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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
By way of background, I was shopping for speakers recently, finally found some time to upgrade, and there's a fair amount of good equipment out there. But one of the speakers I looked at was made by Martin Logan, and they had a variant or two that were fully powered. All Electrostatic Martin Logans need to be plugged in anyway, but in this case the amp was also built into the speaker. You could in theory drive them off of an iPOD, and I suppose in many ways, the big news in Audio over the last 10 years has really been the iPOD, these digital audio devices have really become become dominant. Although ultimately I did not buy the Martin Logans, I did buy some Definitive Techs, and they have a powered subwoofer, that you need to plug into 120v for, also. Not a big deal, really, as any modern house is going to have 120v outlets close enough. I also bought an Onkyo receiver, and typical big Onkyo, you could fry an egg on it after its been playing a while. And really then it hit me, pretty obvious really, that engineering wise, the problem is not really the Onkyo, it's the way we still make speakers (excepting Martin Logan) these days, even after 50 years or so of hifi. We need more and more power to really drive speakers properly, and you put all that power in one place, that place is going to run hot. Amps and AVRs will all evolve to switched power supplies eventually, tricky but inevitable, but as someone that works in computers, let me say that eventually that will also run its course, diminishing returns, and even switched amps will get to be too hot. In large computer servers, heat has or will shortly become the limiting factor again. Audio will follow. Which got me to thinking...


Really the audio of the future, has to be:
  1. Put the amp out in the speaker
  2. Use a low-power signal source (RCA or Ethernet or Power Line)


It is really the only thing that makes sense. If you move the Amp out to the speaker, you distribute the heat load. The Amp can also be tuned to the speaker, which remains the highest distortion source in most systems. The Amp can be made non-linear, to sort of equalize the speaker as necessary. Distributed heat load means much less likely to have to use fans or other cooling devices, some ported speakers move a bit of air on their own. The electronics parts cost on a high end system would be a fraction of what most good speakers cost. Given that you have electronics anyway, you could then start looking at other aspects you could play with or improve. You could use DSPs to try and fix phase problems with the speakers, you could do things in an active domain to correct box resonances, sense or predict distortion and cut back on drive levels to be back in the speakers' envelope, etc., etc. That might all seem daunting to some smaller speaker manufacturers, those little basement or Canadian outfits, but really the electronics would probably standardize, low-cost buy'n'plug type operations, much like you buy'n'plug a PC these days (or some of the underlying architecture of sound bars is done currently, so speaker manufacturers are into it already).


And once you've gone to the amp/electronics in the remote speaker, how is it connected? With apologies to Monster Cable and all the high end speaker cable manufacturers, I think that all really ends. Run over a RCA pre-amp level input, analog domain, high impedance, done. But really, that's only your backwards compatibility. Some sub manufacturers are using Wi-Fi and wireless connectivity, others are playing with it, but mostly I would just advocate using Ethernet type connections. They're extremely high data rate, can run long distances, and have mature, supported protocols that work fine even if someone is using the microwave, or the phone, or downloading a video from Netflix. High end audio fans can run their own separate network, to keep down variability, if they desire, all off-the-shelf and cheap parts. And once you've put electronics for the amps out into the speaker anyway, all you have to do is add another chip to get Ethernet (a chip that costs, in volume, $5, and that's for a top-end variant; and eventually, as custom ICs were done for the rest of the speaker function, ET would be embeded on that chip, cost coming down to, well free would be the first order approximation). You could still do wireless, if you wanted. Or you could do power-line type Ethernet, just come in over the power cord (although that has its own set of problems due to the way some houses are wired). But the general idea then is that you have essentially a powered, networkable speaker. You set up an IP address, the speaker can then be driven via any digital source. Drive it from your receiver (those are getting network connections these days, anyway), or from the Media Server PC, or from eventually the iPOD (which is nothing but a small computer, and adding ET there would be trivial).


