With the wide variety of exhibits on display, together with the multiple tracks of panel discussions, workshops, tutorials, paper presentations, technical tours and other special events, the annual AES Convention can be a very different experience for each individual attendee. For some, this year’s AES Convention in New York will also provide an opportunity for conversations that will help drive the industry to continue to improve the listening experience for consumers.
Lon Neumann, consulting engineer with Neumann Technologies and a specialist in audio for DTV, is attending this year’s event primarily for the Broadcast/Streaming program arranged by session chair David Bialik. “Specifically within that, I’m particularly interested in everything to do with loudness management,” elaborates Neumann. “And also all the aspects to do with surround sound management in that environment. I’ll also be keeping my eyes and ears open for everything to do with surround miking.”
Neumann, who counts DirecTV, ABC and Fox among his clients, notes that it’s important to keep apace of the variety of worldwide broadcast audio standards. “There are distinctly different approaches between the Europeans and the Americans right now. It looks like it’s going to continue that way—so be it. I think ATSC is better, but I’m biased!”
In truth, there were also differing standards before the switch from analog to digital television broadcast audio, continues Neumann, who is based in Los Angeles. “I’ve been at major post houses where that’s always been the case; you had to do PAL delivery and you had to do NTSC delivery. We have to think about delivery into those markets, especially in this town, so we need to be aware of all of the requirements. Maybe it’s good, because it makes for more work for people that have to deliver into those markets.”
New York-based independent media technology consultant and DTV Audio Group executive director Roger Charlesworth also has his eye on streaming audio standards, and is looking forward to discussing a universal solution while at the show. Indeed, there is a panel discussion on the topic on Bialik’s Broadcast/ Streaming track that will discuss the multitude of methods available for streaming and encoding media and will address the need for a universal solution.
“I think one thing that the industry needs to concern itself with is technologies to nondestructively adapt audio for different kinds of mobile delivery,” says Charlesworth. “Dolby and DTS and other people have the core metadata technology to do this, but unfortunately it’s not being widely enough deployed just yet. I don’t think people in the audio industry understand the issues or the vocabulary of solutions available.”
At the core is the idea that a master audio file should be of a higher quality than is the typical default these days. That can then be served appropriately according to the playback environment.
For example, he continues, “What we need to figure out is, if I’m listening to something on my iPad on earbuds on the subway and then I get out of the train and plug it into my home theater, that I can have a different audio experience.”
Current streaming methods can adversely affect dynamic range, he points out, something that a universal solution could resolve. “We need to think very carefully when we lower the bit depth or reduce the dynamic range that we’re doing it in a way that is nondestructive [rather than] just for that specific application.”
There is really no longer any need to use CD-quality, 16-bit/44.1k kHz audio—adopted for historical reasons, of course—as a default. “A 320 kbps, 24-bit mp3—dare I say it—sounds way better than a CD,” considers Charlesworth.
Hanson Hsu, principal/owner of Delta H Design, an acoustics/architecture firm located in Culver City, CA, will likely be too busy to look in on the events program, he says. “It takes the full three days of walking the floor to see everybody I need to see.”
Hsu’s focus, driven by his clients, will be, broadly speaking, transducer technology. “As acousticians we get asked about loudspeakers a great deal. Microphone technology I would say is second.” One discussion Hsu would like to hear more of concerns education: “A conversation that comes up all the time with my clients is the lack of critical listening skills in the new generation of engineers.”
The answer is better education, he believes. “There’s a whole generation of up-and-coming audio engineers who don’t know how to listen. We have amazing equipment nowadays, and we have better rooms, but the kids don’t know how to discern the difference.”
There are exceptions, of course, he says. “But I’m concerned, for the sake of music. It’s like having musicians with bad pitch.”