On Wednesday, April 5th I attended what has become an annual event, the Music Matters mini-audio show at Listen Up's Denver store. The event requires a major rearranging of Listen Up's sound rooms to accommodate all the special gear brought in for the show - I had a chance to spy the office that was converted into a storeroom - it was packed floor to ceiling with gear.
The Music Matters event is very much like a miniature audio show - each listening room was converted into a dedicated room for a particular manufacturer (or in most cases manufacturers) gear and was set up so that attendees had a chance to visit five different rooms. Each session was 35 minutes long, and after the third session, there was a break where everyone could attend the keynote presentation. In the past, the keynote had been held in Listen Up's largest listening room, which only holds about 30 people. This year Listen Up used the elementary school auditorium that happens to be across the street from the store and about 120 people attended. Except for the broken clock, that read 8:15, I was encouraged by the condition of the school's facility. The PA and the presentation projector worked, although the pull-down screen did have a noticeable horizontal crimp. I wanted to sit in front so I could get some photographs during the presentation and discovered that the first five rows had mini seats that I could just barely squeeze into. Most of the audience opted for the "big boy" seats farther back in the room.
The Keynote presentation was entitled "Stream the Studio - the Next Wave in Subscription Music" and featured Marc Finer, senior director of the Digital Entertainment Group, Jim Belcher - VP of technology, production and digital strategy at Universal Music Group, and David Glasser, chief engineer at Airshow Mastering. The gist of the presentation was that with new technologies, such as MQA via services like Tidal and others, the end user can have the same audio quality as the content creators had in the studio. For those of us who have been following MQA, Tidal and high resolution digital audio there was little in the way of new information, except for Jim Belcher's comments regarding the current state of meta-data. He stated that Universal Music Group is studying ways to expand the use of meta-data through additional features like album notes, artist information, music stems, photos and videos. Since metadata is one of the last areas where physical media vastly outpoints streaming, this has the potential to make hi-res streaming far more interesting to both millennial music enthusiasts and hardcore fans. But these and other enhancements won't come online for some time. When will that happen? Still no firm date on that.
David Glasser, whose work has included mastering the Grateful Dead's Studio box and Jack White's Paramount Records boxes, admitted that he has not yet added MQA encoding to his studio. But unlike some record labels and studios who have come out against MQA, he sees its advantages as something that will be important to his clients in the future.
After the keynote presentation, there were two more 35-minute sessions back at Listen Up's store. I did not hear all the presentations because there were more than five rooms, and only five presentations each evening (the event began at 5:00 PM and did not end until 10:00PM). Since most of the gear had been shown at one of the last audio shows I had attended, either RMAF or Axpona, I did not see an urgent need to sit through every presentation. The ones I did attend, from BlueSound, MQA, Tidal, AudioQuest, Aurender, GoldenEar, Hegel, NAD, Peachtree, Pro-Ject, PSB, and REL were all well-attended (no spare seats) and professionally presented, not unlike a RMAF lite. The overall sound quality of the presentations was good, and if you had the good luck to sit in one of the center seats, excellent.
I applaud Listen Up for hosting the Music Matters event, which required closing the store during regular business hours for two days to accommodate the affair. I look forward to next year's Music Matters, when if all goes according to plan I will, hopefully, be "streaming the studio" from my very own phone via the IOS Tidal app.