Are there no more great audio innovations?

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NekujaK
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29 Nov 2017

This is a partly rhetorical and partly legitimate question... have there been any groundbreaking innovations in audio recording technology in the last 20-or-so years? I'm talking about recording gear, not DAWs.

It seems like all the coveted and sought-after recording and production equipment originated decades ago, and the most worthwhile software is that which can emulate those ancient units. From consoles to compressors, EQs and reverbs, microphones and guitar amps, and even analog synths... it seems like all the best audio tech was invented in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and everything that came afterwards is simply trying to capture and emulate the sound of those devices.

Is there no room for improvement any more? Did we somehow reach the pinnacle of recording technology and innovation back then? Are there no new compressors, EQs, and reverbs that are held in as high regard as the dbx-160, Sontec 432, and Lexicon, to name just a few? Does the world really need yet another Neve 1073 emulation?

Maybe it's just a marketing thing. Especially coming off the Black Friday madness, when we were bombarded with countless plugins that can "give tracks that legendary sound", or dozens of microphones that prove their worth by comparing themselves to a U87. Really? Nobody's been able to raise the microphone bar since 1967?

Of course, I realize innovation constantly continues, but it just seems like what everybody really desires is to time travel back to 1975 to record their music, because apparently, that's when all the best-sounding gear existed.

Happy Holidaze! :mrgreen:
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scratchnsnifff
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29 Nov 2017

I wonder this all the time with new synths, it seems like many developers are full of nostalgic tendencies and want the old school sound. I feel like in the hardware synth department there is room for the reverse nostalgic ways. I have yet to see a hardware synth that has features like expanse/serum at least with the warp modes and what not. It’d have to be a digital hybrid. But I was talking with a dude who once told me that the design of speakers has fallen into this case as well for the the most part. I’m sure there is room for innovation but people probably need to see a different picture. Rather than thinking of the good ol days people would have to think along the lines of what “can’t” be done. Not sure if this makes sense but hope you catch my drift :p an interesting topic indeed!
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groggy1
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29 Nov 2017

Well, let's look at it this way: During your *own* time spent with music as a career or hobby, what are the things that came out where you were blown away? Maybe we can look at those things as the big innovations.

For me:
1) Of course, Reason. First time I saw it, my socks were blown off. The CV, the concept of a music playground, etc.
2) Serum - I couldn't believe how good it sounds to my ears. It was the synth I always dreamed of, I think.
3) Waves L2 - Couldn't believe how well this worked to make my music louder, without distortion
4) The day reason added VST support (since I didn't think I'd see it in my lifetime)
5) Reaktor - Being able to wire things together was amazing. I'd probably have felt the same away about patchable synths if I'd grown-up a few decades ago :)
5) Probably, my earliest memory of being blown away by audio: When I first an Apple IIgs in the 80s. Used to play with an audio Tracker on it to make music. Changed my life


That's about it. I don't think I've been blown away by much more than that. Everything else has been "pretty good", but not really blowing my socks off.


How about you?

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NekujaK
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30 Nov 2017

groggy1 wrote:
29 Nov 2017
Well, let's look at it this way: During your *own* time spent with music as a career or hobby, what are the things that came out where you were blown away? Maybe we can look at those things as the big innovations.

For me:
1) Of course, Reason. First time I saw it, my socks were blown off. The CV, the concept of a music playground, etc.
2) Serum - I couldn't believe how good it sounds to my ears. It was the synth I always dreamed of, I think.
3) Waves L2 - Couldn't believe how well this worked to make my music louder, without distortion
4) The day reason added VST support (since I didn't think I'd see it in my lifetime)
5) Reaktor - Being able to wire things together was amazing. I'd probably have felt the same away about patchable synths if I'd grown-up a few decades ago :)
5) Probably, my earliest memory of being blown away by audio: When I first an Apple IIgs in the 80s. Used to play with an audio Tracker on it to make music. Changed my life

That's about it. I don't think I've been blown away by much more than that. Everything else has been "pretty good", but not really blowing my socks off. How about you?
I definitely agree there have been some amazing strides made bringing recording and audio production "inside the box", but still, in most cases, the goal has been to emulate what we've been doing for decades in recording studios with physical gear. To this day, software is still trying to emulate the classic gear from previous decades, which makes it seem like all audio innovation stopped after 1990.

