Hi Def TV, iPod Sound

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I fell in love with the wonderful magical qualities of music as a teenager. Every night I would listen to top FM hits from The Beatles, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, and other influential rock groups. I became a guitarist and played in several up-and-coming bands and studied audio engineering at Hendrixs Electric Ladyland Studios in NYC.

Now, after years of designing and installing home AV systems based on that love of quality sound, I am disappointed to see so many systems being installed with very poor sound quality. When a client spends $20,000 or more on a system, they are being cheated if the sound is below quality standards.
As 2007 approaches, there are several forces challenging the future of hi-def home audio systems. HDTV is getting incredible attention and has lit a fire under TV sales, while LCD, plasmas, and DLP displays occupy the center stage of home theater installations.

The trim new look of these displays has also changed how home theaters are designed and built. Hundreds of new flattened plastic speaker designs have been rushed to market to pair with them, but physics continues to prohibit these mini speakers from sounding good. The result is usually a hi-def picture with lo-def sound.

The iPod phenomenon has hit home AV systems like a tsunami, changing the landscape of our industry. I agree that Apple has created a near-perfect user interfaceeasier to use than our custom community has ever createdbut how many homeowners understand that iPods have significantly lower quality than CDs? In addition, the terrible earbuds that come with them degrade the music so much that they should be judged unlistenable.

In September, CEDIA EXPO showcased iPod interfaces from the largest manufacturers that we have. An army of entry-level AV installers has grabbed onto the iPod. This low-budget turf is fair play for former telephone, structured wiring, and security system installers who have no experience with quality sound.

Portability is also waging war with wired home installations. Of course the iPod is big in this area, but laptop computers, Palms, and even cell phones, are going to battle for a share of this market. If the promise of our future technology will be realized by downloading music to listen to on cell phones speakers, then I for one vote for a different future.

Remember, we are not iPod dealers, and we do not make money selling them. Why are we selling our business and our customers short with low-quality music? There are only a few ways to make more money in our custom industry. One great way is to design and sell higher quality music systems. Start with a good quality music server with at least CD specs. Then add the best electronics, amplifiers, and speakers your customer can afford. Creatively find special places to install incredible speakers with cabinets in walls, in cabinets, or wherever needed. Then add an easy to use control system with touchscreens around the house. This true custom audio system will sound 10 times better than an iPod and make you ten times the money.

The truth is that the current state-of-the-art in sound recording far exceeds 16bit/44kHz CD quality. As music technology moves up to the next delivery media, we should be constantly pushing the limits of sound technology and finding ways of delivering true hi-def music to our clients. Listening to iPod-quality music is like going to hear a great concert at Carnegie Hall only to listen from the parking lot. Yes, it is the same music, but I would never want to deceive myself into thinking that the lo-def, lifeless, heartless music coming from five-dollar earbuds on an iPod is anything like real music should sound.

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