|Europe's leading residential technology trade magazine||Register|
Industry Opinion: Trends in Audio (3/12/2007)
By Yasmin Hashmi, HiddenWires
When HiddenWires launched, the iPod was already a couple of years old, but it was remarkable how many in the CI industry dismissed it purely on the grounds of its small size, low cost and inferior sound quality. How times have changed. The size, cost and operational simplicity of the iPod and iTunes have effectively delivered a portable music server to the masses, ensuring that people are now listening to more music than ever before.
That is not to say that sound quality is a side issue - clearly it isn't. There are plenty of people who are prepared to pay good money to get the best sound possible, but the challenge for the industry is in marrying the highest audio quality with operational convenience, so we asked a number of leading lights what recent technological innovations they think are important, and what can we expect over the coming year. Here are their replies:
Simon Hewitt, Director of Marketing, Opus Technologies
The overriding technological focus over the past three years or so has been the rapid development of audio servers. Initially launched as one-zone systems, these have become far more attuned to the needs of custom install, and now offer much greater flexibility. We are also beginning to witness greater audio quality thanks to larger capacity hard disks which have diminished the extent to which content needs to be compressed. The coming year will see even more growth in this area with new music servers from a number of manufacturers, including Opus.
Also the growth of lossless compression systems, such as WMA Lossless, have made it possible to achieve true audiophile quality. Quality is also being improved thanks to higher specification amplifiers and speakers which are finally emerging for custom install applications. This is an area which many manufacturers have previously neglected, but the opportunity for customers to specify premium grade components in their multiroom system is essential.
Linda van Zanten, VP International Sales, SpeakerCraft
Never in the history of music has audio been more available than it is today! The advent of iPod and music servers is furthering the excitement of experiencing audio throughout the home, and with statistics showing that in-wall and in-ceiling speakers are overtaking box speaker sales for the first time in North America, SpeakerCraft is pleased to be a major contributor to this growing industry, and to the increase in awareness of the custom audio industry in Europe.
Developments such as the new Digi5 platform that uses digital signals over CAT-5 wiring, will substantially broaden the whole-house audio market, and allow moderate-price-range homebuilders to offer a fully-distributed, high-quality, high-fidelity music feature.
Geoff Meads - Brand manager, Arcam
From a customers point of view, I believe the most
important developments in the audio market are those of customer convenience.
IPod integration can make or break a product in some sectors, which serves
to underline quite how 'right' that product is. To my mind, there's a
clear lesson for audio industry professionals here. The iPod has never
claimed to be the most feature-laden in its sector. Its sound quality
is comparatively high, but the user interface is its real crowning glory.
Apple has trumped everyone, delivering only the features that customers
Michael Johnson, Marketing Manager, Monitor Audio
Smarter, smaller, slicker - that's the way things have been going ever since the computer industry decided it was its responsibility to deliver entertainment. And the trend is accelerating because the IT industry is programmed to behave according to Moore's law (the one about computer power doubling every two years). So what can we hi-fi nerds learn? Well, we can thank our lucky stars that multiroom entertainment distribution is still too niche for the IT megaliths, but still sufficiently dynamic and lucrative to keep CI installers and their suppliers occupied.
For real inspiration, look to Nintendo. This has been forging ahead with its DS and Wii products in the last year, outflanking other pretenders for the mass-market home entertainment crown. The beauty of Wii is that despite its technological innovation, it presents no threat to the consumer and therefore folks of all ages embrace it and love it! If our industry spots this, it will figure out that the future lies not in blending performance with complexity, but with simple convenience.
The brand I'm closest to, Monitor Audio, has been designing new in-wall and in-ceiling speakers that fit right in with this fashion, but what we'd really like is for our multiroom entertainment brethren to do 'a Nintendo' on distribution and operation. Easy wireless control is a must, but in order to be really powerful and useful, the systems must retain the bandwidth performance to unite slick operation with real signal quality and definition - the industry's forte after all - and do all this without breaking the bank. If this comes to pass quickly, and all the signs are that it will (check out ISE in January), then we happy few at the quality end can boss the multiroom home entertainment market for a little while longer!
Doug Graham, Sales Manager, Naim Audio
It is interesting that you ask about the trends in audio technology and recent innovations, and not about trends in performance and customer satisfaction. A good while ago, a company in our industry had a strapline that said something like 'Music is the master, technology is the slave.' We are getting that feedback from our customers. Yes, they love new technology, but not when it gets in the way of listening to music. For example, feedback from retailers and beta testers of our new music servers is very positive: they are getting a Naim CD player-like box that makes playing music easier, but the key benefit is that it sounds as good as a Naim CD player. It's not the usual compromise of performance to get convenience. Therefore, to answer your question, we see that customers are getting more discriminating, and the value proposition has to change. Adding new technology is only a consumer benefit when it makes the product/system easier to use and/or perform better. We see more and more music servers coming to market, of which a few will deliver the musical goods.
Lars-Olof Janflod, International Sales Manager, Genelec
In terms of loudspeaker technology there isn't
much new, but there is one strong trend that needs to be focused on more,
and that is the ability of automatic acoustic calibration by various products.
Every audio professional knows that once you put a loudspeaker in a room,
its performance will be affected by the environment, but in the majority
of cases, this fact is being ignored. In the coming years, we will see
an increasing number of loudspeaker/amplifier products that will be addressable
over the Internet, and with different functionality built into the system.
Dave Keller, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing, Panamax/Furman Sound
From a power distribution perspective, we are seeing an increased need for advanced and professional-grade AC protection, filtration, and back-up solutions. Devices such as digital media servers, high-definition sources, and whole-house audio distribution systems are much more sensitive and susceptible to AC power issues such as spikes and line noise than yesterday's more robust analogue components. While the technology in audio systems becomes more advanced, the technology of the power grid remains unchanged, requiring a power management solution to provide today's sensitive components with clean power to operate at maximum efficiency and re-create high-resolution signals accurately. The trend now is to provide more high-quality, uncompressed audio content for an immersive, high-definition experience. The challenge for manufacturers is to provide solutions to deliver this content pristinely, and at the highest quality possible.
Richard G Elen, Meridian Audio
The big question in my mind is, "What is the future of the music business?" It is evident that packaged media are nearing the end of the road, and the lack of standardisation of high-definition formats appears to have hastened that end. Through having both DVD-Audio and SACD, and not one single standard, we blew it as far as a disc-based hi-def audio medium was concerned, and now we appear to be doing the same with video.
On the audio technology front, the future lies with home music servers and downloading high-definition and surround audio files. We need a standard format for high-quality, multichannel file handling (I would suggest multichannel FLAC, with suitable flags for 5.1, B-Format and so on), and we need network hardware players to handle them - all relatively straightforward.
Traditional record companies need to realise that a business model that makes the customer the enemy is THE reason why legal downloads are not growing at the expected rate. The solution to this problem is simple: the end of DRM, and a return to the traditional situation where purchasers are free to do reasonable things with content they own. Instead of asking "How can we stop people doing this?", the record companies' attitude must become, "How do we make this work for our customers and ourselves?" No surprise, then, that those companies are being circumvented and artists are going direct to the public via web sites, MySpace and other methods. If the record companies are to survive, they need a change of attitude that simply puts the customer first, like the rest of us try to do.
If you would like to comment on this issue, or to be included in future opinion pieces, please send an email to opinion(AT)hiddenwires.co.uk.
| use our newsfeeds | subscribe
to newsletter | submit
a link |
Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of all articles, advertisements and other insertions
in this website, the publisher accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions or incorrect insertions.
The views of the contributors are not necessarily those of the publisher or the advertisers.