The World According to AES' Bob Moses

Bob MosesBob Moses, Executive Director for AES, joined us for a discussion on the state of audio and what AES67 means to radio and television broadcast. Bob is known for his work in pro audio as a digital audio engineer, most notability in the networked audio field, and for making dogs howl with his banjo playing. He talked to us days before he flew to Poland to select a venue for the 138th AES Convention in Warsaw next year.

WS:You no doubt read about Apple’s purchase of Beats for $3 billion. What does it mean when the company who brought us iTunes is buying Beats, a headphone company and streaming music service?

BM: My guess is that Apple bought them more for the streaming service than the headphones. I think it’s another indication of this shift that we’re seeing, from owning music to a leasing / streaming model. For a while it seemed the business models that worked best were the ones that aggregated a whole bunch of content that people could filter and share – drawing on our hunter/gatherer instincts. But now these streaming services are taking over, and it’s so nice to be able to hit “play” once and listen to a curated collection of music, instead of spending hours clicking at your computer – just like listening to a radio broadcast.

WS:Streaming’s just part of the story, right? We’re hearing about this trend called high resolution audio, which as we understand it, is loosely defined as audio quality better than CD.

BM: As a lifelong audiophile I’m intrigued by HRA (high resolution audio). My first job out of college I started a company called Wadia Digital; we made $10,000 CD players in 1986 using the best technology we could at the time. The goal was to make digital audio as great as we could make it. But it seems that during the past 20 years we’ve gone backwards and have been making things as bad as we can and get away with it. That’s the basis behind lossy compression like MP3. We’ve gone through this long spell where we’ve favored access over quality. So when I look at HRA, I think, ‘finally, in this internet age, we can get back to where we were in 1990 in terms of audio quality.’ Now we’re getting to where bandwidth isn’t an issue, and we can actually release what’s on the master tapes to the consumer without compromise.

This is much more than a trend. You have companies like Sony, and something like 40 brands selling HRA players that you can plug into your home network. I know the CEA and the Recording Academy are working together to promote high res audio, and we at AES are talking about helping out too.

WS:We’ve been keeping an eye on HRA trends because as a broadcast audio processing manufacturer, we recognize that it could have a huge effect on how broadcasters compete for listeners. Just what are the specs for HRA?

BM: I believe the official definition is that it has to be better than Redbook CD. So if it’s 44.1, 24 bit, maybe that’s HRA, maybe not. If I had to pick a standard format for HRA, I’d pick 96kHz (sample) and 24-bit, which is the most prevalent because that’s the format we settled on in the studio. This has been around almost since day one in terms of the ability to record, but the ability to deliver it is fairly recent.

WS: Isn’t television going through some of the same changes? From our perspective as a company that makes networked audio consoles for TV, we see a sort of nexus between access and quality; between Google Fiber and, say, what’s happening with Ultra HD.

BM: There are definite parallels between the two. Television quality is getting better and better in the same way that we started out with the Redbook audio format of 44.1 kHz, and then wanted to deliver at 96K sample. There seems to be a group of people out there that want the best, and now they can have quality and access at the same time.

Some would say there’s almost a false separation between music and TV. Because isn’t much of the hit stuff on TV all about music? Like, American Idol, for example? And, can you actually create new music any more without video being associated with it?

WS:Which brings us to something that holds a great deal of interest here at Wheatstone and in the broadcast industry: AES67. As you know, we designed our new IP audio network products with AES67 compatibility because we view it as the best opportunity for true interoperability in the studio.

BM: That’s right. AES67 doesn’t try to go in and rewire everything. It’s a bridge that allows competing networks to seamlessly exchange streams of audio. We’ve seen so many examples where proprietary networks fought it out and most of them didn’t survive all the battle wounds. AES67 allows them to coexist, and hopefully this networking détente will allow companies to focus on making great audio gear instead of rolling the dice and trying to pick a winning solution.

WS:What are your thoughts in regards to interoperable control and discovery of devices in the studio environment?

BM: I was involved in that myself, in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, when we had a committee in the AES called SC-10. We spent five years creating a control protocol that was way ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the underlying networking technology to implement this new standard was not quite fully baked yet so it was pushed aside and I went off and did Firewire and some other stuff. Recently, with the incredible networking technology available today, this protocol has come back to life. It’s called OCA - open control architecture. This standard follows right behind AES67, and if companies adopt that protocol, you’ll be able to build complex control systems with reconfigurable control panels and all kinds of crazy cool functionality. This is being developed in our standards committee right now.

WS: Thanks, Bob.

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