The Future Of Computer Audio
- Where do you see Computer Audio in 3 years?
- What changes would you like to see as opposed to what you expect to see?
- Make a prediction for the far-out future of Computer Audio.
J. Gordon Rankin, Owner and Chief Scientist, Wavelength Audio, ltd (www.usbdacs.com)
1. I think that the hardware is pretty well set for such things as sample rates and bit sizes. I think you will see instead of vertical development, that you will see horizontal development. This will firm up the base for Computer Audio and complete some of the needs in software, setup and support that the customer base will need.
2. Right now a lot of the specifications and keywords are being used willy nilly. I would like to see companies confirming hardware and software specifications instead of using these terms as marketing terms. Many of the new Computer Audio hardware and software companies are using the terms in such a loose way that their products don't even match what their marketing departments are saying. I get calls all the time from customers who have bought so called asynchronous products that are not even async or they are so poorly implemented that they are not even as good as some adaptive products.
3. Windows will support Audio to the extent that OSX and Linux do today :))))
Steve Silberman, Director of Marketing, AudioQuest (www.audioquest.com)
1. I think that in three years physical disc players will have been completely replaced by computer audio. It’s already happening, but in three years I think everyone will have moved to computer audio. Systems based around computer audio will continue to grow and flourish. Sonos, Naim, Meridian, Linn, DLNA, etc… "Systems" will continue to gain momentum. But, at the same time the USB (or by then Thunderbolt) enabled decoder market will continue to explode. These are two separate, but related categories and each has its place.
2. I’d like to see iTunes (they are the largest and most influential music store after all) move on from lossy compressed audio formats such as AAC. Today’s bandwidth, coupled with the low cost of storage eliminates the hurdles that existed when Apple launched iTunes 10 years ago. I think even mainstream consumers are willing to pay a little more to have CD (or better) quality.
3. My far out prediction is something like the Droid IOS takes hold in home, auto, and portable, allowing the consumer to synch their home audio system to their car and also to their portable device. I think in the future you’ll be driving your car listening to the radio and when a song comes on that you love you’ll be able to push a “purchase” button on the steering wheel. When you get home you’ll be able to sync and have that song everywhere. At least that’s what the magic eight-ball says…
Junji Kimura, Founder/Designer, 47 Laboratory (www.sakurasystems.com)
The following response was translated by Yoshi Segoshi of Sakura Systems, the US Distributor for 47 Laboratory. Yoshi also explained, “I talked with Junji (47 designer) about your questions. Instead of answering 3 questions separately, he gave me his general observation on computer audio, and here's the translation”
Jonathan Derda, Director of Training, Peachtree Audio (www.signalpathint.com)
The interest in using computer as a source of music among audiophiles seems to be growing constantly in Japan too. We've been getting a good number of inquiries and sales of Shigaraki USB DAC, and 4733 USB DAC/pre amp these days.
The biggest concern for me at the moment is that no standard has been set for the file configuration. We chose Burr Brown 2707 chip as it gave us musically the most satisfying result. It decodes up to 16bit/48kHz. Through the experience of designing CD transports and DACs for nearly 15 years, we confirmed the standard 16bit/44.1kHz CD format is musically satisfying, even with complicated music. Do you remember up-sampling wars of more than several years ago? It didn't bring any meaningful result. Same with SACD.
Suppose the canned music material as a frozen food. The recording/mastering engineers freeze them and we design a microwave to de-freeze it. Both parties have their own issues and problems, but my brief is that higher sampling rate is not a solution.
In computer audio, once the filing standard is universally set, we can start designing a microwave that would de-freeze it in the most satisfying way, but until then, our configuration with Burr Brown 2707 would give you the most musical result.
1. It won't be a sub-category of audio. It will be audio. It's already that way for at least two of the current six generations of consumers. I don't imagine a lot of thirty somethings going out and buying multi-thousand dollar CD players in 2015. Technologically, I expect we will move away from shoe horning portable music players into our systems and will instead rely on high quality streamers with Sooloos like interfaces.
2. I would like to see, and expect to see, HiFi experience a rebirth that is catalyzed by computer audio.
3. We will be able to generate a Minority Report like holographic interface that coalesces a bevy of high resolution (more than 16-bit) streaming audio services that offer everything from Furtwangler conducting the 9th to Justin Bieber's Anthology collection. The future is both a dream and a nightmare.
