Audio/Video

How ‘Digital Media Expert’ Shelly Palmer Gets it Wrong on High-Res Audio

2016 CEDIA Expo keynote speaker and 'King of the CES Tour Guides' Shelly Palmer says we don't need high-resolution audio because most people listen to music on earbuds anyway.

How ‘Digital Media Expert’ Shelly Palmer Gets it Wrong on High-Res Audio
CEDIA Expo keynote speaker Shelly Palmer says Hi-Res Audio is unnecessary because MP3 is "good enough."

Julie Jacobson · June 30, 2019

A couple of consumer-electronics media moguls are duking it out on linkedin about the merits of high-resolution audio (HRA).

Shelly Palmer, "Digital Media Expert" and "King of the CES Tour Guides," who charges thousands of dollars per head to lead dignitaries around the CES show floor, says HRA is "a solution in search of a problem." 

His reasoning? Most people listen to audio through smart phones and earbuds anyway, and you really need a dedicated listening room to enjoy CD-quality audio or better.

So, how much time and money have you spent on your listening room? Because that’s the only place hi-res audio is going to matter to you – if it matters at all. If you’re listening to hi-res audio through your AirPods while walking on the street or sitting on a bus or sitting in your house with the air conditioner running or in a motor vehicle or on an airplane, the ambient noise in the environment will make it all but impossible to hear the difference between a pretty good 320 kbps AAC file and a very amazing 9,216 kbps hi-res audio file.

At the same time, he tells followers there is "a huge difference between mp3/AAC files and high-res audio files" and that in the right environment HRA "is one of the great pleasures in life." He even confesses to "love" hi-res audio. And yet, he concludes in his lengthy piece:

I am not telling you that there is not a huge difference between mp3/AAC files and hi-res audio files. There is, and it is demonstrable. In the right listening environment, hi-res audio is one of the great pleasures in life. But the vast majority of people probably don’t have (or frequent) such an environment, and the convenience of the lower-sonic-quality files make them good enough. This was Steve Jobs’s key insight. Good enough! Which is why I believe, as much as I love hi-res audio, it is a solution in search of a problem.

So, since the majority of the population is happy with "good-enough" anything, then we don't need a better alternative? Most people eat hamburgers from fast-food restaurants; ergo, gourmet burgers as a category is silly? Most people drink wine at home, so why do we need fancy restaurants that charge three times as much for a kind-of-better bottle?

Ah, Shelly, to think CEDIA selected you as a keynote speaker for the 2016 CEDIA Expo!

CE Expert Responds: Like a Fake Rolex

Robert Heiblim, long-time consumer-electronics executive and consultant, called out Palmer on social media. The co-founder of BlueSalve consultancy wonders: "Does that mean there should be no HD video if many watch on a mobile device?"

Heiblim's response is posted in full below, with his permission:

While I understand the position Shelley takes here, I do not agree.

It has ALWAYS been the case that most acoustic environments, especially mobile ones in cars or on personal audio devices are lacking. None of that ever stood in the way of wanting to own what the artist actually made for you. Today, many still buy vinyl and CDs.

Mostly these are not being used, but instead are bought for fandom and the love of the music and artist that created it. It is also for the archival value of having the real thing. Since there is no overall system issue with having the Hi-Res file, why should people not have it? Does that mean there should be no HD video if many watch on a mobile device? Does that mean books should be not printed, because they can be read on a digital device? No, and we see vinyl sales increasing (no this is not a revival) as well as book sales.

When the consumer buys, they think it is the real thing. Are buyers happy when they learn they got a fake Rolex, or fake designer bags? Why then should we allow up to 95% of the data to be stripped of what we paid for? And if taste and budget allow the purchase of better audio equipment used in a better environment, why should we not get what we paid for? Artists and music lovers deserve better.

Listen to high-resolution audio at CEDIA Expo 2019, and determine if it's a solution in charge of a problem.


