What digital evolution?

I posted this as a reply in another thread, but believe it's thought-provoking enough to warrant its own post:

Is it really accurate that digital processing technology is evoloving (depreciating) quickly? The economics of technology don't seem to support this.

Unlike computer hardware which benefits from Moore's Law, and can therefore process more software at a given price point due to falling prices of memory and processor power, DACs are still processing the same 44.1 kHz software that is over 20 years old (not talking about high-res formats like SACD and DVD-A). DACs are not challenged with processing bigger programs at faster speeds that need more computer memory. Aside from upsampling, are there really improvements in D/A algorithms or other techniques that benefit from Moore's Law economics?

If this is true, good DAC design should remain competitive over time. Aren't the "best" DACs (Meitner, DCS, Weiss, etc) still competitive years after release? What technology is evoloving so quickly in D/A conversion?
The music industry--at least on the software side---operates much like General Motors and Ford did until the arrival of Datsun(now Nissan), Toyota and Honda. Until this time innovation was defined by the addition of nylon seat covers. If is was not for the Japanese our cars would still have fins.

The music industry will not innovate as the investment in a new format will not be worthwhile until the hardware can catch up and they can convince the public to invest in yet another copy of our favorite albums in yet another format. Hey, I already own the Crosby, Stills and Nash debut album in vinyl, cassette and in CD and one really big reason I don't buy into SACD is just because I really don't want to buy it again.

You are correct in that there are a bi-zillion small improvements in CDs, much like in, for instance Photoshop software but our hardware can't support it.

Perhaps Steven Jobs will further explore this but I really doubt it. So what I have done is to invest in the best hardware upsampling system that I can which is the Audio Aero Mark II CD player. Now I am told by many here that I respect that the new kid on the block is EMM and this one is even better.
Hey wait a minute! You can't call your own commentary "thought provoking"!! That's just not right.....


I saw a new car the other day and it had...fins on it.
Those are my sentiments, too. Maybe I'm too cynical, but my question remains: are there really improvements being developed so quickly in digital playback technology that the life cycle of CD players and DACs is like a PC (say 18 - 24 months)? If this is the case, then I want to understand what these improvements are.

Computer life-cycles are short because of Moore's Law, making more processing power and memory available to run more complex software at a given price point. I don't see the parallels to digital playback. Considering Redbook only, the software is no more complex, some DAC manufacturers promote simplicity (no upsampling like 47 Labs and Zanden and even old DA converters, again Zanden) as a virtue.

Perhaps equipment manufacturers would like the market to believe that technology evolves quickly and that equiment is obsolete in a few months, as an incentive to increase unit sales.

Ooops, maybe this is only thought-provoking to me!
I don't think the parallel with Moore's Law is terribly relevant, but if you think it is, then ask yourself whether people are much happier with their computers these days because of chip speeds. I would suggest not much more than people are happier with their DACs.

One obvious issue is that audio gear performance is as much driven by vibration issues, imperfect passive components, management of stray interference, how much trial and error through listening went into the finalisation of the design as it is by improvements in active components like DAC chips.

Another obvious issue is the problems of needing to stay within a standard format - the size of the CD/DVD, Redbook standard etc.

For a more continuous development of digital audio we need to move CD Players away from being vertically integrated standardised items towards open architecture, open standard devices, and move away from physical media like CDs to downloaded files. Therefore in the future, if your device has enough power, the release of a new piece of music in a new format is as simple as downloading the file and the software to decode it into analogue audio. Your PC is already a device of that type, and Media PCs are moving towards becoming more specialised to meet entertainment needs. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine the release of a Wadia Media PC (in whatever incarnation they are in at the time). Some of us remember that this vision was first envisaged by, I think, Theta. But our understanding of what it takes to deliver good audio via digital has still to evolve a bit before that dream will be a reality. And we also have to overcome the desire of the likes of Microsoft to turn the Media PC into a proprietary device, or one crippled by high royalties for its operating system - but I think Linux has that one covered.
I feel every sentiments expressed here are very good.

My beef with this digital evolution, atleast in the stateside, is that we can't even get redbooks to sound right most of the time. I hope the recording industry can go back to the basics before brainstorming new formats.

Every new CD should be HDCD.

Ofcourse, for the recording industry, where is the money in that...

Regarding the evolution of digital technologies, I don't think you have too much break throughs in terms of DAC chips outside of upsampling. But, there seem to be many new implementations of the same building block from SE and tube outputs to Non OS configurations..

Digital amps are sure taking off.

Just a thought, I remember asking my teacher when I was in high school why computers didn't make better CD players than CD players since the computers have massive processing power compared to CD players. Yes, I was a budding audio geek even then.

Glad you didn't mention automobile manufacturers like Yugo, Kia, or Hyundia. Otherwise this digital discussion might reflect Down/Under-sampling?

I saw a new Toyota Pick-up with 1959 Cadillac style Fin rear light lens covers. Talk about coming full-circle?
Only thing I can't figure out is where's all the software for PC or Mac on dvd is,seeing it can hold so much more. Software seems to be an achilles heel in cdp too,as most consumers are happy with performance from it.We are the small crowd that's sidelined in a slower backwater.Hence recouping R&D for super duper cdp is tougher unless price is high.Looking at industries rooted in foward change slow or fast.I imagine it costs more to put manual windows in a automobile vs power with auto up/down.Soon they may not bother with keyed locks on all but the driver door. Less parts better look maybe security benefit.Back to audio, Sacd & Dvd-audio Multichannel hardware with modern powerful processing yet the software quality window is wide.(player internal software issues aside).Did you read Kieth Howard's article and testing of HiRez discs. Frank Sinatra and Allison Krauss . The Sinatra was mastered to HiRez via upsampling! Krauss and Steely Dan derived from 48kHz PCM masters!And an un-named high profile artists SACD sourced from 16bit/44.1kHz master!Industry behavior like that confuses potential adopters and destroys credibility of new advances.I imagine many cdp's are old wine in new bottles as well~IMO.
Redkiwi - I mentioned Moore's Law only because CDPs and DACs are most often mentioned as having very short product life-cycles compared to other gear due to evoloving technology. Since I just acquired a DAC, I was wondering what specifically is changing so quickly in Redbook playback that would cause a DAC to be obsolete in a year or two. And if the digital technology isn't evolving fast (we don't see DACs with newer more powerful processors to play larger CD software), then one would conclude that what separates the mediocore from the excellent products is execution of fundamental design principals and listening trials, not obsolete digital technology. Aren't these the same for non-digital components like amps, phono-stages, etc? And if so, than the life-cycle for well-designed digital gear should be about the same as for a well-designed preamp!

