A LOT HAS CHANGED over the past few years in the world of home audio. We’ve gotten to the point where we expect more from our listening experience. We want more choice than the 100 or so CDs crammed in our entertainment cabinets, we want better quality than those old earbuds can produce and we want the music to evoke a cool attitude. Thankfully, there is a host of new technologies primed to take our home audio to the next level. In no particular order, here are the Top 10 technologies shaping the way we listen to music at home.
1. Music Apps and Internet Radio
Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify, Last.fm, Napster, iheartradio, Stitcher SmartRadio, AUPEO!, MOG, Rdio, Slacker… and the list goes on. Anyone using a “smart TV,” connected Blu-ray Disc player, or one of the many whole-house audio solutions on the market today has undoubtedly seen the rapid rise in the number of competing online music applications. While some music purists may scoff at the sound quality afforded by these Internet radio and streaming music services, it’s hard to argue with this newfound plethora of options for discovering new music in line with your distinct tastes.
2. Apple AirPlay
Designed to facilitate the streaming of music around your home, Apple’s AirPlay technology has started to make its way into various A/V receivers, stereo systems, and speaker dock/table radio devices from the likes of B&W, Pioneer Elite, Integra and others. By way of an example, an AirPlay-enabled receiver can quickly and easily be targeted as your destination speaker from the iPhone in your pocket or a wireless laptop running iTunes on your home network.
3. Goodbye, CD (Maybe)
It’s true: You may need to buy the White Album again. Recent rumblings from the music industry indicate that several major labels are planning to dump the compact disc (CD) format by the end of 2012, opting instead to focus on digital downloads and streaming options. For many consumers, this probably won’t come as a shock; however, there will undoubtedly be many folks who are less than thrilled with this new develop ment. In other words, don’t start sending your CDs to the morgue just yet. While it’s true that digital music downloads now account for roughly one-third of total music sales, and CD sales are on the decline, it seems highly unlikely that CDs will exit the scene as quickly as some are suggesting.
4. Vinyl Lives
The compact disc may be preparing for departure, but au-diophiles can take solace in the continuing renaissance that vinyl is enjoying. As most diehard music lovers will tell you, nothingbeats the full, rich sound of a good-condition LPbeing spun on a quality turntable. And because many bands feel strongly that vinyl is still one of the best ways to experience the full range of their sound, there’s a surprising number of new albums being released on vinyl alongside their CD and MP3 counterparts. Don’t believe it? Just visit the “Vinyl Store” on Amazon’s massive online marketplace. If you’ve built yourself a top-notch audio system, either for music or home theater, know that you may be missing out on its true potential if you’re not spinning those Long Play records.
Manufacturers continue to find new and innovative ways to incorporate Bluetooth into home audio components and peripherals. Whether it’s wireless streaming of music from your iPhone to a nearby table radio, wireless communication between a soundbar and its matching subwoofer, or having your handheld remote control your HDTV, Bluetooth continues to evolve and make its way into more and more home audio/ video hardware. For a directory of new products featuring integrated Bluetooth, including those classified as “Bluetooth Smart” and “Bluetooth Smart Ready,” visit www. bluetooth. com.
6. Room Correction/Auto Calibration
Before you can expect to hear optimal results from your surround-sound system, a critical first step is calibrating your equipment to conf orm acoustically to the unique characteristics of the room. Thankfully, automated calibration and room correction technologies, such as Audyssey’s MultEQ platform, have greatly simplified the process.
7. App-Based Control
More and more manufacturers are now giving you the option of controlling your hardware by using a downloadable app on your Apple iOS or Android mobile device. With the appropriate app, many receivers will now allow you to tweak configuration settings, change inputs, and adjust the volume from the convenience of your cell phone, which is probably in your pocket anyway. And the best part? Most of these control apps are free.
Blu-ray 3D and 3D TVs have become popular upgrades for consumers looking to move beyond two dimensions. The thing to note here is that, in many cases, your preamplifier/processor or receiver is standing between your Blu-ray 3D player and your 3D TV. If you’re planning to output that high-definition 3D video signal to your display via high-speed HDMI, your receiver will need tobe 3D-compliant unless your Blu-ray player offers dual HDMI outputs.
9. Audio Return Channel (ARC)
Along with 3D video support, many consumers are now finding a use for another new feature present in the latest HDMI specification the Audio Return Channel (ARC). ARC involves the return of audio information from an end point display device (like your HDTV) to an upstream audio component (like your A/V receiver). This allows the transmission of audio information back to a receiver using just the one HDMI cable. This means that any audio originating at the display, whether it be from a built-in tuner, a built-in optical disc player, or integrated apps such as Netflix or Pandora, can leverage your A/V receiver’s decoding capabilities without the need for an auxiliary optical cable. As an ever-increasing number of HDTVs come equipped with integrated media apps, ARC has become a handy feature for anyone using a surround-sound receiver or soundbar.
Although a full-blown home theater complete with a 5.1 or 7.1 surround-sound system is sonic Valhalla for movie and music lovers, single-housing soundbar speaker products continue tobe an attractive alternative for many consumers; and it’s easy to see why. Whether it’s for a secondary system in a bedroom or family room, or if you’re simply looking to improve the volume and intelligibility of a soundtrack’s dialogue, many of today’s soundbar systems offer greatly improved audio performance compared to the thin, underpowered speakers on the average display —and they do it with far fewer wires and setup than a typical audio/ video receiver requires.