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HiFi Technology Flatlined Last Century

kemmler3D

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These improvements have brought the design to a plateau where the physical limitations of the device have been reached. Put simply, moving coil loudspeakers are as good as they will ever be. Someone with more knowledge than me might take a stab at when this plateau was reached but my guess would be the 80’s or 90’s when materials like carbon fibre and Kevlar were incorporated into the construction, thereby allowing the mechanism to get as close to its ideal as is practical.
I just have to say... your point about the basic design being the same is right. The point about the frontier of performance of speaker drivers not having expanded in 30 years is off-base. Even just in the past few years Purifi has made significant headway in reducing distortion with a novel type of surround. That's not a fundamental / categorical change, but the state of the art has continued to advance in visible and significant / audible ways in the "traditional voice coil" world.

I'd also mention DML and MEMS transducers, both invented this century, which are categorically different and IMO still have potential of displacing traditional moving cone transducers.
 
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Thanks for the mention of DMS and MEMS kemmler3D. I can see how these technologies could be combined into a very different class of loudspeaker. I found this reference for DMS technology www.acoustics.asn.au/conference_proceedings/AAS2002/AAS2002/PDF/AUTHOR/AC020098.PDF and this one for MEMS transducer theory https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-0-387-09511-0_7
Also there is a pretty long thread on diyaidio.com, https://www.diyaudio.com/community/threads/a-study-of-dmls-as-a-full-range-speaker.272576/
Very interesting!
 

kemmler3D

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Thanks for the mention of DMS and MEMS kemmler3D. I can see how these technologies could be combined into a very different class of loudspeaker. I found this reference for DMS technology www.acoustics.asn.au/conference_proceedings/AAS2002/AAS2002/PDF/AUTHOR/AC020098.PDF and this one for MEMS transducer theory https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-0-387-09511-0_7
Also there is a pretty long thread on diyaidio.com, https://www.diyaudio.com/community/threads/a-study-of-dmls-as-a-full-range-speaker.272576/
Very interesting!
When it comes to DM stuff, I think once the patents expire we might see some really interesting things happen in the speaker market. The DIY Audio thread is pretty fascinating in that regard, that's where I first heard about it. People are able to (apparently) make some nice speakers using very humble arts & crafts materials like foamcore boards. It really makes you think that a real speaker company with laser vibrometers, klippels, FEM simulator software and such could take those designs to another level, and perhaps not at $,$$$ - $$,$$$ prices.

Interesting to speculate - what would a "high engineering, low MSRP" firm like Kali do with a DM design?
 

Timcognito

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When it comes to DM stuff, I think once the patents expire we might see some really interesting things happen in the speaker market. The DIY Audio thread is pretty fascinating in that regard, that's where I first heard about it. People are able to (apparently) make some nice speakers using very humble arts & crafts materials like foamcore boards. It really makes you think that a real speaker company with laser vibrometers, klippels, FEM simulator software and such could take those designs to another level, and perhaps not at $,$$$ - $$,$$$ prices.

Interesting to speculate - what would a "high engineering, low MSRP" firm like Kali do with a DM design?
I followed that for a bit and DMLs inherently have problems at the high and low ends so multiple exciters mounted different surfaces are required. They have very wide dispersion patterns which can tame large and complicated spaces like convention halls and churches, etc. The Philharmonic BMR seems to have successful design for music but it is hybrid.
 

kibs

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I think price relative to performance is a good barometer of innovation. Ie where progress is being made eg for DACs and amps the performance is getting better and the prices are getting lower. For speakers I don't think much has happened if I can't get revel salon performance for under 1k
 

restorer-john

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I said "active speakers with Class-D amps and DSP". "And" means both are true. Show me an active speaker from the 1970's with both Class-D and DSP. Such a thing may have existed - my knowledge of 1970's audio is not encyclopedic - but I don't remember one.

OK, fair enough. If we're combining everything into one box- that wasn't clear.

I'd say the first mainstream active HiFi loudspeaker that sold in numbers with onboard DSP would likely have been the Meridian DSP-5000 and that was 3x Class AB amps, digital inputs, onboard DSP/PEQ etc in the 1990s.
 

drmevo

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How is HiFi being defined in the context of this discussion? How do we know when something qualifies as HiFi or not? It seems to me it is difficult to debate the OP’s premise without some parameters.
 

TimF

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prior to the modern age a middle-class person might in their lifetime have a chance to hear a few Beethoven symphonies at the local town hall played by a local orchestra, and to hear piano transcriptions of the most famous classical music pieces. At best you might hear Beethoven Symph. such and such once and only once. You'd not get to know it like we can get to know it now.
Only the well to do in big cities could expect to hear all the Beethoven symphonies in their lifetime. They wouldn't had the opportunity to hear music that was pre-baroque, or likely even French baroque. Most music was heard played by local amateur groups and piano solo, as well, of course, by far most music ever heard was dance music and folk music. Someone in your family must have played a musical instrument. Recording and playback was as radical a development as printing and books. Imagine this, you could have assembled a musical library of 78's, and you could have assembled quite a musical library of LP's; but the world has widened, and now there is more available than you could consume in two lifetimes. There is the problem of poverty, and then there is the problems of abundance. I hope some of this music now available has knocked your socks off and turned you upside down and occassionally struck you dumb. That is success. Why does music make a difference? Listening to music I learn the emotional experiences of the composer, and even a hint at their visceral physical experiences. In classical music there can be shock and awe...equivalences to physical assault and chaos. It conveys the range of human experience. In a complex classical music piece, there is development and to me that means there is sequential emotional states laid out. Listen to the last movement of the Sibelius violin concerto. A devilish movement. It isn't just devilish though. It builds, it peaks and there is a working through of the emotional states such that there is a settling. The piece, in effect, teaches us to 'process' and play through emotional states.
 
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Ze Frog

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Technology as a whole has seemingly slowed down massively over the years. The reason is largely most science these days is funded and directed by military or corporation's which have monopolised the funding for such, which in turn has taken the scientific field away from public view and also limited breakthroughs beyond what the said investing party seems is valuable and worthy. Also education standards across the West have also been in a steady state of decline for decades now.
 
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How is HiFi being defined in the context of this discussion? How do we know when something qualifies as HiFi or not? It seems to me it is difficult to debate the OP’s premise without some parameters.

I think most of the equipment I named could be labelled "HiFi" in the conventional sense.
 

Blumlein 88

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Technology as a whole has seemingly slowed down massively over the years. The reason is largely most science these days is funded and directed by military or corporation's which have monopolised the funding for such, which in turn has taken the scientific field away from public view and also limited breakthroughs beyond what the said investing party seems is valuable and worthy. Also education standards across the West have also been in a steady state of decline for decades now.
I don't think your reasoning for why it has slowed down is correct. Some look at patents indicates a slow down. Innovation in some ways is slower, but then you'd expect that. For instance some large ICE engines are not far from the theoretical highest possible efficiency given by thermodynamics. There is less room for improvement. The first steam engines were only 5% thermally efficient. Modern ones are 10 times that amount, but there is less left to gain. I think that sort of thing is a factor in many areas. Modern speakers which probably have considerable room for improvement yet are far, far better than one could get 100 years ago. So even there you have less space to improve.
 

Anton D

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How is HiFi being defined in the context of this discussion? How do we know when something qualifies as HiFi or not? It seems to me it is difficult to debate the OP’s premise without some parameters.
Great question, at all levels!

I think of Hi Fi as striving to squeeze the best performance from any given audio reproduction medium.

It could be tape, vinyl, broadcast, digital....Hi Fi is the process of striving and enjoying audio playback.

It should also include some happiness and is absent the need to inflict one's own pursuit on other's methods of achieving their goals.
 

RayDunzl

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Technology as a whole has seemingly slowed down massively over the years.

I think "Invention of Completely New Things" has slowed, but change/improvement of the things we have hasn't slowed.
 

restorer-john

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I think "Invention of Completely New Things" has slowed, but change/improvement of the things we have hasn't slowed.

I'd agree. For the last 20 years it's been combining one pre-existing technology with another, to make "shiny new things".
 

kemmler3D

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Technology as a whole has seemingly slowed down massively over the years.
Honestly, I'm not sure how you've come to this conclusion.

This year, the NIF reached a milestone decades in the making of "ignition" in a nuclear fusion reaction.

2 weeks ago, OpenAI announced software that can create photorealistic video based on a simple text prompt. People are already being laid off by the hundreds in favor of "AI" software.

3D printing and CAD have moved from obscure specialist industrial tools, to a common, affordable, practical hobbyist activity, over the past 35 years.

You can now hail a taxi that drives itself, and get to your destination in one piece. (I've done this a few times myself.)

I think many areas of technology are moving extremely fast. What we have now in our daily lives already makes certain sci-fi technology from decades past look quaint.

If this is what "slow" looks like then I'd hate to see "fast". It's too much to keep up with already.

I don't disagree with your points about funding for basic research. It ought to be higher in the public domain. But I don't really see that progress in general is stalled. I also wonder how often we can really expect fundamentally new technology to come about.

You could argue that all of the progress in automobiles is just "combining one pre-existing technology with another" to use @restorer-john's phrase... all the way back to the steam engine and horse-and-buggy days. And of course that was just an iteration of the humble cart, which has been around for thousands of years.

So from the most cynical point of view, even self-driving electric cars are just combinations of pre-existing stuff, and no fundamental innovation in transportation has occurred since 3000 BC or whenever.

I guess that's the real crux of this thread... what do we consider a 'real' innovation vs. an incremental (and therefore less worthy?) improvement?

Consider the world we could have with "mere" iterations and improvements on things that "already exist":

  • Robot butlers
  • Robot chauffeurs
  • Space elevators, space colonies to visit
  • Perfectly photorealistic VR with full-body haptics
  • Nuclear fusion for vastly cheaper power
  • Climate change solved via solar shades
  • Fly from NYC to Tokyo in 90 minutes via hypersonic jet
  • Personalized gene therapy to cure what ails us
  • Brain-computer interface to record your memories
Basically, The Jetsons is within the realm of "mere" iteration on things we have today... now, whether we get any of these things soon enough for our liking gets to your point about the funding and who directs it. But I am not convinced that we're in a technological doldrums.
 
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restorer-john

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Honestly, I'm not sure how you've come to this conclusion.

This year, the NIF reached a milestone decades in the making of "ignition" in a nuclear fusion reaction.

2 weeks ago, OpenAI announced software that can create photorealistic video based on a simple text prompt. People are already being laid off by the hundreds in favor of "AI" software.

3D printing and CAD have moved from obscure specialist industrial tools, to a common, affordable, practical hobbyist activity, over the past 35 years.

You can now hail a taxi that drives itself, and get to your destination in one piece. (I've done this a few times myself.)

I think many areas of technology are moving extremely fast. What we have now in our daily lives already makes certain sci-fi technology from decades past look quaint.

If this is what "slow" looks like then I'd hate to see "fast". It's too much to keep up with already.

It's evolutionary developments, not revolutionary.

I had a computer talking in the very early 1980s.
3D printing is nothing more than a glue gun on an X-Y plotter. It's just evolved a bit, and nowhere near as fast as it should have. Stepper motors, controllers and extruding is practically ancient technology.
We were building micro mice in the 1980s that could solve mazes and robots that could map a room and then draw (with a solenoid operated pen) a basic room layout themselves. (I was still in secondary school then).

As for HiFi, it's gone backwards in many ways and forward in others.
 

kemmler3D

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It's evolutionary developments, not revolutionary.

I had a computer talking in the very early 1980s.
3D printing is nothing more than a glue gun on an X-Y plotter. It's just evolved a bit, and nowhere near as fast as it should have. Stepper motors, controllers and extruding is practically ancient technology.
We were building micro mice in the 1980s that could solve mazes and robots that could map a room and then draw (with a solenoid operated pen) a basic room layout themselves. (I was still in secondary school then).

As for HiFi, it's gone backwards in many ways and forward in others.
I understand what you're saying, but I think the idea that revolutionary inventions used to be common, and aren't now, is questionable. I think they've always been rare.

I first heard about the volume of patent filings as a proxy for innovation in college... I thought it was fallacious then and I think it's fallacious now. The metaphor I used then was "it's like measuring your net worth by how many wallets you have".

Just judging it subjectively is also questionable. We all have biases based on how we perceived things in our younger days vs. now.

I also think the line is a bit blurry. Self-driving cars seem revolutionary in a way, but also extremely evolutionary in other ways. "A computer talking" isn't revolutionary either, the VODER debuted in '39. On the other hand, what we're able to do with AI tools now feels very different. But it's just a progression of tech that's been around for decades.

