I love the summer Olympics! I’ve been spending a bunch of time watching them from my DVR so that I can skip all of the fluff and commercials. As a track and field athlete in high school (I was a pole vaulter), I’m particularly interested in the upcoming events taking place in the main stadium.
And then I get a call this week from a gentleman asking about high-resolution audio files for an automobile fidelity competition. Really! And I’ve heard about these events — at least the ones where the loudest car audio system wins. Believe it or not, there are individuals spending a lot of time and money creating cars that are capable of producing over 130 dB SPL! I ran into a website today called “Car Audio Central” that has a whole section on competitive sound contests.
One of the engineers who worked on the Ernest Ranglin AIX Records project years ago turned me on to competitive automotive audio systems. He produced the “burp” tones that are used during the competitions to achieve the loudest SPL. But I was not aware that these events have a subjective “best fidelity” category. It’s easy to read the sound pressure level from a meter but as we all know judging the fidelity of a system is something completely different.
The competitions have judges that sit in the cars and evaluate the quality of the sound that they hear. It’s not a science but is it really any different than having judges evaluate gymnastics or the artistic merits of a trampoline routine? I can imagine a panel of judges moving from one car to another auditioning the sound systems and pronouncing one better than the other.
In fact, this sort of thing already happens in the craft categories of the Grammys. I’ve been an alternate on the “best surround album” and “best engineered recording” categories but have not actually participated — yet. But I know people that have and thankfully they’ve shared what they experienced during the intense review of hundreds of submissions. They all sit in a room and play segments of the entries through a good quality sound system (they do it in an office at the NARAS headquarters not a studio). In the past, I know sometimes they couldn’t play a few of the albums because I received a call about a few of my own entries. Would it surprise you to learn that they didn’t have a DVD-Audio machine available when they wanted to listen to a “best engineered album”? And that if they couldn’t play a particular disc, they simply disqualified it? Argh.
So why not a new Audio Olympics? Equipment manufacturers, cable designers, and speakers makers would get together and set up their best sounding demo. And then judges would evaluate the sound on a variety of criteria, assign points, and produce a composite score. I could see that happening. It could be a really big deal for the winners — and the losers.
But what about the content? The guy that phoned me told me that high-resolution audio is not currently allowed at the car competitions. When I asked him why, he told me that most automotive car systems can’t handle music in high-res — and I believe him (except that my 2004 Acura TL can!). I recently had a very successful television composer come by in his Turbo Porsche with the highest end option Burmester audio system installed. Guess what? It couldn’t play high-resolution audio.
These competitions could happen during audio trade shows complete with gold, silver, and bronze medals. I can’t wait.