2018 Preview: New Tech to Awe Audiophiles

Illustration by Pete Ryan
        

​This year, look for AI songwriters, 3-D listening parties and seriously swank gear.

True “Surround Sound”

Introduced to a mass audience on R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People reissue last fall, Dolby Atmos is a new multiplanar audio format that moves sound all around you to create a 3-D listening experience. “You feel like you’re in the studio with the musicians,” says Sig Sigworth, president of Craft Recordings (which worked on the R.E.M. reissue). Gaming consoles like Xbox One are already Atmos-compatible, and Sigworth thinks album-listening parties in high-end theaters aren't far off.

Machine Music

High-profile song-making algorithms from Google and Sony have produced promising attempts at pop songs (including an entire album from Sony’s Flow Machines coming Jan. 10), but neither has a publicly usable platform yet. That’s what sets up-and-comer Amper AI apart: Anyone can use its intelligent platform to tinker with an AI composer immediately. Trained on the work of actual musicians, Amper’s AI has soundtracked video games and podcasts and worked with YouTube artists; look for more real-world collaborations yielding singles in 2018.

-- Nathan Mattise


SUPER-LUXE AUDIOPHILE LOOT

Voce headphones

Featuring electrostatic transducers -- the rarest and most expensive driver design -- these swanky MrSpeakers cans reveal everything that lesser models either gloss over or miss entirely -- like the sound of an orchestra’s conductor turning pages.
Available in January, $3,000; mrspeakers.com.

Ultima 3 tape deck

United Home Audio painstakingly crafts bespoke tape decks to order. Its Ultima 3, which comes with a fancy outboard power supply, runs completely on DC current, resulting in remarkable sound reproduction and extremely low distortion.
Available in January, $29,000; unitedhomeproducts.com.

SP-10R turntable

The gold standard for high-end turntables, Technics changed the game with its ultra-accurate SP-10; now, the SP-10R will combine innovative digital and analog technology to offer some of the best turntable specs in the industry -- all
sans plinth, arm, cartridge and stylus.
Expected summer 2018, approximately $10,000; technics.com.

-- Rene Chun

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 13 issue of Billboard.