For the seventh consecutive year, Stereophile has named a select few audio components the "Products of the Year." In doing so, we recognize those components that have proved capable of giving musical pleasure beyond the formal review period.
Is stadium rock passé? The Rolling Stones, the world's greatest practitioners of large-venue concerts, have announced a tour of smaller arenas beginning January 25. The "No Security" tour---in support of the recently released Virgin Records album of the same name---will take the band through 25 North American cities.
Long the bane of finicky audiophiles, Consumer Reports magazine has been measuring just about anything sold in a store since 1936 in an effort to "test products, inform the public, and protect consumers." But when they get around to testing audio gear, the magazine's "lab" has become the target of many audio enthusiasts who don't share CR's views on how to tell good sound from bad. In fact, part of the problem is that CR often reports that sound quality is not always the final factor in rating a product, with concerns about reliablity, ease of use, and fit and finish often skewing results.
It's well known among designers of power amplifiers that the class-A and -A/B amplifiers (referred to as linear amplifiers) used in the majority of car, home, PC, and pro audio systems are notoriously inefficient. They can consume vast amounts of power and yet waste most of it---as much as 80% or more---as heat. They require large power supplies and massive heatsinks, which drive up system weight, size, and cost. On the other hand, class-D amplifiers, using Pulse Width Modulation switching technologies, have good power efficiency but sometimes questionable audio fidelity. (The Spectron designs are possibly the exceptions here.) Class-D amps are used mostly in battery-powered applications in which sound quality might be considered secondary to battery life.
In the world of computer operating systems, you've got commercial products from Microsoft, Apple, Be, Sun, and others in one corner, and open-source products like Linux in the other. The commercial products are released to the public as finished products (at least until the next "bug fix" is ready), usually for a fee, and their core software code is protected much like the recipe for Coca-Cola. If you don't work for the company producing the official version, then it's hands off.
Billy Joel has decided to clean out his warehouse. Next month, the veteran rocker's almost-30-year-old collection of musical instruments, recording equipment, and stage gear will be put up for public auction by Sony Signatures, his merchandising company. A portion of the gross from the "Billy Joel Memorabilia Auction" will be donated to VH1's Save the Music Foundation, according to Dan Cooper, Senior Vice President of Sony Signatures' music division.
One might think that the publisher of "The Largest Marketplace in the World for Audiophile Equipment" would have a vested interest in encouraging trading activity among his readers. One would think that such a publisher might take a neutral stance regarding fluctuations in the world market for used equipment. One would think that he would credit his readers with sufficient intelligence to decide for themselves whether any specific purchase, sale, or trade was a good deal.
The WebNoize three-day conference took place last week in Los Angeles, mixing record-company executives with Internet geeks, all trying to find profitable ways to distribute music online. Tom Roli, publisher of the Webnoize website, set the tone for the event, stating that "the industry is facing great change and uncertainty due to emerging technologies, shifting global markets, and media revolutions."
MP3-formatted audio files are considered to be the most popular streaming technology on the Internet, but the major record labels have so far shunned the format, which doesn't offer as much security and pay-per-download options as they'd like. Several announcements last week coincided with the WebNoize conference in Los Angeles and revealed what a few of the labels are thinking.
Internet audio continues to expand. Last week, at the first WebNoize conference, held in Los Angeles, JamTV/Rolling Stone Network and RealNetworks, Inc. announced the debut of Rolling Stone Radio, a new Internet audio service offering music in several genres. Rock star David Bowie announced that he would serve as a disc jockey for the new venture. Amazon.com has also signed on to participate as a music retailer.
In the age before recordings, music was a service business. Composers wrote for their patrons, and musicians performed for money. In the days since Edison's inventions, music has become a commodity business in which record companies stockpile large inventories and attempt to move them into the market of music lovers through a dense network of distributors and retailers. For established artists, the service aspect of music---playing for pay---now exists primarily to support the commodity business. For developing artists, public performance is a form of self-promotion to aid the search for a recording contract.
I have been informed that there was a serious error at the shipping department. The September and October issues of Stereophile and Stereophile Guide to Home Theater have been sent via a very slow shipping method. This was due to a misunderstanding between the magazines' new printer and the new subscription mailing house.
Hot on the heels of a favorable RIAA/Rio decision (see related story), five of the pioneers in the rapidly expanding market for downloadable music---GoodNoise Corp., MP3.com, MusicMatch, Xing Technology Corp., and Diamond Multimedia Systems, Inc.---announced the formation of the MP3 Association, an industry trade group focused on the "continued evolution and adoption of the MP3 (MPEG 1 or 2, Layer 3) standard." The Association will focus on three primary goals: promoting MP3 technology as the next-generation digital music format, educating consumers about MP3 and its legal use, and opening new creative avenues for musicians and developers.
The Internet is having a startling effect on radio, as evidenced by a new report released by The Arbitron Company, entitled "Arbitron Internet Listening Study: Radio in the New Media World." Arbitron concludes "that Internet broadcasting is a fast-growing medium which presents both challenges and opportunities for radio broadcasters."
For the past three weeks (see previous article) we've been reporting on the troubled plight of Diamond Multimedia's new Rio portable MP3 audio player. Announced in grand fashion by Diamond several months back, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) quickly set its sights on the device, and fired what it hoped would be a fatal shot in the form of an injunction. The RIAA appeared to have succeeded until last week, when US Central District Court California Judge Audrey Collins reversed her initial ruling from 10 days earlier of an injunction, paving the way for the product's release this month. Both the RIAA and the Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies (AARC) are planning an appeal.