Technology: Charting a Path to High Resolution Audio
By Simon Buddle, Future Ready Homes.
As a kid I understood bandwidth to simply mean the distance between the bass player on the left a...
By Simon Buddle, Future Ready Homes.
As a kid I understood bandwidth to simply mean the distance between the bass player on the left and the farthest right person in the harmony section. Now, every kid knows about bandwidth. It was strange, from my perspective at least, when everyone began fawning over 128Kbps music stored on a tiny device. To use an analogy if I may, would we have been so delighted if someone had squeezed a Michelin-starred three-course meal with wine, cheese and fine Cognac into a bar the size of a Marathon (sorry, I mean Snickers for all you young’uns) and said, ‘there you go you’ll barely notice the difference’. I think not.
The bandwidth issue is solved and the options for HD music are coming online, so this is a challenge to both the manufacturers and in turn installers to give their customers the full meal to every speaker in the home. Many moons ago, I worked for Linn Products and Ivor and indeed everyone had the same mantra, ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’. We are now in a position to provide the very best possible audio in. It follows, therefore, that the result at the other end must be better. By better I mean more musical, better timing, greater resolution of detail, more rhythm, greater emotional involvement—simply more enjoyable.
[caption id="attachment_9618" align="aligncenter" width="941"] Naim DAC-V1. One of many British made DACS that can play high-resolution audio.[/caption]
But the sad truth is we have to pick our way through a minefield of technical pitfalls. File formats are possibly the biggest headache. Unless you know your clients’ digital music collections many and varied file formats, choosing their music playback system is nigh on impossible. Then there is the DRM issue. My advice here is simply to add an optional day or two as a line item to the quote so that one of your engineers can convert them all. Having to tell someone that the song they bought the ‘rights’ to won’t play on this device is embarrassing. FLAC, ALAC, MP3, 24 bit, 48kHz—frankly I don’t care nor should our clients have to suffer. I’d like to have the best quality available everywhere.
There are lots of easy solutions to multiroom audio, however, there are few high resolution multiroom audio solutions, certainly not ones that sit easily in the CI market place. Crestron, AMX , HDAnywhere and many others make absolutely stunning video distribution, great picture, simple integration, easy coding and hugely reliable; can we please have the same for audio. Meridian, Naim, Linn are and have always been at the forefront of innovation in the audio quality arena. Who knows, maybe a couple of those companies might hook up.
[caption id="attachment_9619" align="aligncenter" width="819"] Apple's music streaming service started on June 30th.[/caption]
It seems fairly obvious to state that we’d like to be able listen to the music we’ve bought whether stored locally or online, any streaming services we subscribe to, get good metadata from all, available throughout the home on an easy control platform that’s easy to use. Is that really too much to ask for? Sadly I fear, it is. AS a result we all continue to find refuge in products that tick some but not all of the boxes. And to be fair most customers are delighted, but their music experience could be so much better. If it were better they’d be enthusiastic with their friends about music, go to more concerts, want more and buy more, maybe even drop our names in to a conversation as the ‘go-to’ people.
[caption id="attachment_9620" align="alignright" width="400"] Bluesound HD wireless offers 24-bit audio streaming.[/caption]
I’ve talked in the past about dedicating a single room to a high-end stereo system—somewhere you can get truly lost, a place where the music can transport you far away. Meridian’s MQA format may be the solution. Technically, it provides the audio quality. It appears to be liked by musicians and the studios alike. It is also usable across many file formats. The challenge is to get it on to all speakers in the home with a simple user interface and a reasonable profit margin for the installers. Will the answer come in an Apple shape?
Sadly, as with many battles that are fought in the consumer market place, it is more often than not the best advertised, or simply the product that ticks most boxes that wins the day. I sincerely hope that we can see the high-end audio revolution happen in our market place too, just as it is in the consumer goods arena.
Simon Buddle is a consultant for Future Ready Homes, a specialist in BMS and ELV services system design. Simon is also a regular contributor to HiddenWires magazine, and the first winner of the CEDIA Region 1 Special Recognition Award.