John Bevier, Sales & Product Manager, Audio Plus Services (www.audioplusservices.com)
1. In a very real sense, the vast majority of the leadership within the traditional audio industry seems to be stuck in a mindset that betrays their generation. Magnetic disc, or SSD centric media storage is 2nd nature to most 20-somethings; apps are selected for the benefits they instantly deliver, Apple music and movie sales revenue numbers in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and GUI interfaces used to access content has literally become child's play. And yet, we hear quotes of year over year growth of analog and increasing turntable sales. Why the seeming contradiction? Is this generational, or something more fundamental such as a critique on sound quality? We can all agree that digitization of content is here to stay; and we've no reason to doubt that, like all technology, time will only improve its reliability, performance, and power to do the things we want done. While Moore's law might be forced to take a brief rest from its exponential growth spurt due to the likely slower pace of nano technology, software development will push the ability to leverage any available computational power to new heights. We can anticipate more intuitive interfaces; ones that harness increasingly sophisticated (and inexpensive) artificial intelligence to make new music discovery and social interactions far more engaging. Network configuration MUST become simple, and connection protocols uniform across the consumer electronics industry. Cloud storage and broadcast will challenge human nature's fundamental desire to "own" something using ubiquitous delivery across a broad spectrum of devices and environments so transparent, we come to realize ownership is an illusion and being in the moment is what gives life its joy. Music is fundamental to our DNA; when "Done Effectively", controlling and delivering that expressive rhythm via devices and content services is the business opportunity of the century.
2. I'd like to see a simplification of network configuration, an improvement of connection reliability, decreased command response times, and a widespread industry campaign to eliminate the use of compression algorithms in music storage. MP3's were created during a historic period when bandwidth was limited and storage was expensive - neither condition exists today. Bandwidth is robust, and space is virtually free. While the audiophile community is proclaiming 24bit sample width as the breakthrough platform that will finally deliver "Live Music", I've recently heard 16bit streaming devices that deliver such superb fidelity, they've challenged my own basic nature of "Ever Upwards". Like some ardent turntable supporters are saying, in many ways 16bit digital recordings are offering sonic realism whose depth may not have been fully plumed thus far.
In terms of what I expect to see - frankly my optimism isn't quite as high here. The very nature of capitalism has rewarded zero sum behaviors. Cooperation between companies whose view is adversarial and secretive, aren't friendly colleagues at the standards table when industry formats are created. Chaos reins, but out of this creative cannibalism arises solid performers - it just takes longer since pooling of intellectual resources and shared discoveries is rare outside academia.
3. Personal electronic assistants (devices interfacing with people) will foster relationships of some depth and detail across multiple platforms - home, car, and portable devices. These will deliver news, music, peer reviews, offer topical summaries culled from overnight web crawling, suggest birthday gifts, remind us of upcoming meetings and when it's been too long since you called a friend just to say hello. We won't care to own our music since there will be no physical media to purchase - the 3rd wave of technology will have arrived - content is more import than the device used to interface it with; but thankfully, this will only be partly true. Without the devices and software needed to access content and structure meaning, we would still all be rubbing sticks together to make fire. Ours is the gateway industry to the creation and distribution of these new products that hold the untapped promise of our imaginations. I think what will make or break products like this is if their inclusion into our lives creates relaxation and ease. They will have to conform to our lives, not us their way of manipulation. The user experience is everything.
Klaus Jäckle, Founder/Designer, Acoustic Plan ( www.acousticplan.de)
1. Just a small step further.
2. More classical music with better meta datas ( I hope I understood the question).
3. It will take longer than expected to replace the CD, maybe 10 to 20 years.
Mark Waldrep, Founder, President and CEO of AIX Records and iTrax.com, iTrax (www.itrax.com)
1. HD Music Downloads will continue to grow in market share and popularity if there is an open and honest recognition that not everything that has ever been recorded is HD. Those of use involved in marketing and selling HD tracks need to provide customers with real HD recordings not older standard definition music derived from analog tape and dumped in a 96 kHz/24-bit bucket. When music enthusiasts hear the benefits of HD tracks that have been recording at the time of the original sessions using HD capable equipment, they will support the improved performance with their wallets. If purveyors of so-called “HD tracks” continue to pitch 1960’s classic rock with limited dynamics and dreadful high frequency response as HD, then there will be little long term interest in better quality downloads.
