The Dumbing Down of Audio: Trading Quality for Convenience?

by  — January 18, 2015
online a/v magazine


The Dumbing Down of Audio: Trading Quality for Convenience?


Originally published March 6, 2006; Updated and republished December 20, 2013

We live in an amazing time. Science is making bigger and better tomatoes, continually perfecting synthetic materials to enhance our lives, while making electronics more compact, powerful and affordable. It’s amazing that you can buy a wristwatch with a more powerful computer today than the ancient computers that used to fill an entire room only 50 or so years ago. Heck, you can buy a wristwatch with more processing power than a computer had 10 years ago.

Science has also made significant advances in the home theater world. Displays are continually getting better, slimmer and cheaper. Speakers are continually getting more refined and accurate. Receivers are being packed with more powerful processing features making them a better value to the end-user and yielding higher entertainment because of their ability to be the master of so many domains.

Because of science, digital signal processing (DSP) empowers engineers to make smarter products that can work magic on your music. DSP can make it sound like you are in a live performance by enveloping you with surround sound, correct for room acoustic and non linearity anomalies of your loudspeakers, or even boil you a pot of coffee at just the right temperature.

So with all of this newfound power science has endowed us with, one would logically conclude that this has bettered our pursuit of audio nirvana… Well, not exactly. Despite our advances in science, one divine truth can always undermine us – marketing. Because of marketing, and all of the people that fall victim to it, reality TV shows, pet rocks, and low-carb diets sell. People don’t need them, they don’t make a whole lot of practical sense, yet the demand is created. The same rings true with audio.  Trading quality for convenience is the norm where more and more people prefer portability and instant access to source material over the quality of the media in which it’s  being transmitted.

The De-Evolution of High Fidelity Audio?

Tabulated below are what I feel to be the major culprits of the Dumbing Down of Audio:

  • Hyper compression in CDs
  • Cubed speakers
  • Phones, tablets and MP3 players
  • Satellite radio
  • Streaming services (ie. Spotify, Pandora, Slacker, etc…)
  • Lack of comparative reference to unamplified live musical performances