Monday, September 26, 2011

6 Audio Products That Need To Be Invented

I got to thinking about the pro audio products I'd like to see invented after reading a similar story on home theater audio. When you think about it, we've all gotten pretty comfortable with technology that no one could ever consider as cutting edge. Even though core recording products exist in the following areas, there's plenty of room for growth. Let's take a look at a pie-in-the-sky wish list:

1. A new speaker technology. We've been listening to recorded and reinforced sound with the same technology for about 100 years now. Sure, the loudspeaker has improved and evolved, but it's still the weakest link in the audio chain. What we need is a new loudspeaker technology that improves the listening experience and takes sonic realism to the next level.

2. A new microphone technology. Something is seriously wrong when the best and most cherished microphones that we use today were made 50 years ago. Just like loudspeakers, the technology has improved and evolved over the years, but it's basically the same in that it's still based around moving a diaphragm or ribbon through a magnetic field or changing the electrical charge between two plates (that's a condenser mic, if you didn't know). There has to be a new technology that takes a giant leap to getting us closer to realism than what we have now.

3. Get rid of the wires. Studios have been pretty successful at reducing the amount of wiring in the last 10 years or so, but there's still too much. We need to eliminate them completely. Think how much different your studio would be with wireless speakers, microphones, connections to outboard gear, etc. Much of this is possible today, but the real trick is to make the signal transmission totally lossless with zero interference.

4. The ultimate work surface. Here's the problem. Engineers love to work with faders and knobs. The problem is that faders and knobs take up space, which changes the room acoustics, and which are expensive to implement. When the faders and knobs are reduced to banks of 8, it gets confusing switching between all the banks needed during a large mix. What we need is a work surface that takes this hybrid to the next level, giving the engineer enough faders and knobs to do the job, yet making it totally easy to look at the banks underneath or above. I realize that the bank concept has been implemented on digital consoles for years, but there's no way to actually view what those other banks are unless you call one up. There has to be a better way.

5. The ultimate audio file format. I've done experiments recording the same instrument at 48k, 96k, and 192k and I can tell you unequivocally that the 192kHz recording won hands down. It wasn't even close. Consider this - the ultimate in digital is analog! In other words, the higher the sample rate, the closer to analog it sounds. We need a universal audio format with a super high sample rate that can easily scale to a lower rate as needed. Yes, I realize it's a function of the hardware, but lets plan for the future, people.

6. The ultimate storage device. Speaking of the future, there are a lot of behind-the-scenes audio people that are quietly scared to death that the hard drives and SSD's of today won't be playable tomorrow. Just as Zip and Jazz drives had their brief day in the sun, how would you like to have your hit album backed up onto a drive that nobody can read? That's a more real possibility of that happening than you might know. We need a storage format that is not only robust and protected, but has a lifespan akin to analog tape (tapes from 60 years ago still play today; some sound as good as the day they were recorded). We just can't guarantee the same with the storage devices we use today.

What are your thoughts? Any other products that are needed?
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7 comments:

K. Sandvik said...

New metadata standard for recorded audio that is not the same as the MP3 ID tags focused on consumers -- rather for music production. Should work across any container and codec format, from lossy to lossless. Extendable like MIDI so it will not become obsolete, nor be annotated with hacks as with ID.

K. Sandvik said...

Metadata format for productions, not ID3 that was designed for consumers. Extendable like MIDI so it will not become obsolete in future.

Anonymous said...

I like your list.

Just a thought regarding speakers. Whatever the technology, it must be made available to everyone, preferably all at the same time. Mixing and mastering would would be done quite differently to achieve pleasing results. For example a technology to vastly improve linearity would affect the way music playback sounds. For one thing EQ balance would be different to produce a pleasing sound. What sounds good on conventional speakers might even sound unpleasant on linear speakers. A similar thing happened when recording moved from analog to digital. So music might have to go through a similar adjustment period - a learning curve, for both music producers and for listeners.

Although the same thing would apply to microphones, at least microphones are contained on the creation of music side of the equation - a much smaller number of people affected, and a group of people that for the most part would be enthusiastically prepared to make the required adjustments.

Regarding storage, i think for now, we would be wise to re-backup [duplicate] valuable data every few years onto the latest devices, while the older and newer technologies still overlap.

Bob

Anonymous said...

I am surprised to learn that you find 192Khz. wins over 96KHz.

Although i have never experienced the differences myself i would like to. However, i was under the impression that 192Khz was no better than 96KHz.

One of the reasons i had that impression was from reading this white paper by Dan Lavrey on sampling frequencies.

http://www.lavryengineering.com/documents/Sampling_Theory.pdf

In it he explains why, to his understanding, 96KHz. is just as good as 192KHz.

Perhaps you could cover this topic in more detail, in an upcoming blog.

Bob

Rand Bliss said...

I like this list too, and I believe the common thread to each necessity, as well as the answer to all audio quality is analog itself.

Think about it; the best recordings most people love are and have the fondest memories for were from the 'analog era' or BDE (Before Digital Era).

The human ear loves the warmth and natural fullness of analog information far more than it being converted to digital '1's and '0's.

How can one appreciate the true original beauty of the Mona Lisa if you're looking at it behind a screen door with millions of tiny holes?

Anyway, my point is that as much as technology can be wonderfully innovative and life-enhancing, when it comes to sound digital is always chasing analog's tail. So if it isn't broken, don't fix it.

That's my two cents. Thanks for the all great info you make available.

Cheers, Rand ♫

Bobby Owsinski said...

Dan Lavry is a great engineer and makes a terrific product. All I can say is I know what my ears told me. All the others who participated in the test (6 of us) agreed that 192kHz was far better than 96k, which was only incrementally better than 48k.

Juan said...

I will love to have a 128 channel, wireless -or at least a digital w/fiber optic- snake for live gigs that a single person can move without a crane!

We still rely on things that require a lot of research, money, time and will to change completely.

I think the trend right know in pro audio industry is hybrid technology. No one can deny the advantages of a DAW, but every once in a while I read reviews of things like analog summing boxes, products like CLASP, and going D/A to use some analog outboard gear and then digital again, instead of using an expensive equivalent plug-in. There’s not a unique recipe for perfect audio, but there are trends and personal tastes. As much as I love analog audio I think for several people is impossible to switch back and admit there’s no better way to achieve better recordings, but I can understand in terms of physics why analog is superior than digital in terms of audio quality -at this time- is a matter of frequency response, audio coloration (given by tape saturation, recording speed, etc).

The "perfect" audio format is not far from being discovered at the speed of technology these days. I think it will be a huge sample rate combined with new A/D and D/A conversion technologies that will perform quietly enough to let us forget about quantization noise issues.

It is also frustrating to know the effort that most of engineers take to improve audio quality at the recording/mixing/mastering stage and, in other hand, most of the today’s consumer feels satisfied with a MP3/AAC album purchase over an online store, which only has like 10% of the original data to rebuild the original waveform. This trend also impacts the speed of release new products.

The feel you get with a mix board is hard to replace by another thing not physical or virtual. I think we are going to be stuck several years more with this.

I also think what is wrong about staying 50 years or so with the same microphone/speaker technology is because we reach a top trying to get better designs with the same materials. This could change from one day to another as soon as new materials are developed.

The wireless world you/we dream about need that signals should be converted to digital in order to TX/RX. So, this must imply the develop of an ultra high resolution protocol to transmit/receive those signals, or there’s going to be a new world of discussion over cable (analog) vs. radio (digital) :P

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