Audio Evolution

How has sound technology changed since you started in the home-theater industry?

Kenny Kraly

It has changed a lot! I started covering the home-theater industry as a journalist 20 years ago, when Dolby Digital—then more commonly known as AC-3, the name of its underlying lossy-compression algorithm—was just being introduced. Up to then, movies used Dolby Pro Logic, which matrix-encoded the center channel and one surround channel in the front left and right channels. (This reminds me of quadraphonic from the 1970s, which I remember as a student, except that instead of four speakers in the corners of the room, Dolby Pro Logic was intended for three front speakers and two speakers playing the same surround signal on the sides or in the back of the room.)

Since then, we've seen movie soundtracks evolve from four matrixed channels to 5.1 and now 7.1 discrete channels. And this number could grow even more with the rise of 9.1 AVRs and 11.1 formats such as Audyssey DSX and DTS Neo:X.

Twenty years ago, CDs provided the best—heck, the only—digital audio widely available to consumers; MP3 was just being finalized. There was no online audio streaming or downloading and no iPods back then—in fact, cassettes were still the dominant form of portable audio. Remember the original Walkman? I do.

I also remember well the format war between SACD and DVD-Audio—in retrospect, a pointless battle with no winner as consumers chose the convenience and portability of MP3 over the quality of either disc format. Fortunately, quality has returned, at least in movie soundtracks, with the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio lossless formats.

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notabadname's picture

That might even be my photo to the left of image in the display case.

Could we please not start threads that so quickly remind me of my age, LOL. I had an 8-Track, and a 45 player that was my equivalent of today's iPod. The big boom box (when you could still actually carry them on your shoulder) The Sony Walkman that played cassettes (remember the Go-Go's), then the upgrade to one that played CDs- High-tech. My parents had the Quadraphonic setup.

I hate that exhibits at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History perfectly match my photo albums.

Damn, I've had them all . . . .