Has Digital Audio Tech Plateaued - Is It Safe To Come Out Now?


I’ve been focused on analog for the last couple years with only an occasional glance toward anything digital.
 I could be mistaken but does it seem like the onslaught of technologically NEW digital hardware  and media has stalled? We’re seeing a move back to DAC technology that was prevalent in the 80’s, some folks say it sounds better (R2R)?
People have always questioned whether or not higher sampling rates actually improve things, beyond a certain point, so do we need more bits and higher frequency sampling beyond the current state-of-the-art?
We’re seeing some companies incorporate 1950’s tube technology into 2020 hardware to try to make it sound.....dare I say it - less digital?
Streaming seems to have matured to the point that it is what it is. The big streaming services have a foothold, and I’m not hearing of any real pending innovation. In fact I read somewhere that MQA is no better than CD playback quality, hence we may not even be as developed as we think we are.
Server tech seems to have peaked - sure, there’ll be more storage, moderately better power supplies, slightly improved interfaces etc, but is there anything revolutionary on the horizon now that we’ve moved beyond the Mac Mini / PC hardware?

 I’m not saying there won’t be a continuous stream of new hardware, new gadgets, but is there any expectation that something new is likely to advance us beyond where we’re at WRT sound quality?
Please note the question marks in the above, I’m not stating this is the way it is, I’m asking those of you who are closer to it for your thoughts on where it’s all at.

The point being - is it safe to crawl out from under my pile of moldy album covers from the 70’s and invest into current digital, without the fear of needing to retool in a year or two?
Thoughts?


682fca9a ca04 4e9d 81eb 6cce9922b0d5rooze
Most people Cannot hear the difference between 16/44 and so called hi-res. CD’s are good enough. Same with 4k and 1080p....there is not much of a difference really, certainly not enough to spend way more money for a 4k movie. Still using my musical fidelity v90 dac...its good enough. No way would I pay more for any dac...I’d rather buy more records or spend the money on an even better turntable.
wow...so much great info, I appreciate all the responses.

@cal3713 
I've re-read my OP and see your point about it being a little confusing. Let me put it a different way - I'm not looking for specific equipment recommendations, I can research what's available now, easily enough. I want some confidence that if I pull the trigger on a new digital front-end, it won't be rendered obsolete in a year's time. In 5 years, who knows? I get that. Also, obsolete may not be the correct word here, I know whatever tech is at play now will likely still be useable in a decade. But is there anything 'just around the corner' that might make it sensible to hold fire for a year or so, or is it fairly safe to say that projecting forward a year, changes will be of an incremental nature and not wholesale. It might even be a rhetorical question and I might already know the answer, yet I'm still interested to read other people's take on it.

@gdnrbob - thanks for the photography analogy, it works well!

@antigrunge2 - I hear you on the 'implementation', though I haven't personally heard digital that gives better overall sound quality than a vinyl rig at a similar price-point. But I'm not expecting that or looking for it. I enjoy both, for different reasons. My goal is just to close the gap sonically so I won't feel like something is missing from the experience when listening to digital.

@boomerbillone - thanks for the comments. I agree with your statement "I've never heard a streaming service that could beat a well-recorded CD". It's interesting how that contrasts with antigrunge2 and his "optimized streaming far beats ripping CDs and ripping your CD collection is a waste of time if you can stream them from high-res Qobus."

@bruce19 "Perhaps you can tell me, do you think analog audio has plateaued yet?" - yes, I do. Changes at this point appear incremental and I haven't seen anything come through that renders a turntable from 20 years ago incompatible. Sure, a new tonearm might not be compatible with your old Thorens, but not buying that particular tonearm doesn't mean you're no longer able to access new vinyl media.
The closest thing I know of to 'revolutionary' is the optical strain-gauge system, but even that can be retro-fitted to most any TT. ( I can imagine a lot of people disagreeing with this view)

@ Y'all - Great to see a thread where no one has gone off on a 'this is better than that' rant!
As an aside, I recently bought a Devialet Expert Pro 220 CI. This highly praised and well-reviewed component is a fully digital pre/power with DAC, streamer, Roon integration, digital crossover, speaker-matching software, and a fully configurable MC/MM phono, a true digital swiss-army knife if ever there was one. The only problem was that it just didn't sound 'right'.

Rooze

@bruce19 "How was it made, how many times has it been re-mixed or remastered, etc. No matter what the delivery mechanism its the quality of the recording that dominates and yet which we usually have so little information""

B I N G O

Let's not forget for many of us funds are not unlimited, and streaming is far more affordable. For less than the cost of a high end turntable (and just that), one can get an entire streaming set up with amp(s), speakers, and all the trimmings (well maybe not the approving partner).

There's an old adage that goes "Price, Quality, Speed, pick two."
@rooze I agree that there's not likely to be any significant new tech in this domain for quite some time.  I have trouble imagining what the next frontier is now that streaming has matured to it's current point.  Perhaps the network protocols will change and you'll need a new streamer at some point? 

As for the music itself, the *vast* majority of recordings are still in the standard redbook format, and although higher sample rates can sound better, I personally gave up on investing in that path.  I'd rather work to make 99% of the music sound better than get locked into doing a ton of work just to get that 1% that's recorded at the high sample rates.  And in that domain, I just don't see any new groundbreaking advances in the upcoming years... just like there's unlikely to be much revolutionary action in analog.  

Hell, I chose an obsolete R2R chip (the little Audio Mirror T3-SE you heard) over the top of the line ESS chip (Matrix X-Sabre Pro) and a modern FPGA (PSA Directstream DAC).  Guess I must have inferior ears and a horribly unresolving system...  or, as I suggested earlier, the playing field below $8k is very level and final choices are hugely system dependent. 
So...should I hang onto my Theta ProBasic III DAC from the late 90's or test again?

I bought it for like $550 a couple of years ago after in home auditioning six or seven new ESS chip DACS that were just too analytical and bright... 

Just like Sota turntables I guess - the old ones are still good. 

Dsper