2. I would like to see a system implemented that would provide purchasers with the “provenance” of a given track through attached metadata rather than the helter skelter approach that has dominated this new marketplace. As a big advocate of surround sound recording and reproduction, I would like to see the hardware people endorse the world of 5.1 surround music and make the acquisition and playback of multichannel sound files much easier. Until we fully embrace the next logical step in the evolution of recording music...namely HD surround...we’re going to be swimming in circles.
3. The word “Computer” in your question will disappear quickly as HD surround music servers gain a place at the audiophile/music fan table. REAL HD tracks will be as ubiquitous as highly compressed MP3s and available as high quality surround streams. There will also be preprocessors that will customize the playback of these files to the “acoustic environments” that they are played into recreate the sound of the studios/venues where they were recorded AND this will be possible in headphones.
Dr. Robert Robinson, Director of Engineering, Channel D (www.channld.com)
1. Other than Computer Audio increasing its presence in terms of the number of home playback systems where it's being used, things don't change that rapidly in the Computer Audio world anymore (see my answer to Q 3 below). As I said in the Stereophile - sponsored Advances in Computer Audio forum at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest last year: computer audio will replace (if it hasn't happened already) all of the signal sources upstream from the power amplifier (save for analog vinyl and video derived audio formats, and at least for the time being, SACD). Computer audio cannot replace vinyl, but computer audio provides fantastic new opportunities for enjoying vinyl, as well. CD transports have been rendered obsolete.
Some think the next big frontier in computer audio involves recording, distribution and playback of native 1-bit DSD. However, the DSD standard was frozen several years ago, before further improvements in PCM arrived, namely multi-bit delta-sigma modulators. The PCM vs. DSD argument that raged in the days when the DSD format was created was based on early 1-bit DSD modulators. Unfortunately, there is no widely used distribution format for multi-bit DSD audio, so today's PCM has advanced past DSD by comparison. But one cannot ignore the rich, existing catalog of DSD recordings (or the new recordings being produced today).
An important point is that unless there is good reason to do otherwise, and provided the hardware is available, play DSD and PCM formats natively. Don't convert DSD to PCM unless there is no alternative for playback. And please, please, don't convert PCM to DSD just for the sake of having music released in DSD format! I love the new DACs that allow me to play DSD recordings in their native format. If at all possible, distribute (and play) 1 bit DSD as native DSD, and PCM as PCM.
A big part of the home use of Computer Audio is in recording. Regarding PCM vs. DSD recording: mixing, EQ or other operations are essentially impossible to perform without first converting DSD audio to PCM. For example, one of my company's products applies a correction curve (RIAA curve) to audio taken natively from the source (LP records), a significant advantage over analog RIAA correction. If this recording were done in DSD, such as from one of those popular inexpensive DSD recorders, there would be no way to apply the correction curve without converting the DSD to PCM. Any putative advantage (ignoring the limitation of the 1 bit delta sigma modulator of DSD) of the DSD format would be wiped out by this step, and it's not worth abandoning the advantages of digital RIAA correction just for the sake of using DSD. So you are better off recording to PCM in the first place, if any audio manipulation is planned (such as RIAA correction).
2. My only wish for a change is that the music companies would consider unlocking the SACD disk format so we can play this stuff back natively on our nice high end DACs instead of having to use mass produced consumer quality hardware, or converting to PCM. Audiophiles are a pretty honest bunch of people and deserve to be treated as such.
Other than that, the changes I would like to see as opposed to what I expect to see are pretty much the same. The changes will come from folks finding out how much FUN "computer audio" can be and how liberating it is compared to the old paradigms in terms of flexibility and audio quality. A completely new way to get in touch with your music and music collection, and at a higher level of quality, to boot.
3. As far as Computer Audio goes, the far-out future is now. There might be some incremental developments with higher sample rates, etc. but these will be slow in coming or of moderate impact. Faster computers will only be icing on the cake.
