Friday, October 20, 2006

Open Architecture

In previous posts I've mentioned that we'd really like to design a product that has the modularity and flexibility of the personal computer. Not the closed or proprietary architecture of the Mac, but the open architecture of the PC. Then people could choose the amp modules, power supplies, case, audio interface (soundcard), etc., that would meet their needs for number of channels, sound quality and budget.

From Wikipedia:

"Open architecture is a type of computer architecture that allows users to upgrade their hardware in all of the computer hardware & components (for example the IBM PC had an open architecture). This is the opposite of a closed architecture, where the hardware manufacturer chooses the components, and they are not generally upgradable (for example the Amiga 500 home computer had a closed architecture).

Open architecture allows potential users to see inside all or parts of the architecture without any proprietary constraints. Typically, an open architecture publishes all or parts of its architecture that the developer or integrator wants to share. The open business processes involved with an open architecture may require some license agreements between entities sharing the architecture information."

I'm not sure if we will ever be able to do this, but it is something I am interested in achieving. I think there is great potential here. It may even turn part of the consumer electronics industry upside down or inside out. Of course, this may not appeal to the ultra expensive, high end, "audiophile" producers and consumers, but I think it would really be great for the rest of us.

What do you think? As a consumer, would you like to purchase a system that could be expanded from 2 channels to 8 channels? Or upgrade the DACs or amplifier modules when a new generation is released? Be able to choose from a variety of case manufacturers to have one that best fits your style?

If there are any reps from manufacturers of amplifier modules, power supplies (the best technology for this would be switching power supplies or SMPS), or sound cards reading this, I'd love to hear what you think about this idea? Do you think it would expand your market, or not? Do you think the technical hurdles for designing your components to meet a specific form factor and use of standard connectors would be too limiting? Maybe someone like Creative would offer a version of their X-Fi that would be compatible -- and like the "Intel Inside" promo, they could have "X-Fi" inside. Of course, we could also have "UCD powered", etc.

4 comments:

  1. I love the open architecture idea and am surprised nobody else has commented on it yet. I certainly think it is worth pursuing.

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  2. Kevin -

    Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you like the idea of an open architecture audio product. This is something we feel pretty strongly about even if it means more competition.

    I think one of the reasons nobody else has commented is because this blog just doesn't get much traffic.

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  3. What advantage does this external audio device offer over the standard PCI bus cards? Sound cards are becoming available with support for 24-bit/192kHz audio with dynamic ranges exceeding 115dB. Amplifiers with power required for good audio, of course, cannot be included on the PCI bus, but standard power amps can be easily connected to analog outputs of a PCI bus sound card.

    Seems to me that a networked digital media adapter makes more sense. This adapter could access content stored on any other networked device or even the Internet. It could be available in 2-channel or 8-channel configurations and could even include amplification.

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  4. CharlyD-

    Our product will replace something like a Lynx2B and a high quality multichannel amp. The drivers for our soundcard will be specific to home theater and audio playback. Whereas, a pro-audio card is going to be designed more for recording applications. We are also striving to develop hardware that exceeds the performance of pro-audio solutions. These products are great for monitoring a mix, but aren't really as high fidelity as some of the "audiophile" DACs and processors. I also realize that there are some fine new PCI based products out there like the X-Meridian from Auzentech. We are going to offer another option, but a little higher end.

    The amplifier section of our product will also be better than your standard power amp.

    I think our products will sound better than most soundcards connected to basic receivers or amplifiers. And it will be noticeable when playing high definition audio. And... we hope to offer our products at a much more competitive price than the combination of a Lynx2B and expensive dedicated high end multichannel amp.

    Basically we hope to offer both a better soundcard and better amplifier and we believe that the combination of the two will be better than separate components. We can optimize the analog circuitry, the interconnects between components and the power section. And there should be cost savings with an integrated solution.

    With all of these components in an "open architecture" system, maybe other vendors will sell compatible components that are either higher quality and/or lower priced.

    A networked media adapter sounds very intriguing to me as well. I own a HDHomeRun from Silicon Dust and use it for viewing and recording digital (SD and HD) television for cable or over-the-air sources. With the HDHomeRun I am still limited to the 2 tuners, so I cannot watch more than 2 different programs simultaneously. And if the 2 programs are both on cable channels, I can only watch one at a time if the other tuner is connected to the OTA antenna. If I want more, I have to buy additional HDHomeRuns. I like the fact that I can install software and drivers on any machine connected to the network and watch TV with the HDHomeRun. I just haven't been able to get my head around the advantages for audio playback. For example, if you were to have a single device connected to the network, like an HDHomeRun, the device would either have to have lots of amplifier modules feeding speakers in various rooms, or you would need satellite boxes with amplifiers connecting to the speakers in these rooms. So the physical configuration needs to be worked out. Then, the drivers and networking software will need to be developed. It gets even more complicated if you support digital room correction or bass management and digital crossovers.

    Anyhow, like I said, I'm very interested in exploring this and any feedback is welcome. Feel free to email me at greggp at amplioaudio dot com.

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