I wrapped up the AIX Records sales tables after the California Audio Show closed on Saturday evening rather than Sunday afternoon. It was tough decision but I was very worried about the traffic heading south to Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon. I don’t like to miss an opportunity to introduced new listeners to my high-resolution productions but I knew that I had some things to accomplish at the studio before leaving for a brief vacation to Mexico City. It was the right decision…I left San Francisco at 5:30 am and was home by 10:30 am…the traffic was very light.
On the final afternoon of the show, more than a few people asked about how to get started with high-resolution audio/music. It was somewhat surprising that visitors to an audio trade show are eagerly looking for the right gear, the right software players, the right content sources, and how to avoid pitfalls (how not to waste money!).
I was shocked when a gentleman that I’ve had several conversations with about how digital sampling works asked a question about the “stair steps” in digital audio. He wanted to know how it’s possible to get back to a smooth analog waveform from something that was sliced into a finite number of individual amplitudes. I’m sure I didn’t answer his question to his satisfaction. All I said was that PCM digital audio doesn’t have stair steps. The diagrams that are frequently used to demonstrate how higher sampling rates and longer words increase resolution provide a powerful visual but are very bad at explaining how things work.
In my senior digital audio class, I explain how analog to digital and digital to analog conversion works. In another course, I introduce the concepts of binary counting systems and basic computing…CPUs, busses, serial vs. parallel transmission, peripherals, synchronous vs. asynchronous data streams etc. Is it really necessary to understand all this stuff to embrace computer audio and playback high-resolution audio files? No, but I think it helps users troubleshoot and enhance the quality of their listening experience when you understand the scientific concepts behind a system.
Recently a customer wrote and wanted to know why his Astell & Kern high-end player wouldn’t play one of the files he had downloaded from iTrax. He told me that it worked in his jRiver based computer system but when loaded on his portable device, an error warning came up stating, “this file format is incompatible”. I looked at his order and noticed that he had purchased and downloaded the “audience” perspective 5.1 surround mix. The surround music files on my site consist of 6 discrete files that have been interleaved into a single file.
Before I could respond to his first email, he wrote again. He had done a little research and discovered what was wrong. He asked to allow him to re-download the 2-channel stereo versions in .WAV format. Those will work on the A&K player.
Being a “digital” audiophile can be challenging. We’ve spent most of our lives exploring and perfecting the world of analog audio recording and reproduction and now it’s time to relearn a whole new way of thinking. There’s new terminology, new ways to connect things (analog and digital), new formats, and a lot of competing forces at play.
So here’s the bottom line. Expanding your knowledge and exploring digital audio is well worth the effort. We live in a digital world and getting acquainted with hardware, software, and networking is the only way forward…and I guarantee it will be worth it.