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HiFi Technology Flatlined Last Century

Willem

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I think we have to distinguish between different parts of the chain. As for recording, the traditional stereo paradigm may not be the best way to reproduce the original sound. The next part of the chain is the easy bit. Digital formats are sonically perfect. The same applies to the electronics that come after that. In both cases this is because they surpass the threshold of human hearing acuity. There can be advances in the electronics of the chain, but those have to do with electric efficiency, manufacturing costs and reliability, and not with the sound quality. The last part of the chain is where the real challenges are, with speakers and the room. The explanation is a simple one: they have to deal with the physics of moving mass, and the physics of sound in a domestic room. In my view there has been real progress in these areas. My current speakers are way better than their similar ancestors (Quad 2805 vs the original, and Harbeth P3ESR vs the LS3/5a). The CD has given us a source that does not suffer the low frequency degradation of a tone arm's mass (etc), opening the door for subwoofers that can cleanly reproduce the lowest frequencies of a recording. My current Quad 606-2 amplifier does not really sound any better than my more than fifty year oald Quad 303, but my current speaker combo of the hjigh passed Quad 2805s combined with a three MSO equalized subwoofer combo is way more realistic than my old Quad ESL57.
At the same time I must admit that my original system of half a century ago (Quad 33/303 and Quad ELS57, particularly after the introduction of CD) is still a pretty satisfying system. The real change as has been in the quality and affordability of budget gear. We have a garden room with a set of a Wharfedale Diamond 220 speakers that I bought for 125 euros, and they are so much better than what one could get half a century ago, and also so much cheaper in real terms. And what to think of streaming all the world's music for so little money?
 

kemmler3D

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Trouble is a lot of that stuff is potentially more damaging to us than it is beneficial.
Possibly, but that's a different issue from technological progress being stalled.

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.
A very big topic, but if we share the benefits of AI rather than a few people hoarding them, people being put out of work is a good thing. If people don't need to sell the bulk of their waking hours just to survive, I'd call that a win. They'll be free to spend their time as they please instead of hustling to keep food on the table. Ultimately this might even lead to more good, public-domain science being done!

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.
I'm a fan of the Ghost in the Shell and Black Mirror series, and so (as you might imagine) I think brain-computer interfaces will be extremely problematic at best, if we ever get them.

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.
Turns out they've finally started to crack gene therapy: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41587-023-00016-6 - the Big Pharma answer to cures vs. treatments is what you'd expect - charge an arm and a leg for the cure. They're happy to sell you a cure instead of treating you forever - they can charge the full cost up front. But at least there's a cure.

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.
This is getting at cost-effectiveness vs. technological progress. Slow planes are more practical. But we do have the technology for fast ones.

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.
+1
 

Justdafactsmaam

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Any more than some of our members who will discard an amp or dac with a lowly sinad of 80 so that they can get the better sounding sinad of 100? :)
Seems a bit harsh. If someone has a thing for higher SINAD and that makes them happy then go for it.
 

Chrispy

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Seems a bit harsh. If someone has a thing for higher SINAD and that makes them happy then go for it.
It was deliberately harsh but I've seen some say just that. I don't really care if it makes someone happy or not if it doesn't make much sense.
 

MattHooper

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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.

Indeed. I thought the point of our developing robots computers were so that they could take over the jobs we didn’t want to do, not take over the jobs we want to do!
 

Hatto

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Nice article, thanks for sharing.

but as far as reproduction equipment is concerned, name me one big development.

I'll name 2: Bone conduction and MEMS drivers
 

Waxx

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I think most innovations in audio recording and reproduction today don't come from a need from the customer. Except some nerds, nobody cares about multichannel system for audio (most even listen in mono today on their phone or bluetooth boomboxes) and audio quality is that high that it sound realistic. The main change in the last decades that are popular is in convenience (smaller, lighter, cheaper and easier to use). As we live in a capitalistic world, the innovation is pursued where there is money to gain, and the members of this side who want innovation are only a very tiny fraction of the market, so tiny it's not economic valuable to invest a lot of money in research.

