In late March 2018 AVTech Media Ltd (UK) purchases Home Tech Network from TEN Publishing Media. The latter is the owner of Stereophile and AudioStream. As it always seem to be, a takeover usually brings about changes, and unfortunately some people were let go in early Apr (e.g. the editor for AudioStream).
And here’s a comment from Michael Fremer in one of the discussions talking about the layoffs (Source):
Fremer is echoing the sentiments of the majority I’m afraid. Computer Audio is dying.
Nobody seems interested in Computer Audio any more. Why? Then it dawned on me - Fremer’s notion of computer audio is not the same as mine.
The trend looks clear to me - more and more people are moving away from computers and drifting more towards consumer products, e.g. SoTM. The reason? The latter just works.
Sure I may well be quoting Fremer out of context here, but for me I really do find Fremer do not get computers, and he is not the only one .
I first started in computer audio back in the nineties. Anybody here remember MOD, Scream Tracker 3 (S3M), MIDI scene? All we need then is a 16 bit audio card (like the Creative Sound Blaster AWE32). Find a playback software like WinAmp and away we go!
Apparently computer audio is too complex now.
Or is it? If you look at what we need then versus what we need now - everything is exactly the same. The things we need to play music before are still the same things we need today:
- A computer (i.e. the processor, motherboard and RAM)
- The operating system (e.g. Microsoft Windows, Mac or Linux)
- An audio card (USB DAC or PCI-e audio card)
- The music software (e.g. MPD, Clementine)
Fundamentally nothing has changed.
Computer audio is actually easier now. Gone are the days when you have to worry about fickle TSR drivers, interrupt conflicts and other nonsense. If you cannot get music to play now on your computer, you have little hope of accomplishing the same feat using software and hardware from the 90’s .
If things are easier now, why is it so difficult then? Let’s call a spade a spade - people simply do not put any effort into anything at all these days.
Why put effort into doing anything when everything is so readily available? The Internet and the treasure trove of information it provides made us develop a habit of moving from one thing to another in quick succession. So while our eyes may well be glued to the screen, we may well be browsing across 5 different subject matters in a minute. If something is uninteresting, we move on. If something is too difficult or complex, we move on.
We have reached a stage where it is entirely possible to be 100% entertained with 0% effort.
Finding a download site, choosing albums to download, or even ripping a CD are tasks considered too difficult these days. Streaming solves a lot of the problems :
- You don’t really have to choose what to download any more. Your streaming service already know what you like
- You don’t have to grapple with payments over downloads any more. It’s now a simple subscription
- You don’t have to waste time setting things up any more. You can now stream music anywhere
- You don’t have to figure out how to RIP CDs. Just stream them from the Internet
Streaming works because it is simpler - it fits the modern world. It’s almost the perfect product for a consumer. Buy a streamer, connect it to the home network, hit play. And that’s music. The process is incredibly simple and straight forward. Computer audio simply cannot compete in those terms.
However, if you look at computer and a streamer side by side. You’d often find a streamer will have less features, fewer upgrade paths and can be more expensive. Contrary to Fremer’s understanding - the streamer is the ‘one trick pony’. It can only stream and nothing else. Computer audio on the other hand, can be adapted to work on anything (and possibly everything). You dedicate a computer for player and use it for 10 years, if not more. The upgrade options seems infinite.
Despite all the upsides, unfortunately the market has spoken - because people have somehow convinced themselves they are time scarce.
Audiophiles can be chasing after fashion without releasing it. In the 90s - Vinyl is out of fashion, CD is in. All hail the death of Vinyls and long live the CD. Today vinyls are gaining traction - so all hail vinyls, and CD spinners are out the door. Nobody bothered to look at the long term trend. The vinyl audiophile that spin records in the 60s is still spinning them now. History do not support streaming will be the main stay. Unlike traditional media, when streaming services leave, your music goes with it.
Fads come and go. Music lives forever.
Here at Snakeoil we do not believe in chasing fads. We only chase good music. And we do this with computers, computer audio has never been easier, the audio quality has never been better. The saying about old dogs cannot learn new tricks is just an urban myth. Learning new things is a journey on it’s own. The reward you get, the sheer joy you feel when you finally broke down that computer barrier is hard to describe in words. This journey will not always be a bed of roses for every body. For some of you, a streamer or a commercial solution may well be the best option. But where ever this journey leads you, whether it’s good or bad, it will be a memory you will remember for years to come. You only have this memory because you invested your time and effort and you gave it a fair go.
Buying a ready made product is a completely different experience. Many of your store brought product will be forgotten over time - some are stored in storage, never to see light of day ever again; others are flogged off at a big discount to the next audiophile. It is a consumer mindset - all you hardly ever invest the time to get to understand them better.
I love my Jetway NF9c, I like it because I have spent the time and developed a bond over the years. I know the quirks it has and have learnt to accept it. The joy I get when the music sings - it’s an incredible exuberance. There is no desire to chase the next fad, only the yearning to play the next track.
So is computer audio dead? Perhaps it is in the commercial context - there is no money to be made in computer audio. But as a hobby computer audio will thrive on. If you want to join in, I am here to help you all the way. If you guys invest the time, computer audio will reward you very well.
If you think a commercial product can beat Snakeoil OS, think again. Snakeoil OS is all about you - you get to decide what kernel to use, you decide what software to use, you decide what tweaks to apply, you decide what power supply to use, you decide what computer to run everything on. You get to make all the decisions, Snakeoil OS is completely customisable to suit you. If you know what you are doing, I am confident to say - there are very few ready made products that can be beat Snakeoil OS.
Sit back, enjoy and listen to music - your way!