Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Impatient Futurist Forget 3D Screens—We Need 3D Audio, Like in Real Life

3D Audio
Some decades ago, a salesguy in a high-end audio shop badly misjudged my socioeconomic status and treated me to an ultrahigh-quality recording of an obscure jazz ensemble, played on a $10,000 audio system in an acoustically perfect room. I staggered out goose-bumped and hair-raised, a newly minted audiophile wannabe. I was sure that this was just the beginning of a journey into ever-more-amazing sound experiences. The equipment in that room consisted of glowing tubes in big metal cases, vibrating domes in massive wood cabinets, and spinning platters of plastic. No doubt technological innovation would one day shrink this clunky system into something small enough to carry around and cheap enough to avoid triggering the reckless-behavior clause in my prenup. More important, I was sure that even grander realms of audio quality lay ahead. By 2011, who could imagine what sort of incredible sonic delights would await?

Technology certainly has come through in some ways. Today’s iPod Shuffle is so small that it is little more than audio-enabled jewelry. No complaints on the pricing, either; you can get a pretty good MP3 player for the cost of a newly released CD. There’s just one little snag: Today’s sound quality is miserable, worse than what I was listening to on my budget stereo 30 years ago.

The biggest culprit in our sonic backsliding is the ubiquity of low-quality digital music files. “If you’re not going to listen to a high-quality recording, you don’t need a high-quality system,” says John Meyer, founder of the audiophile speaker company Newform Research in Ontario. Hey, tell my kids. They are all too happy to semipermanently install wads of plastic in their ears for the privilege of listening to near-terabytic playlists rendered in mediocre-at-best fidelity.


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