Would this new house audio architecture obsolete current speakers? Well, yes and no. All the electro-mechanical domain stuff would remain essentially the same, at least in high end speakers. That's really the tough stuff to get right. I envision just a small circuit board being added, in general, 120v (or maybe 12-20v DC, via a brick) input. But yes, lower end speakers would probably do more active domain stuff, to pull down costs, originally to offset the electronics, eventually because the whole speaker can be made cheaper. But really, speaker manufacturers kind of need something like this, anyway. Otherwise, people will just keep their 30-year old current speakers, or worse yet for the manufacturers, buy no speakers (just everyone walks around with iPODs
). 30 years ago, I couldn't buy an iPOD at all, that's new, look at the sales there. Same with CDs before that. Same with DVDs and Blu-Ray. Same with Plasma and LCD panels for TVs. These are where the $ volume is in the market now, not speakers, and what's needed really for the speaker manufacturers is some paradigm shift, something that the consumer has to have, has to buy or update their systems for. The amps are headed for the speakers anyway, just a matter of when. Only makes sense then to go the rest of the way and go networked.


Anyway, I'll get off of the soapbox.


Thoughts?
 

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active speakers (speakers with amps, digital crossovers, etc) have been around for a LONG time.....so its not a future thing at all.


As for networked speakers...the only future with a future
would be wireless speaker technologies. Wired networked speakers offer little if anything at all different then running speaker wire instead of cat5e or cat6.


btw, speakers run from IPods is great for the mass market but has little to do with an AV forum since people here tend to want something better then what any IPod setup offers.
 

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Triad has researched this extensively, and spent lots of time with the Netstreams and Control4 people. My conclusion is, home-run amplifiers with speaker wire running to remote locations will be with us forever. It's simpler and cheaper.


At one high level discussion with a dozen of us from two companies, the talk was about if installers would hire electricians to wire AC into the attic to plug all these active speakers in, which, we all agreed, is ridiculous and unsophisticated. I suggested running 48 volts through the Cat5 to meet the low voltage requirement as an alternative. That's a better solution...run the power and audio signal together. Maybe send a digital signal and convert it to analog within the speaker. Maybe something else...


But the best solution, at least in my mind, is to use a centrally-located DSP-driven multichannel amp that allows for true biamplification, the crossover done in software, and EQ curves to match both the speaker and the room. Ultimately, those are the issues that will make a sonic difference. We are working on this, but any products are still years off.


This industry has an ability to create complex, technical solutions that nobody asked for, just because "we can." I will remind you of BMW's "iDrive." I'm sure the propellerheads at BMW thought it was cutting-edge and cool.
 

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Interesting discussion. I was recently discussing something similar with my wife, while attempting to explain how a receiver accepts a digital input signal from something like CD or HDMI and converts it to analog, then sending that powered analog output to a speaker to create sound (thus generating heat). Our discussion premise was due to a receiver limitation because of heat generation, and my need to install 120mm fans in the back of our $2k entertainment unit by cutting holes in it (she wasn't real thrilled with the idea, but I'm pleased to report that she was very satisfied with my handywork when I was done, and the fans work wonders!).


She too, thought that the whole process could be simpler. She asked why can't the digital signal just be sent to the speaker. Of course, that discussion led to basically what you guys are talking about here. I don't really have anything to add to the discussion, but I will say that in many applications a "home run" amplifier can create problems. Of course, getting power to those in-walls I just installed in the living room would have created problems too (probably bigger ones).
 

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Quote:
She asked why can't the digital signal just be sent to the speaker. Of course, that discussion led to basically what you guys are talking about here. I don't really have anything to add to the discussion, but I will say that in many applications a "home run" amplifier can create problems. Of course, getting power to those in-walls I just installed in the living room would have created problems too (probably bigger ones).

Processing and amplification can be separated and it has been for years. The idea of

having an amp in the speakers isn't new at all, Pro audio has been doing it for years.


Its all that special processing that is the crux of the problem...where will that reside? HD audio, PLIIx, 2-channel, DVD, CBL/SAT, CD.....and so on and so on. heck we have not even started to discuss auto EQing options, Dynamic EQing, Dynamic Volume and so on...in the end we still need a box that controls X speakers (x = 7 speakers and subs).