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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics


Audio/Video · News · Blogs · High-End Audio · High-Resolution Audio · All Topics
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Comments

Posted by Adroit1 on July 6, 2019

I don’t understand people who think that just okay is good enough. My customers wouldn’t want just okay when I do my work. You wouldn’t want the car you drive to have been put together by a car company that is just good enough. It is also a fallacy that MP3 is good enough at all. It is what many have grown to accept, but it is terrible to listen to, except in loud environments, and then it wouldn’t matter because the music is just background noise, which is really the difference. When listening to MP3 you are simply avoiding listening to the world, when you are listening to HRA, you are listening to the music because it is what you want to hear.

Posted by Robert Archer on July 2, 2019

Regardless of whether people can tell the difference between file types and resolutions, consumers should seek out the highest levels of quality whenever possible. With hardware prices becoming more affordable people should listen to high res content, especially when it is delivered through formats like MQA, which doesn’t require a lot of storage.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on July 2, 2019

Thanks for commenting, Walt. I found Shelly’s long post just bizarre, as if he’d been hacked. Where did that come from ... from a “digital media expert”? I get it if his message was: Look, if you’re not going to listen to your music in a high-fidelity environment, then it’s probably not worth investing in a HRA streaming service, and here’s why .... But he just flat-out dismisses HRA as a concept. Just strange.

Posted by Walt_Zerbe on July 2, 2019

Unfortunately, due to traveling this past week, I missed this thread on Linked-In.  Robert (I know your listening), as usual, excellent logic and great post!  I couldn’t agree more with you.  Why not strive to have the best you can have?  One can always reduce the quality or use multiple formats for different use cases.  Another analogy is photography.  We’re seeing insane increases in fidelity on smartphones, dedicated cameras, and specialized devices.  Headphone and IEM technology have also exploded in recent years.  They are striving for ever-increasing fidelity, much beyond that of compressed formats. How about 8k for video, OLED, and AMOLED screens on smartphones that support HDR?  Immersive audio anyone?  That’s on the rise too.  Resolution on all fronts is increasing, not decreasing, and audio is one of them.

Posted by Walt_Zerbe on July 2, 2019

Unfortunately, due to traveling this past week, I missed this thread on Linked-In.  Robert (I know your listening), as usual, excellent logic and great post!  I couldn’t agree more with you.  Why not strive to have the best you can have?  One can always reduce the quality or use multiple formats for different use cases.  Another analogy is photography.  We’re seeing insane increases in fidelity on smartphones, dedicated cameras, and specialized devices.  Headphone and IEM technology have also exploded in recent years.  They are striving for ever-increasing fidelity, much beyond that of compressed formats. How about 8k for video, OLED, and AMOLED screens on smartphones that support HDR?  Immersive audio anyone?  That’s on the rise too.  Resolution on all fronts is increasing, not decreasing, and audio is one of them.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on July 2, 2019

Thanks for commenting, Walt. I found Shelly’s long post just bizarre, as if he’d been hacked. Where did that come from ... from a “digital media expert”? I get it if his message was: Look, if you’re not going to listen to your music in a high-fidelity environment, then it’s probably not worth investing in a HRA streaming service, and here’s why .... But he just flat-out dismisses HRA as a concept. Just strange.

Posted by Robert Archer on July 2, 2019

Regardless of whether people can tell the difference between file types and resolutions, consumers should seek out the highest levels of quality whenever possible. With hardware prices becoming more affordable people should listen to high res content, especially when it is delivered through formats like MQA, which doesn’t require a lot of storage.

Posted by Adroit1 on July 6, 2019

I don’t understand people who think that just okay is good enough. My customers wouldn’t want just okay when I do my work. You wouldn’t want the car you drive to have been put together by a car company that is just good enough. It is also a fallacy that MP3 is good enough at all. It is what many have grown to accept, but it is terrible to listen to, except in loud environments, and then it wouldn’t matter because the music is just background noise, which is really the difference. When listening to MP3 you are simply avoiding listening to the world, when you are listening to HRA, you are listening to the music because it is what you want to hear.