CE Week Panel Offers High-Res Audio Evangelists’ Views

Imperatives needed to get top-drawer “better-than-CD-quality” audio in front of consumers beyond the audiophile fringe were the main topics of discussion among a mixed group of hardware, content and engineering experts, at Wednesday’s CE Week panel entitled, “Making High-Resolution Audio Accessible.”

Moderated by Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) senior director Marc Finer, the panel included: John Jackson, VP, A&R and content development at Sony Music Legacy Recording; Jim Belcher, VP, technology & production, Universal Music Group; Howie Singer, chief strategic technologist, Warner Music Group; Maureen Droney, senior executive director, P&E Wing, The Recording Academy; Paul Wasek, national marketing & product planning manager, Onkyo USA; and Aaron Levine, senior product marketing manager, home audio, Sony Electronics.

Opinion differed little among participants about the need for an effort among all factions in concert – including retailers – to experientially drive the point home that there is better sound to be heard, to Millennials and other demographics who have grown used to accepting compressed source material as the norm.

Wasek pointed to a challenge at the store level – namely, that oftentimes, products such as receivers are not “live” in many retail outlets. “Not too many customers will take your word for it that ‘this sounds better.’ They have to hear it.”

Finer indicated that there is an effort afoot by the CEA’s Audio Division Board to “try to align messaging and descriptions for retail presentation.”

Also key is getting artists’ testimonials, said Singer. “We need artists to speak to their fans.”

Belcher praised Apple’s Mastered for iTunes, which is that company’s initiative for encouraging the recording of high-resolution files. “It has set best practices and incentivized people,” agreed Droney.

Finer asked panel members if they would name a key critical factor in getting the message across to consumers.

Belcher cited the elevation of the headphone as a listening instrument, along with the growth of addition of high-resolution chipsets in smartphones – such as currently exists in a handful of smartphone models – that will facilitate experimentation with high-res sound.

Editor in chief of Dealerscope
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  • Barry Vogel

    It is amazing to me that, in essence, the subject is sound quality. In 37+ years in the audio industry I have seen sound quality “evolve” into loud into booming bass into cheaper into mp3 via $3.00 earbuds into “people don’t care about sound quality anymore”. The debate about whether or not people care about sound quality seems to be dying away. Good. It was always nonsense. Our industry killed sound quality with the products we made and the way they were marketed. People love their music, and people will always want it “better” if they can be showed the advantages of “better”. I agree that the issue must be attacked from EVERY angle at every level. It may be a long hard battle, but the ultimate ROI will be worth the effort…. until we start selling it at near cost like everything else in CE.

  • Bob Schaffer

    It’s pretty amazing to me as well that, as Barry Vogel said, sound quality is an issue. Unfortunately, there is an entire generation who have been sold the message that how many songs they can get on thier players is what is important, or that the friendliness of the user interface is what is important, but have never been told by any advertizer, or by the media, that sound quality is something they should value in any way. If they never hear it even mentioned to them how are they supposed to know it is something to be sought after? Keep in mind that today people are so bombarded by texts, emails, tweets and a thousand other constant distraction that they no longer have time to think deeply about anything whatsoever. If they are not told something, most will never think about it enough to realize it on thier own. Numerous articles about the death of deep thought in our modern society have already been written. This is a generation that is so distracted that they haven’t even figured out to rebel against the older generation as all earlier generations (including my own) have.
    Well, it’s sure nice to see some interest in people talking about giving QUALITY some press and actually mentioning it to the public once in a while.

    I co-invented the DVD-Audio format a number of years ago because I wanted to hear better sound than my CDs could deliver, but when the record companies’ commercials (yes, in those days there were still commercials on TV for new albums) which said “Out this tuesday on CD” weren’t willing to even add the words “and DVD-Audio” there should have been no surprise that most folks had no idea it even existed. Same commercial time bought and paid for, no extra charge to add 3 words to the commercial’s tag line, and yet they wouldn’t do it. At least the folks in the home video market weren’t afraid to say “Available tuesday on DVD and bluray”.

    I don’t know why the record industry merely allowed DVD-Audio to exist but did nothing to push awareness of the format and then called that “supporting” it.

    From that lackluster failure to even mention the new format (resulting in a subsequent failure to have droves of people buy something that those record companies wouldn’t even mention in thier advertizing) they apparently concluded that nobody cared about soung quality.

    Just look at all the dynamic-range-compressed mixes being released these days and it’s obvious that sound quality is not a priority with the people runnung the music industry

    Let’s hope that what I hoped would happen all those years back with DVD-Audio actually does happen this time around

    If we can, as you suggested, get people in the business to put out the word out that better sound quality is something which exists, that if people support it thay can have it (and that people should want it), maybe, this time around it will actually come to fruition.

    As somebody who DOES care about sound quality that would be a dream come true.

  • Doubtful Dave

    Let’s go back to the late ’60s into the early ’70s. 8-tracks and cassettes were the convenient alternative to LPs and their sound quality was, for the most part, poor if not awful–even with Dolby. “No one cares about quality now, just convenience!” was the cry; you could pop that tape into your car stereo or your walkman.
    Some things never change. Aside from the “perfect sound forever” mantra when the CD was introduced, there has rarely been a push to publicize better sound quality. And, the reality was that consumers were being fed “perfect sound forever” because CDs were (and are) a heck of a lot more convenient than LPs. Sell millions of CD players and let consumers buy their music again in the new format: everyone wins!
    DVD-A was a stunningly good sounding format, but the bottom line was retailers didn’t want to carry two formats when one would do. No double inventory, regardless of the superior sound quality.
    Consumers typically don’t go looking for better sound quality, they have to stumble on it and experience it. Experience it! With the growing (exploding?) market for better headphones and headphone amps (check out CanJam), I feel confident that consumers will buy better quality today and tomorrow, just as they did back in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. What we have to fear more than anything else are the dynamically compressed mixes that Bob mentions. I am hoping that as more musicians move away from the big music labels and produce their own music, the dynamic quality of many releases will improve.
    And, when consumers actually hear how good high resolution music files can sound, they will want it. Almost no one believes he or she will hear or appreciate the difference, “I’m no golden ear, it’ll be wasted on me.” Then that person hears the difference and is hooked. With the growth of social media, I’m hoping that the word will spread. Imagine having convenience and great sound quality.