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Do we need High Definition Audio?

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Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby EnlightenedHand » Tue May 06, 2008 9:33 pm

I was thinking about the shift that is happening from the current playback standard of 16/44.1 to the up and coming high definition formats and I was noticing that we don't even really use all of the dynamic range that's available to us at this bit depth neither do we hear above 20kHz. So why would we need to move on to Blue Ray and/or High def? I have heard the arguments for high sample rates that suggest that oversampling helps to push unwanted artifacts into the inaudible range but this is done now with 44.1. I also know that things tend to sound more detailed and clear with high sample rates but one gets plenty of detail out of the current standard if the recording and mixing process is well implemented. In fact it's difficult to notice, in my experience, until one has been spending much time working at the higher sample rates and then suddenly comes down to a lower one without a period of adjustment. I'm not sure that consumers are that concerned with lack of detail and clarity as well as lack of dynamic range since those goals are virtually lost on the current popular music mixing and mastering trends. So do we really need to upgrade? Or is this just another whim that we're getting into because we can?

It could all very well be a trick by the manufacturers to get us all to change our equipment and buy into their products. I think the CD as we know it has been a very good thing. It's perhaps the finest playback medium that we've ever had. I will be sad to see it go and quite frankly,(as much as this may sound like an old timer not wanting to get with the new age bear in mind that I'm actually 26), I don't want to see it go.

So what do some of you folks think?

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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby David Etheridge » Tue May 06, 2008 10:06 pm

It seems rather ironic that the end users probably listening to this stuff on an Ipod with crappy headphones. :roll:

Back to analogue tape and mono!!! Phil Spector rools!
:D

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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby forumuser695516 » Tue May 06, 2008 10:11 pm

Regular CD's as we know them are not going anywhere for a while yet.
But I would say you are right, in that hi def at the consumer end of things isn't really needed when we can already get amazing results onto CD with some skills and consideration. There is little point trying to do better until this habit of compressing the life out of everything backs off some. But for now, its a good marketing ploy and not a lot more, in my opinion.
Hi def in the studio, is another matter however, although even this can be subjective of course.

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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby desmond » Tue May 06, 2008 10:22 pm

Seems to me the bigger numbers are all about marketing hooks to sell ever more pieces of gear.

I'd rather see some evidence of high-def songwriting... ;)
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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby Mel David » Tue May 06, 2008 10:38 pm

I'm not upgrading to Blu-Ray till I see players at ALDI for $45.

There should be a noticeable improvement in sound quality if a movie sound track used uncompressed multi-channel PCM audio instead of Dolby Digital or DTS which are compressed audio formats.
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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby Rockrooms » Tue May 06, 2008 10:41 pm

Well, look at the trouble SACD is having making any serious headway. Look at the bitrates offered by default on iTunes.
Then look at the devices that people are actually using for playback. Sometimes it seem like we're moving back to good old AM days in terms of sound quality that end consumers are apparently happy with.

What seems people when talking about high definition audio is that to appreciate it, apart from the equipment itself, you need a good room, a good set of ears and time to actually appreciate what you are listening to.

I know of few people who can meet those criteria. Modern life is crazily busy, with many things all competing for our attention.

Manufacturers in many industries are always pushing to try and get people onto the next big consumption idea, but product cycles are getting shorter and consumer resistance is increasing as each technology produces the "good enough" plateau. Human ears are by definition, enormously variable , full of imperfections and decline with age. 16/44 is able to meet the needs of large sections of the public. The uptake of MP3 as a standard consumption format suggests that actually it exceeds the needs of most.

I accept all the arguments about starting with the highest quality, but it seems many people just don't, can't or won't care about this.

There are many technologies available right now that are not achieving the expected level of take up, often to the apparent surprise of the companies producing them.
My phone from two years ago was capable of making a video call. I've never made one. Internet capable ? Yes. Never use it. I do play MP3s on it though, mostly when my two year old daughter wants to hear a song. Sound quality, utter pants. Does the job though, good enough.

I was walking down a residential street recently and there were a group of kids playing football, with others just hanging out, listening to music, coming not from an old skool gettoblaster, but from a mobile phone. Took me a moment to figure out what was wrong with the scene, compared with my youth. Pants quality, good enough for the kids.

I'm not suggesting that technology advances aren't a good thing or aren't widely taken up, but consumers are a fickle bunch and something simply being "better" is no guarantee that it will be welcomed.

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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby tomafd » Tue May 06, 2008 11:33 pm

Rockrooms wrote: 16/44 is able to meet the needs of large sections of the public. The uptake of MP3 as a standard consumption format suggests that actually it exceeds the needs of most.