Synths are a different animal in my view, because by are simply a musical instrument. A synth's primary goal is to generate its own sound, and since musicians are constantly in search of the next great sound, it's not surprising that new and "better" synths are always being developed. And yet, the goal of many synths is simply to faithfully emulate analog gear from long ago.
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Ahornberg
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30 Nov 2017

great audio innovations for me:

* audio to midi
* text/speech to audio
* timestretch/pitchshift
* additive synthesis
* granular synthesis

and there are systems like kyma/pacarana ...

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Marco Raaphorst
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30 Nov 2017

The digitalisation made everyone go retro I guess. However Auto-Tune is something new.

When I was young polyphonic synths came out, samplers, drummachines and then digital computing. I guess these were big steps. As big as when multi-track was invented. We are now taking baby steps, small additional things which are not ground breaking as when the sampler was invented and stuff like that.

There's always room for innovation but at the moment that happens how we consume music and how it's distributed. Streaming changes everything.

I believe that collaboration tools online are totally unexplored territory. Create something together online. There are examples of this but none of the big DAW systems are offering it as a way to collaborate. We will definitely see this in the future.

And the tool to make music are way more simple to use than they were back in the day. Here innovation is about to happen to. Artificial Intelligence for creating music. Apple's Drummer is a good example. More and more people are able to make music with just starting loops and changing things. You don't need to play an instrument, anyone can be a composer and an arranger. Software is getting smarter. All the old musical ideas, the idioms, are stored in presets which we use all the time. No really innovative, but many people like that. The love the formats. Computers are capable of reproducing this.

Oh and auto gain, using LUFS on streaming services is really a great invention of the last couple of years.
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demt
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03 Dec 2017

i have this great idea!!!

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normen
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03 Dec 2017

Phew.. I see it constantly, you probably have some of it in your pocket :) As for "artistic tools" I also see a lot of them, Melodyne would be a prime example.

I guess the reason why theres so many emulations and people wanting back to the olden days is because the range of tonal options is SO wide these days it puts you in kind of a gridlock. Thats maybe why many people enjoy EQs with 4 or 6 knobs.
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TritoneAddiction
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03 Dec 2017

Don't know if these two things has been done way before recent times, but Disperser and Carve EQ Ducker changed the way I make music and mix pretty drastically. I often depend on these two to get the sound I want.
Seems to me like these plugins were made to bring something new to the table.
Disperser might not seem like a big deal, but it's just as important as compression in some of my tracks.

Fritz is pretty cool too, especially with the randomize feature. Instant weirdness. I'm not sure if all the individual effects are unique but the plugin as whole is pretty unique i think. Or maybe I just haven't looked enough for similar things.

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Psuper
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03 Dec 2017

Oh there'll be plenty, just some off the top of my head I'm waiting to see, or see expanded upon:

1. Modeled everything. Already have a few floating around in their relative infancy. Pianoteq is the only instrument out there that is convincing. A whole world of instruments/devices/hardware/voices/bands/spaces, etc to go. Ready to save space and tax the crap outta your cpu, but sound like the r e a l thing.

2. AI. Again there's some out there, but still so early in it's realization -- From smart devices, algorithm mastering, comparison copies, song analyzing your style of play/accompaniment and applying it to other songs, tune-compare and grab a main hook and instantly make sure your not plagurizing any song not in the PD, or show hits with similar hooks, I could come up with ideas all day.

3. Midi Devices. So few really: keys, guitar, wind, couple oddballs. Something as simple as the Roli comes along and it does what so many board players would like. There's infinite ways to improve upon midi, not just designs, but how we control the 'instruments'. I'm waiting for a proper vocal midi that first learns your voice imitating the instrument, then takes your live voice and plays that instrument with all the nuances and continues to learn.

4. Augmented Reality. I really didn't want to go here as its so SO in its infancy and video, but there's lots of 'cool things' that should be possible, and there might even be something that genuinely helps music production, or even changes the game. I don't have many ideas here admittedly... for me I'd I'd just love to create the perfect surround sound orchestra, grab my players/groups put them where I want around me and go to town. Maybe have "Yo Yo Mah AI Guy Avatar" hang out and play some CPU AI Randomized Yo Yo Ma riffs to get some ideas when I just wanna chill.

