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The 17th of this month is the 100th anniversary of Orville Wright's 12-second, 40-meter flight down the beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in the flyer that he and his brother Wilbur built. We can only guess what it was like to see that wondrous wing lift gingerly into the sky. In our times perhaps only the first Mercury, Vostok, or space shuttle launches, or maybe the Apollo moon landings inspired the same kind of thrill.

The anniversary will be marked by all sorts of hoopla, including a sprawling six-day jamboree at Kitty Hawk put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association and hosted by actor John Travolta (a licensed pilot who owns a Boeing 707 airliner). It's nice to see the brothers Wright get their due, but it's even nicer that they and their accomplishment--the invention of the first piloted, engine-driven, heavier-than-air machine to achieve sustained flight--have both been mercifully rescued lately from cartoon characterization. For that we can thank some excellent new biographies and museum shows.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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