High Resolution Technologies makes some of the very best and most affordable digital-to-analog converters on the market. The company's newest model, the MicroStreamer, is a tiny thing, just 2.5 inches by 1.2 inches by 0.4 inch, and since it's USB-powered it doesn't have a power supply or require batteries. It works as an external sound card for computers, tablets, and some smartphones. It's also a high-quality headphone amplifier. It was designed in the U.S., and the little guy's circuitboard's components are mounted in Southern California. The aluminum case is made … Read more
I wrote about Zoom's nifty $99 H1 pocket recorder last year, and really loved its sound, so I was curious to see how the H2n recorder measured up. It's a bit shorter, just 4.5 inches high, but fatter and a little heavier. The H2n's body is shiny black plastic, but it feels more solidly built than the H1.
It has four recording modes: Mid-Side (MS) stereo, 90 degree X/Y stereo, two-channel, and four-channel surround modes. The H2n can record MP3 files (48 to 320 Kbps) or WAV files (44.1-kHz/16-bit to 96-kHz/24-bit). The &… Read more
At the end of May, Onkyo will start selling Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel music downloads, first in Japan, and by the fall of this year worldwide. That's either a brave or foolhardy move.
Multichannel music formats -- starting with quadraphonic LPs and tapes in the early 1970s, DTS encoded surround CDs in the 1990s, and DVD Audio and SACD in the early 2000s -- have all suffered from a lack of consumer demand. Very, very few surround releases were initially recorded in surround; most rock and jazz titles are remixed from older stereo recordings. The Blu-ray format has now … Read more
Most people are familiar with NASA's quintessential photograph of Earth -- semi-transparent white clouds sweeping over beige and green swaths of land surrounded by dark blue water.
While that picture's mesmerizing, a photo has emerged showing the planet in even more color and detail, and according to some, it could be among the highest-resolution single pictures ever taken of Earth. It was shot by Russian scientists aboard their weather satellite, the Elektro-L (to download the photo and see a zoomable image, click here). … Read more
Last week Apple showed off the new iPad's higher-resolution display and showcased a series of new apps that take advantage of those added pixels. If you have an iPad, I'm sure you're relishing the chance to see the new display in action, but before you get too excited, don't expect to get the full experience on day one.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but don't be surprised if some of your favorite apps aren't ready to hit the ground running, even if you are.
Crystal clear consequences So why do … Read more
High-resolution formats like Blu-ray, DVD-Audio, SACD, and LP are all capable of delivering superb sound quality, but having music in those formats doesn't automatically guarantee great sound. The recording itself would first have to sound great, or to put it another way, a great sounding MP3 would sound better than a heavily compressed and studio processed 192-kHz/24-bit Master Audio Blu-ray.
Worrying about what sounds better--FLAC, WAV, or AIFF files--is a total waste of time if you're listening to an Adele or Black Keys album: the music's processing levels are so extreme, there's nothing for … Read more
What audio product needs to be invented? I'll start with an easy one: truly wireless speakers. That would be great; all they need to do is figure out how to beam enough power to speakers to drive their internal amplifiers. I doubt that's going to happen anytime soon.
Maybe an app that converts crappy-sounding iTunes to true 24-bit/96kHz files, or Bluetooth audio that sounds decent. How about surround-sound headphones to listen to all of the great music recorded in surround? Oh right, first we'd need great-sounding music surround recordings.
How about a great-sounding subwoofer that doesn'… Read more
Quadraphonic was the first music surround format, and the first to bite the dust. That was in the 1970s. The SACD and DVD-A formats debuted at the dawn of the century, promising vastly improved sound quality over the CD, and both formats flopped. Their futures looked bright, so why did they fail?
Of course the record labels knew selling a new format on the basis of sound quality was a risky business, so they tacked on 5.1 surround sound. There were millions of households in the early 2000s with multichannel home theaters, so selling new music surround formats looked … Read more
Most of the music people enjoy doesn't sound very good. That's not to say it isn't good music, just that it doesn't sound great. I'm not picking on digital or contemporary music; most of my favorite Motown and Stax soul music from the 1960s and 1970s sounds like crap. Most rock music from any decade sounds cruddy; that's just the way it is.
A lot of today's best bands, including alternative darlings Arcade Fire, make awful-sounding recordings. I'm specifically referring to their Grammy Award-winning "The Suburbs" album from 2010; it'… Read more
This past Thursday I attended an informal "summit" hosted by Craig Kallman, Atlantic Records' CEO and Chairman, to learn more about the label's plans to start releasing high-resolution music. Kallman is passionate about improving the sound of music, and I was impressed by his candor about the industry's appalling track record and declining sound quality standards.
I think the widespread overuse of dynamic range compression is far more musically destructive than the low sampling rates used in formats like MP3. I fear that if the new formats are just higher-resolution versions of the dynamically compressed MP3 … Read more