Computers are cutting edge, right? Er, not quite so cutting edge as you might have thought...I've sold my iPad. It was an interesting novelty, but it can't do as much as my computer, and I don't find it at all pleasurable to read books, magazines or newspapers on it. Call me a luddite if you like, but I gave it a damn good try.
But that set me thinking. Perhaps the iPad isn't actually all that cutting edge. Perhaps even fully-fledged computers are not as cutting edge as we seem to think they are.
Time for a demonstration...
Take out a recent issue of Sound on Sound magazine. (It's one of my favourite ways of not creating music or recording). Now measure the pages. Yes, measure them with your ruler. OK, I've done it for you and, in deference to the mighty USA, I've done it in inches.
The mag is approximately 11.7 inches high by 8.3 inches wide. I don't actually know what resolution it is printed at, but 300 dpi (dots per inch) is a good resolution for quality print. So each page consists of 11.7 x 300 x 8.3 x 300 pixels. Multiply that up and we get 8,743,964 pixels, or 8.7 megapixels if you prefer.
And since you can open up the mag into a double-page spread, the effective number of megapixels is nearly 17.5.
Now compare this to the original iPad - a little under 0.8 megapixels. Or the new iPad - 3.1 megapixels.
It's pretty clear now why I wasn't enjoying my first-generation iPad too much, and the new iPad isn't all that much better.
But what about my computer, with mighty dual monitors - 4.6 megapixels.
Even then, the good old-fashioned print version of Sound on Sound beats my highly-specified computer in terms of resolution by a ratio of nearly 4:1.
And... the mag has been around for years at this resolution. Computers still have not caught up (unless I buy another six monitors!).
So what's the audio relevance of all of this?
Well it's difficult to figure out what the audio equivalent of a pixel is, but I'd say that you could sensibly multiply the sampling rate by the dynamic resolution to get a reasonable figure. So 24 bits = 16,777,216 different levels x 96,000 samples per second = 1,610,612,736,000 'auxels' in each second of audio. That's per channel so double it up and you get 3.2 tera-auxels in each second of stereo audio.
That's a big number. But imagine you are in a concert hall with a sixty-piece orchestra on stage, each instrument radiating sound from a different direction. Look around you at all the reflecting surfaces, all the different ways sound could arrive at your ears. Look at the other 999 people in the audience. How many different ways does sound reach them?
In terms of complexity, this really is mind-boggling when you stop to think about it.
Yes, computers still have a long way to go!