dpbsmith writes "I was listening to a CD remastered from a 1972 recording of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and I was thinking to my self "1972? Really? That sounds pretty damn good." Then I was listening on my iPod to a 1957 recording of the Boston Symphony that I had recorded off the air in analog FM with my RadioShark, and I was thinking to myself "1957? Really? That sounds pretty damn good."
I'd summarize the history of audio over the last fifty years by saying that from the forties to the mid-fifties, what happened was magnetic tape recording, and "hi-fi," i.e. high fidelity becoming available to any well-heeled, knowledgeable audiophile. What happened in the sixties was two-channel stereophonic sound. What happened in the seventies was the elimination of tape hiss, through direct-to-disk, Dolby, and digital recording.
What happened in the eighties, nineties, and this decade was... nothing much, as far as actual sound quality. The big advance was that integrated circuits, digital audio, rare earth magnets for speakers, offshore manufacture changed changed the population that got to hear mid-fi sound. Today anyone who wanders into Best Buy and spends $500-$1000 dollars will just automatically get a quality of sound that only serious audiophiles in the 1970s got to hear. (The people who bought expensive prepackaged "hi-fis" and "stereos" during the 1960s and 70s got crap in a pretty cabinet).
I know I'm going to get flamed by the high-end fans, but I still say that except for the advances represented by stereophonic sound and the elimination of analog tape hiss, everything else has been subtleties appreciated only by cognoscenti. The acceptance of compressed digital audio and the apparent market failure of SACD and DVA would seem to support this.
So, is that all there is?
Can anyone imagine a future advance in audio, impossible now due to cost or technical factors, that would produce an improvement in sound so dramatic that it would make the ordinary lay listener say "wow?" What would it be? Wavefront reconstruction? Headphones that sense head movement and rotate the stereo sound image in the opposite direction (so as to keep it stable?)Cheap cochlear implants for people without hearing deficiencies that would extend hearing up to 30 kHz?"