I think that the point about discoveries in basic physics is right. We are still getting new tech out of physics discoveries from 100+ years ago. We still have yet to plumb the depths of lasers, for pete's sake. If / when the next revolution in physics takes place, we will reap another 100 years of totally new stuff. Maybe teleporters and anti-gravity and whatnot. Until then, incremental changes.
 

Ze Frog

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Honestly, I'm not sure how you've come to this conclusion.

This year, the NIF reached a milestone decades in the making of "ignition" in a nuclear fusion reaction.

2 weeks ago, OpenAI announced software that can create photorealistic video based on a simple text prompt. People are already being laid off by the hundreds in favor of "AI" software.

3D printing and CAD have moved from obscure specialist industrial tools, to a common, affordable, practical hobbyist activity, over the past 35 years.

You can now hail a taxi that drives itself, and get to your destination in one piece. (I've done this a few times myself.)

I think many areas of technology are moving extremely fast. What we have now in our daily lives already makes certain sci-fi technology from decades past look quaint.

If this is what "slow" looks like then I'd hate to see "fast". It's too much to keep up with already.

I don't disagree with your points about funding for basic research. It ought to be higher in the public domain. But I don't really see that progress in general is stalled. I also wonder how often we can really expect fundamentally new technology to come about.

You could argue that all of the progress in automobiles is just "combining one pre-existing technology with another" to use @restorer-john's phrase... all the way back to the steam engine and horse-and-buggy days. And of course that was just an iteration of the humble cart, which has been around for thousands of years.

So from the most cynical point of view, even self-driving electric cars are just combinations of pre-existing stuff, and no fundamental innovation in transportation has occurred since 3000 BC or whenever.

I guess that's the real crux of this thread... what do we consider a 'real' innovation vs. an incremental (and therefore less worthy?) improvement?

Consider the world we could have with "mere" iterations and improvements on things that "already exist":

  • Robot butlers
  • Robot chauffeurs
  • Space elevators, space colonies to visit
  • Perfectly photorealistic VR with full-body haptics
  • Nuclear fusion for vastly cheaper power
  • Climate change solved via solar shades
  • Fly from NYC to Tokyo in 90 minutes via hypersonic jet
  • Personalized gene therapy to cure what ails us
  • Brain-computer interface to record your memories
Basically, The Jetsons is within the realm of "mere" iteration on things we have today... now, whether we get any of these things soon enough for our liking gets to your point about the funding and who directs it. But I am not convinced that we're in a technological doldrums.
Trouble is a lot of that stuff is potentially more damaging to us than it is beneficial. A.I is already threatening to leave people obsolete and useless, even in the art's which was always considered could never happen, is a future like that depicted in Wall-E really a future that's better for humanity.

Brain computer interfaces etc, this is all potentially extremely dangerous in regards to people's freedom of thought and expression, we can already see difference of opinion being treated as wrong and punishable at alarming rates over the last few years.

Gene therapy was also talked about when they first mapped the human genome, still not really any further ahead, not for good anyway. And of course it hasn't, it's not conspiracy to point out the pharmaceutical industry needs sick people, it's a massive business and has become all too powerful, same as military industrial complex.

As for the jet, we have gone backwards there. Insane to think in the 70's you could take a flight on Concorde and today it's literally regular old plane's.

Science needs to be moved into public domain more like it once was, and we need to really be careful regarding what can be used for nefarious acts.
 

-Matt-

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I'm not sure about SACD being seen as the pinnacle of audio disc technology.

I acknowledge that it was a definite effort to push the envelope, but @amirm explains very well here why PCM is better than DSD - what is the point of encoding all that ultrasonic noise?

I'd be more in favour of the multichannel lossless audio on bluray being seen as the high-point, to-date.
 

-Matt-

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...Whilst we are moaning about the lack of technological developments, here is some food for though on potential future technologies:

Smart, piezo, nano paint that coats your walls so that every inch of them becomes a unified transducer. They may optionally be able to track your position and beam-form to direct sound only into the ears of those that want it (potentially delivering different sound to different room occupants).

or

Direct neural interface. Audio will be consumed via a neural interface. If desired it will be able to recreate the exact experience of being at a concert. Or, it will be able to deliver the highest quality audio that you are able to perceive. It will not be limited by hearing defects - so even the deaf may be able to listen in this way.
 
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