We are now on a high plateau with Computer Audio. I have been waiting for this "computer audio" revolution to happen since moving my reference system to what could be called "computer audio" in 2000, at about 10 times the cost and with a very complicated computer setup, which was "only" 96 / 24, but state of the art then, and wondering why others weren't catching on. Now I know the reason: the quality was there, but the complexity was daunting. The computer playback hardware (DAC) in 2000 was excellent, though today's playback hardware has improved even further.
Audiophiles are extremely, extremely fortunate to have such a wide variety of choices and ease of use today. Computer audio has been in the making for over 25 years; finally, audiophiles are not gazing at but are *on* the horizon, and it is wonderful to be here. This is the new sweet spot, and the entry point to high end audio has never been so accessible and affordable to so many people.
Keith O. Johnson, Chief Engineer and Technical Director, Reference Recordings (www.referencerecordings.com)
Consumers continue to get easier and smarter access to music. Phones, pads and controllers will navigate consolidated and preference upgraded choice-lists that can play with improved resolution and quality as technology gets faster. Titles get universal metadata headers and hidden data with active upgrades to aid authorized searches for musicians, session venues, technical features, playback settings, activity accounts, etc.
Marketing, site creation, category strategy and sales using the Web, Clouds and machines will dominate activity of record labels, distribution agencies, and performance groups. Movie, game, live performance, track bundles, etc. expand music experience.
Royalties, mechanicals, other revenue distribution paths become simplified to provide better access to a larger client, musician and user base. Computers are good at this kind of thing when politics and lost time to create standards can be overcome.
Formats and specialized audio mixes become available to provide best sound from headphones, car systems, radios, home speakers and high-end equipment. These different renderings or mixes might be automatically chosen and locked to the playback device.
High resolution files along with DSP integrated playback - speaker systems will become viable “top of the food chain” contenders in the high end consumer markets.
The album concept and mechanical devices like the CD will disappear.
#2 Expect to See:
I worry about sound quality and old ways of the industry. Up-sampled Cds, play-everything consumer machines and lawyers killed the DVDA. The tragic consequence was much like humanity creating the first wheel and breaking it apart so it would not roll away. Many titles in vaults have sonic losses from compression and sampling that can’t be recovered. Yet, surely, there will be re-issues even though high resolution will not improve them. Some reviewers use analyzers to spot these marketed imposters.
#1 Three Years from Now:
Right now, one finds traditional computer packages and their operational software at work in cubicles. Frequently, the fun things and Internet capability are squelched. Net and cable agile portable machines are quick but need server and setup support to interface signals and to run decent music. I would expect that in three years, product developments will displace technological clutter and will provide high quality playback with iPod - like ergonomics and simplicity.
Chris Connaker, Founder, Computer Audiophile ( www. computeraudiophile.com )
1. To predict the future we must first look at the past. Three years ago computer audio was not considered high end by many audiophiles. USB interfaces were very limited and many produced subpar results. Configuring a computer for bit perfect output was not a trivial task for the less learned. Even Stereophile's John Atkinson had trouble outputting bit perfect audio using iTunes during his review of the Benchmark DAC1 USB (January 2008).
Today things have progressed at the typical rate of the high tech world. Fast. In three years high end computer audio has progressed from subpar performance to performance capable of besting state of the art disc spinners that have been perfected for over three decades.
The future of high end audio is very bright. Audiophiles who are stuck in a rut talking about the industry's demise have likely not been introduced to quality computer audio playback. Three years from today we will have many more options for computer based playback. This is great news for tech savvy audiophiles but unnerving news for those waiting for things to "shake out" and for a single solution above all others. One size doesn't fit all. It's impossible to pigeon-hole hundreds of millions iTunes users as well as the niche that is audiophilia into a single solution. In three years Microsoft and Apple based solutions will continue to dominate while both get easier to use and produce better audio quality. Linux based solutions will continue to gain popularity with incredible potential and customizability limited only by the designer's imagination. Playback applications on OS X and Windows will continue to increase in number and decrease in price. This year alone several new applications have been release in addition to price reductions on existing software. Competition is a great thing for consumers.