Too right. The 'average punter' is perfectly happy to accept a lower standard of fidelity if the increase in convenience is big enough- and mp3/ipods do exactly that.

A friend of mine described being at a music biz conference a while back, and the audience were played 2 versions of the same tune- one 16/44, and one 256 mp3, and asked to identify which was which. Half the audience couldn't tell the difference- and that's people working in the business ! Most punters just don't care, as long as the music's good.
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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby EnlightenedHand » Tue May 06, 2008 11:36 pm

For me MP3 is a bit of a love/hate relationship. On the one hand I hate the sound quality of the typical bit rate MP3 but I do love the storage space that the compression format provides. I also like portable MP3 players for the convenience but I hate that you have to compromise sound quality. I suppose one good thing is that if you squash the hell out of a mix and then compress it to MP3 you will likely get a very ugly sound. It's like *nature's* way of letting us know that there's no where else to go but down with competitive levels. In a sense radio is giving us the same message with their excessive compression. Being that the public at large digs MP3 and don't ask for better quality it might become a new trend to actually mix so that things sound great using lossy compression,(but that's all off the subject).

Actually I don't think it's necessary to go to high def playback formats. I do think one thing would be put to rest though for good and that's the continuous argument about the effectiveness of re-dither. We simply wouldn't have to do it with the high def formats presumably. That's about the only reason that I could see someone really making a big deal about switching over to high def formats. I like my 16/44.

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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby adam miller » Wed May 07, 2008 12:00 am

The only way HiDef distribution formats will catch on amongst the wider population is if manufacturers exploit them as a means to selling higher capacity iPods and the like.
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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby EnlightenedHand » Wed May 07, 2008 12:05 am

Now with portable players is it not the case that the issue of capacity rest with the hard drive technology?

I don't see that high def formats have anything to do with that. I could be missing something though.

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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby moo the magic cow » Wed May 07, 2008 12:11 am

I've been on both sides of this. No one hears the artifacts in MP3 compression. I didn't. I used to listen to demo-quality material in MP3 format because it was so-and-so's rarest track. No one misses the kick drum when they're wearing earbuds, or the right channel if they're sharing. Music is mixed for supermarket PA systems.

How many people complained after seeing the Beatles play for 45 minutes at Shea Stadium? The music was played over sports stadium horns.. the things you can barely understand announcers through.

You all already know the answer to this question. The vocals are the most important part of the mix. If you get that right, everything is FINE. The only reason audiophiles or mix engineers notice anything is because they train themselves to be active listeners.

The sound of 3 average fourteen year girls singing along to something is freaking terrible but they still enjoy it. End user sound quality means nothing.

PS Some of those mobile phones sound BRILLIANT.
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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby Guy Johnson » Wed May 07, 2008 12:13 am

Do we need high-definition audio? Yes. So we, and the public, will know Poo-Audio by comparison.

Eventually (let's hope) enough people will notice good audio in good cinemas and gigs (insert hollow laugh) to make them worry about Poo-Audio at home and on the internet.

But. I'm pessimistic: Look at all those awful old vinyl players. Look how VHS won over Betamax. Look at bit torrent copies of copies of compressed and compressed and compressed crud on people's computers and ipods.

I tell you. Good sound will only be guaranteed to happen if it becomes fashionable. And it won't be fashionable if it's congested, annoying, fizzy and ........ Poo :frown:
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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby EnlightenedHand » Wed May 07, 2008 1:44 am

I wouldn't go so far as to say that the end user doesn't care at all about audio quality. I think they certainly can tell the difference between horrible and decent. I don't want to adopt the mindset that we don't need high quality audio just not necessarily high definition. I think that just like high definition television, high def audio is unnecessary. I like it. I think it sounds great. But I think that quality music that has been recorded and mixed well in 16/44 is just fine. I'm taking issue with the process of upgrading everything just because we can.

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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby rmidijingles » Wed May 07, 2008 3:30 am

Well, my opinion might be a little different.

I'm inclined to encourage any push in quality, regardless of utility, as rising tides can lift a lot of boats.

I don't have a pro audio setup and can only work and mix down to CD quality, so it's not like I'm in a major hurry for bigger and better, but who knows? Maybe, if enough people buy into HD audio, standards will improve. As a people, we did, after all, go from Edison-style sound quality to CDs, so why not up again? If people really hear just how marvelous smartly-treated, quality material can sound at full tilt, we'll all start demanding more from our radios, albums, and portable devices.

Why not, right?

The thing about technology is that it's coming whether you want it to or not. May as well want to and see where it leads. After all, without an attitude that says "yes" to the inevitability of an increasing pace of things, you'd have no Modern Art, no advanced medical research, no cars.

