I admit it, I love music. Music has followed and surrounded me my entire life. From my earliest memories I enjoyed the sound, the feelings and the experiences of music. I have made it and studied guitar, piano, brass instruments and played in a band both in and out of school. When no music is around I may hum, or whistle and like most have sung in the shower. I do not think I am unusual in the love of music, I think it is a universal part of the human experience. It is not just film or video but life with a soundtrack. So, it has been a great pleasure and bit of a mission to work on the improvement of the audio experience and fortunately my career has allowed me to move sound forward.
I worked for years in the analog world trying to control noise, boost fidelity and allow mobility to sound. While we made a lot of progress, the physical realities of vinyl records or cassette tapes remained an Achilles Heel to fully freeing the sound to move and play where and when we wanted. Fortunately, we were successful in developing digital recording and playback systems, and I am honored to have played a role there
Digital systems allow us to separate the content from the medium, so no more record scratches or cassette noise. The lack of physical parts has allowed us to make portable playback systems that don't skip or flutter. Today, more people than ever are listening to more sound, at more times and in more places than was ever possible before. While digital audio has made that possible it has taken some compromises and a lot of work.
The first digital recordings were under watch from content creators for fidelity to the music and experience. Almost all of us wanted to ensure that when we lost the scratches and noise, we did not also lose the life, air and experience of the music. We adopted the then 16 bit 44.1K sampling system as it pushed the limits of our technical capability at the time while giving us the full range of sound the human ear could hear and ALL the music. While some of the marketing speech may have been a bit hyperbolic we did feel we gave the world "pure, perfect sound forever" at least as well as we could. As with most things, we have continued to work on technology and today we often record at 24 bit with 192K sampling and sound continues to improve.
Meanwhile, one of the dreams of setting music free was to let you listen whenever and wherever you wanted. We tried making portable players, but those using CDs or tapes still suffered from the physical issues of moving motors and parts and the limits of how much media you could carry. The reality of storage cost and processor power meant the units we could build had very limited song lists, and with such little improvement in experience we could not improve the mobile music experience.
Then came the development of mp3, which as an audio subset of how we were digitizing video provided a highly efficient (translate low amount of data) alternative. mp3 and the other "lossy" compression variants changed a lot and we could make portable players that carried hundreds or thousands of songs in your pocket. History is clear, people loved it and so we have a world today that enjoys music all the time and everywhere.
Unfortunately though, mp3 and other variants throw a lot of data away in order to work. It remains amazing indeed that we can recognize and enjoy the music when as much as 95% of the data is gone. This is much like some of today's ads where we can recognize maps with very little data on them, but nonetheless much is lost. This is why I am so excited about the new High Resolution Audio devices and tracks that are now available. They keep our first promise of retaining the whole sound without the troubles of the medium, while also giving all the benefits of portability that mp3 offers.
Since the technology of processors and storage have advanced so much, we can now handle these larger files and pay no price in convenience for doing so. A Hi-Res player can hold hundreds or thousands of songs in your pocket and there is no reason popular streaming services or download sites cannot also adopt these formats. There is a whole of music too, as ALL music is recorded to start in Hi-Res.
All the sound, with all the convenience sounds good to me. So, as a music lover I invite you all to hear the latest and gain the immediacy of what your favorite artist or producer wanted you to hear. Bring more life to your music experience and own the sound as the artist intended. Please join me and let's listen. The differences are dramatic and obvious and the soundtrack of life just got better.
By Robert Heiblim
BlueSalve Professional Consulting and Interim Management
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This season, the USA gets not one, but two CD-quality music streaming services: Tidal Hi-Fi and Deezer Elite.
Whichever service you ultimately choose, this is huge for music lovers. Going from a 320-kilobit-per-second (kbps) data rate to 1411 kbps overnight is the biggest sound-quality leap in music streaming ever, an improvement you will hear immediately. My casual direct comparison revealed that, in many cases, the streaming version sounded better than its CD counterpart. How is this possible?
A CD player is a machine with a lot of parts: laser components, laser drive assembly, disc drive motor, compact disc, disc loading assembly, power supply, digital audio section, analog audio section, internal wiring, external wiring, connection jacks, etc.
On the other hand, a streaming service just delivers the bits. Depending on the system, a streaming signal can stay digital all the way to the speakers. The fewer motors, jacks, electronics, moving parts, and wires you have between you and the music, the higher the potential sound quality.
Even if that’s debatable, one thing isn’t: Music is about to get fun again. Both streaming services boast in excess of 25 million tracks, meaning you will find something to like, guaranteed. (Who wouldn’t want to expand their music collection by at least 24.9 million songs overnight?) And what you like is going to sound amazing.
Which service should you go with?
Good question. One service claims to have millions more songs than the other. That may make a difference if you’re a completist. (How many ways can they repackage the same songs by Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Marley? Trick question. The answer is infinity.) But pretty much everything most of us want is on both services.
Here’s where you come in. Whether you’re a Consumer Electronics manufacturer, retailer, or end-user, CD-quality streaming should be a big deal to you. Audio was an essential part of our lives decades before video was even imagined. Yet, these days, too much of the home entertainment conversation seems to center around video. The recent explosion in headphones, portable speakers, and multiroom audio has introduced an entire new generation to the intoxicating allure of great sound, but the quality of online music hasn’t kept up.
Now we have a chance to level the playing field, elevating music software quality to the standard of music hardware, and at the same time swinging the attention pendulum a bit from video back to high-performance audio. Retailers know that there’s a slim chance of a customer walking in with their favorite CD, and that the chances of the retailer having the customer’s favorite music on hand (in full resolution) are also slim. With full-resolution streaming, you potentially have every song on earth — including your customer’s favorites — in your hand. For manufacturers, this means that your product can now be demoed with the quality control you’ve been missing for years. And for music lovers, this means you’ll be able to audition systems with music you know, allowing you to make truly informed buying decisions.
I’m positively blown away by the win-win-win prospects of better sound for manufacturers, retailers, and their customers. I now spend a good chunk of each workday basking in all the extra bits that my chosen higher resolution service delivers. Both new services offer a free trial, and that should be Number One on your entertainment to-do list.
By Charles Thompson for Sell-Through Solutions, Inc.