USB interfaces on DACs will remain popular as all computers will continue to support USB in one way or another. Asynchronous USB transfer mode will be ubiquitous. FireWire interfaces will continue to decline in number as only high end workstations like the Mac Pro will support FireWire. Thunderbolt, both copper and optical, will be everywhere. Support for FireWire and USB to Thunderbolt converters will enable audiophiles to use DACs without the Thunderbolt interface. A few select high end audio manufacturers will offer Thunderbolt interfaces on DACs. Most manufacturers will continue to use USB as the price of async implementations decreases and the USB audio engineering expertise increases. Audio over IP, Ethernet or network based audio will also be very popular as more of the kinks are worked out of UPnP/DLNA. Again, one size does not fit all. None of the above solutions will dominate so much that the others are retired. However audiophiles will still suffer from analysis paralysis and hesitate to purchase a solution even though it satisfies all their needs.
2. If I had three wishes my first wish would be unlimited wishes. Following that I'd wish for many improvements to computer based audio. Most of what I'd like to see relates to software and music rather than hardware. Sure I'd love better sounding DACs but that's a given. I'd like to see a single lossless file format that supports all types of audio such as DSD and PCM, all sample rates, all current and future metadata needs, that is supported by all playback applications and operating systems. I'd like the ability to browse all music catalogs from artists and record labels and purchase items for instant download. Lossless downloads from the iTunes Store would be a great start, but if I had a dollar for every time I heard it's going to happen soon I'd be sitting on the beach at a new home in Malibu, CA.
I'd also like to see the word "killer" retired from the tech lexicon. New products don't have to be iPhone killers, Mac Mini killers, or your-device-name-here killers. The "killer" mindset is only correct in a one size fits all world. Linux music servers are not PC killers. Ethernet DACs are not USB DAC killers. Series 2 of a product is not a Series 1 killer. If Series 1 sounded good the day before Series 2 was released it still sounds good after Series 2 was release.
3. Call them what you will iPhones, tablets, dedicated music servers, streamers, and almost anything with a chip in it is a computer. Computer audio will be popular until such devices are no longer manufactured or artists start performing on-demand in our homes. Also, The word computer will no longer be used as a differentiator when discussing high end audio. With the exception of vinyl all audio will be computer based. Thus there won't be a need to describe it as Computer Audio.
Charles Hansen, Founder and Chief Designer, Ayre Acoustics (www. ayre.com )
1. The biggest problem with computer audio is the computer. As anyone who has worked with computers knows (from direct experience), they are both a blessing and curse.
They are a blessing because when everything is working, one person can do the work of ten. Remember in 1980 when you bought a piece of high-performance audio equipment? The "owner's manual" was a mimeographed (remember *that* word?) copy of a two-page typewritten thing (complete with typos) that was dashed off by the designer two days before they started shipping.
But turn the clock forward to 1995, and savvy companies were using desktop publishing to create professional quality manuals with covers, tables of content, illustrations, and glossaries. All done by one person and for very little money. Producing something like that in the old days would have cost perhaps tens of thousands of dollars to have done by outside vendors, and required weeks of time.
The flip side of the coin is when something goes wrong -- the driver is incompatible with the operating system, running two applications at once causes a system hang, the blue screen of death (only for Windows!), or worst of all a virus or hard drive failure that wipes out your entire system and you haven't backed up lately (or at all).
So my prediction is that we won't see much change in the next three years. People that are familiar with computers are switching to computer audio. People that are not familiar with computers aren't. And that familiarity largely depends on your job. If your job requires computer use, then you will be familiar.
The only change from all this will be from younger people. They are required to use computers in high school (or younger), so they will naturally gravitate to computer audio. Add in the iPod factor (80% of portable players), and they are automatically hooked on computer audio.
So computer audio is our best chance of reaching a new audience. We have to remember that literally only one person in a thousand will pay more for higher audio quality. But if we can reach that one in a thousand, that will be more than enough to grow our industry in a strong way due to the influx of this young generation that has been raised with computers.
2. The organizers of the Montreal Sound and Vision Show did a brilliant thing. They invited Apple, gave them a huge free space right at the entrance, and advertised heavily in the local press and student newspapers, emphasizing Apple's presence. Many, many people showed up strictly to see the latest iPods and iPhones. But then some went to see the other rooms set up by high-end manufacturers.
This is an incredible way to reach people who love music and technology, and that is our target demographic. If more shows followed this example, it would make a huge impact on high-performance audio. Remember, only one in a thousand will actually buy a piece of high-performance audio, but we have to have a way to connect with them. This is the best way I have seen.
