Debates among audiophiles never cease. Digital will never sound as good as analog, Vinyl makes music more involving, tubes have a fuller soundstage, and on and on. And now, there’s a new product making some incredible claims. It says it can pull out “sonic information that previously was locked inside signals.” It further claims to give a “realistic and complete rendering of the original acoustic event” by retrieving information “hidden and buried in electronics.” (Wait a sec, hidden where, the signal or the electronics?) Somehow they say this is done without processing (ahem), instead it extracts the natural “phase information within all signals” (If it’s there naturally, where’s it hiding?) to restore the full “spacial content of a real sonic event.” (Funny, the inventor states his goal was to emulate the effect of omnidirectional speakers.) Initial reviews and early adopters are raving about it. It’s a revolution in audio! It’s the first breakthrough in decades! It’s four (4) thou$and US dollars!
There is only one criterion that matters for audio realism. If it’s going to sound real, be complete, natural, and reveal all the information captured in the original recording, then there is only one way to determine if that is true : compare the output to the input. Any change in the signal between the input and the output is distortion. Any deliberate change is signal processing. Any claim to the contrary is a lie.
The closer the output matches the input, the more accurate, the more faithful, the more real the reproduction, and that’s as complete as it’s going to get. It doesn’t matter whether the in/out runs through a microphone, mixing board, amplifier or a piece of wire, the rule remains the same. That’s all there is to it. Nothing complicated, no hidden or buried mystery, just plain, cold in & out.
On the other hand, one’s subjective preferences may conflict with plain, cold reality. It’s perfectly natural too. Pleasant sounds are not always the most pure. Intensified color saturation is inviting. Concentrated flavors are tempting. Hyperreal is irresistibly tantalizing. That “revolutionary” new product says it does its tricks by layering in (mixing in) out of phase copies of the original signal. (Is that how it dances around the “adding nothing” and “no processing” claims?) I’m not going to say that doesn’t create a pleasant effect. It may sound amazing. But no matter how incredible it is, it is processing the signal. It is adding information not present in the original regardless of whether the addition is extracted from the signal itself. Those out of phase copies are not part of the original signal nor the recording engineer’s intent and not in any way real, natural, or restorative, and most certainly not recovering or completing any content lost, or hidden, or buried, or locked in the original.
And, you know, most stereo/AV receivers already have a bunch of signal processing tricks, special modes that are supposed to enhance video games or movies, or to simulate the acoustics of an arena or a nightclub. It’s all contrived and artificial, and after playing with it a few times, boring.
Geez, put an astronomical price tag on a kitschy fake “spacializer,” call it “signal completion,” promote it with piles of stupid declarations and obtuse descriptions of its loopy hijinks and people get snookered into believing it’s a miraculous new leap in technology.
The best audio reproduction happens when nothing happens, when in = out.