I could build an amp into all my speakers and I even thought about it but then we need power run to each of them (very hard to do sometimes) so instead I have a rack with 9 amp channels to drive 3 main speakers (3-way DIY speakers).



btw, I also have a full house audio solution and I have a some amps (16 total channels in an AV room, from there I can control 6 bedrooms, patio, bathrooms and kitchen. That means I just have speakers in the rooms NO AMPS, NO AVRS in any room....just a Flat panel and speakers. So in the end this thread isnt about the future at all and none of this stuff is new, people with full house solutions have been doing it for years.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Scarpelli /forum/post/15422120



But the best solution, at least in my mind, is to use a centrally-located DSP-driven multichannel amp that allows for true biamplification, the crossover done in software, and EQ curves to match both the speaker and the room. Ultimately, those are the issues that will make a sonic difference. We are working on this, but any products are still years off.

Click here:
http://www.labgruppen.com/


The PLM and FP+ amps (pro amp used for touring super high power) does this now and I'm sure others may exist but just not in consumer electronics.
 

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No way, pwjone1. Cost disadvantages, you need to have power at the speakers, etc.


The Sonos (networked source + amp) and Squeezebox Duet are way closer to the mark. So you're not doing long runs of wires, but there are still wires from the amp to the speakers. And you're sharing one database of media.


And more generally, media servers - not just audio, but video and internet.


The only way in which the idea has any traction is for wireless speakers, but those are mostly for people who don't want to run wires for surrounds, and they usually still have a separate amp.
 

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I've thought this is a great idea for a long while now, and there are plenty of tools to execute this in the pro audio world which have been in use in some form for >15 years. The real issue is the packaging and ease of configuration and connection to common systems. Some time later this year I expect to offer something closely related, and I know a few others will offer similar.


I agree that the mainstream won't bite on internally powered speakers for 7.1 systems in the near future, but I expect we will see more openness to this in blank-slate room construction if the form factors of the products fit. I don't think Paul is wrong though. A rack full of amplifiers and the DSP to handle the crossovers for active speakers is a very simple extension of what I've already been doing and something I've quoted out for a few projects. There are some points of concern in doing this, especially when it comes to correct installation/connection, but this is actually rather easy to solve.


With what we're seeing in so many pro audio DSP and amplifier monitoring systems being controlled over a simple ethernet connection, bringing it a bit further into the home market becomes increasingly easy, especially if we start seeing more systems directly or indirectly connected to a computer of some form.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by buzzy_ /forum/post/15422952


No way, pwjone1. Cost disadvantages, you need to have power at the speakers, etc.

Having worked under PE's designing power systems for commercial and home spaces long, long ago, I kinda chuckle at this. By this logic, few would ever bother to mount those expensive Plasma or LCD TVs on the wall.



Building codes require reasonable lengths at the floor to a nearby receptacle, and in any build out of a room, it's rather trival add a few extra receptacles, and from flat-panel TVs we have many more useful flush or recessed boxes to connect with. Also remember that we have established standards for electrical power and network cabling installation, even if they are often ignored in home networking. You can certainly send audio over Ethernet, or we can simply control things over the network, and throw a balanced XLR connector on the amp to provide both options, where a very good quality cable may at most cost $100 for a 75-100 foot run.


I wouldn't expect internally powered speakers to take over the market any time soon, but I would expect to see a steady increase in home audio specific options over the next 1-5 years.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Scarpelli /forum/post/15422120


Triad has researched this extensively, and spent lots of time with the Netstreams and Control4 people. My conclusion is, home-run amplifiers with speaker wire running to remote locations will be with us forever. It's simpler and cheaper.


At one high level discussion with a dozen of us from two companies, the talk was about if installers would hire electricians to wire AC into the attic to plug all these active speakers in, which, we all agreed, is ridiculous and unsophisticated. I suggested running 48 volts through the Cat5 to meet the low voltage requirement as an alternative. That's a better solution...run the power and audio signal together. Maybe send a digital signal and convert it to analog within the speaker. Maybe something else...


But the best solution, at least in my mind, is to use a centrally-located DSP-driven multichannel amp that allows for true biamplification, the crossover done in software, and EQ curves to match both the speaker and the room. Ultimately, those are the issues that will make a sonic difference. We are working on this, but any products are still years off.


This industry has an ability to create complex, technical solutions that nobody asked for, just because "we can." I will remind you of BMW's "iDrive." I'm sure the propellerheads at BMW thought it was cutting-edge and cool.

