Thursday, August 13, 2015

The death of high fidelity?

I remember years ago when Sprint advertised its clarity for phone calls being so incredibly clear that you could hear a pin drop over the phone line (and that was a land line).  The idea was that high fidelity was important and we all wanted phone calls where we could hear everything.  This was also in an era, where people - who could afford to do so - invested in expensive stereo systems for their fidelity. Again, we wanted to hear everything.

The advent of the cell phone led us into an era of lower fidelity, where what we hear is governed by the quality of our phone (and the other person's phone), the telephone network, and the cell tower that the phone is using. The cell tower not only impacted the call quality, but also the features that the phone had available. Didn't get that voice mail message right away? It could have been the fault of the cell tower.

Over the years, our phones have gotten better and they do more including the ability to watch videos and listen to music. We can also stream that content onto our computers. Those streaming services have replaced our dependence on stereos and gotten us used to sound and videos that aren't high fidelity. In "Sorry, Neil Young, but you're wrong about streaming music", the author wrote:
Spotify and Apple Music aren't noticeably amazing when it comes to sound quality, but then again, not noticeably bad. And they're so far above the respectability threshold for music listeners that nobody really thinks twice about it. It's pretty much OK for almost everyone.
And from Jay-Z and Neil Young Won’t Make Streaming Music Better:
Numerous tech sites have tested the player, and have concluded that the average listener really can’t tell the difference between the Pono and other digital listening devices. Essentially, unless you have the right headphones, or stereo system, you’re paying $400 for a digital music player that’ll look weird in your pocket.
Yup...acceptable. We've proven that we don't need or want high fidelity, or at least don't want it all the time. We're comfortable watching a low quality video on our phones and when the content warrants we'll watch a movie in IMAX. (Hint, most people don't go to IMAX, so lower quality is generally fine.)

In 2007, the report Shifting Gears: Gearing Up to Get Into the Flow was released, which contained a recommendation about digitizing for access, which meant not being as selective about quality. Sometimes lower quality is good enough. Our use of photographic and video media since then has demonstrated that low quality can indeed be acceptable.

Is the death of high fidelity coming?  Nope. We do value high quality video, audio and photography...but not all the time. We do have times when that high quality is exactly what we want because we want the finer details. This is just like going to hear a band live, because we want to hear everything. So those people producing high fidelity audio, video and photography need to know that their market isn't totally going away. However, they do need to recognize that the market has shifted. 

Sorry, Neil.

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