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320kbps or bust


Once upon a time when history was in its infancy and nostalgia didn't yet exist, hi-fi fanatics had very little to be perplexed by or snobbish about. They pined for a thing that had a hole in it centre, rotated at either 33 or 78rpm and made sound through a single speaker, life was good. But then came along the future, and here we are at the dawn of science fiction time all huffing and harrumphing about unseen digital slopes and audio resolutions with very many number and strange acronyms.

And while we discuss how many digital sinewaves can pass through the eye of a single needle, the world keeps chugging along tapping its foot to the rhythms created by files that are compressed to a lowly and despised resolution of 320kbps at best. It seems that in our quest to form a unique club which only accepts members that are willing to believe incredible things and use odd language that is almost akin to that spoken by the masons, we have let our brains turn to mush and started to believe that (to paraphrase the beloved and long departed Douglas Adams) all turntables are hermaphrodites.


320 or bust


We keep talking up the high rez this and 192 that, and in the meantime the appeal of the speciality electronics is nose diving at a rate that is possibly faster than that of a spinning CD. However it seems that some common sense in the form of a hat-eating exercise is starting to appear on the horizon. Some of the grandees and stalwarts of the church of high def audio, amongst them (shock horror) Naim, have voted with their black rubber feet and included the option to stream the likes of Spotify directly through their magic boxes. At long last some common sense has been added to the nonsense, essentially the calculations of the bean counters has forced the boffins to take a harsh look at their sums.

It appears that both Naim and Cambridge Audio have decided to fly a white flag and join the herd of those who live in the real world. They offer a direct connection to the mightily popular Spotify streaming service, and enable purchasers of their streaming platforms to effortlessly connect to an audio stream made up of sacrilegious 320kbps sound tracks. I for one am glad to see that the hi-fi industry has, despite itself, started to sober up.

For those who have not yet heard the news 320kbps is here to stay, regardless of the opinions of the few zealots of the hi-def fringe. It isn't good for some, but it is “very good thank you, I will download two more albums while I am at it” for most. It may be time to stop viewing it (320kbps) as the enemy of progress and adopt it as the friend of speciality audio industry by making it sound better than it ought to, and better than it sounds on the crappy yet revered Apple this and Samsung that.

Much like the old adage which suggests humans will attempt every bad option before choosing a good one, it is time to stop the religious war against the 320 enemy and leave the fanaticism to the warring tribes in the middle east. It may be time to offer people smaller, nicer looking and far more affordable boxes that will excite them by making the audio from their mobile devices sound better than it ever did before. And sell it to them at reasonable rates of say 199.99 quid inc VAT.

Of course one can continue to rearrange the deck chairs on the sinking deck of the speciality audio ship, and carry on offering an uncompromised option at a far too high a price while waiting for Mr. Godot to come along and purchase the full production line for the foreseeable 50 years. It may just happen.

Reuben Klein



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