greater fraction of our audio budget on the real problem, which is the transducers. Finally, we will have a signal that is worthy of the Genesises or the JMlabs or the Wilsons. I see nothing but advantages to this development. It helps to diminish the snake oil in the business which is the major impediment to broad acceptance.

Scott Rolfes's picture

Technical advancements will allow us "too stupid to quit" to extract even more from the current or future mediums. We've been there for almost ever, and getting rid of us will be difficult. Even if the state of the art turns out to be PCs with audio systems, we'll be there to point out that the emperor has no clothes, and maybe we could build him a better sounding suit.

Nick Fulford's picture

Assuming that a lowest common denominator of 24/192 or its equivalent resolution in SACD, delivered from a disk on one's computer, jitter-free to a DAC; there is still amplification, speakers, room size and acoustics to consider. While, the ideal of an inexpensive high-end source may be realized, the other components will separate the "high-end" from "mid-fi". Whether "high-end" succeeds or fails will be dependent on factors other than an inexpensive, "perfect" source.

Ren's picture

The equation High End = Big Bucks will no longer be valid; excellent sound will be available at a lower price---great for people with average incomes.

David L.  Wyatt, Jr.'s picture

Look, if I can go to Best Buy and take home the equivalent of a Wilson/Krell system for a few hundred bucks, well, let the High End die. But that won't ever happen. Digital is only a tiny piece of the audio pie. You need quality speakers that produce real, not false, bass. You need an amp capable of driving said speakers properly. You need high-quality gear that I don't see the mainstream producing for a long, long time. Digital enhancements may even help us poorer audiophiles, who can take the savings on our front-ends and put it into better speakers and amps. Audiophiles need to let others hear what we have, not engage in digital Luddism.

Gary D.  Blevins's picture

A "musical system" must be designed by "listening." I don't see the mass market begining to touch this to date. A musical system using a computer as a CD transport sounds better than a high-end or mass-market system that is not musical. After going through numerous trials with various equipment, they all DO NOT make music! In fact, after using various high-end CD players and a Pioneer 505 DVD player, the best sound that I have been able to produce is using a computer soundcard with a digital output of 16/48kHz going into a 24/96 D/A converter.

Rob Malcolm's picture

I don't feel the public will buy into such "higher resolution formats". Everyone I know is more than happy with CD's and can't imagine a need for anything better. Backwards compatibility is a must. We also have to rely on the recordingn industry to use the potential of such technological advancements.

Lee Hirsch, HiFi Centre, Canada's picture

It seems unlikely to me that any technology that is better could be anything but a benefit to high-end audio. The danger lies in the marketing departments and their need to hype products and technologies before they are proven or, in some cases, even exist in marketable form.

Kelvin's picture

It sucks......

Troy McHenry's picture

People said the same thing when the audio CD was released, and it helped the market, I'm sure this will do the same.

John Miller's picture

What I see is that high-end is coming down in price. That is good for everybody. A $5k system of today will blow away a $20k system of ten years ago. Period. That is good.

Julian I.  Spring's picture

You have to remember that a system will only sound as good as its weakest component. I feel that just because we will have a superior source, the rest of the system must step forward. If you have paper-thin particleboard speakers and lamp wire hooked up to a $150 receiver, do you think you will hear the difference?