3. Right now computer audio has a split between audio over ethernet and audio over USB. USB has far better playback applications that the user can interface with. But ethernet can transmit much further than USB's three-meter limit. So right now they are both hobbled with limitations. Many users can live with one limitation or the other.
But obviously there needs to be a better system without these limitations. Many people are looking to wireless systems, but that is of no interest to me. Microwave radiation demonstrably reduces the sound quality of high-performance audio systems and may prove hazardous to one's health in the long term.
I think it is possible to create a system that bypasses all of these problems, but the question is whether it will be adopted. Many current devices (audio and non-audio alike, such as an iPad) depend heavily on wi-fi to even function. Will people switch? Only if the new system offers tangible benefits and is inexpensive.
That last point is the most problematic. Right now we are harnessing the power of computers, which are manufactured in very high quantities at very low costs in countries with very low wages. The result is affordable to a wide audience. High-performance audio is in virtually the exact opposite situation. That is why the "all-in-one" servers are facing an uphill battle. They are building specialized computers in very low quantities at very high costs in countries with very high wages.
I am hopeful that there will be a mass-market format that allows high-performance audio to bypass the limitations of existing formats. This will allow computer audio to continue to expand the base of customers that cares about performance, and still provides the convenience they desire. Finally, we can never disregard the "cool" factor, an increasing part of success in any sector.
Stephen F. Booth, Founder and Developer, sbooth.org (www.sbooth.org )
1. In three years' time I believe that two things will shift in computer audio. The first shift I think we'll see is that there will be a massive expansion in audio delivered by streaming over the internet. Storing music in the cloud frees people from the physical necessity of a meticulously maintained collection and the accompanying backups. Another immediate benefit of streaming audio is that it is available anywhere, free from the confines of one or two licensed machines. The second shift I think we'll see, and a more fundamental one, is that computers will become more integrated into the listening process and alter the way we interact with our music collections. Instead of a searching for and locating a single, specific track, search results could show the the album the track came from, similar tracks in sound or mood, similar genres, and recommendations from friends. Certainly iTunes and Spotify can do some of this now, but the social networking revolution for music lovers will make it possible to experience music in a different way.
2. Widespread availability of CD-quality or higher lossless, DRM-free music for purchase would make me happy. Currently lossless music is something of a niche market, but I hope it will gain more mainstream traction. The roadblocks to this are probably twofold: first, I'm doubtful whether the average computer listening environment would really benefit from an increase in digital resolution, so it might be difficult to find large numbers of proponents advocating the change. Second, I don't know how keen companies would be on releasing their tracks in a lossless, DRM-free format. Certainly the trend has been for gradual diminution of DRM over time, so hopefully I'm wrong about this!
3. I think in the far-out future one of the things that will change with computer audio is the computers themselves! Obviously they'll be smaller, faster, and smarter, but they will also be tightly integrated into all aspects of our lives. The whole notion of a laptop or desktop computer will go completely out the window, and they'll be replaced by different devices that we'll interact with or use to visualize data. For example, I imagine a virtual running partner, who much like a real running partner will know my pace, workout and musical preferences. Every athlete knows there is hardly a better pick-me-up than a good song- the virtual running partner would pick and play back music to keep me going. It will be smart enough to know what effects different music will have and choose appropriately. Another thing I think will change is that there will be a shift away from two-channel audio. I can see myself attending a virtual philharmonic orchestra, except that I won't be confined to a seat. I will be able to, virtually or physically, move around the musicians to get closer to the cellist to really hear what she is contributing to the piece, or to stand close to the tympani and feel the reverberations. I'm not referring to DSP or mixing- I'm visualizing some sort of hyper-channel 3D recording technology that will capture exactly what it is like to be in the midst of a great performance and recreate it flawlessly anywhere.
Thorsten Loesch, Director - Technology, AMR (Abbingdon Music Research) (www.amr-audio.co.uk)
1. AMR’s research into ‘Computer Audio’ since the early days led to our inaugural product featuring USB playback in 2006. Our two most senior staff members have been working with computer audio since the end of the last millennium.
