The Hunt for Innovation
Reading, The Gramophone over the
past couple of years, I noticed the emergence of a new hi-fi vocabulary. Technical
reviews are dominated by the hunt for increasing bit rates and a bewildering number
of formats (MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, FLAC, etc.) Enthusiastic reviews of streaming
devices costing around ₤3000: these without amplifier or even a CD drive.
As these innovations continue there
still seems to a core of audiophiles who claim that the most satisfying way to
listen to music is still the trusted vinyl disc (LP).
Is this claim still valid?
I am writing from a position
where the replacement of analogue by the digital disc was the best innovation
by the industry since electrical recording. In one fell sweep, the LP and tape cassette
could be replaced. Absence of surface wear, stretched tapes, longer playing
times, lower cost front ends, etc. etc. As soon as CD players were integrated in
car radio units, the cassette was dead. At the time, no sound engineer claimed
that the tape cassette was superior in sound than vinyl, but it was
nevertheless commercially very successful. Without the CD the magnetic tape
would still be with us.
I accept that streaming music
from computers or memory devices has its attractions. I do much of my listening
these days from an iPod (ALAC) connected to an AV receiver. My point is that do
these relentless innovations with unaffordable hardware and ridiculous storage
capacity requirements really matter as far as 99 % of the music buying public
goes? After all, “it’s the music stupid”.