Is Quality Audio Dead?
Joe Martinson - President
Article Summary: Technical quality standards are on the decline in pro audio. Martinsound believes high quality audio is worth the effort it takes to achieve.
"Hope you've had the reaction you wanted from the Mic Preamp. I thought that it was a masterpiece of design and implementation. Sounded great. Unfortunately, the market has gone the other way, so to speak, and even Bill Schnee has come around to my thinking: quality audio is dead in the water for the time being." -George Massenburg
George sent me this depressing e-mail message with the subject title "Good Morning". How could I have a good morning if the Pro Audio market no longer cares about quality audio? Martinsound is staffed by a diverse team of highly skilled audio artists and technical innovators who live for superior sound. Will we be out of work unless we build the "cheap" over the great? I hope not.
Those who care deeply about quality audio seem lost in a sea of look alike competitors, who churn out poor sounding product in ill-conceived facilities, staffed by semi-professionals working with hard to use, cheaply made, sonically flawed equipment. How did we get to this deplorable state?
One factor is the decline of the mentor-apprentice relationship. Forty years ago, an engineer worked at one facility and trained the next generation. With the rise of the independent engineer, the mentor-apprentice relationship deteriorated to part-time and is now almost nonexistent in the isolation of the home/project studios. The new generation may care about quality audio, but who is their teacher? Can it be learned by purchasing a mic, a Mackie and an A-Dat at the Guitar Center with Mix, EQ and Studio Sound magazines to supply theory and practice?
The best way to facilitate change is to fill the mentorship void. The battle is both in and between the ears. We must teach that the audio business is about audio and the artistic control of audio, not just technology. There is nothing wrong with new technology, we love it. Unfortunately, many designers only measure and never listen to their products. When something measures poorly, it almost always sounds bad. However, many units have wonderful measurements but still sound awful. Critical listening must be the focal point of the audio design process. Another part of good design is ease of use and productivity. Would a mouse and a CRT make a good replacement for a console mixing surface. How about using a QWERTY Keyboard to play the piano?
Unless our industry becomes dissatisfied with the status quo, quality audio will continue to decline. We must change the rules by which excellence is judged. By some standards, such as distortion, frequency response, the number of features and price, today's products are excellent. But these standards have overshadowed more important ones. We must go beyond a limited view of excellence and learning discernment. The best hardware is useless without the discernment to appreciate the difference. Many have confused "cheaper" with "better", and believe that the Golden Age of Audio has arrived.
My motivation for staying in this business comes from the sincere belief that major artistic and technological advances can be made in sonic quality and ease of use. At Martinsound, we want to become agents of change. We will seek to be a conduit from those who know to those who need to know and we will see further by standing on the shoulders of those who went before us. Our job is to provide quality products with the training and understanding needed for our customers to be able to differentiate themselves as lasting contributors in a disposable world.
The Pro Audio industry must find a way to restore the lost art of quality audio. If properly educated, a significant portion of the industry would choose to stand out by using truly professional tools and techniques. We want to enlist the help of others and spearhead a revolution that revives our industry. Together, we need to search out opportunities to advance quality audio. Want to join? I would love to hear from you and know what you think.
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