Viggen and Clbeanz - I agree about the wide-ranging quality in digital recordings, but the same can be said about analog, too. As for hi-rez formats being mastered from low-rez sources, well that's a different topic entirely. Sounds like the record companies are taking short-cuts to supply a new format.
Newer DAC chips come out all of the time. The more stuff "they" can cram into the chips the simpler the traces look on the PCBs. That may have something to do with today's low cost DACs and cd players. performance through simplicity? I'm with Kiwi, I don't think you understand Moore's Law (most of the world doesn't). IT ain't about clock speed.
Skushino, I didn't intend to attack your opinion. I guess I would point you to some of the minimalist DACs around that eschew most of the so-called advances in DACs - ones with no over sampling or up sampling or with no digital filter, which by being minimalist have a certain life to them that the arguably over-engineered DACs don't. In some ways the new DACs are better and in other ways they are not. You are quite right to question the hype.
Most are perfectly happy with CeeDee.Hi-end getting better? I really do not know for sure,maybe any improvements I think I hear are attributable to speakers,amplification,the removal of a pre-amp or inclusion of new design(digital).I can't afford the upgrades to judge long term if it is indeed "better".
Sorry,I had to bring in Hi rez & Multi-channel because it's the next logical evolution the industry has chosen(not all& not me yet) to hang thier hat on.Concerning upscale reproduction of redbook is a matter of the past to a large contingent of the audio parade.A big part of traditional music consumers are on wheels,computors,portable devices,or double duty dvd/HT with music inclusive.So the die hard "I want the best damn redbook playback" group is a minority now,and within' that minority are different camps regarding implementation schemes for redbook. Marketing to a small contingent requires hype to drive us to buy the"new". Buzzwords such as "giantkiller","best redbook","sounds as good as SACD","Wolfson","Burr-Brown","Tube-like","Analog sound".To me I hear all this like "results may vary-not all may expierience same results" ;^)In the July review of a $2K Arcam 33,JA in ever so careful words eluded to the maturity of digital gear,characterizing differences yet able to like various perspectives in playback as state of the art in redbook.I have read numerous times of difficult to discern playback differences as to overall quality of the sound.I can agree in my "Limited" experience.Now if everybody where buying good ol' cd like 85'-95'and there weren't video,games,mp-3,dvd,computer competing for the wallet/purse$$$,then I hazard a guess there would be engineers in large #'s cooking up tech envelope busters on a regular basis.But those best of the best are in other pursuits.
I tend to agree great mid 90's digital is still great.
What I've heard and read is that $1,500-3,000(loose #'s)performance is available for much much less now.The exiting thing is small label cd mastering is quite good while downside is majors are providing mostly crap production.I suppose I could've just said folks who value cutting edge digital playback of redbook data in a 2 channel music dedicated system are in the same boat as Analog enthusiests
but at least the analog guys got to enjoy analog sound all along :))
Based upon some responses, my words must be as clear as mud... Regrets on my ambiguity.

Redkiwi- Absolutely no offense taken. Don't know why my post came across as taking offense, but none taken. I refer to Moore's Law (processor power doubling every 18 months at a given price point) because that is one of the drivers of evolving computer performance advances, and the reason that PCs have relatively short life-cycles.

I am questioning the digital hype as it applies to high-end audio. Specifically, the claim that DAC technology evolves quickly. If this claim is accurate, I simply want to understand why, and am soliciting input from other Audiogoners. On the other hand, if DAC technology isn't evolving so quickly, than why the pressure to upgrade at computer life-cycles rather than amp life-cycles?

So far, there is no input to explain why DACs and CDPs should have such a short life spans relative to other components in the audio chain.
Redkiwi - just reread your post, and I actually concur with your version of the future of digital media, being downloaded in digital format, via broadband, to a high-end device (a type of specialized media PC). Many of my 20-something friends with a love of music, but not high-end audio enthusiasts, are already doing this (PC-based music input into stereo systems). As high-enders, we are still waiting for the manufacturers to catch-up with a suitable high-end grade device.
any specific example?
Squeezebox, from slimdevices is not far off in one sense. An MP3 Jukebox is not far off in another. Similarly Media PCs. Moore's Law and FTTH (fibre to the home) will solve the technology gap. The question will be around how a new music/movies cartel forms (inevitable I think, since the supply-side always strikes back).

We have to hope that FTTH and innovations in disk stroage - such as a terrabyte of storage in the size of an iPod - happen soon enough. Soon enough for what? A few things I guess, like a generation that thinks MP3 is the best quality obtainable.

From what I can see, telco regulation has stuffed up broadband over DSL - which could have been a happening thing years ago if the regulators had been wise enough not to force stupid wholesale regulations and copper loop unbundling - but the emergence of FTTH could be quite rapid as the regulators seem to have finally seen the light (pardon the pun). So no need for compression as far as downloads are concerned.