During a panel with Billboard after the first day of the IFA consumer electronics show, Qualcomm Chief Executive James Chapman and musicians Ryan Marrone and Adam Hanson spoke with Billboard Deputy Editorial Director Robert Levine , on what the company’s Snapdragon Music technology means for the future of digital sound.
For years, Chapman told an audience of about 60 Qualcomm partners and tech journalists, the goal was to get as much music as possible at the click of a button — and, more recently, on wireless headphones. Sound was secondary. Today, however, advances in bandwidth and other technologies have made it possible to deliver that music with the kind of sound quality that consumers enjoy at home.
Snapdragon Sound is not a product, Chapman explained, but a technology, or a technology ecosystem, for delivering lossless audio, especially over wireless Bluetooth connections that weren’t designed for high-fidelity audio. This technology is used in a series of devices that together allow listeners to hear music closer to how it was recorded in the studio. The technology is complicated but also invisible to users. “It takes a lot of technology to move away from music,” Chapman said.
The results, however, can be magical. Marrone, a Los Angeles-based musician, producer and engineer who has written with Nicki Minaj and worked with Sam Fischer and JP Saxe, among others, said Snapdragon Sound hinted details to him in the Radiohead album. In the rainbows that he hadn’t noticed before. Hanson, a musician, songwriter and producer who tours with Saxe and makes his own music under the name Northwoods, said he noticed more nuance in Peter Gabriel. So and other recordings that aren’t always obvious on streaming audio.
“It’s very satisfying to hear the details that you spend so much time working on,” Marrone said. “As a producer, you spend hours getting a good sound and you want listeners to notice.”
The science of sound broadcasting has never stopped, Chapman pointed out. At first, the idea was to deliver a faithful representation of a musical performance. But Marrone pointed out that the art of recording has quickly moved beyond that, to the point that songs and albums often contain sounds that listeners know musicians cannot replicate live.
For all the immediate appeal of pop music in the age of streaming, many hit recordings are sonically more complicated than they were before, even if they don’t immediately seem so. High fidelity audio therefore helps.
It’s not always easy, however. In the past, there were only a number of variables: record player, stereo, speakers, for example. These days, music has to travel from a server farm, through the Internet, then through Wifi or a cellular connection, then to a phone. And it sounds better when all of these elements work together, like Snapdragon Sound does. Even once the music is streaming to a phone, however, Chapman points out, there are more variables: processing chip, software, these days often a Bluetooth connection to wireless headphones. “It’s incredibly complicated,” Chapman says, “so we try to make it all work together.”
It will do this even better as manufacturers release more products that use it. When asked which ones he was most looking forward to, Chapman declined, but said he was looking forward to some car-focused products, as well as a wider variety of headphones and more advanced headphones.
After Levine answered a few questions from the audience, Hanson played three songs from his new album, performed with the kind of impact music should have.