If you are a Zeppelin fan there‘s a good chance that you first heard their recordings on vinyl. Thirty years ago Vinyl gave way to CD, and there are many, including the staff at Len Wallis Audio, who believes that sonically this was a backward step.
Recently we have witnessed the phenomena of MP3, driven by Apple and iTunes. While this has been a vast step forward in terms of convenience, and has opened up many new genres of music to a huge portion of the population, there is no argument that this has been at the expense of quality. For decades it appeared that we have been destined to advance technology, while at the same time reduce the quality of the music we were listening to. Thankfully – this is in the process of changing.
MP3 was a great idea, it took a huge cross section of music, way outside of the limited rotational top 40 selection offered by the commercial radio stations, and presented it effortlessly and inexpensively to a huge audience.
Suddenly we had access to an enormous musical smorgasbord where and when we wanted it. The restrictive factor at that time was that storage was limited and expensive, and bandwidth limitations meant that only small files could be easily accessed – hence the rise of compressed audio via MP3 files.
These restrictive factors no longer exist, storage is very inexpensive and internet bandwidth has greatly improved, and continues to do so. This has allowed a new breed of on-line music sources such as HDTracks.com and Linnrecords.com to spring up, which are offering music downloads that are not only the equal of CD, but in many cases, easily exceeding it. All of the advantages of MP3 are there, convenience, price (while these high resolution recordings cost more than MP3, they are still less expensive than the comparable CD), without the downside of inferior performance.
There are very strong rumours that even Apple are about to announce Hi-Resolution music downloads – again exceeding the quality of CD.
We believe that this is will usher in a new era of Hi-Fidelity listening. Many people have now adopted on-line music as a part of their listening regime but have accepted poor performance in favour of convenience. Now you can have both.
We are already seeing products enter the market designed to take advantage of this new format. One of the earliest and most versatile is a range of amplifiers from Peachtree. This is a product clearly designed for the modern era. They come complete with iPod docks which is not unusual, though what is unusual is they also incorporate a very high quality DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) to decode this high-resolution material. They feature a combination of digital and analogue inputs to take advantage of the new (digital) and the old (analogue) music delivery systems.
Is there a downside? Only one, and that is due to the concept Hi-Res online music still being in its infancy. The selection of music available for hi-res downloads is still limited, and is generally falls into the Classical, Jazz or back issues categories (alas – I cannot find any Led Zeppelin at this stage.) This will change, and I predict that the change will be rapid. For the concept to really become mainstream it must appeal to mainstream listeners and cover artists such as Lady GaGa, Coldplay, Foo Fighters etc, none of who are available at this stage.
However, the times they are a changing.
By Len Wallis