I would agree that in any case, legacy systems with passive speakers connected with speaker wire are likely with us "forever", in the sense of no matter what happens, there will be some that stick with it (similar to the way we still have some people selling turntables).


But clearly there have been two shifts in Audio and control electronics. The first shift to digital (ala iPOD) sources, and I know there are those that hate that shift, saying it was the worst thing ever, but to deny that it has become dominant in the audio industry in terms of $ volume, is, well, denying reality. People are buying this stuff (heck, I have 3 iPODs, and the critics are right, the sound isn't perfect, but it's just too easy and well organized, and you can jog with it, it's relatively environment immune, etc., and with the kids, it's clearly arrived (and none-to-soon, the boom-boxes that preceded it were, well annoying)). The Audio down at Best Buy tends to be iPOD (and clones) and iPOD docs and iPOD cases. Every receiver is or will shortly add some sort of iPOD functionality. This shift if effectively done, decided, made, fait accompli. And maybe it's shortly moot, in all but ultra hifi, as progress in flash and encoding mean that lossless is at our doorstep. iPODs will be essentially digitally perfect, within the next 5 years. So everyone but the class that insists on tube amps and turntables, will over the next few years be converted. I remember some of the (still lingering, unfortunately) arguments against CDs, but I don't know of anyone that at least doesn't have a CD player hooked up (I take that back, I do know of someone that dropped CDs for iPOD/MP3s, so that may eventually happen, but anyway, digitial sources are here with us to stay, in whatever form). Many of the corner stereo stores we all remember, locally run with knowledgeable staff, decent listening rooms, and really good equipment that you could go talk to them about, try out for hours if you liked, have gone the way of the dodo bird. If they had become iPOD proficient boutiques, evolved with the technology, then they'd still be with us, heck some of them would be rich. The markups on the iPOD market are obviously still pretty high. That's where the money is.


But the 2nd. shift, still on-going, and maybe not in final form yet, is going to be towards decentralized digital processing of the the Audio where it is presented to the "human" interface. Humans are going to remain analog, for quite some time, that part is at least the safe bet. So if we want to hear sound (without being jacked into an iPOD or similar portable), that's going to come from a speaker, and that speaker is going to have to be somewhere in the room(s) that the people are present in. But how the digital source gets to that analog speaker, well, that's pretty open. We're still dealing with a lot of legacy in the form over hot amps and speaker wires. But we are also seeing DSPs in receivers, systems like Audyssey are becoming more the norm, since they are in effect, active feedback systems. They correct for the rooms, speaker systems, etc. Amps in the speakers, to me that's a given. Just like distributed processing in computers, distributed processing will come to Audio. It will happen, it's inevitable, trying to resist it, trying to hold back from it, to fight the iPOD tide, well that's like trying to hold back the ocean. Marketing and technical reasons will flood through, it's just a matter of time.


I do like your idea of running the supply voltage down the same line as the signal, one less line to deal with, sort of like what occurs now with digital satellite (they put amps in the line driven off of power in the line). Not sure it's 48V, I would think something a bit lower, but time will tell. Right now, the electronics cost far more than the line, but eventually (and certainly in the next 5 years) the reverse will be true. Or perhaps things will go wireless, but as someone that's running a lot of wireless already in the house, that has some real world difficulties (interference, wall blocking, microwave, timing/retry difficulties, etc.), for real hi-fi that might be a number of further years and maybe a dedicated spectrum band off. But it will probably be there for legacy setups, where people cannot pull the line. Eventually the line might even be optical (fiber). Time will tell.


But I definitely don't see the DSPs to go from digital to analog staying in the big box. They have started there, due to costs, but costs will come down. They'll go to the room with the speakers, or maybe even into the speakers themselves. DSPs in receivers are of course becoming more of the norm, and with corrective technologies, probably will be standard equipment shortly. Just too good not to be. But I see them more as longer term going behind room remotes or little room controller panels (small LCD touch screen or whatever, maybe with an iPOD dock). I think Audyssey et-al are really only first generation, eventually the processing power will increase to the point where the DSPs are adjusted real time. Maybe sensing where people are in a room, and crunching via models and some further sensors how to get the right sound to the most people, in real time. Certainly putting the audio sensor in the remote would be an easy correction to do, given enough crunch. Impossible? Maybe today, but think of sound-canceling headphones, those work, and work well, and a few years ago were poo-poo'd.


