PC Audio Notes

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What will the future look like?

Hoontech 3000

It is clear that the possibilities in the world of audio are still developing. Nowadays it's possible to buy a computer that is able to create professional audio recordings for about 4000 euros/dollars.(2000 for the computer and 2000 for the music soft & hardware). These developments are necessary in some way, because the digital quality of an audio is definitely not even coming close to the quality of an analog recording. Also the improvements in the developing of SP-Dif I/O patching, which makes it possible to make recordings with a lot less degraded quality, are slowly developing. But one thing is clear though: the developments in the audio world are way too slow in comparison with for instance the world of video. I think that's funny, because I think there is more money involved in the audio business. But apparently nobody wants to invest in a good and reliable new standard in audio matters. When it should be up to me, there would already be a 24/96 standard with 5.1 surround output and stereo output with surround simulation (both digital en analog). That would mean that CD's would be used for (maxi)singles or demo's, and DVD's for albums, while using a DVD player to play these.

Actually this is becomes reality in a way: a few months ago the first DVD players were introduced which support the 24/96 surround 5.1 standard. It should be possible to burn even a 16-bit version on the DVD, and choose via a menu which one to play. That means that you're able to produce your music in a far better quality, although it is still quite expensive. If the music industry will notice any of these subjects remains still to be seen. It will need a whole lot of investments and will be a lot more expensive (and that while music is already way too expensive!) and that's way I'm afraid it's not going to happen overnight. Take the difference between DVD + and -, which I think is very childish and revealing where it's all about: money and power. It makes it obvious that the pleasure of -and service to- the consumer is considered not as important as the money they can make. One other thing to stress this are the outrageous prices asked for MP3's and the razzia's conducted on MP3 downloaders. Well what else is new? It's all about the money.

With a new media tremendous amounts of money could be made, if one had a positive view on things. Maybe the MP3 market would collapse if a new, extremely good quality audio standard would appear. A logic step would be to raise the standard sample frequency to 32 bit/96 KHz. Or two times the standard now : 2x44.1= 88.2, so 32 bit/88.2 KHz. that's more easy to convert. But because of the slow developments this will take a while, and begins with hard- and software.

Although I think this is still going to take a while, the big software producers like Steinberg, Pro-Tools and I-Magic are already making their software ready for the future. Higher sample rates, complex possibilities , surround outputs and more are build in and the software is tuned for use with (mostly their own) hardware. If the moment would come that people are going to more invest in this, it would certainly effect both hard- and software.

And on both sides there could be made a whole lot of other improvements. Take for instance the latency (delay) of the PC audio cards. Often a very low or even zero latency is promised. No latency doesn't exist off course, and low latency is only achieved with good, recent WDM drivers (a sort of Direct Audio drivers), or Asio drivers (with a sequencer like Cubase, must say there are also stand-alone Asio drivers ). What also counts in this matter is the speed of the computer, the faster the better. In short: only a good, 'fast' soundcard won't get you there where you want to be. Fortunately soundcards are being developed which take the load of the CPU, via large audio buffers or other extra's build in the audio cards. Also the possibilities of patching multiple audio cards in one PC, or synchronizing multiple PC systems connected with each other, are developed. I will explain more about this matter later on.

mixer Everything digital
SP-Dif, which mostly still is 16 bit/44.1 KHz nowadays, is still little used for possibilities like rerouting the audio signal to external effects. This however, is a recommended option for the semi-professional user because of the far better quality of external effects (in comparison with software emulations) and the fact that there is no CPU load. Although hardware soundcards like the TC Powercore have a very high quality, the external effects remain even better. Therefore something has to be developed that could make digital I/O channels possible instead of analog, like patching (multi) SP-Dif cards or boxes.

Nowadays studios are as much digital as possible, with nearly almost the same quality as the analog studios, but with way more possibilities. Think of the many ways of editing audio material: it's digital, so distorting, manipulating, filtering, simulating effects etc. etc., are possible. Also the costs a fraction in comparison with the old days. The fact that it still costs a small fortune to build a digital studio is because of the need for special components that will make a 'closed' digital system, what means as much as to patch all the necessary SP-Dif in- and outputs. This need for extra, specialized components reveals the fact that most audio system producers aren't really able to deliver a real professional audio system. Although it certainly looks nice, one that really covers all your needs. That's why people are mainly still depending on systems made by MOTU or PRO-Tools, or some unknown companies which are kind of specialized in this matter.

mixerbig This situation is clearly in disadvantage for the home studio user, who is simply not in a financial position to afford a 'closed' digital system. Professional studios mostly invest in a complete audio system developed for a certain software program, or the other way around, a software program specialized for use with a certain hardware system. Examples of this are Cubase/Nuendo, Pro-Tools and Emagic Logic, where every button, fader, light, patch and switches are connected to the parameters of the software. A trustworthy semi-professional system with these possibilities is still not the market yet. The 'big brands' still don't fully exploit the wishes and possibilities and aren't investing in it. Like Steinberg's Huston, which may look like it offers (at least some) of the mentioned functions and possibilities, but it turns out that it really doesn't at all. In fact, the only thing it does is to control some of the parameters, but for AD/DA conversion you still need extra modules. And that while the price definitely suggests that that would be in the package already! Slowly better systems are developing though, instead of the expensive toys which turn out to be no good at all in the end. It should be time that a total integration between hard- and software would occur, which unites the advantages of analog and digital systems, be of an exceptional quality, and besides that also be relatively cheap, easy and very convenient to use. That would create a better world for all of us ..... MNX 2010, Oct. 2003

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