Ludovic, I agree that it can be a mistake to think that one has achieved “finality” with an audio system, especially a digital one. Digital’s potential for advancement is essentially unlimited. And its speed of advancement is amazing. And it has significant engineering effects on analog as well. Look inside just about any piece of equipment other than a point-to-point SET amp, and you’ll see the impact of a digital world. It’s not hard to imagine a quantum leap forward in the future where our phantom center channel has evolved into a life-size, controllable, holographic soundstage.
But in between now and then, what are the incremental steps? I have a friend who is not a fan of MQA at all, but speculates that the technology could morph into a carrier for all sorts of information about the recording to enhance life-like reproduction. Maybe. I know this: my age affects how I see this (as well as my hearing). I’ve been an “audiophile” now for about 48 years. My sense of “finality” is probably quite different from someone who is a generation or two younger and perceives what we have now as the starting point. I am also more inclined to be satisfied for a longer period with whatever seems “end of game.” In contrast, I have another friend who is just getting into his first high end system (think Rossini level), and he is already planning his upgrade to Vivaldi’s successor. He doesn’t have his speakers yet.
What might this mean for Mozart/Dvorak/Mahler/Whatever? I think as Jeff says above, certainly a more powerful FPGA and Ring DAC, perhaps with some of that power layered beneath deeper menus, higher native DSD, higher upsampling à la Meitner, bigger buffer for complete RAM playback, even lower noise floors, optical Ethernet connection(s), perhaps an adoption of the PS Audio HDMI I2S input (though not necessarily a good thing for dCS’s own transport if there is one), even “better” clocking, whatever that might mean, perhaps a USB port as good as Ethernet, maybe provision for DSP. And yes, probably more cables. Ouch.
These would all be refinements of what we have now. And what we have now is nothing short of extraordinary. If we look around the landscape, there is no obvious “breakthrough” product or platform in what we might call the “DAC stage” between the source and the amplification. CH Precision, Meitner, MSB, Aries Cerat, Laufer Teknik, totaldac, and the super-luxury DACs are all using one or more types of current (sometimes virtually “ancient”) technology with some recipe of components and parts and circuit layout to improve isolation, the noise floor, etc. There hasn’t been anything as meaningful as an FPGA or Ring DAC in years. [This is not meant as an insult to anyone’s equipment or a company.] We’re at a place where we are refining the best we can do with 16-24 bit technology as we currently understand it.
But if we were to walk into any of our homes, no matter what the digital pieces might be, things like speakers and room acoustics are far more likely to have the most immediate effect on what we perceive. Yes, over the long haul, crummy digital devices can wear out the ears and brain. But as between a musical Bartok and a musical MSB Select II (picking a couple of extremes within the high end), we’re not going to walk into an unfamiliar room and exclaim: “Aha! Trying to slip that Bartok by me, eh?”. No, we’re just going to enjoy the music. Because the high end has gotten really good. “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”