Audiophile

4.5
Average: 4.5 (2 votes)
Your rating: None

The old rocker knew quality and this wasn’t good enough. He had to feel the sound. No, not just loud, he would yell at his grandchildren, sitting there with their earbuds pissing compressed audio files straight at their eardrums. The sound has to have heart, it needs to be fuller. But it’s Hendrix, they said. I thought you loved Hendrix.
Of course, he loved Hendrix. The night Jimi opened Electric Lady Studios, the two of them had snuck out on a fire escape for a smoke and Jimi had played music that sounded real. It wasn’t just the playing – he had sat at Bob Dylan’s feet as he fumbled for chords, snarling out words from his sandpaper throat, but he had felt the sound, that wild mercury sound.
When he had been a young rocker, records and reel-to-reel tapes had seemed good enough. But he was poor and high and stupid. He had a knack for money and as his wealth grew, so did his stereo equipment. He tried quadraphonic records. He bought better, and usually bigger, speakers. He had turntables built on half-ton pillars of marble to keep down vibrations. Once he took an ax to the cassette players of a half dozen vanagons at a Grateful Dead show in Lake Placid; luckily, his wealth made him eccentric as opposed to criminal.
CDs hurt his ears. The first ones especially were so tinny and he could hear the 0’s and 1’s. The sound was no longer smooth. Digital became a dirty word in his household. Music should flow, it should pour through your ears (no, not into them, he would shout, they’re part of the sound!) and into your brain.
By that point he was rich enough that he just didn’t invest in stereos or even stereo companies, he invested in research. University labs were set up and he was on the boards of directors of a half-dozen leading electronics and music companies. And the CDs got better, richer, fuller sounds. They still sounded like crap though. He remembered when a young kid, probably fresh from his PhD came running up to him, excited to play an MP3 for him, or what would eventually become MP3s. Which was fine by him. If America or the world wanted to fill their ears with audio diarrhea, that was fine. He’d make more money, which he could spend on better research.
The problem was that even records didn’t sound that good anymore. He had commissioned 1,000 copies of Pet Sounds on 180-gram vinyl, so that he only had to play each one once with a virgin diamond needle, before tossing it away and it still sounded wrong.
He had his ears checked and rechecked. He went to finest ear specialists around the world and they all said the same thing: you have the finest hearing ever observed. They had to invent new machines just to test his hearing. He went back to the music.
His problem with digital files is that they were digital. The sound was encoded in digits, bits and pieces.  He got them to try different sampling rates and more channels and nothing worked. He had them dive into the bit depths, the bit abyss. He had them break the music smaller and smaller. One hundred thousandths of second. Millionths of a second. It still made his skin crawl, like fingernails on a chalkboard. He then spent a month listening to nothing but his personal assistants scratching their nails across chalkboards just to compare. He went through 162 personal assistants during this time.
They invented new chips and new computer systems to read them. They bounced Muddy Waters and Nirvana off the spins of electrons. Physicists told him they couldn’t observe this and not affect the music; he told them all music is affected by observation. Affected and effected. They worked on.
They sat the old rocker down in chair one day. Planck Time they told him. We’re down to Planck Time. We’ve broken the music down into individual units, 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000539106 seconds long. You can really hear Kooper’s organ. Bloomfield’s guitar never sounded better. They pressed play and left the room.
The music came on and he could feel the plucking of the strings, supersymmetrically all around him. Open and closed strings, fermions and bosons banging away. He followed the music as it twisted through time and space and then it barked at him and chased him back through ten dimensions. Everything he had ever seen or touched or knew melted away around him and was built back up around him by the music. And all he heard at the end was a voice asking, how does it feel?
It’s not perfect, he said, but it’s getting there.

About the Author: 
Waugh Wright is a Philadelphia science teacher by day and listens to records at night while finishing his first science fiction novel.

Newsletter Signup

Submit your email address so we can send you occasional competition updates and tell you who wins!

Quantum Theories

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.