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PSN 2021: What might pro audio look like in five years’ time?

What does the future hold for the industry in five years time?

Personal jetpacks and meals in pill-form might not be set for launch in five years’ time – but certain developments in pro audio may well be. David Davies and Dave Robinson gathered the predictions – and the pipe-dreams, perhaps – of leading lights from across the equipment manufacturing business

Johannes Rietschel, CTO of Barix, on AV installation in 2021: 

There is no question that a large part of our industry is still very much hardware-based. That will likely still be the case five years from today. Customers like to purchase boxes and equipment, and own a budget.

And what he would like this sector to be…

However, there is much that can be done with software and virtualised environments these days. In a perfect world, we’ll see service and standardised hardware come together into a more complete and cohesive solution. We feel that Barix is on the leading edge of this: We provide boxes, and we continue to offer more and more in the services area. We expect that more customers will adopt these strategies moving forward.

Paul Chavez, director, systems applications, Harman Professional Solutions, on audiovisual systems in 2021:

It is clear that today our industry is beginning to see some significant consolidation of individual system components into more integrated systems. Much of the hardware made today is very high quality and form factors, such as multichannel amplifiers with DSP or high-quality line array loudspeaker systems, can be difficult to differentiate. One of the differentiating features we might see five years from now is the adoption of the mixed methods of wireless networking that we’re seeing today in the consumer IoT world. This will allow manufacturers to create ecosystems of components that communicate in diverse ways and have a wide range of capabilities and applications. As this occurs, the software will also take a very important role in differentiating systems from one another. In hardware, there may be a reduction in differentiation, but in software, we will see divergent approaches in configuring, controlling and monitoring systems.

Virtual and augmented reality will not be a huge factor in the professional world in the next five years, but we’ll see it creep into the scene through the emergence of more immersive audio environments. Elements that are being prototyped in gaming today will work their way into the professional environment slowly, primarily because many of these technologies don’t scale well into professional environments, and their security standards don’t currently meet the needs of the corporate and institutional worlds.

What would you like these systems to resemble in 2021?

What I’d most like to see are standardised digital media transport and control protocols, so we can effortlessly connect digital systems together and stop talking about how to translate AES67, MADI, Dante, AVB, etc. ad nauseam. We spend a ridiculous amount of time guessing, theorising and working on protocols that may or may not be here in five years. I don’t expect that the standards will be completely settled in five years, but I hope it becomes clearer and that we can move on with creating fully digital, networked systems without the hassle of solving compatibility issues.

I think we tend to overestimate what can happen within a five-year time period. The most important issues, like new media networking, typically need a longer time window to develop into viable standards because of the magnitude of the existing infrastructure. AVB hasn’t taken hold for this reason. The sad thing is that the media world will continue to suffer from the complexity of implementing networked audio due to the fact that we have to support protocols that must be compatible with legacy systems, even though there are clearly superior methods to manage networked media today.

Achim Gleissner, head of commercial management broadcast & media, Sennheiser, on the wider audio industry in 2021:

There will be no change in how a microphone works physically but much more important will be the audio chain and the associated devices in this chain: these are designed to produce good sound, with the microphone being essential to that objective. As a consequence, it is vital for us to be aware of and anticipate upcoming trends in audio recording, producing and reproduction. With this knowledge, it is our mission to set new trends in the audio industry ourselves.

As the leading audio specialist, it is also our task to impart knowledge about audio because the user base of audio products is constantly changing. While in the past, every broadcaster had its own audio engineers, today’s journalists often have to do the job alone. So they also have to know about how to create good sound. The same issue applies in the recording area: today, many songs are created by home recording. This is possible because of three developments. First, easy-to-use and “forgiving” plug and play products, which already contain a lot of audio knowledge built-in. The second factor is easy content distribution via social media, which empowers virtually anyone to be a broadcaster. And third, the streaming possibilities of today, where everyone is able to spread audio and video content in real time. This last factor will only increase in importance. As I said before: these users, who in the past only had to deal with content creation, today also have to acquire knowledge of audio. This fact shapes one of our goals: we want to offer our customers a product that is tailored to their needs and intuitive to operate.

And what would you like this landscape to be like in five years’ time?

We aim to shape the future of the audio industry. This includes developing solutions that set future trends. We also want to take our knowledge about audio to a wider audience. It is becoming increasingly important to raise the awareness of improved quality in audio, as the use and implementation of audio products has changed over a wide range of areas. Many users, who currently put more emphasis on image or video instead of audio, could improve their audio quality with only a few steps. A great example of this is our new action mic, the first result of our participation in GoPro’s new Developer Program. Since GoPro users create spectacular video of their travels, sports activities and unique moments, we want to ensure that their sound will also be exceptional.

Jon Tatooles, co-founder and chief business development officer, Sound Devices, LLC, on location recording in 2021:

We will see more and more production done on location, with productions done in acoustically-controlled studios increasingly becoming a luxury. Smaller, more capable gear, at lower costs facilitates projects done on location. Multi-camera, multi-track production in the field is becoming the norm versus the moon-shot it was only a few years ago.

What would you like this sector to resemble in 2021?

There is an increasing sentiment that production success is about having good gear. While choosing the right equipment is important, we see a growing gap between truly knowledgeable professional users and those who rely mainly on web videos to gain experience. I see numerous industries with formalised training, such as InfoComm’s CTS programme and the numerous IT accreditation programmes. I would like to see something similar develop for production professionals. Our technology is changing quickly.