The Journey Ahead (as seen from behind)

From my 2011 RMAF Show Report:
I'd say that based on what I heard, saw and felt at RMAF 2011, we're in for one helluva musical journey ahead.
AudioStream launched just prior to RMAF 2011 which means we're about to cover our 6th RMAF. One question I'd ask today—does the descriptor "Computer Audio" still make sense?

Among the first articles we published, "The Future Of Computer Audio" asked for answers to 3 questions from 13 Industry Professionals.

  1. Where do you see Computer Audio in 3 years?
  2. What changes would you like to see as opposed to what you expect to see?
  3. Make a prediction for the far-out future of Computer Audio.
While all of the answers are interesting, and worth a read, I liked this piece of a response from Ayre's Charley Hansen to Q1: "So my prediction is that we won't see much change in the next three years."

Was Charley right? Even now, 5 years' on? It all depends on your point of view. From mine, the largest leaps in digital playback, which is what we're talking about these days since disc-based playback is more nostalgic than vinyl, have come not from hardware1, but software and services. While regular readers will have seen this coming from miles away, Roon and Tidal HiFi have brought us closer to the promise.

High-res, whatever format you'd care to pick, is just not a disruptive technology. Period. The closest I've heard in these terms is "BACCH 3D Sound" from Edgar Choueiri of Princeton University that I got to experience back at CES 2015. I'd venture to say that anyone, i.e. anyone, who experienced this demo would be wowed. Other than that, we've seen everyperson and the non-audio press yawn a collective yawn over high-res (Oh no, don't say Pono).

Since Roon is helping to re-define our digital playback architecture, and simplifying it in the process, our hardware is following suite. Devices like the Sonore microRendu, or perhaps better stated as the microRendu, deliver network-based USB audio to your DAC-O-choice for a couple hundred bucks. If you think back 3 or 5 years, you may very well have thought that purpose-built servers and streamers would get more and more refined and more and more expensive. In my opinion, Roon derailed that train.

"Hardware, software and music are running with this new-found freedom and from my way of seeing we are the beneficiaries of a groundswell of human invention and energy focused on one thing—our enjoyment of music."
That's what I said 5 years ago in my first RMAF Wrap. That has always been digital audio's promise. We are closer.

1 By a very wide margin, Ethernet cables elicited the highest number of comments to date of anything we've written about in our 5-year history. If we count the websites that covered my reviews of Ethernet cables, there were thousands of people, with over 1,000 right here, who felt the need to comment on this subject. I would suggest this just goes to show how comments and interest do not always coincide with relevance.

bobflood's picture

with the most promise that still lies ahead is to take computer audio into the mainstream and thus rescue music from the mundane domain of the smartphone. At this time it is all still too techie, geeky, nerdy ..... for most people. There are too many moving parts, too much tech jargon and not enough choices in the CD quality streaming arena to interest millions of ordinary music lovers to embrace it.

Whoever solves this riddle will stand to make some real money.

PAR's picture

" too techie, geeky, nerdy ..... for most people. "

I absolutely agree. Last week I happened to find that I had installed my first DSD recording in my library. I say, "happened" as I was unaware what format the file was until I could see it in my player. It took me hours to figure out how to play it. Not because the solution was hard (it was very simple) but finding the right questions to ask via the JRiver wiki to get me to the answer took a number of tries. I said to my friend at the time , this isn't for civilians.

For the millions out there the problem of jargon and too many choices has been solved. It is called Apple Music or maybe Spotify. It isn't really what we are talking about here but back in the LP day Mr & Mrs Average weren't worried about tonearm mass or cartridge alignment either, just like their descendents are not bothered by most of the topics raised in this forum. For the masses the problem is solved. Just click and listen to the music.

For me the future problem is not hardware centred but has to do wtih copyright and the licensing of recordings for this non-material world. Most record company personnel seem to have no idea at all what this is about technically and have business models that are still locked into territorial ownership and value systems that do not fit. Unfortunately due to contract duration and varying levels of copyright protection across the globe this will take decades to fix. Meantime, live with the churn.

audiofool's picture

Still quite a dichotomy between the proponents of PC/MAC direct USB connected to DAC vs those who use a commercial built to purpose media player. I won't find Roon compelling until its ubiquitously supported on NAS's and doesn't cause a performance hit on playback... no intent to put a PC back in my playback solution.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...will never be "ubiquitously supported on NAS's" because running Roon Server has processing power requirements and not all NAS offer the required horsepower.

When you say "...doesn't cause a performance hit on playback", what do you mean?

audiofool's picture

While I enjoyed the eye candy of Roon, I did not find that on my so-so PC it equaled the performance of playing music directly via HQPlayer. I'll wait until its supported and equally performing software in a built to purpose streaming solution. I'll admit I'm an outlier since I use SDXC cards for data drives because SSD/HD are poorer for low level detail resolution in PC and Synology NAS solution I have used.

solarophile's picture

Though not necessarily reported or acknowledged, I think the real news in the last few years has been the availability inexpensive embedded streaming "computers" whether it's the Pi available to hobbyists or similar embedded in the uRendu and others. It has become easier and easier to get this done cheaply with excellent results.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...came out in 2003.
bobflood's picture

in use in my bedroom system. I put a Regen on it as it needs a USB hub (which is what the Regen is) to perform at its best using the USB output and the alternate kernel. It still impresses all these years later.

solarophile's picture

The Squeezebox devices were a great start for computer audiophile.

But not at a $50 dollar price point with the ability to stream PCM at DXD nor DSD to a good outboard DAC!

Nor the ability to take advantage of software projects to play with LMS, Roon, DLNA, NAA, etc.

That;s the difference in the last few years - flexibility and low cost IMO.

solarophile's picture

I forgot. There's also multichannel LPCM streaming through HDMI for those who want!

Again, for the price this is mindblowing!

roman_jury's picture

"High-res, whatever format you'd care to pick, is just not a disruptive technology. Period. The closest I've heard in these terms is 'BACCH 3D Sound' from Edgar Choueiri of Princeton University that I got to experience back at CES 2015."

As an audiophile who owns over 1,000 SACDs (now all ripped to hard drive) and who has heard the BACCH-SP, I agree with your assessment of the relative merits of high-resolution audio and the BACCH-SP. The BACCH-SP is the one truly revolutionary development in audio playback quality (as opposed to audio playback convenience) in my lifetime. Perhaps because of its price and its being an all-or-nothing proposition at this point, it has largely flown beneath the radar of the audio press, with the exception of the mostly ecstatic coverage from CES 2015.

I question only your assertion that the BACCH-SP has anything to do with high-res audio. It is capable of generating a three-dimensional sound space from CD quality or even lower-res sources (such as YouTube videos), and it has nothing to do with bit depths, sampling rates, DSD or the other traditional indicators of what constitutes so-called high-resolution audio.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
..."The closest I've heard in these terms.." The terms I was referencing was "disruptive technology", not high-res.
roman_jury's picture

My apologies for misreading. We are in complete agreement on these matters.