Everything runs in cycles, and audio has passed its nadir and is now trending back up. And high-fidelity audio — for heaven’s sake! — is moving back onto the radar screen. Consider these 10 points:
1. It Can’t Get Any Worse.
Sound quality is at an all-time low. This is even more depressing when you consider that in the past, sound quality was limited by technology. Today, there is absolutely no technological excuse for poor sound, but never have so many people been content to listen to crap. Sound quality will get better because (say it with me) it can’t get any worse.
2. The Retro Revolution.
For the first time ever, downloads surpassed CD sales in 2011. Downloading has become totally mainstream. So, obviously, downloading will become uncool and CDs will become cool again. Trendsetters will realize how good CDs sound compared with downloads.
3. Big Is Beautiful.
Along the same lines, trendsetters will tire of pocket-size playback and check out their dad’s big and clunky loudspeakers. Bingo!
4. Short Attention Span.
The restless, attention-deficient-disorder child that is the consumer electronics industry is always looking for something novel. Sound quality has been a neglected market. What’s old is new again.
5. Heard on the Street.
The Consumer Electronics Show is a great place to feel the pulse of the industry and get a handle on sentiments. In distinct contrast to the “sound quality is dead” talk of previous years, this year the audio chatter was decidedly upbeat. Audiophiles are excited again.
6. We Have the Technology for That.
Also at the show, I was struck by the number of cool new products and concepts whose sole purpose was to emphasize sound quality or improve it. I lost count of how many times I said, “Wow, this is going to blow people’s minds.” From Samsung’s vacuum-tube audio dock and home theater systems to Klipsch’s massive Console (both shown above), audio innovation is alive and kicking.
7. The Dr. Is In.
From Concourse A to Club Z, Beats by Dr. Dre headphones are everywhere. Almost overnight, the wildly popular line has awakened a new generation to the pleasures of high fidelity. Suddenly, crappy earbuds are out and good-sounding headphones are in.
8. Lives of the Rich and Famous.
Following directly from the Dr. Dre phenomenon, companies everywhere have discovered celebrity sells. In particular, musicians can sell the heck out of sound quality. Once a celebrity DJ endorses something (like sound quality), watch out!
9. Do These Headphones Make My Head Look Phat?
Fashion. Look no further than Monster’s new line of headphones. Once a fashion suggestion, headphones are now a fashion must. And once fashionistas get their hooks into something… well, you get the idea.
10. Follow the Money.
Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC bought a majority share of Beats for $300 million because it needed something cool to differentiate its Android phones from everyone else’s Android phones. And lo and behold, HTC’s Rezound with Beats by Dr. Dre stands out from the crowd. It will inspire consumers to pull out their wallets for sound quality. And, by the way, also buy a new phone.
Is this just a wishful, reverberant dream of a bygone era? Or is it possible? Will audio technology become cool again? Will sound quality become the Next Big Thing? I choose to think so. Go ahead — jump onto the cutting edge. Pull a CD off the shelf. Crank up the volume. Shake your subwoofer. Bust a move. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Ken C. Pohlmann is well known as an audio educator, consultant, and author. He is a professor emeritus at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, and the author of numerous articles and books, including Principles of Digital Audio and Master Handbook of Acoustics.
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