I’ve made a large number of audio industry friends over the past few years of attending trade show. Many of these people are in the consumer sales and marketing areas of their companies…large and small. They aren’t audio engineers and they don’t have the background to be conversant on the merits of high-resolution audio from a technical point of view. I got an email today from one of these individuals. He wrote:
“It’s been interesting following what’s been going on around high-resolution audio lately, more specifically the Pogue article.
In the Pogue article he says ‘The songs you buy from Pono, on the other hand, go as high as 24 bit/192kHz. That means more bits of data per instant of sound, and more (smaller) instants per time period: higher resolution. It’s like having more color data and more pixels per inch in a photo.’ And then in one of your blog posts you mention that analogy that PCM digital audio is similar to digital imagery is simply not the case.
My question is what simple analogy would you use to explain hi-res audio to the everyday consumer who doesn’t know a thing about hi-res audio?
I’m just wondering how to break it down, as simply as possible.
Let me know your thoughts.”
I got thinking about how to arm a consumer sales and marketing person with simple analogies and information in order to empower their sales pitch. When I’m standing at my tables at the various trade shows that I attend, I have to deliver a quick and simple explanation as well. I know that I’m overly technical and usually say too much but today’s email got me thinking about the best way to give the elevator pitch about high-resolution audio.
First, we have to lose the analogy to digital images. I’ve read this from David Pogue, Brent Butterworth, and a dozen other online reviewers. Digital audio resolution bears no relationship to digital imagery. Increasing the number of pixels and the bit depth of each pixel does result in a “higher-resolution” digital image. But increasing the number of samples and the length of digital words in a PCM system doesn’t work the same way. It’s tempting to make this analogy but while one makes better pictures, the audio system produces lower noise levels (more dynamic range) and wider frequency response (or better response within the audio band). I’ve written about this a number of times and even produced some illustrations that help make the point.
If the digital image analogy doesn’t work, then what would do the trick? I usually start my pitch by avoiding numbers and specifications. I simply point out that throughout the history of recorded sound, recording technology has never been able to match human hearing…until now. High-resolution PCM digital audio at 96 kHz/24-bits accomplishes that for the first time. Lacquer 78s, analog tape, vinyl LPs, cassettes, and even CDs have failed to match our ears. The march of technology and innovation has proceeded from the time of the first Edison cylinders to the latest high-resolution PCM digital recorders and playback equipment. But today…in 2015 (and for the past 15 or so years)…musicians, producers, and engineers have equipment that has the POTENTIAL to eclipse any recording system that came before. That’s what high-resolution audio can offer and that’s why it is such a monumental move forward…for those who reach for the rarefied air of uncompromised quality, it’s available.
Unfortunately, that group is exceedingly small. There are a handful of labels that strive for the very best. Among them are 2L, Naxos, Linn, Chesky, Pentatone, Channel Classics, and of course, AIX Records. High-resolution audio is not for everyone. Most people won’t experience any difference between a standard definition vinyl LP or CD because they don’t have the equipment to produce fidelity that’s better than compact discs and they aren’t playing recordings that have audible fidelity better than what they’ve already heard (that’s where David Pogue and the Meyer/Moran guys failed). And that’s perfectly fine.
The best way to impress anyone about the merits of high-resolution audio is to play them an example of a REAL high-resolution file. It works everytime.