Embracing Better Music

February 2, 2011

The Pendulum Swings Back Toward High-Quality Music Listening


Anthony Grimani (agrimani@pmiltd.com) is president of Performance Media Industries, with offices in Novato and San Anselmo, California.

Let’s not forget that people still love high-quality music. It’s not about twochannel. It’s not about two-channel vs. multi-channel. It’s about the experience of music.

Music can be enjoyed in a non-critical environment–like the whole house or tiny earphones–but when performed with precision and quality, it is emotional and engaging. Music listening is a social activity that cuts across boundaries like social background and age.

The Power of Multi-Channel
Technologically, I still feel that if music is presented correctly from recording to playback, it is most effective in multichannel. I do enjoy two-channel recordings as much as anyone, knowing that they can result in a fully immersive experience if you use good equipment properly installed in a good room. But let’s be honest; it’s really only completely effective and enveloping in one or maybe two seats in the sweet spot of the room. The use of extra channels expands the sweet spot, in addition to the soundfield, to a whole audience.

With multichannel media, the recoding engineer can fill in the center stage with judicious use the center speaker, and can enhance the envelopment with the surround speakers. Overall, clients are more drawn to multichannel music, and it enables the social aspect of music to once again take center stage. Unfortunately, it’s harder to find multi-channel music produced with the quality and minute attention to detail that is common for the best two-channel material. I am, however, witnessing resurgence in the market for high-quality (hobbyist and/or enthusiast) music playback. Why a resurgence? I believe there is a social trend–a pendulum swing, if you will–back toward high-quality music listening. Perhaps it is a backlash against the highly individualized marketing of music over the last decade; perhaps it is simply a fad like fashion trends. Some people never stopped listening. Some people got distracted by film. Now they are returning to music as a means of focused entertainment.


The introduction of the very high-end, high-quality Sonus Faber loudspeaker offers one illustration of the renewed interest in high-quality music.

One major factor facilitating this trend is the recent availability of high-quality audio files via digital delivery. Many of the 2011 CES demos I attended used a file player, notebook, or some other form of computing device as the source. One even used a direct high-resolution stream off smart phones. That type of technological advancement is generating excitement about the return to high-end music. Vinyl and reel-to-reel are as popular as ever, but the younger crowd, especially, will identify with more high-tech delivery formats. As integrators, you need to show your clients all the cool stuff that’s available to them.

One such device I saw at CES was from Auraliti. For about $800, you get a hardware box that will play lossless audio files from an attached hard drive. (It will serve these files to other clients on the network, too.) Plus, it has a very nice internal DACs with single-ended and balanced outputs for people with entirely analog playback systems. A digital output is also provided for use with an external DAC.

High-quality content for Auraliti, as well as the other platforms like it, can be found from sources like Reference Recordings, Chesky, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Linn, NAIM, and Aix. Some deliver it by digital download, while others send out a DVD containing the files.

Rekindle the Emotion
There is definitely a return to high-quality music in the works. If you don’t provide it to your clients, then they’ll get it somewhere else. You can sell high-quality, high-margin equipment if you just demonstrate it for them. Let them rekindle the emotion. Case in point: I was recently with a client in Las Vegas for whom we designed a high-end room. After the calibration, I played him a 5.1 music demo from the handy multi-channel sampler disc I’ve had for ages. He loved it, and he actually begged me to let him keep the disc. Music’s not for everyone, but some people will love it, so don’t miss the boat.

We have recently done a number of projects with separate music rooms. Often times, people want separate, more relaxed environments instead of a screening room. They want a place where they can hang with their friends. That means that there will be more exposure to your work through referrals, and more equipment for you to install.

Chase Walton contributed to this column.

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