Superlative Sound - Maybe We Can't Get There from Here

AR-betterS2aMountain225.jpgAnyone who's been involved in high performance audio has probably noticed that every time a new format or technology is introduced there is always pushback from audiophiles. Whether it's a new format like DSD, a novel compression scheme like MQA, or the latest multi-channel configurations like 9.2, there is always some expert who is willing to claim "hoax!" and "rip off!" Why is that?

I have several theories as to why audiophiles, who claim to be on the leading edge in the search for ultimate high fidelity, are often fifth wheels, adding nothing but friction, when it comes to new audio concepts and ideas.

The first reason audiophiles reject the new is that to embrace it requires a change of opinion, attitude, or physical components. We are all guilty to some extent of embracing the old and familiar instead of engaging with the new. I recently turned down a review that would have required moving every piece of room-improvement gear out of my main listening room to install a new improved system. I demurred because the amount of work involved for what would hopefully be some overall gain in fidelity, was not worth the herculean effort involved. In popular vernacular, the juice just wasn't worth the squeeze, in my opinion.

AR-betterS6a225.jpgThis brings up the issue of habits. If someone has been using physical media for fifty+ years it can be a hard sell to convince that person that streaming is the way to go. All the arguments about equal or better fidelity can fall on deaf ears if the change-over involves a completely new way of locating and playing music with new gear and playback methodologies.

Frankly, I have no issues with those audiophiles who tell me, "I don't care about streaming. I have a large collection of physical media that I enjoy and have no need to add a streaming option." Knowing who are and what you enjoy is fine and dandy in my book...

AR-betterS7a225.jpgThe nay-sayers that I take issue with are those who come up with technical arguments as to why something is not worthy of consumer's attention. As I stated up front, I've seen these technical refutations of new technologies every time there has been a new format or tech introduced. Some of the detractors have competing technologies whose "ox is gored" by the new one. I've seen that among those people who won't accept that anything over 96/24 offers sonic advantages for commercial releases. Others reject MQA by the simple act of labeling it "lossy" (Which is debatable.) And then there are the journalists who attempt to "make their bones" by rejecting a new audio idea...

When I look at what I consider the audiophile ideal - having a recording that faithfully recreates the moment the music was made, it is clear to everyone, audio technophiles and technophobes alike, that we are not there yet. As to how we are to get there from where we are right now with our current state-of-the-art is anyone's guess... 

AR-betterS4a225.jpgBut I do feel that the two most limiting factors are audiophiles' inability to accept change and the industry's ability to confuse consumers with the mixed messages of "New is always good" countered by "We have good enough right now..."

And I certainly do not envy the marketing positions of "legacy" high-performance audio manufacturers. Many have always based their marketing messages on delivering continually improving sonic performance. What happens when a technological approach reaches a sonic dead end? Compare that with those firms whose approach has always been "More convenience and more features!" Among "normal" consumers these have been more successful approaches. Hello mediocre-sounding Bluetooth boxes...

AR-betterS1a225.jpgI don't have an answer for a current technological conundrum, but my gut feeling is that we could very well not see any meaningful advances in sonic fidelity for a number of years. My hope is that higher-resolution streaming will become the new normal, but that's far from a sure thing. I also hope that advancements in earphone technology will begin to deliver more personalized and more accurate transducers that can bring ideal listening environments to anyone with two ears without the need for a treated room. 

But I fear that that will be a long and contentious audiophile road with lots of starts and stops to allow for the bickering posts by differing "experts." It has always been much easier to shoot down a new idea or concept than to create one...

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