5. DNA computing, Universal interface, Virtual collaboration, True spatial spherical 360° sound (stuff that actually works), air guitars, flying, mind control, telepathy, demon infestations, real-life leveling up -- I wanna be a Bard!

We're not going to see the last of the innovations, always something round the corner.











P.S... everything after 'air guitars' was a joke, just in case it wasn't obvious, of which it won't be to some, hence this.
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esselfortium
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03 Dec 2017

With more advances in physically modeled instruments, in addition to more accurately reproducing existing instruments, I imagine that someday it'll be possible to virtually construct any nonexistent live instrument you want and play it in any number of ways, with the realism and expressivity that would come from having actually built and recorded it in a studio.
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Re8et
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03 Dec 2017

Pyramind makes some pretty amazing midi/seq stuff, last week i got an idea but failed to note it down for a new RE device. I guess 20 or 30 year from now VR will bring musicians closer together also, future is bright.

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NekujaK
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05 Dec 2017

Points all well taken. But I'm going to push on this just a little more, because my original question hasn't really been addressed directly. In my opening post, I was referring to innovations in audio and sound. Most of the items mentioned in everyone's posts, while definitely qualifying as amazing innovations in music production, mostly fall in the realm of workflow improvements, or new ways of doing things.

I'm more curious about innovations directly related to audio quality. To this day, certain pieces of vintage gear are highly desirable because of the sound they produce, and nearly all of this gear comes from the 1960s and 70s, and some from the 80s. Walk into any high-end recording studio, and one of the first things the owner or resident engineer will proudly point out are the racks of vintage gear.

It's not like that with other technologies - cars, computers, phones, microwaves, refrigerators, light bulbs, televisions, are all better today than they were 40 years ago. Yet it seems no one can make a compressor that improves upon the sound of a Vari-Mu or a microphone that beats the sound of a U87. That's what I find odd.
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normen
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05 Dec 2017

NekujaK wrote:
05 Dec 2017
I'm more curious about innovations directly related to audio quality. To this day, certain pieces of vintage gear are highly desirable because of the sound they produce, and nearly all of this gear comes from the 1960s and 70s, and some from the 80s. Walk into any high-end recording studio, and one of the first things the owner or resident engineer will proudly point out are the racks of vintage gear.
Actually they do that because you have pay them to use it :) OBVIOUSLY they will also tell you "You know THIS is how you do it, can't do it properly without one of these babies (pats his SSL desk)". If you'd walk into a high-end recording studio where they put all the money in the room treatment and just have a MacBook and a mic there you'd go "Hey wait a moment, why do I pay 1000$ a day to record here again??" - but in reality they wouldn't need much more.

Sure there is other merits to these things, they have certain sound characters and they can be very desirable and usable but you and others make the mistake of thinking its about QUALITY. It is NOT, it is about what people are used to hear and that has been shaped by the recording technology of yesteryear. So thats why people want to use it, because it gives them what they know and want.

I know some people will scream again but it its the cold, hard truth - a Behringer audio interface of 2010 has OBJECTIVELY better audio quality than any Neve or SSL preamp. It has better signal to noise ratio, it has lower distortion values, it has a way more linear frequency response - EVERYTHING you could measure is objectively better. But does it have that Neve sound? Of course not.
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selig
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05 Dec 2017

NekujaK wrote:
05 Dec 2017
Points all well taken. But I'm going to push on this just a little more, because my original question hasn't really been addressed directly. In my opening post, I was referring to innovations in audio and sound. Most of the items mentioned in everyone's posts, while definitely qualifying as amazing innovations in music production, mostly fall in the realm of workflow improvements, or new ways of doing things.

I'm more curious about innovations directly related to audio quality. To this day, certain pieces of vintage gear are highly desirable because of the sound they produce, and nearly all of this gear comes from the 1960s and 70s, and some from the 80s. Walk into any high-end recording studio, and one of the first things the owner or resident engineer will proudly point out are the racks of vintage gear.

It's not like that with other technologies - cars, computers, phones, microwaves, refrigerators, light bulbs, televisions, are all better today than they were 40 years ago. Yet it seems no one can make a compressor that improves upon the sound of a Vari-Mu or a microphone that beats the sound of a U87. That's what I find odd.
OK, I'll bite. You are comparing consumer tech to creative pro's tech. Consumers want the cheapest light bulbs that last the longest, not the "best looking" bulbs. So yes, it IS like that with other technologies when you compare apples to apples.