I know that a lot of these things carry consequences - sometimes I look around at all this stuff, all this GLUT, and wish I could see things as they were before people got it in their heads to go knocking around like a bull in a china shop, but then I think about all the things I'd miss, warts and all.

High-def audio? Imagine the possibilities. And I mean apart from getting hit very hard in wallet, which we surely will at first.
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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby EnlightenedHand » Wed May 07, 2008 5:39 am

I don't think that high def audio is going to bring about any positive inclinations from the recording industry or the radio if we are to look at the present trends as any indicator of how things may go. Right now we have 16 bits of dynamic range that we hardly use at all in popular music. Right now we have a general listening public that is quickly getting accustomed to the far less quality of lossy compression formats like MP3 and it's not showing any signs of stopping. I don't think the public cares one bit about high def audio at this point. As far as the argument pertaining to how we once had terrible audio quality and now we have great well that may be true but the increase from current standards to what is coming down the pike with high def isn't nearly as dramatic as what was when recording first got off the ground. We have crossed a great divided from simply making crude facsimiles of audible events to making very close reproductions of actual sonic events with the current standard. I imagine the possibilities can't get much better than "it sounds just like real life." We're already very close to that when good recording and mixing technique is used. I don't see enough incentive to go further when we abuse what we have and we don't have a definite need.

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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby rmidijingles » Wed May 07, 2008 7:36 am

I can see what you're saying, and agree that lossy compression is indeed a sad state of affairs, and that many in charge of putting sound out there are doing a terrible disservice by willfully ignoring the possibilities of working at 16 bits, let alone 32 or 128.

Abuse what we have? Perhaps. Ignorance getting out of control? I can see that.

But I've never been the type of guy to let trends and current indicators get the best of me. How music is being made now will most likely not be how it'll be made a good stretch down the road, and I want to be there to see what it's going to be like.

I'm also not sure I agree with things not sounding better than they do "in real life." Autechre doesn't sound like much of anything in real life. Come to think of it, judging by a real-life, sounds-in-the-world yardstick, a lot of my favorite music must sound totally bizarre.

Facsimiles of sonic events are one thing, but new sonic events are something else entirely. A lot of the things that sound imitative are more hyper-real than real - imagine a huge reverb, or a sound that moves in a circle around you, like with surround sound, or any recorded sound made in an acoustically deadened room. Without some pretty advanced technology, a lot of the things we think sound natural wouldn't be possible. I'm not sure that ever-improving facsimiles are the only goal.

We may abuse what we have, and for that reason it's sensible to judge what it is we might need, but there are those of us that don't. Why hold them back from the possibility of a push forward, however slight? Enough little pushes like a jump in bitrate can translate into a very big push in enough time.

The divide we've crossed, if you ask me, isn't an exponential increase in fidelity, but a push past aiming solely for that. It will always take a sensitive artist to make good use of the tools available, but when you marry the best artists to the best tools, you can bet the house that you're going to wind up with some very good product. Bring on the bits, I say. Would a real painter say you don't need any more reds, or would a real painter just slap it on a canvas and watch what it does?

I hope you understand the tone here. I can tell that you care very deeply about the things you see happening with music. I just think that any change is worth getting excited about - tough to say what might lurk in those bits if you find someone who can really steer them!
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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby Mel David » Wed May 07, 2008 7:57 am

Somebody please recommend me a pair of hi-fi speakers that can reproduce 20Hz-96KHz audio and I may consider upgrading. After all the Celestions I am using is 20 years old now so it's probably time to upgrade to HD.
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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby James Perrett » Wed May 07, 2008 8:47 am

Rockrooms wrote:Sometimes it seem like we're moving back to good old AM days in terms of sound quality that end consumers are apparently happy with.

When you think how long it took for people to recognise the benefits of FM is isn't surprising. In fact, in the UK, most people only switched to FM when the broadcasters stopped broadcasting what the public wanted to hear on AM.

I remember pushing the FM switch on my dad's radio when I was young and thinking that it didn't work. It was only when I listened more carefully that I realised that everything was quieter on FM (probably due to the lack of compression).

Cheers

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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby Robin Lemaire » Wed May 07, 2008 10:35 am

Isn't DVD audio 24/96? Too much dynamic range on some movies (especially when trying to watch late at night without disturbing the rest of the house or the neighbors).

Blu-ray films on an HD TV look exceptionally good though. I've not watched the TV since just because it looks so blocky and awful by comparison.
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Re: Do we need High Definition Audio?

Postby EnlightenedHand » Wed May 07, 2008 12:21 pm

I suppose then it becomes a question of rather or not we will still pursue the goal of recording per say or will the goal shift to sound manipulation and enhancement. At heart I'm still into recording but I see your point about the future. I suppose in that case I'm not entirely opposed to the changes.

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