Old school or future tech, quality returns to the heart of listening
For an industry that many suggested was a relic of the past, it would seem that the interest in listening to music has never been higher, and that far from being moribund, the world of recorded music is currently changing very quickly and for the first time in forty years audio quality is on the agenda once again.
Within the stats, two areas stand out: a resurgence in vinyl sales and the move to high quality streaming. Surely the success of these two formats would seem to contradict one another but at Musical Fidelity we don't believe so and it's driving how we design our products, starting with our new Merlin system - a modern streaming system complete with a turntable.
Much of what is happening is a reaction to unsatisfactory nature of what has gone before and in particular the decline in music quality and the focus on convenience that began with the introduction of the CD.
If they were being honest, even the people who created the CD, would not claim it was really designed to have 'perfect sound, forever'. And it came with just about the worst packaging yet created. But it didn't matter, you just pushed a button and off you went; instant track selection and no turning the disk over every 20 minutes.
However, for me, some of the soul of the music disappeared when CD arrived and it was then almost crushed to oblivion by the arrival of early low-bitrate MP3. Dark days indeed!
So, like many of my colleagues, I'm delighted that in 2014, vinyl sales hit an 18 year high with over 1.2 million discs sold in the 12 months, a resurgence further confirmed with the recent launch of the Official Vinyl Albums Chart.
Is this thanks to 70's vinyl fans reliving their youth and rediscovering their love for vinyl by adding to their existing collections? Partly yes, but it is also down to another generation, a younger generation of music lovers who have grown up with easily transported digital files but wanted more and through vinyl they have discovered something tactile, collectable and attractive that also happens to sound fabulous.
However, the new vinyl fans are not going to suddenly give up on the convenience of digital, streamed music, they are buying their vinyl in addition to and alongside their digital tracks, often initially due just to the look and feel of the format.
Interestingly many of the new fans buy vinyl without a way of playing their new investment.
Which is why we felt there was a need for an easy to use system that allowed them to do both and to the highest possible quality.
This is why we have used Musical Fidelity's 35 years of knowledge gleaned from manufacturing some of the highest quality hi-fi equipment ever seen, to create the Merlin 1 System. Merlin is a multi-format music system that comes with a turntable, wireless streaming and our unique speakers. A system that comes with everything you need to play vinyl (both new and old!) and stream digital music over high quality apt-X Bluetooth - all in a small, modern, good looking design.
So what next?
We noticed a short while ago - when Musical Fidelity launched a range of high quality headphones - that if you give music lovers the chance to hear better quality music, they not only want it but also refuse to go back to the quality they previously had.
I hope that as more people have chance to hear the glorious, neutral and natural sound of vinyl, the demand for higher quality streamed audio will also develop - and to a degree that is happening already with services like Tidal, Quobuz and Deezer all now offering high quality audio streams.
But whatever source you use, we have designed the Merlin 1 system to make it sound better and be simply more enjoyable.
In a changing music industry the general trend towards quality is refreshing and exciting, and I believe it is good news for everyone who loves music, from the artists and record labels to the hi-fi companies and of course the listener.