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What will recorded music sound like in 2050?

John La Grou, founder and CEO at Millennia Music & Media Systems, forecast how recorded sound will evolve over the coming decades.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

Last weekend in NYC John La Grou was a keynote speaker at the Audio Engineering Society convention. He based some of his assumptions about how recorded music will evolve on Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors squeezed onto integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. That prediction was made in 1965, and if anything, Moore underestimated the cost savings we've enjoyed. La Grou rolled out statistic after statistic that painted a rosy future for music, gaming, and film tech advances in the coming decades.

John La Grou speaking at the Audio Engineering Society convention in NYC Steve Guttenberg/CNET

La Grou believes that highly advanced gestural control and brain/machine interfaces will transform the way music is recorded and played back. That might preclude using a microphone to record the sound of an instrument or vocals; music in 2050 will be virtual and mostly electronic.

La Grou thinks that music will be mixed to create full 3D immersion over headphones long before 2050. Microphone and headphone designers and audio software engineers will develop 360-degree sound systems. Speakers play a much smaller role in sound reproduction in La Grou's future gazing. He described headphone sound as "spherical audio," where the listener is inside a sound bubble; spatial resolution within the headphone bubble will match reality, not just for music. He thinks games and films will drive the tech. By 2050 massive gains in processing power and virtual production techniques will provide unparalleled creative opportunities. I'm not sure how musicians, and their mastery of acoustic instruments fit in La Grou's virtual sonic frontier, but it would be a great loss to replace them with purely electronic music. I hope we can have both acoustic and electronic music coexisting in 2050's recorded music.

In an e-mail exchange after his AES presentation, La Grou said, "I see no technical reason why head-worn audio can't eventually (2040+) convincingly emulate any acoustic space and any room monitor technique with lifelike precision, short of sonic materials intended to impact the entire body (subs, etc.). There are some psychological/psychoacoustic issues related to this kind of future, along with issues on the microphone side, but that's for another conversation."

La Grou's predictions strike me as a little too idealistic; it assumes a future where listeners listen, and no longer text, talk, read, work, exercise, drive, and so on as they listen. Back here in 2013 music is mostly consumed as background soundtrack to other activities, and I can't imagine that will change all that much over the next 37 years. Full immersion might be too complete, and make it impossible to multitask. How do you see the future of recorded music, how will it be different than what we have now? Share your thoughts in the comments section.