Editorial Note: Dave is on hiatus while he fulfills a secret mission he will no doubt update us on in a few months. Meanwhile he selected one of his all-time favorite columns from the past to share with SDM readers.
“Look out honey ‘cause I’m usin’ technology” – Iggy and the Stooges, 1973
An advanced apology to my loyal born-after 1985 readers. … Once again we venture to the past, but we’ll be getting to the future in short order.
1973 was a big year for me. High school graduation, starting college, getting a draft card (while the Vietnam war was still winding down), and purchasing the greatest record ever made, “Raw Power” by Iggy and the Stooges. Gas was $.40 a gallon; a case of beer was $6; and technology was pretty crude compared to the magic tricks that are available today on everybody’s smartphone.
Even though I still have the original vinyl, I was forced to buy the CD version of “Raw Power” when it was reissued a few years ago. Vinyl may be seeing a resurgence in popularity today, but most types of technology eventually become obsolete and have to be replaced. Want to buy 450+ cassette tapes from 1980-1992?
While I keep changing out the IP cameras and computer electronics in the bunker in Bucktown one piece of equipment has survived the past 41 years: My Sony 100-watt stereo amplifier stills proudly presides over my home music system, and has thundered out my favorite rock and blues hits ever since high school.
While I find my audio system more than adequate to warp my eardrums, a recent visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Chicago provided a vivid demonstration of where high-end commercial and home audio systems will be in the near future.
There are some benefits to freelance writing. My lovely wife Joan managed to snag two press passes to the preview of the “David Bowie Is” exhibit at the Chicago MCA. I am not a big Bowie fan but after going through the show I had to acknowledge that Mr. Bowie certainly showed the world a stream of creativity in music and fashion that few have matched in the past fifty years.
There were two cool audio systems used at the show that really impressed me. Both of the technologies are produced by Sennheiser, on of the premier audio device companies in the world.
The first neat technology was the headphone sets issued to each attendee. The Sennheiser “Guidepoint” system provided the right audio, both narrative and music, when the attendee was standing at or near a specific spot. So while you gaze at the keys to the Berlin apartment that David Bowie shared with Iggy Pop, you hear the story of their collaborations. Walk a few steps to the next part of the exhibit and the artists that influenced a particular stage costume are discussed. Using location technology, the Guidepoint system provides the right audio feed to match the articles being viewed. I’m not sure how this will fit into home audio systems, but surely there will be other applications including art exhibits, such as retail and industrial. How cool would it be if you were issued a set of headphones (better yet, have the audio feed sent to your smartphone) when you enter a store. As you cruise the isles the audio could tell you what’s on sale, offer coupons, etc. Once the cost of the system is reduced there will be applications for this audio location delivery technology.
What made the show spectacular was the use of the Sennheiser 9.1 3D audio system. At the end of the exhibit, attendees are lead into a roughly basketball-floor sized room with huge video displays of various David Bowie concert appearances. While you walk around the exhibit room without your headphones the audio is delivered perfectly, without having to find the “sweet spot” where the multiple audio channels sound correct.
Before we went into the exhibit, we watched a demonstration/explanation of the 9.1 3D audio system. From an equipment perspective the setup is pretty simple. Instead of the typical five speakers used in a 5.1 surround sound system, the 3D system adds four additional speakers, mounted directly above the four non-center speakers. The height of the additional speakers is a function of the room size and the distance from the center speaker to the front left/right speakers.
In the brief demonstration the Sennheiser people played classical and rock music, first in 5.1 and then in their 3D system and the results are truly impressive. The music heard has much more depth and there is a distinct positive hearing quality difference. During the presentation it was explained that to produce the nine-channel audio tracks the music either has to be recorded using special equipment or that standard stereo or mono recordings can be processed by Sennheiser using their algorithm and equipment to create the nine channels to feed the system.
The current markets for this innovative sound system are theatres and arenas, with some high-end automotive manufacturers building the system into their cars. Systems in vehicles will need a converter box that automatically processes standard CDs or MP3 signals into an “artificial” 3D to make all nine of the speakers jump when the driver clicks on whatever music they choose. Myself, I would go with “I Got the Six” by ZZTop.
I asked about consumer devices and systems and was assured that Sennheiser has plans for the production of converters that will provide the 9.1 3D experiences for home theatre systems. Pricing and programs to be announced sometime in the future.
While this system is obviously out of the price range of the typical client today, as we’ve seen with every other technology that becomes popular, the pricing will drop to a level that is palatable for dealers and end users. There is a segment of the market that wants the very best in audio experience and the Sennheiser 3D system is the state of the art.
Now all I need is a winning lotto ticket, a clean copy of “Blood Brothers” by the Dictators, and the phone number of Sennheiser’s 3D audio department. My neighbors will love me.