Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 5 Old 11-03-16, 01:57 PM Thread Starter
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Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again


The introduction of the MP3 player and the eventual rollout of smartphones, streaming media, and downloadable music files has fed a crucial consumer desire: convenience. It’s all about convenience, and speaking from my own experience, the storage and transportation of music media has always been an issue. My vinyl collection was stored and carried in old plastic milk crates and a large black footlocker. Procuring those milk crates was never an easy proposition and the footlocker weighed a ton. My cassette tapes were housed in rectangular plastic organizers and a wooden wall rack, and my CD collection eventually outgrew shelf space necessitating a migration to large leather-bound storage books. Anyone that has tried to keep a CD storage book alphabetized knows the pains of buying and integrating new albums.

The idea of carrying thousands of songs on a single iPod or iPhone (with instant sorting and access) seemed like a dream come true. In many ways, it’s the ultimate mixed tape (minus the hand drawn artwork and song notes). And while many (including myself) first balked at buy-in costs…well…we know how that story ends. Just take a look around and you’ll see 99-percent of the world carrying their entire lives around on a handheld device.

Aside from eliminating the joys of having a physical interaction with music media, the biggest victim in race toward convenience has been sound quality. There’s really no denying the diminished sound quality presented by the typical iTunes download. For the most part, it’s seemed as if Joe Public has been perfectly happy kicking sound quality to the curb. And while hardcore enthusiasts have remained faithful to putting quality first, the existence of 800 million iTunes accounts and nearly $10 billion in annual iTunes revenue speaks volumes about the sacrifices music fans have been willing to make in the name of convenience.

A shift, however, might be taking place. We know that audio equipment manufacturers have been pushing for a market shift. This is evidenced by the industry’s recent love affair with all things Hi-Res Audio. There’s also the emergence of streaming services such as TIDAL that deliver higher quality sound.

But what ultimately matters most is what the average consumer wants, because consumer money and actual sales drive the show. That’s where the story becomes interesting and different from years past. Based on a recent report by Qualcomm (called “State of Play”) it appears that the public is back to agreeing that sound quality truly does matter.

Qualcomm’s report surveyed 3,600 users from five countries that (1) own a smartphone and (2) consider themselves to be “music lovers.” Cutting right to the chase, 84-percent of those interviewed said they are concerned about compromised audio quality. That’s a number that’s hard to ignore.

Perhaps I’m assuming too much, but my general assumption has been that the average user simply doesn’t care to recognize variances in music quality across sources. It’s not that they aren’t capable, but that they simply don’t prioritize perceived performance enough to have much of an opinion to guide overall decision making. If you agree, then it looks like both you and I are wrong. Flat wrong. In fact, Qualcomm found that over half (54%) say they can recognize that sound quality varies across their devices, and 66-percent say they can tell the difference between technologies based on sound quality. What’s more interesting is that 85-percent of those surveyed say that “Excellent Sound Quality” is a major driver behind the decision to purchase an audio device, and 56-percent say they’d be willing to pay more for higher quality streaming or audio equipment that enhances sound.

Digging a bit deeper into the data shows how closely convenience is tied to listening. Only 9-percent of those surveyed listen to music on CDs “often,” while that number drops down to 1-percent when it comes to vinyl records. The vast majority listen to downloads (40%) and streaming services (33%). This notion of convenience is further supported by a huge desire for networked systems in the home and an expectation that devices will offer hassle-free compatibility.

Despite the desire for convenience, consumers are saying they want their convenient tunes to sound good. Qualcomm says that 89-percent of those survey say sound quality is important when streaming music, and 78-percent say they are interested in wireless audio devices that support HD. Also, 58-percent say they want to use Bluetooth audio, but that Bluetooth’s audio quality is too poor.

All-in-all the results of this research shows promise for the future of audio, which is great news for enthusiasts that want convenient options with top-shelf sound to be the status quo. We very well might look back at the last decade of mass audio and cringe, but there just might be some light at the end of the tunnel.

How do some of the numbers line-up with your own audio preferences? Let us know below!

Image Credit: Qualcomm
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post #2 of 5 Old 11-03-16, 06:02 PM
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

I think much of the youth in todays world care little about sound quality but as they age and get into their mid to late 20s I suspect that sound quality become more important.
I ripped every CD I own and stuck with a very high VBR mp3 file simply because of needing to keep my collection a reasonable size to fit on my devices. I eventually settled on a dedicated 64gb iPod that stays in the vehicle and I have two others that stay in the house One is an old classic iPod 80gb and the other a 3rd generation 32gb iPod. With a playlist called "All play favorites" at over 3000 songs and several other Jazz and classic playlists as well that just works best for me.
Im still buying all my music on CD rarely do I download off of iTunes unless I want a single song rather than the entire album.
I do think that sound has always mattered to most people although I do question some of todays recordings LOL

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Onkyo 805, Yamaha YDP2006EQ, Samson Servo 600 amp
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post #3 of 5 Old 11-03-16, 06:50 PM
 
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

I have ripped most of mine to FLACs to maintain quality. BTW, I saw a review where the LG C-5 phone has a audiophile quality plugin module for their phone.

Ron

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post #4 of 5 Old 11-03-16, 10:34 PM
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

Quote:
Todd Anderson wrote: View Post

Despite the desire for convenience, consumers are saying they want their convenient tunes to sound good. Qualcomm says that 89-percent of those survey say sound quality is important when streaming music, and 78-percent say they are interested in wireless audio devices that support HD. Also, 58-percent say they want to use Bluetooth audio, but that Bluetooth’s audio quality is too poor.

Image Credit: Qualcomm
The consumers say sound quality is important but both convenience of use and the unwillingness to PAY more for better streaming rates are the important factors. What they are really saying is they want quality sound which really means sound that is adequate to their level of listening and they want it cheap. So how much difference does it really make to the average listener? Not all that much. The quality of your earphones, sound system or dock will ultimately determine how good your music sounds.

Spotify is proof of the pudding and makes them the leader. Spotify offers the 96kbps option as normal quality on Mobile, but also offers a high quality 160kbps with the free version of Spotify. When you pay $9.99 a month for Spotify you can stream at 320kbps “Extreme quality” for better sounding music. It really isn't "Extreme quality" but the subscribers think it is because it's adequate to what they are using to listen.

High-end TIDAL Hi-Fi at $19.99 a month you gain access to 320 kbps (AAC) and to Flac 1411 kbps – Lossless (16 bit/44.1 khz) CD quality. ($16.99 a month for 6 mo. pre-pay)

Tidal (the best quality) has only 3 million subscribers. The Spotify people say there is NO difference in the audible sound quality so why pay any more than you have to. So for half the price...Spotify is good enough for the masses.

The additional cost of only $7 a month is NOT worth it to the vast majority. 'Adequate' music service is more appropriate term to use than 'quality music service'. As most of us know the majority of the people have a pretty low standard to what will be 'adequate'.
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post #5 of 5 Old 11-04-16, 10:07 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Sound Quality Might Finally Matter Again

I think we'll ultimately know how this plays out 3-5 years down the road.

I'd love to see a study done where users quantifiably rate sound quality in controlled setting... would be fascinating to see what adequate really is. I would assume adequate for the vast majority differs from adequate for enthusiasts.
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