Some optimists in Washington, on Wall Street, and elsewhere predicted that the Asian economic crisis wouldn't reach the United States. But in late August, the financial flu infecting that part of the world, and the ongoing monetary instability in Russia, finally affected North America. As of Friday, August 28th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was hovering just above 8000, down from a record high of 9337.97 on July 17th. The market decline has affected the whole economy---traditional industries as well as hot-ticket ventures like Internet stocks.
Looks like it might be a while before a profitable formula jells for selling music over the Internet. News this week indicates that one of the largest music retailers, Tower Records, is finally ready to challenge the market, while online distribution pioneer N2K will be scaling back operations until things steady a bit.
The latest music-piracy statistics have just been released by the RIAA, bringing to light several new wrinkles in the ongoing struggle to protect the owners of music copyrights from those who illegally copy and sell protected works. Released August 21, the report details the new problems brought about by CD-R technology and MP3 files distributed via the web.
The Federal Communications Commission is fighting an epidemic called "microradio." The agency has closed 250 unlicensed stations in the past year, most of them low-powered urban pip-squeaks with less than 100W of power and broadcast radii of 10 miles or less. The typical microradio station offers an off-center perspective on local, national, and world events to a listenership of a few hundred people, and loses money in the process.
In June, while the Recording Industry Association of America was collecting fat settlements from unauthorized CD compilers, its Canadian counterpart was busy shutting down Purple Dot, a custom-disc operation in Calgary, Alberta. The Canadian Recording Industry Association e-mailed a cease-and-desist order to 18-year-old Robert Clark, owner and operator of Purple Dot, which had been advertising on the Internet in the Yahoo! directory.
Up from the deep: Torrance, CA-based Wherehouse Entertainment announced last week that it will purchase Blockbuster Music from Viacom Inc. for $115 million. The merged operation will have 598 stores throughout North America, second only to Minnesota-based Musicland. The deal comes at the end of a prolonged slump for the music industry, one that was particularly hard for Blockbuster.
As with past HI-FI Shows, we asked visitors to HI-FI '98 to vote for the room that offered what they thought to be the best sound. The ballot in the Show Guide asked visitors to list the best, second-best, third-best, and worst sounds, for which I allocated 3 points, 2 points, 1 point, and -1 point, respectively. Any exhibitor that received more than 0.7% of the total votes cast is listed in the Table. I've tried to include both the exhibitors and the brands demonstrated, as listed in the Show Guide and in our report text in the September issue of the paper Stereophile. My apologies if I've left anyone out.
Enhanced Compact Discs (ECDs) are one of a host of hybrids and mutations popping up in the garden of digital infotainment. Many ECDs have added biographical text, still pictures, short video clips, and garish graphics to bulk up the content of basic music CDs. Others provide links to fan clubs, to an artist's website, or to the record label's home page. Most such efforts could be categorized as "art for art's sake"---experimental projects undertaken without any clear idea as to how the finished product will be used. "Value added" is usually the justification, but rarely the result.
The Paradigm Group announced today that they have entered into an agreement to purchase the assets of Sonic Frontiers Inc., of Oakville, Ontario, as the first step in a comprehensive restructuring plan that will lead to an expansion of Sonic Frontiers.
Another crucial piece of the DVD-Audio puzzle fell into place recently when the WG-4 (Working Group 4) DVD-Audio Working Group approved the adoption of MLP (see previous articles 1, 2) as the lossless algorithm for DVD-Audio at its August 5th meeting in Tokyo. WG-4 will require official approval from its supervising organizations, the Technical Coordination Group and Steering Committee---considered a formality at this point.
This last year has seen several companies proclaim the launch of the "world's first digital loudspeaker." The term brings to mind some exotic new approach that is neither cone nor ribbon nor electrostat---something as different from all of those as, say, a CD is from a vinyl record or cassette tape.
Some products inspire unwavering loyalty among their owners: Gibson's "Les Paul" Guitars, for example, or Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Only a handful of audio manufacturers have been lucky enough for their products to attain this kind of cult status. McIntosh is perhaps premier among them. Individual products---Audio Research preamps, Marantz tuners, Linn turntables---also have deservedly loyal and sizable followings.
Protection for the creative community or job security for lawyers? These are but two of many interpretations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which won approval by voice vote in the US House of Representatives August 4. The bill will implement into US law the treaties signed by 157 signatories at the World Intellectual Properties Organization conference in Geneva in December 1996. A separate version was passed by the Senate in May. Differences between the two must be ironed out before a final version can be signed into law by President Clinton.
News recently coming out of Cambridge, England promises yet another new revolutionary loudspeaker technology following in the footsteps of NXT's flat-panel speakers and ATC's HyperSonic Sound and Stratified Field Technology. Engineering consultant Tony Hooley heads up a team of researchers who have created what they hope will be a breakthrough in small, lightweight, highly accurate-sounding arrays of digitally driven pressure transducers.
The Silverdale by the Bay Resort Hotel in Silverdale, WA, will be the site of the second annual Vacuum State of the Art Conference, scheduled for August 21-24. The conference will feature new and vintage equipment, tube electronics seminars, a used-gear swap meet, and demonstrations of audio creations by both amateur and professional designers.