Influences on high quality audio

  • 24 May, 2016
  • Perreaux

During the 1980's high quality audio companies did exceptional levels of business. Interest was very high and the audio enthusiast market was rapidly expanding and everything was ‘blue skies’ ..... until along came a couple of game changers.

1980's

Compact Disc First out of the blocks came the compact disc or CD. In 1979, Sony and Philips set up a joint task force of engineers to design a new digital audio disc. After a year of experimentation and discussion, the Red Book CD-DA standard was published in 1980. After their commercial release in 1982, compact discs and their players were extremely popular. Despite costing up to $1,000, over 400,000 CD players were sold in the United States between 1983 and 1984. The success of the compact disc has been credited to the cooperation between Philips and Sony, who came together to agree upon and develop compatible hardware. The unified design of the compact disc allowed consumers to purchase any disc or player from any company, and allowed the CD to dominate the at-home music market unchallenged. The CD format was very convenient and reduced the huge hurdles for achievable sound quality. The CD was here to stay and all the audio enthusiast community could do was basically ‘suck it up’ and make the best of a bad situation. We tried endlessly to squeeze more out of digital recordings, with only ever limited amount of success. Many enthusiasts simply went against the tide and stuck with records, however that posed additional problems in as much as the supply of new recorded vinyl pressings rapidly dwindled in favour of the ‘all singing and dancing’ compact disc format. CDs were also much cheaper to make, hence the collapse of the vinyl record industry was as rapid as CDs rise to ascendency.

Personal Computers The 80’s also heralded in the introduction of PC’s or personal computer revolution. These devices took the hobbyist world by storm and the incredible rise in popularity of PC’s not only as a plaything, but as a serious business tool worked in tandem with CDs to remove most of the available oxygen from the audio enthusiast market.

1990's

Home Theatre The 1990’s saw the rise of Home Theatre. Home Theatre really began its massive rise in 1995 when DVD made its debut on the consumer market. DVD was an overnight success and consumers flocked to this new medium.

2000's

Personal Music Players In the early part of the new millennium, Apple release the iPod or personal music player. The iPod employed audio compression algorithms to enable users to store substantial quantities of music on their iPod device. Uptake was massive and this personal audio format took serious hold in a new generation of younger users. The market rushed to copy Apple and fill the need with a plethora of low cost players and low resolution formats. The younger generation having never heard high resolution sound, felt completely disconnected from traditional audio enthusiasts. As far as they were concerned, MP3 and formats like that were good enough.

DVD Audio DTS Audio & SACD In addition to low res formats, the 2000’s has also seen DVD & DTS-Audio, SACD. These high res digital audio formats have all died for one reason or another. SACD was considered to be the best, however Sony killed it on account of their desire to dominate the format through exclusivity. What a pity for all concerned as SACD was a wonderful format.

DAC's and streaming In more recent years, Digital to Analogue converters (DAC’s) and Streaming have both served to enhance and revive the 2 channel market sector. DAC’s paved the way by allowing users to pipe digital streams directly into their electronics only to have them convert the digital format into analogue and then reproduce sound via the amplifier etc. Many good amplifiers now incorporate a DAC and can accept optical, coaxial and USB inputs directly into them. Streaming works hand in glove with on board DACs to enable users to select and play music from a wide variety of online sources such as Spotify, Tidal etc.

Music or movies Today’s enthusiasts are either 2 channel (music) or multichannel (movies). This divide now appears to be fairly stable, however as there are few high end audio electronics manufacturers who offer products for both market sectors, this cleaving of the market into two has made for smaller individual market sectors. Production runs are consequently smaller, pushing unit prices inevitably higher. It would be nice for a return to the good old days of the early 80’s, however DAC’s and Streaming in tandem with the resurrection of Vinyl has been seen by many as a blessing for our industry.

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