The main place where there is place for innovation in audio (from technical point of view) is into acoustics and speaker (driver) design, but the actual tech does a job good enough for the wishes of +99.99% of the market, so...
 

Palladium

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I think most innovations in audio recording and reproduction today don't come from a need from the customer. Except some nerds, nobody cares about multichannel system for audio (most even listen in mono today on their phone or bluetooth boomboxes) and audio quality is that high that it sound realistic. The main change in the last decades that are popular is in convenience (smaller, lighter, cheaper and easier to use). As we live in a capitalistic world, the innovation is pursued where there is money to gain, and the members of this side who want innovation are only a very tiny fraction of the market, so tiny it's not economic valuable to invest a lot of money in research.

The main place where there is place for innovation in audio (from technical point of view) is into acoustics and speaker (driver) design, but the actual tech does a job good enough for the wishes of +99.99% of the market, so...

I heard a hilarious story from a Chinese audiophile dealer how their industry is dying, because even rich people just want their home audio to be as convenient as those in their cars and care less about waiting 10 minutes for "tubez to warm up".

These cable shills can be very self-aware when they are unable to stroke their egos.
 

kemmler3D

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Indeed. I thought the point of our developing robots computers were so that they could take over the jobs we didn’t want to do, not take over the jobs we want to do!
The job you get to do isn't always up to you... it's up to the employer. And as a matter of principle, they don't want ANYONE doing ANY jobs, if they can avoid it. Too expensive, you know...
 

Jaxjax

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Streaming via wifi is huge I know that... I sure wasn't picking whatever I want to play for $10-20 a month via my lap top & roaming around with it in my room in 2001 . In 2001 I still had a dang cord hanging off it & had to download sh..
 

tmtomh

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IMHO there's a lack of clarity about a concept that's fundamental to this discussion: innovation. The term's etymological connotations are not about birth and invention - they're about rebirth and change. So for example the advances @amirm cited in an earlier comment, which combined to make it possible to offer an entirely new kind of product now, is precisely what innovation means: a series of changes in degree (miniaturization, efficiency, precision, energy consumption, and so on) eventually lead to a change in kind (a product that uses electricity, amplification, and transducers but nevertheless didn't exist before).

So a lot of what we're arguing about here is IMHO more semantic than anything else. Those leaning to the "no more innovation" side of the discussion are tending to view innovation more as invention or fundamental change; and those leaning to the "innovation is still happening" side are tending to view innovation more as what I've described above.

Finally, when it comes to technology like audio that not only interacts with human sensory perception but whose entire purpose is to stimulate human sensory perception, the limits of our own hearing ability puts some some pretty hard limits on how much innovation you can have, and where you can have it. As a few folks have noted, we don't need any more innovation in any area except transducers in order to have distortion below detectible levels - and even with transducers the technology appears to be there, and arguably already commercially implemented in the very best low-distortion speakers/drivers.

Similar deal for video resolution: there's still a need for increased dynamic range, contrast, refresh-rate/dimming advancement, and so on - but we've already got commercially viable technology that enables pixel sizes to be smaller than what people can perceive when viewing their TV, tablet, or phone.
 

Ra1zel

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I see it this way. Let's say there are multiple lines of progress that converge to push the boundary of audio, or anything else for that matter.

Personally I would highlight mechanical-material progress that slowed down immensely once financial giants like Yamaha, Sony, etc. opted out of high end audio and focused more on general consumer. Smaller companies in the audio business can't really be focused on making new revolutionary drivers since it requires immense upfront investment and isn't guaranteed to make money once achieved. Fiddling with materials will always be expensive nowadays since every low hanging fruit is already taken so now you have to explore on the edge of what physics allow and worse - what can actually be manufactured.

