Our first article this week is Space . . . the Final Frontier, in which J. Gordon Holt explains both why he feels the High End should abandon two-channel stereo, and why it is misguided in its choice of loudspeakers for stereo reproduction.
One of the classic problems with digital technology is what is known as the "cliff effect": when digital signals reach their limits, they don't fail gracefully like analog ones do---they go off a cliff and crash hard. Not only has the tendency for digital signals to exhibit their limitations noisily in the audio recording and playback environment been a problem for engineers and listeners, the effect on the digital broadcast industry has been tough to circumvent as well---until now.
This will be a huge year for the electronics industry, insiders are saying in the wake of the just-finished 1999 Consumer Electronics Show. This one "surpassed anything we've seen before," said Gary Shapiro, the president of the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association, in a post-Show statement. "Our industry is driving the technologies that will define the digital age."
MP3, the popular and controversial Internet music format, took a big step toward legitimacy last week. Z Company, which operates San Diego-based MP3.com, announced that it had attracted $11 million in venture capital from idealab! and Sequoia Capital. Z Company will change its name to MP3.com Inc. to reflect the company's core business interests, said president Michael Robertson.
The most important issue facing the high-end audio crowd at this Show is the looming battle for high-resolution audio formats. DVD-Audio and SACD posturing was everywhere, with SACD probably displayed the most. But it was a relief to see that manufacturers were starting to consider putting both SACD and DVD-Audio processing in a single box, thus making the choice for consumers much easier. This means that the makers of disc players are not forced to choose sides, and are able to please everyone. It allows consumers, as well, to make a single-player choice and be covered for the coming armegeddon. But it will put record labels in a tough spot: which format will they support for their releases---SACD, DVD-Audio, or, somehow, both? We'll keep you informed.
January 9, 3pm Some fascinating prototypes were on display at the Madrigal breakfast at Bally's this morning---and we can't tell you about them. But when the Cone of Silence is lifted, you can bet we'll spill the beans, particularly in view of Madrigal's confidence that there will be a future market for very-high-quality surround-sound music reproduction. In the meantime, we are able to report that the new Proceed DVD transport has enough upgradeability options to allow for just about any future digital format: DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, DVD-Video, etc. The transport will also allow for easy upgrading to future interface schemes such as IEEE 1394. And, unlike many other DVD-Video transports, the Proceed should be able to play CD-R discs. For two-channel fans, the Mark Levinson No.32 Reference preamplifier is in production and will be available next month. Price of the two-chassis, dual-mono unit, without phono stage, will be in the region of $15,000. Madrigal is already back-ordered.
Ah, it's good to be home again. We have finally arrived at the Alexis Park complex, the enclave of specialty audio. It's a much more civilized venue than the Convention Center, but, here as there, new products prevail. Only drawback this year: Someone has apparently rerouted the airplane take-offs from nearby McCarran airport to directly overhead, making it tough to continue a conversation or demo for more than 5 minutes.
Friday, we'll venture into the Alexis Park complex and the adjoining exhibits from T.H.E. Show, where most of the specialty audio manufacturers have set up shop. But so far, at the Las Vegas Convention Center and adjoining Hilton (which we are currently touring), live 24/96 digital audio is conspicuous by its absence.
Your dauntless reporters---Tom Norton, Steven Stone, Michael Fremer, Bob Deutsch, Larry Greenhill, Jon Iverson, and Barry Willis---have shown up on schedule for Philips Electronics' 1999 kickoff press conference at the Desert Inn's Grand Ballroom II, attended by a hundred or so other journalists.
If one were to judge by new high-end audio-product intros at this year's CES, the industry appears to be hopping. So far we're only halfway through the Alexis Park (the home of most high-end audio exhibitors at the Show), but our bags are already overstuffed with brochures. Not surprisingly, a lot of the two-channel manufacturers are branching out to the multichannel market.
There is practically nothing that has set high-end audio on its collective ear like the article Jonathan Scull wrote back in 1994 on room-tuning devices from Shun Mook. Not only did some readers dog-pile J-10, but two other Stereophile writers, Barry Willis and Sam Tellig, decided to take on the challenge. Required reading for anyone who wants to know more about The Shun Mook Affair.
Imagine that you are a Canadian with a mid-sized accounting business. You have tons of data to keep track of, and have found the recordable CD to be an excellent form of storage: convenient, reliable, and cheap---until New Year's Day, when the cost of blank discs suddenly doubled. You may not have the slightest interest in music, but one of your basic costs of doing business has just skyrocketed because someone, somewhere, has allegedly made an illegal copy of a commercial music CD.
It is with regret that I announce that Wes Phillips has resigned from Stereophile in order to take a position, beginning January 1, 1999, with PR company J.B. Stanton Communications, Inc. Wes and his wife, Joan, will be relocating to Connecticut. I wonder how Wes's unreconstructed Virginia ancestors will take to his becoming a Yankee!
The shock news on November 18, 1998---that the highly regarded British speaker brand Mordaunt-Short was to be closed down (see previous story)---seems to have achieved the desired result. On December 30, Audio Partnership plc announced it was acquiring the Mordaunt-Short brand from TGI plc (Tannoy Goodmans International).