Media Player Q&A: Q10 What is on our HD playback horizon?

10. We're seeing support for native DSD and sample rates up to 384kHz. What else do you see on our playback horizon?

Jonathan Reichbach, President, Sonic Studio (Amarra)

Each advance in hardware and software brings improvements to what is possible in how we enjoy music. For myself the single most important advance is the internet as it transforms our musical experience forever. We will share our music over the cloud with our friends all the while enjoying very high resolution streaming into our house, car, and iDevice. What excites me even more is the possibility of live music over the internet with high resolution audio and video. I can not wait to see my favorite band live from Carnegie Hall in HD Video and a full high resolution (Ambisonics) playback while relaxing at home. Check out the recent Jerry Garcia internet broadcast from Bob Weir and TRI Studios for a glimpse of the future.

This future requires among other things standardization across the entire music production chain from artist to engineer to all of us at home. Formats like DSD do not fit in this chain for a variety of reasons including processing, standards and concerns with dithering and high frequency noise. On the other hand, PCM based formats, including 384 kHz, are viable across the complete music production process and are recommended. Delivery format like iTunes+ AAC will also play a part. Keep in mind though that the majority of music is produced at 96 kHz with only a small, but growing, number of music labels using higher resolutions.

We will continue to see improvements to audio software and hardware. These improvements will include changes to support the environment envisioned above as well as new and better audio signal processing for headphones, room analysis and more. Audio hardware, including DACs and servers, will continue to excel in quality and price. An exciting time to love music.

Damien Plisson, Founder, Audirvana, (Audirvana Plus)
Both are currently fully handled by Audirvana Plus, including the streaming of native DSD signal to DSD capable DACs.

Multichannel (will be in A+ 1.5) is being currently pushed by online music vendors, though most audiophile hifi setups are stereo.

Tim Murison, Co-Founder & CTO, BitPerfect Sound Inc., (BitPerfect)
More availability of high-res tracks outside of the US - at least I hope so :)
Stephen F. Booth, Founder and Developer, sbooth.org, (Decibel)
I'm terrible at making predictions. One thing I would like to see is wider availability of high quality, multi-channel audio. Blu-ray already supports DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD, both of which can transmit lossless PCM on more channels than many systems support. It would be great to have immersive, multi-channel lossless recordings in high definition.
Jussi Laako, Owner, Signalyst, (HQ Player)
DACs with copper and optical Ethernet-connections. Multichannel DSD playback, DACs with support for multi-bit delta-sigma and DSD rates up to 24.576 MHz.

Software can revolutionize audiophile music playback as it has done on many other areas of life already. Computers are everywhere, it is just natural that they are part of audiophile music playback as well.

Josef Piri & Marcin Ostapowicz, JPlay (JPlay)
Software becoming more recognized as one of key 'components' in PC-based music playback leading not only to better sounding music players but perhaps in the future to completely customized 'audio optimized' operating systems.
Jim Hillegass, Founder and CEO, JRiver (JRiver Media Center)
A much wider availability of high resolution lossless files available from services like HDTracks. Quieter equipment with higher storage capacities and lower power consumption. The Intel Ivy Bridge chips, for example, offer higher performance, better video support, and lower power consumption.
Dr. Rob Robinson, Director of Engineering, Channel D, (Pure Music)
DSD has been around for quite some time. What is new is that we now have the hardware to play it in native format relatively inexpensively, and (more importantly to this discussion) can use the format on computer based media servers. It is not a matter of adding pieces to the puzzle; it is that the missing pieces are now available. And one can still play DSD tracks on systems without DSD - native DACs, for instance with Pure Music’s real-time PCM conversion. The difference in sound quality between DSD converted to PCM (done properly; this involves sample rate conversion) and native streamed DSD can be less significant than you might imagine.

Asking a question like this seems a tad premature, because many audiophiles are only just beginning to embrace computer audio. It is so rewarding to see folks learning about and using something that confers so many benefits. To me, having been involved with computer audio for quite some time, this feels like completing a long journey, and reaching a vista to pause and take in the beautiful view. I am doing more listening to music and less tweaking than I have in recent years, because things have reached a point where they have clicked in and sound "right." So before again casting eyes to yonder horizon, consider taking some time to catch your breath and enjoy the fantastic performance of the audio equipment we now have at our disposal!