TECHNOLOGY AND YOU – GARY KAYE–When I got my first job out of college I invested in a good audio system. Back then it was a Harman Kardon Citation amplifier and pre-amp, a Bang & Olufsen straight arm turntable, a Kenwood tuner, and a set of Bose 901 speakers. For decades those remained the center of my home entertainment system. As I got older, and had kids, music evolved, and not always for the better, though certainly for the more convenient. The television became the center of home entertainment, no longer the stereo. Portable music went from cassette players, to CD players, to MP3 players, and while the convenience increased, the quality of the music decreased. And generations of us accepted the trade off. Still, there were those amongst us who held onto the old ways. They kept their vinyl records, they upgraded their systems, often putting anywhere from $25.000 to $250,000 and more into high end audiophile systems.
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, where monstrous UHD Televisions with 108” curved screens were grabbing the attention, about a mile and a half away from the main action, in a back room of the Venetian Hotel, there was a relatively small exhibit room devoted to what may just be the next big wave in music: Hi Res audio, also known as HD (for High Definition) Audio. This niche market is now experiencing a concerted industry effort to bring top end audio back at an affordable (though not cheap) price. It means digitized audio tracks that are significantly better quality than what you’ll find on most download services. It’s not as if these all just sprang up this week. For several years, Hi Res audio has been a thriving, though boutique industry. Now, with a big push from Sony and some other players, Hi Res audio promises to push out of the back rooms onto the main stage of the digital music business.
Just How Good Is It?
It’s always difficult to describe something better than what you’re used it. Only in this case it’s a little like back to the future. Remember those vinyl albums from your youth or young adulthood? Only without the dust and scratches. With a good “live” recording you felt like you were sitting in front of the stage. You could hear the artist’s fingers sliding along the guitar strings, the vibrations of the violin strings, and the thump of the timpani. They’re all back with Hi Res audio. When I first listened to a demo of some Sony gear a couple of months ago, it almost took my breath away. There were sounds I had never heard on an MP3 recording. Here’s the reason – before the advent of the digital world, all our recordings were analog, and reproduced sounds as we heard them. Then, when digital came along, our music started coming on CD’s – good quality, but big files. In order to squeeze those files so they’d take up less room on our devices, the engineers came up with MP3, which was only an approximation of that original recording. Now, Hi Res audio files take a step towards recreating that original analog experience with a much higher sampling rate, often better than CD quality. The graph below illustrates the comparison of analog, MP3, and Hi-Res