One of the terms that gets used in the computing industry (where I work), is technology that matters. I would agree that the BMW i-drive was a pretty mucked up disaster. But computers are in cars to stay, they will evolve further, interfaces will improve (drive the latest BMWs, you'll see what I mean, not perfect, but better). Most cars today have beyond single digit numbers of processors. I wouldn't (for safety and economical reasons) want to go back. Audio is going the same way. It's there for sources, they're digital, it will go there for the last 10 feet. Just a matter of time. And if I were a manufacturer, I'd try to get back out in front of that shift, because it will happen, ignore it, and you will get best case left behind, worst case run over.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
One of the Audio old axioms, too often ignored, was in doing any Audio system, pick the speakers first. Speakers are generally the highest distortion, most non-linear component, probably the best reasons for picking them first. Put the money where it counts. Things did standardize a bit, 8 ohm speakers driven by reasonably linear low-distortion amps, it was left to the speaker manufacturer to make their speaker as linear as possible, plug'n'chug. Active feedback systems were with us years and years ago, I think it was Yamaha had one 25 years ago, but mostly the marketplace ignored them. Audyssey (and YPAO, MCACC, etc.) have made a comeback in that area, these are systems that definitely work, provided the user takes enough time to set them up properly. They can correct for a number of speaker deficiencies, where things were just not quite linear. Eventually, the number of corrective bands will go up. Since they address the room part of the problem, something even a perfectly linear at the speaker setup could not, they are leading us to better audio in real life.


But, and this is a big but, one of the things we're seeing with speakers, another trend, is that they are no longer able to stick up around the 8 ohm target for most amps (or 6 ohms, as some amp manufacturers have basically started to design for). More and more we see 4 ohms, with as low as 2 ohms in parts of the spectrum. Pretty tough stuff to drive, when you get down to it. I suppose it's better technology, smaller speakers need more drive to get to the same sound levels, they're more accurate at higher levels. Bigger magnets, etc. Speakers are just getting tougher and tougher to drive properly.


I think that's one of the reasons that when I was looking at speakers, it was Martin Logan that had what was essentially an expensive iPOD dock, a full range speaker with the amp built in. Electrostatic speakers tend to be some of the toughest to drive. They have 120v coming in, anyway, why not just go ahead and do the amp internally. Pretty much any planar speaker, Magnepans come to mind, tend to be really tough to drive properly. A room full of 7.1 Maggies would be a real handful for any AV Receiver. Mostly people use the AVR as a pre-amp, and buy something else for the amps. Probably a big part of Outlaw's business model.
And I have to say, all kidding aside, that when they get it right, those Martin Logans and Maggies really, really are good speakers. What's holding them back, besides price, is the current Audio architecture, where we centralize the amps. No way really, even with switched/Class-D amps, to centralize that much power, driving low impedance loads. But if we moved the Amps out into the speaker, then the speaker manufacturer could just deal with that. Even conventional speaker manufacturers, the ones tending towards 4 ohms, would solve a number of problems by going self powered, amp in the speaker.


And defacto, it's already started. Subwoofers --> self powered. PC Speakers --> self powered. Etc. Subwoofers went because the wattage requirements were just too unreasonable, needed to get there for the speakers to work properly. Truth is, that's also where we saw some of the first switched power supplies and Class-D type amps. PC speakers went self-powered because, well, who wants yet another box hooked to the PC? They started driven off of line levels, quality wasn't good, switched then to powered. And those were really the first magnetically shielded speakers, whereas now we see that a lot. So the trend is there. If we ever get to networked/powered/room speakers, then we won't even need the PC speakers at all, they'll just be in the walls of the room.


So speaker manufacturers might be looking at self-powered, and saying, why add the complexity and cost? But I look at it more at a system level. If I have to buy a $2k monoblock to drive your speaker properly, that speaker just cost me $2k more. So self powering the speakers, even if it starts out as an option, might actually be a way to cut systems costs. And I think it will ultimately open up the marketplace.


Time will tell.
 