Look at the movie world, where our vintage mics = their vintage lenses. We both record "digital", but they "record" THROUGH vintage tech in many cases like vintage lenses and lights, etc.
Look at artists that still prefer to silk screen, use old printing techniques, vintage paint formulas, traditional brushes, old school glass/wood/metal/ceramics techniques etc.
Many athletes prefer natural grass to artificial substitutes, many distillers prefer the old tools/techniques.
You can always find pros who swear by the old, and reluctantly embrace the new.

For consumer tech, at least at my house we still burn candles made the "old way". We have some really cool vintage "Edison" light bulbs, vintage furniture, etc. Folks I know still prefer their vintage cars to what's on the market today, many only want to eat organic foods grown without any new technology.

Also, "beating" the sound of the U87 has been done, we should compare the U67 and U47 instead. And even then, the sound HAS been beaten, it's just that we still ALSO love the old sound. In many cases we use new tech to modify the old designs, like my Lawson L47 which doesn't sound like a U47 to me - it sounds better!

Evolution isn't linear in nature or with technology. It can only advance as fast as the underlying tech, and does so in bursts/waves responding to the environment. At present, all new tech is focused on digital concepts, so most new products are built upon that tech. Just like after the invention of the transistor there was a lot of transistor products, leading folks to believe it was superior to tube/valve tech. Turns out they both have pros/cons, so after the initial wave of "solid state" tech the dust settled and the market stabilized a bit - and both technologies co-exist!

This idea also reminds me of a similar argument that has come up again and again in my life (starting in the 70s): "How come there is no more great music being made?" There IS great music, and great innovations being made right now, it's just we can't properly judge their impact "in the moment".

Additional, there WILL be another wave of "great audio innovations", as soon as there is some new underlying tech to support it. IMO, as always - could be totally wrong on all counts!
:)
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NekujaK
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06 Dec 2017

selig wrote:
05 Dec 2017
Evolution isn't linear in nature or with technology. It can only advance as fast as the underlying tech, and does so in bursts/waves responding to the environment. At present, all new tech is focused on digital concepts, so most new products are built upon that tech. Just like after the invention of the transistor there was a lot of transistor products, leading folks to believe it was superior to tube/valve tech. Turns out they both have pros/cons, so after the initial wave of "solid state" tech the dust settled and the market stabilized a bit - and both technologies co-exist!
Thank you, I think this hit the nail on the head. No doubt, innovations are largely driven by the prevailing tech du jour, and that was a key element I had overlooked in my musings.

My wife is a career jazz singer and band leader, and her last four albums were recorded in some really spectacular studios that are loaded to the gills with vintage this and vintage that. She and her 7-piece ensemble record everything live, but later, she re-records some of her vocals in our modest home studio, where we have the luxury of multiple takes, comping, pitch correcting, etc. My decidedly modern gear doesn't hold a candle to what's in those studios, and yet at the end of the day, the sound matches up quite nicely, and the mixing engineer, who's got the biggest ears of anyone I know, has never complained. So perhaps much of today's gear is actually better, or at least as good as, the revered vintage showpieces, and is more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with the venerable classics.
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QVprod
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06 Dec 2017

Adding on. Market is based on what sells. In the software realm, sell a bunch of old guys the ability to buy emulations of gear and synths they wished they could have owned when it was new, and they'll be all over it. Younger folk get taught that they "need" these vintage items so they buy into it as well. Of course as mentioned it's not an actual quality thing, it a familiarity thing.

As far a studios go with analog equipment. It's very nice looking decoration that also allows a studio an excuse to charge more. There's something seeing gear in a studio does psychologically for a customer even if we're knowledgeable. I know of one studio that uses a Presonus mixer as it's front end for recording (no external preamps). I chose not to use them because I felt it didn't offer anything "better" than what I could do at home with my Focusrite.

jlgrimes
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06 Dec 2017

I think it is probably hard to tell what the innovations are while you are in it.

A lot of gear gets more famous awhile after.


I think there are plenty of innovations. As far as audio recording is concerned 20 years ago you would have to spend about $50000 to get what you get now for like $2000. In 97 project studios were pretty limited. 24 tracks if you were lucky about 2-4 compressors. A couple of reverb units.