On the other hand we have rapidly accelerating progress in the digital domain, a consequence of constant growth of computational power. DSP is getting constantly more powerful, faster, further capable, easier to use. Design of anything can be catapulted by modern modeling and simulation techniques. I'm nearly certain that mechanical-material progress started picking up speed again now thanks to this, stuff gets easier when a computer can do some work on itself.

Out of all things DIYers also have it much better now than ever before, you can grab super linear transducers off the shelf, software will help you perfect your crossover, you can simulate a horn/waveguide and 3D print it for cheap, you can make a motorized turntable quite easily and start making proper spinoramas. Some investment and you are off to making speakers that can put to shame most commercial products.
 

Count Arthur

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

I don't know why, but that made me think of this:

1710265555449.png


1710265601453.png


I would argue that the low tech solution of sticking some googly eyes on the front, is far more effective, than the creepy effect that Apple achieved, no doubt at great expense, by using cameras to display your real eyes on a screen on the front of the headset. But maybe that's just me. :)
 

Vacceo

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I'm a fan of the Ghost in the Shell and Black Mirror series, and so (as you might imagine) I think brain-computer interfaces will be extremely problematic at best, if we ever get them.
Considering the state of the world and the kind of paradigm we live under, I expect It to get quite similar to Hardwired if neural link finally exists.
 
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kemmler3D

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IMHO there's a lack of clarity about a concept that's fundamental to this discussion: innovation. The term's etymological connotations are not about birth and invention - they're about rebirth and change. So for example the advances @amirm cited in an earlier comment, which combined to make it possible to offer an entirely new kind of product now, is precisely what innovation means: a series of changes in degree (miniaturization, efficiency, precision, energy consumption, and so on) eventually lead to a change in kind (a product that uses electricity, amplification, and transducers but nevertheless didn't exist before).

So a lot of what we're arguing about here is IMHO more semantic than anything else. Those leaning to the "no more innovation" side of the discussion are tending to view innovation more as invention or fundamental change; and those leaning to the "innovation is still happening" side are tending to view innovation more as what I've described above.

Finally, when it comes to technology like audio that not only interacts with human sensory perception but whose entire purpose is to stimulate human sensory perception, the limits of our own hearing ability puts some some pretty hard limits on how much innovation you can have, and where you can have it. As a few folks have noted, we don't need any more innovation in any area except transducers in order to have distortion below detectible levels - and even with transducers the technology appears to be there, and arguably already commercially implemented in the very best low-distortion speakers/drivers.

Similar deal for video resolution: there's still a need for increased dynamic range, contrast, refresh-rate/dimming advancement, and so on - but we've already got commercially viable technology that enables pixel sizes to be smaller than what people can perceive when viewing their TV, tablet, or phone.
I worked for an "innovation" consulting firm as my first job out of college. I learned a ton, but annoyingly, the owner spent a lot of his time putting on "innovation awards" instead of drumming up business.

Anyway, as part of doing the awards, we had to have a clear definition of what counted as innovative, and what didn't.

IIRC it basically boiled down to novelty, usefulness, and commercial success, which was also a proxy for usefulness.

That works ok for an award show... to avoid the semantic trap ask yourself: "Can you do something you couldn't do before? If not, can you do something you were already doing, but noticeably better?"
 

Cbdb2

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Class D design is completely and radically different than class AB. The switching power supplies that power it are also the same with respect to linear power supplies. The two combined bring high efficiency, small size and ability to produce a ton of power. And with advent of SMD and better power transistors, combined with proper feedback design, is able to produce an incredibly unique offering than that of the past. It is not at all a refinement.
Agreed. Like going from combustion engines to jets in airplanes, the plane is basically the same, the advantages are a game changer.
 

Cbdb2

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You're completely correct here boss, but they don't sound any better.
You can say that about tube amps. They do sound different if your AB Amp runs out of power or over heats but the same cost D still has 6db to go.
Combustion vs jet engine. Both planes can go 600 mph.
 
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