Some would point out that Computer-based Audio has already been here since 2004 with iTunes and the iPod hence the younger generation has already embraced Computer-based Audio. While there has been ‘breadth’, in terms of ‘depth’ Computer-based Audio has had to play catch up; the quality has come a long way and will improve further, but at a much slower rate.
The main changes will be much wider adoption among the older, dedicated audiophiles. Be it running directly from a computer or via networked systems, in terms of usability and sound quality the best current solutions are very acceptable and some even excellent, though the majority is still lagging behind and usability as well as the requirements for setting up truly top quality systems remain tortuous. Improvements in this area are much needed and will be forthcoming.
So Software will remain "interesting". Hardware will become streamlined with fewer fundamental approaches surviving, at least for high-end applications.
Lossless music formats will gain more market share, as will "High-Definition " content, however purchasing such Media will remain fragmented, often tied to the Operating System/Player and will continue to sow much incompatibility.
Fundamentally, the strongest factor underpinning Computer-based Audio is that this time around (compared to vinyl vs CD in the eighties) as CD and Computer Audio revolve around the same music format then users do not have to ‘choose’ one medium over another but instead are able to ‘have their cake and eat it’.
The software compatibility and the ubiquity of hardware means Computer-based Audio is set to go from strength to strength.
2. We would like to see more native support for high-quality Computer-based Audio by all software vendors (OS X/Windows and Linux) but expect to see continued fragmentation of Computer-based Audio as the reality is that high-quality audio is in the minority. We anticipate Playback Software to remain both weak and in many cases closed in terms of Code, integration with operating systems and the like as well as the ability to obtain media, this is where we would like to see the biggest change.
The Perfect Player: Cross-Platform Audiophile Software Player
We would like to see an open source Software player that is fully cross-platform (Windows, OSX, Linux, Android etc.) that is easily extensible for a wide range codec formats. It should be able to play media from local and remote network disks. It needs to be able to use existing iTunes and Windows Media Player music libraries.
It requires the ability to reliably send Bit-Perfect and low-jitter bit-streams to the audio renderer (which may be networked, local, USB etc…) completely bypassing the OS Audio mixers, ASRC etc. and if a multi-core CPU is present should be able to "lock" one of the CPU Cores and certain ranges of memory for exclusive use and it should be able to pre-buffer a lot of data.
It needs a ripper that preferably can also handle SACD's (probably impossible because of hardware limitations) and can handle any disk containing music or soundtracks. Ripping needs to be accurate (with accurate rip support and the ability to rip copy protected disks).
The user interface/metadata grabber should store full metadata, artists, album background information, cover-art etc. in global standard formats (eg. HTML/JPEG) together with the music files and should be able to use "subscription" services (AMG etc.) for such metadata.
It should offer a user surface with excellent usability for both touch screen and media remotes that can run a very wide range of devices, with easy to use search, sort and grouping by the Music's "Metadata".
Support for Composer, Ensemble/Orchestra, Conductor and other information mainly of interest to collectors of classical music is needed. It must support the major on-line music sources for uncompressed Music Formats and include a simple set of "hooks" and software development kits that allow Labels and Stores to easily write a "plugin" for their on-line store.
It should seamlessly incorporate room correction and a "remastering" It should have an Equaliser similar to the Cello Palette with some added functionality for further remastering options. This Equalisation/DSP engine must be easily and intuitively controllable via touch screen and media remote cursor keys, just as the main software library.
Such a player could become the new standard for Audiophile Music Playback, but it would require some funding from a united, high-end industry and it would require multiple developers who currently all pursue a singular path of their own to pool knowledge and resource to create this new "Lord of Music Players."
The potential payback of such a project, especially for the community of High-End Audio's Manufacturers could be significant, even perhaps, lucrative.
3. Audio, as well as 3D Video and other Media (Books, Magazines etc.) will be stored on a small cube server filled with solid-state flash memory (100TB or so) and with a download on demand option for Media from on-line stores using super-fast connections and as part of a "storage cloud".
Playback hubs will be integrated directly into TV's and Audio Systems as just another source, using wired or wireless networking.
Libraries like the Library of the Congress or of Universities and others will offer content from their collections directly, either subsidised, under copy-right exemptions or using other means, Commercial on-line stores that integrate with these systems will be widespread and likely the only way to get Media Content.