Consumer Electronics Deliver Music the Way the Artists Intended
The consumer electronics and entertainment industries are in the midst of a major paradigm shift in the realm of music. The primary goal of the music technology industry has historically been to make music available to consumers in a convenient medium, but that goal is increasingly giving way to a new pursuit: delivering the absolute best sound quality possible.
Since practically the dawn of recorded audio, the primary goal for the industry and consumers has been maximizing convenient access. Thomas Edison patented the first viable phonograph in the 1870s. Ever since, major advances in music technology, especially at the consumer level, have focused on improving ease-of-access and portability. Each of the major transitions – from pressed wax discs to cassette tapes, then to CDs, then to mp3s – provided greater convenience to be sure. However, those evolutions focused at times sacrificed quality to accommodate portability and convenience.
Rapid advances in digital technology, increased access to high-speed Internet and access to low-cost/high-volume capacity external data storage have virtually conquered the accessibility challenge. Technology has made convenience universal – portable audio devices represent $4.7 billion in the consumer electronics industry’s bottom line – and given innovators the freedom to pursue premier sonic quality as the primary focus. Take this year’s holiday advertising as an example. In the not-so-distant past, ads promoted products that could store a huge number of songs in your pocket. Today, they’re promoting products like top-of-the-line headphones that allow you to listen to them as the artists intended.
These kinds of products were once strictly the domain of serious audiophiles. Not anymore. In fact, more and more people are ditching factory headphones for after-market upgrades. An estimated 79.2 million headphone/earphone units will ship in 2012, with 87.2 million expected to ship in 2013. Soundbars are the rising star of the home audio sector, with 1.7 million units shipping in 2012 expected to increase to 2.1 million in 2013.
The simple truth is that consumers like these technologies because high-quality products produce high-quality sound, which enhances the listening experience. From higher resolution audio files to quality headphones, superior technology allows consumers to hear the full potential of everything they listen to. Any sports fan knows it’s better to watch the game in high definition. The same is true for listening in high definition with surround-sound engineered to make you feel like you’re on the field.
Technology is also making listening safer. Noise-canceling and sound-isolating headphones help minimize outside sounds so that consumers don’t have to turn up the volume on the music being piped directly to their eardrums.
But as the market for high-end audio products grows, more consumers enter the market unaware of why recording artists, including the producers and sound engineers, make the decisions they make, and how consumer technologies can reproduce the sound just as they created it. That’s why the Audio Division of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® has joined forces with the Producers & Engineers Wing of The Recording Academy – perhaps best known for the GRAMMY Awards – to create Quality Sound Matters, which launches today in conjunction with the announcement of the GRAMMY nominees. The GRAMMY.com-based microsite will function as a resource for consumers and audio professionals to learn about the wide array of technologies that make life-like digital audio possible, and help them enjoy music the way the experts intended.
Perhaps the best news amid all these changes is that the competitive and innovative consumer electronics industry has products that deliver quality audio for any budget. As with all technologies that become more affordable as the technology spreads, high-quality performance is no longer prohibitively expensive.
The partnership between CEA and The Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing is a perfect match. The Producers & Engineers Wing is home to the best in the world at creating sound worth listening to at the highest levels of quality; the companies CEA represents are the best in the world at creating the products that deliver it to consumers. We are proud to be working together to change the way we listen to music and enhance the experience for all consumers.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and a New York Times best-selling author. His latest book, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses, will be released in January. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro.