Where High-End Audio Research is Heading

I came across this job ad today along with the announcement of the Apple HomePod speaker. How do the worlds of high-end audio and the high-tech use of audio co-exist? Vinyl is resurgent and now VR audio. Seems that we live in “interesting” times. How to make sense of these seemingly contradictory trends. Is the return to analog simply a reaction to the hyper-reality of digital?

Part of Facebook
Oculus Research Redmond is looking for exceptional interns to help us make audio in augmented reality and virtual reality realistic. Expertise in audio, acoustics, signal processing, CPU-GPU parallelization, machine learning, psychoacoustics, and computer science are especially appreciated, but smart, motivated people with strong coding or hardware backgrounds are more than welcome. Strong math skills are a huge plus. We want to build a broad virtual reality research community, so we encourage publishing. Come join us as we make AR and VR happen!

We are accepting applications from students interested in (but not limited to) the following areas:

Signal processing
Microphone array processing
Hearing sciences
CPU-GPU parallelization
Machine learning
Numerical solvers

Your title is a bit confusing, I thought you were talking about the company Audio Research.

As to your question, I think High End audio and VR will not be coming anytime soon. How many audiophiles do you think will want to put Goggle’s on their heads? One of the benefits of a good system is that you can close your eyes and get lost in the music.

And I think you would still need the separate audio system to get realistic sound. Look at it this way, when you watch a great concert on Blu-ray, the picture distracts from the audio. I haven’t tried it, but I am guessing if you listen to just the audio, an audio only version of that concert will be better than what is on the Blu-ray. I could be wrong as I haven’t listened to the latest audio codecs available for 5.1, 7.1, or 9.1.

Maybe audio only. VR might become a thing, but I think the first versions will be aimed at the mid-fi crowd. If a high end company releases one it will be wildly expensive. I am 63, and I doubt I will see it become an accepted way of listening to music in my lifetime. Those of us that just sit and listen to music are a small percentage as it is. People want their audio portable. VR will be for gamers or for those that want to see the world without leaving the safety of their home.

But then again, what do I know, I could be totally wrong.

Yes, I could have been clearer in my title. I was reflecting on where the mainstream of energy is going in terms of audio research (not the company based in Minnesota).

If I was a young engineer coming out of school where would I likely get hired? For that matter, how does a young person find there way into the world of higher-end audio? As the ad demonstrates, companies like Facebook, Google, Apple etc. are snapping up talent fresh out of universities.

And, Paul had a very timely video recently about the lack of women in the industry as well as a lack of women audiophiles. I’ve encountered very few women on this and other forums.

As an anthropologist, I find it to be a very interesting sub-culture, and I wonder about what happens if and how it will be passed down to younger generations and a more diverse group of participants.

I’m sure there are as many paths into high-end audio engineering as there are people. Given the apparent contradiction between measuring and listening (note, I said apparent) I have to think that aspiring high-end audio engineers have to learn what they don’t know in order to make progress. In my experience this requires a certain degree of introspection which, for most, only comes with age… (after all, we all know that the young know everything :slight_smile: )

I don’t know how common it is, but I know that I didn’t get into high-end audio until I was completely bored with work. Then only into audio engineering when I had enough money to pursue my passions and still be responsible to my family.

Ted Smith said...I don't know how common it is, but I know that I didn't get into high-end audio until I was completely bored with work.
Ted...I’m sure glad you got bored with that job.....my ears thank you every day...dancing-009_gif

Thanks for chiming in, Ted. I ran a tech start-up for a few years and one of our biggest challenges was acquiring talent to come beyond Seattle to our little town. (I saw in one of your videos that you had a sojourn with Microsoft.)

As an industry, does high-end audio easily attract the talent it needs? Do you see what you are doing with PS Audio as a parallel track to what the tech giants are doing with audio? As something complementary, or, rather, as something in opposition?

Is it a matter of craft vs. mass produced scale? Of higher quality? Seems to me that we’ve had something of a counter-revolution in the realm of food and drink. After decades of the supposed green revolution, fast food, frozen and other non-fresh foods, factory farmed meat, Budweiser, GMOs etc., a truly alternative universe has emerged with organic foods, small-scale production, craft brew, slow food, etc.

To me the realm of sound, music, and audio is poised for a similar counter-movement moving away from ambient noise pollution in our daily lives, acoustic alienation, crappy music and recordings, mp3s, smartphones as the device of choice, etc. A Slow Music movement? Perhaps the revival of vinyl has a lot to do with this longing for something more organic.

I know some people who are doing good work at Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc. on audio processing, but they (for the most part) are excellent technically and not so much empiricists. Of course this is what big companies usually want. IMO High-end audio’s best equipment comes from people with a passion and a willingness to do something off of the beaten path where the ear is more of a guide than out and out math. I did my DSD dac development work on my own dime and when it sounded good I started looking for partners. Most people probably can’t do that, but high end audio (probably like most hobbies/recreational pastimes) seems to have people who really try to do something special. PS Audio has some younger people that “get it” as well as some more experienced people. I don’t know how I’d go about finding some new talent for a small company, but I’ve worked at many small companies in the past where persistence in hiring paid off.

“I have to think that aspiring high-end audio engineers have to learn what they don’t know in order to make progress.” -TS

Good one, Ted. You could insert any field in place of, “high-end audio engineers.” The sooner that you learn this life lesson, the sooner you become wise. Some never get there, I’m afraid. It reminds me of my favorite quote,

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” - Issac Newton