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“Back to hi-fi”: Alan Parsons’ call to arms at AES 137

The producer and musician used his keynote address to demand the bar be raised for commercial consumption of music

Early on in legendary producer/engineer/musician Alan Parsons’ career, he was involved in recording albums like the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon – intricately constructed works that are considered “must” listening experiences. He continued exploring that approach with his own music, creating a string of hits with The Alan Parsons Project. So perhaps it was only fitting that when Parsons (pictured) took to the stage at the opening ceremonies for the 137th AES Convention on Thursday he used his keynote address as a call to arms for sound professionals – and audio technology companies – to demand the bar be raised for commercial consumption of music.

Against the backdrop of a convention used to introduce products for creating sonically perfect recordings, Parsons noted that today, consumers – his wife and daughters as examples – are often hearing those recordings via tiny laptop speakers or headphones that are serviceable at best. His biggest concern, however, is that with the shift away from CDs and towards streaming and downloads, that even high-quality listening gear won’t make a difference.

“MP3: How did we allow that to happen?” he asked – a comment that was greeted with cheers and knowing laughter from the packed house. Parsons noted that while he has hopes for Neil Young’s upcoming PONO HRA player, that ultimately it is asking consumers to carry another device when smartphones could provide listeners with high-resolution (HRA) audio options – if they offered them.

A string of statistics sharing the bitrates of various streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, iTunes Radio, Sirius XM and more followed, illustrating how far such companies have to go, even with their premium offerings, before they’ll reach minimum CD-quality audio. Parsons asked why spoken-word content like Howard Stern’s satellite radio show was afforded the same bitrate as a philharmonic orchestra performance, suggesting that Sirius XM should offer at least one HRA channel.

Closing his comments, Parsons suggested where the call for better commercial audio has to go: “With all the streaming and download services available, I’d like to see us go back to owning music, and back to loudspeakers. Back to hi-fi.”

(Clive Young)