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Listening to Jazz: The Shape of Sound to Come

Brent Butterworth shares his insight into how listening to jazz has changed

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Audio technology never stands still, but in the last decade it’s felt like the industry’s been running the 100-yard dash every day. In just a few years we’ve gone from CDs to MP3s to streaming, from larger stereo systems to all-in-one wireless speakers, and from listening at home to listening on the go almost exclusively. Although no one can say for sure where audio technology will go in the next five years, recent products and new technologies can help us make some educated guesses.

E.S.P. Meets DSP
It’s been about 20 years since the first digital speakers—those with internal amplifiers and digital signal processing (DSP)—appeared, and tradition-bound audiophiles haven’t been quick to embrace them. That’s a drag, because having a separate amp for every woofer, tweeter and midrange, with each driver’s sound tuned to perfection through DSP, is incontestably the best way to build an audio system that accurately reproduces Miles’ trumpet or Tony Williams’ cymbals. But the dam’s starting to break. Recently, famed speaker brand KEF used its audiophile-acclaimed LS50 speaker as a sort of Trojan horse for digital, creating the LS50 Wireless: an LS50 with built-in amps, digital processing and streaming through a network or Bluetooth. It’s a system in itself, with no extra components necessary (unless you count your phone). By 2023, expect almost every high-end speaker brand to offer at least a couple of digital models.

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