Back to...the Future? Audio in the Year 2040

In 1990, I seem to remember, I wrote a column* in the late, long-gone and little-lamented Digital Audio/CD Review magazine, prognosticating the future of audio. If memory serves (it rarely does), I predicted that 25 years into the future, in 2015, all music recordings would be scaled multichannel, encoded with information that queried the playback system for its capabilities, which would then set channel-steering and DSP-surround synthesizing options appropriately to best deliver the musicians’ and producers’ intentions.

I think I also predicted that by now digital technology would have empowered the active loudspeaker finally to triumph, thus that virtually all amplifiers would be more or less digital, right up to and including the loudspeaker, putting the drivers and crossovers “in the loop” and correcting their shortcomings and non-linearities to make even cheap speakers perform far more accurately.

And I predicted that optical storage would still be king: that third-generation blue-laser discs, still in the 12-centimeter CD format, would contain a staggering 32 gigabytes of data permitting an entire edition of Beethoven symphonies, or even the complete works of the Rolling Stones to inhabit a single disc.

How’d I do? History, always a cruel mistress, answers: Not very well, son. Multichannel music never progressed much past the all-passive 5.1-channel stage and is effectively moribund today; digital, “smart” loudspeakers are still not all that smart (and remain the province of the very rich, per Meridian, Bang & Olufsen, et al.), and optical-disc storage—UHD Bluray to one side—is in the afterglow of its sunset years. On the plus side, you can buy 32 gigs of USB mag storage for about the price (and size) of a pack of Juicyfruit.

Undaunted still, I remain unafraid to undertake the Nostradamus thing again. Never say die.

My Predictions for the Year 2014:

1. Home theater will be extinct. It’ll be all about the “holo-room,” by then, with the porn industry leading the way as always.

2. Audio recording will have progressed to a sampling rate in the low infrared spectrum, doing away with that pesky audio-transducing altogether. Headphone “listening,” via personal IR-Def-Audio devices plugged into smartphones, will still rule, though. (You’ll be able to tell the true audio geeks by the faint burn marks on their earlobes.) In related news, 105-year-old Neil Young will be touting the Pono7 system’s UV up-sampling. Nonetheless, the iPhone 19 will still be limited to 16-bit/44.1K files—will boast apt-X Bluetooth for the first time (though only in the costlier iPhone 19s).

3. For the conservative, older audiophile, highly advanced, ultra-DSP-capable powered smart-loudspeakers will be widely available from all the leading makers, beginning at $99/pair. They still won’t sell.

4. Free-range-organic (FRO-LED) televisions will be sold rolled-up, like wallpaper. The video standard will be 64K, and plastic surgeons will be reaping a windfall of nose-shortening surgeries, so that viewers can get close enough to perceive the improvement over 32K. (But Rec.2020 color still won’t be implemented, due failure to agree among the HDMI consortium’s core members over security issues within the HDMI 5.3d standard.)

5. A new edition of the Beatles’ collected output, up-sampled to near-Xray frequency and then remixed down to the original monaural on 1/2-inch-thick virgin vinyl, will be released, selling for $13,700 for the set. Mike Mettler will write, “Best Beatles ever…best sound ever!”

6. Ken Pohlmann will set a new Pike’s Peak bicycle hill-climb record…for the 90-plus age division.

7. Mark Fleischmann will set a new record by publishing 14 AV receiver test reports in a single issue of S&V.

8. President Trump will commence his seventh term (cf., 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, 2023).

9. And finally, yours truly will publish his 1,000th audio product review. True, it will be of a holosonic assisted-listening device and will appear in the AARP Journal. But still….

* ”Column”: what blogs used to be called