Now we have SSL emulations in software. Almost whatever you need on each track.


The last 20 years was spent emulating classic gear but at the same time new stuff was done. Look at interfaces like FabFilter, Ozone who borrows from old tech but creates newer more modern concepts with it. Stuff like Autotune, Melodyne, Recycle, Ableton Live are all pretty unique stuff.

The analog stuff such as preamps, mics got cheaper so innovations were made there as well. Stuff has gotten cleaner, wider dynamic range, more linear freq response, lower distortion. I think the big thing now is adding character in the mix which might not always be the best idea. The classic stuff is emulated on the analog front more because of familiarity.

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Marco Raaphorst
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06 Dec 2017

back in the day you could imagine the future. simply because equipment wasn't good enough. the polyphonic synth, drummachines, samplers, digitalisation.

now we found perfect sound, we turn backwards. we turned retro.

digital is perfect. but it is a blank canvas. we need color. but innovation in sound is less innovative than it used to be. these were huge steps:
- invention of recording on wax
- reproductions on vinyl
- multitrack (Les Paul etc)
- Moog etc
- polyphonic synths
- drummachines
- samplers
- MIDI
- digital DAWs

In my early days the polyphonic synth became available. That's not such a long time ago. What are we doing now? We're still into trying to digitise the famous Moog sound.
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selig
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06 Dec 2017

Marco Raaphorst wrote:
06 Dec 2017
What are we doing now? We're still into trying to digitise the famous Moog sound.
I see that more as trying to bring the past successes into the present environment than going backwards in any way (but maybe that wasn't your point?).

These tools have artistic value, but they also have physical baggage (initial cost, size, repair cost, energy use, heat generation, etc). Digital emulations, whatever else you may think of them (not you specifically, but the general "you"), address all of those issues.
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Ostermilk
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07 Dec 2017

It all takes its course over time, just as it has since time became time.

It's all down to the stuff that fascinates folk during moments of time that kind of defines 'innovation',

Innovation is a bit of misnomer as it is merely noticing something that will have been apparent anyway.

TL:DR

Great audio innovations will always be inevitable so long as there's a need to communicate through sound. We just don't know what they are yet because they need to be 'innovated' first... :)

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Marco Raaphorst
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07 Dec 2017

selig wrote:
06 Dec 2017
Marco Raaphorst wrote:
06 Dec 2017
What are we doing now? We're still into trying to digitise the famous Moog sound.
I see that more as trying to bring the past successes into the present environment than going backwards in any way (but maybe that wasn't your point?).

These tools have artistic value, but they also have physical baggage (initial cost, size, repair cost, energy use, heat generation, etc). Digital emulations, whatever else you may think of them (not you specifically, but the general "you"), address all of those issues.
I agree, but you can ague that they are not true innovations. Not as innovative as the big steps we've taken in the past imo. We're now taking baby steps. Nothing wrong with it though.
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Marco Raaphorst
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07 Dec 2017

Ostermilk wrote:
07 Dec 2017
Great audio innovations will always be inevitable so long as there's a need to communicate through sound. We just don't know what they are yet because they need to be 'innovated' first... :)
Not everything needs to innovate. There are many things which are simple the same for a long time. Because we use technology we tend to think like that. Innovation is now more happening in social aspects for music, streaming, blockchain. Not for equipment, not so much. We're livin' in retro times.
Marco Raaphorst

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Ostermilk
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07 Dec 2017

Marco Raaphorst wrote:
07 Dec 2017
Ostermilk wrote:
07 Dec 2017
Great audio innovations will always be inevitable so long as there's a need to communicate through sound. We just don't know what they are yet because they need to be 'innovated' first... :)
Not everything needs to innovate. There are many things which are simple the same for a long time. Because we use technology we tend to think like that. Innovation is now more happening in social aspects for music, streaming, blockchain. Not for equipment, not so much. We're livin' in retro times.
I was responding to the question posed in the thread title.

I agree with you too and it's something I was thinking about when I replied. Much 'innovation' just being an enthusiasm for a particular sound of its time. Whether it is down to hitting a plastic pipe with a flip-flop to using cutting edge digital tech any art, and not just audio, will always speak of its time.

Retro is a current trend rather than any 'innovation'.

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