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pwjone, there's no question that for some applications or users, self powered is useful. Subs, take a load off the amp for a huge power speaker. PC speakers, it's about size and convenience. (Lots of people here still use separate amps.) Some really interesting 2 channel stuff that's really about matching amplification to specific drivers. Those are all narrow and specific applications.


But your premise was about "the audio of the future" or something. Not going to happen.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Seaton /forum/post/15423236


Having worked under PE's designing power systems for commercial and home spaces long, long ago, I kinda chuckle at this. By this logic, few would ever bother to mount those expensive Plasma or LCD TVs on the wall.

Come on. There's a lot more to it than the electrical connections. The cost is in almost every other element of the system as well, up front and ongoing costs as well. And the Plasma or LCD comment is just dumb.


Unless you'd like to explain why this idea is the next big thing, save the focus-on-a-tiny-issue-and-miss-the-point stuff.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by buzzy_ /forum/post/15431105


pwjone1, there's no question that for some applications or users, self powered is useful. Subs, take a load off the amp for a huge power speaker. PC speakers, it's about size and convenience. (Lots of people here still use separate amps.) Some really interesting 2 channel stuff that's really about matching amplification to specific drivers. Those are all narrow and specific applications.


But your premise was about "the audio of the future" or something. Not going to happen.

While I can see some conjecture or some legitimate questions on the rate and pace of technological change, and about what/when the Audio infrastructural or architecture will evolve to, the one thing I've learned is to never to say never. Change can be slow, can be evolutionary, can take a long time. I remember buying an early CD deck (back when the things were $800-$1k typical), and my father-in-law (who's audio library was mostly on 8-track at the time
) asking me if I thought the CD thing would ever catch on. Actually he was also asking me if Cassettes were here to stay, which at the time I was saying yes (a few years later, they passed records in sales), so of course instead of going out and buying a CD player, he got a nice Nakamichi Cassette deck. There are a myriad of old, obsolete, mostly not used media formats out there, I remember DAT, but I think most of us would say CD is/was successful. They take time, but they do happen. Maybe not in the predicted fashion, and certainly not on the predicted time scale, but they do eventually happen. Mono proponents said Stereo wouldn't happen, Stereo proponents said Quadraphonic wouldn't happen (and to some degree, it did not, but to some degree, it's the base of 5.1 or 7.1). Hard to predict change, but predicting that there will be change, is a fairly safe thing to do.


So the basic 1-2-3 for my prediction (which admittedly could be quite wrong) is based on two fairly simple trains of thought:

Why it makes sense to put the Amps in (or near) the speaker

  1. As we put more speakers in a room,
  2. It then takes more total power to drive them, and
  3. We eventually reach a point where if the amps are all in one place, cooling them becomes more difficult
  4. Which is then most easily solved by moving the amps away from one place,
  5. Which logically would be the speaker itself

Why it makes sense to then also outboard other processing (digital and otherwise) to the speaker, or at least to the room in its vicinity
  1. Given that you've moved the Amp out to the Speaker vicinity (premise for the 2nd. hypothesis)
  2. You have the platform (power, circuit boards) to do further local processing, like
  3. Correcting linearity, phase, etc. of the speakers (improving the sound coming out of the speaker)
  4. And eventually then going to networked (IP addressable) speakers or room
  5. We allow for multiple sources (digital and otherwise),
  6. And localized (DSP or similar) active room correction,
  7. And close to the user input selection


I readily admit I could be wrong, but it would be helpful then if the flaw(s) in reasoning behind the two hypothesis were to be pointed out. While the "nah, won't happen" type response is not unexpected, I do remember the same response to CDs, when they first came out.


Like I said earlier, I see the Audio decentralization, proceeding along the same lines as Computer decentralization. You centralize when the cost of the electronics is high, as that comes down, you decentralize and replicate. I should note, there are still large computer servers, 1000+ user systems, core and backbone to a lot of things we do every day. That never really changed, they sell more of those than ever. But what also happened, is decentralization became the much more active model, likely we all sit in front of a PC typing this stuff all in, not a mainframe, revenues went up more rapidly in the decentralized areas. Audio has already decentralized, that came with the iPOD (and the Walkman before it). The question really then is if/when decentralization will occur within the context of the house Audio architecture. I see it as inevitable. Others, obviously do not.
 
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