As part of the Forum on the Power of Sound in Industry 2022, Ircam Amplify invited audio professionals to discuss the issue of high-definition sound. Sound quality has an increasing impact on our daily lives, so much so, that it is no longer simply a question of artistic creation, but one of public health. There is a lot to discover about HD sound in the 21st century, but first we must address the fundamental questions of how to define sound quality, and what “good sound” actually is?
What is Sound Quality?
Today, sound quality is often associated with high-definition sound, but sound quality is actually much broader than just the latest in HD music. Our quality of life often depends on the noises that surround us. Noise pollution can cause various effects, from lack of sleep to hypertension or cardiovascular disease. Christian Hugonnet, founding president of the UNESCO Week of Sound, recalled a study he carried out with Paul Avan where the results showed that compressed audio at high volume can cause breathing problems, fatigue and other negative health impacts.
The impact of music on the human brain has been studied for nearly half a century and research and experiments have been carried out in many fields including studies on physical health, mental health, and even memory.
Yet, today, the world of music is based on compressed formats like MP3. Digital files are reduced in size by removing elements and compressing content. The more the sound is compressed, the more the brain has to work to fill in the gaps, and the more fatigue sets in. As more innovations enter our daily lives, sound and voice interaction are becoming more frequent. The arrival of 5G and smart objects require us to rethink the quality of sound that comes into our homes, our enjoyment and our health depend on it. Ultimately, as Nathalie Birocheau, CEO of Ircam Amplify, pointed out, “good sound” or quality sound is not merely sound in high definition, but also sound that is adapted to our lives.
High Definition Begins with Artistic Creation
For Olivier Nusse, CEO and Chairman of Universal Music France, it is vital that HD music created is created with artists, not just something that is done to their work after they create it. To this end, Universal Music is working with Ircam Amplify to structure an HD music label that will define the specific criteria for the creation of music in high definition by 2023 and thus ensure that HD music is there from the beginning.
Universal Music’s groundbreaking attention to sound quality is part of a changing music consumption landscape. Music streaming platforms are increasingly turning to HD music, in order to adapt to elevated user expectations adapting and new ways of listening.
Yet, even after artists work with technicians to create HD music, listening to HD music relies on external factors that have to be taken into account throughout the life of a sound recording.
Beyond just working with connected objects, Georges Fornay, General Manager of Qobuz, recalls that the Qobuz platform has always paid particular attention to sound quality. Qobuz works with connected speakers for the distribution of its content, specifically through partnerships with manufacturers of Hi-Fi equipment, which makes it possible to appreciate the quality of HD music.
Nonetheless, to ensure a true high-definition sound experience, it is still necessary to be able to control the entire pathway of the sound. Frédéric Amadu, CTO of Ircam Amplify, spoke at the Forum on the Power of Sound in Industry about the need to verify the quality of audio files from recording studio until they are experienced by the listener.
From recording criteria to verification tools, getting high-definition sound to a listener can be a tough proposition. To help guarantee high quality HD music experiences, Ircam Amplify developed the MetaSound tool which allows for faster, more thorough audio quality checks. This technology helps address the barriers to high-definition sound, which requires attention to quality at every step of the experience, from creation to broadcast, and from equipment to environment.
As part of UNESCO’s Week of Sound, Ircam Amplify gave the floor to experts working on sound quality and the place of HD music in our environment. These experts shared thoughts and visions about where HD music and sound quality are headed in the 21st century, what technical advances are needed to create and experience high-quality sound, and how we can benefit from improving sound quality. Access their in-depth insights, recorded at the 2022 Forum on the Power of Sound in Industry.