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New Technology Claims to Correct Fundamental Problem in Audio
May 4, 2010 | Howard Lichtman
It's apparent that the audio recording and reproduction process introduces some catastrophic damage to the signal. If it didn't, our hi-fi systems would be indistinguishable from live music. A Florida-based inventor claims to have identified one way in which existing audio technology degrades fidelity, and has developed a technology to correct that damage on playback. A company has been formed to bring this technology to market, starting with a stand-alone box aimed at audiophiles.
The inventor is Barry Stephen Goldfarb, a 57-year-old musician and engineer who holds more than 50 patents and plays 20 musical instruments. The audio technology arose from an audacious project to develop a virtual reality art installation in which the viewer could walk around projected three-dimensional holograms and hear three-dimensional audio. Goldfarb developed the conceptual ideas for the audio aspect of this project, and then realized them with the help of Dr. Robert Clark, Dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Rochester University. Clark is one of the world's leading academic authorities on noise cancellation.
The process reportedly takes place out-of-phase components of the signal and restores their origninal phase relationships. No new information in a way that more closely resembles that of live sound. The process. which is more complex than what I've described, can be realized in the digital or analog domains. In fact, the "decoding" can be done passively in a loudspeaker. i was told how the process works in more detail, but am under a non-disclosure agreement until the patents are granted.
Larry Alan Kay, a lawyer and former publisher of Fi: The Magazine of Music and Sound, heard about this invention not because of his audio background, but through his business connections (he's on board of a major corporation). He visited Goldfarb's laboratory and was so impressed that he founded a company called BSGt to develop, market, and license the technology, which is called QOL.
The first application of QOL will be a stand-alone box available late in the second quarter of 2010. BSGt intends to license QOL for a variety of application including portable music players, TVs, musical-instrument amplifiers, PA systems, car stereo, cell phones, and hearing aids. In the high-end, the company is pursing relationships with specialty audio manufacturers to include the technology in, for example, preamplifier. The high-end aspects of the technology are, however, dwarfed by the mass-market applications.
The unit I auditioned was a "proof-of-concept" prototype that operates in the analog domain. It has a RCA input and output jacks, along with a number of unmarked and mysterious front-panel knobs. Although the device's sonic results were unmistakable, the evaluation was made more difficult because the device added gain (The gain increase is reportedly a by-product of the retrieval of additional signal information.)
Nonetheless, switching the device into the signal path rendered a significant increase in clarity, resolution, transparency, and sound staging. The most notable improvement was the impression of lifting a blanket that had covered the loudspeakers. The upper-mid range became more open and lively, with greater clarity and transparency. Recorded detail becaome roe prominent, but not in a forced or analytical way.
background instruments that had been buried in the mix suddenly stood out and were easier to follow. Another significant difference was the sense of air surrounding instrumental outlines. The device not only presented images with a halo of air around them, but also expanded the sound-stage size. These qualities were no doubt the result of the increased audibility of reverberation decay. In addition to adding to the sense of atmosphere, the improved resolution of reverb decay made the recorded acoustic seem larger. The decay hing in the air longer, and more fully fleshed out the size of the acoustic in the moments of silence after a high-level signal. It's too early to tell, and my experience too limited, to judge whether QOL is truly a radical breakthrough in audio. It does, however, appear to have great promise. We'll have a full report when the first commercial products with QOL become available.
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