The High End has reached a new low, one characterized by "existential angst." That's how Lawrence M. Fisher of the New York Times describes the industry's ongoing malaise. In a well-researched and well-written piece that appeared last Thursday, July 9, Fisher cites "demographic and economic issues beyond its control and technological trends that threaten its very relevance." He mentions the economic crisis in Asia---destination for a large proportion of American high-end audio products---as a major contributing factor to the stagnation in which much of the industry is mired.
Rumors began surfacing last month that McCormack Audio might be on the ropes. Long known for their value-oriented high-end products such as amps and preamps, the company had been struggling for the last couple of years (for reasons not connected with the quality of its products). But a savior has appeared that looks to put the company on a sure footing.
The audio business has been claiming its share of victims lately, with few companies able to reanimate once economic problems set in. Working hard to break this cycle, Carver Corp. became one of the first manufacturers to switch from a dealer-based operation to both dealers and internet sales.
E-mail spam just got a lot noisier thanks to AT&T's a2b music and BMG Entertainment. (See previous stories 1, 2.) Last week, they announced that BMG will deliver the first "mass communication" of a2b MAIL to the consumer databases of each of its websites, www.bugjuice.com (alternative and rock music), www.peeps.com (urban music), and www.twangthis.com (country music).
The Recording Industry of America's ongoing pursuit of music pirates bore fruit last week on Tuesday, July 7, when the organization collected $750,000 in settlements from three companies that had produced and marketed CD compilations of hit records. The RIAA also received $20,000 in restitution from Lloyd Schiffres, owner of Top Hat Productions, a disc-jockey supply house. Schiffres, who has been arrested three times, handed over 31 sets of his For DJs Only compilations.
June, 1998---"It's time to stop wasting the talents of brilliant American musicians because of their gender." And with that, an anonymous donor has given one million dollars to establish The National Women Conductors Initiative.
In a move that acknowledges the increasing convergence of consumer electronics and computer technology, Sony Electronics has reorganized its US sales and marketing structure, and will emphasize digital performance in its new line of products. Foremost among these developments is Sony's recent announcement that its new line of audio and video products will prominently feature its VAIO personal computers. The notebook computers have editing features for video and motion-picture technology, and are quite popular in Japan, where around 100,000 have been sold.
The Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association's recently released U.S. Consumer Electronics Industry Today indicates a healthy glow on the cheeks of specialty audio. US exports of component audio products amounted to $2.12 billion in 1997, an increase of 12% over the previous year's total of $1.89 billion. 1997's total represents a 25% increase over 1995, when almost $1.7 billion in separate audio products went out of the country. The figures are compiled by CEMA from US Department of Commerce figures.
A key benefit of working with Stereophile is enjoying the expertise of fellow audio nerds. After the HI-FI Show just held in Los Angeles, Jonathan Scull and Kathleen Benveniste spent a week riding up the California Coast and paid us each a visit.
For the last few months, random postings kept appearing on internet newsgroups and in my e-mail box: "Anybody know what happened to Counterpoint?" At last count there were 10,000 Counterpoint preamps, power amps, and loudspeakers fanned out across the planet, some dating back to 1977, when the company launched its first product: the SA-1 tube preamp, designed by Ed Semanko.
Following a recent announcement of "diminished expectations" for the near future (see previous story) and a shakeup of upper management---in which Consumer Group marketing honcho Tom Jacoby was put out to pasture and audio guru Floyd Toole was promoted to senior vice president of acoustic and transducer engineering---Harman International Industries has put the finishing touches on a new 10,000-square-foot audio laboratory. At company headquarters in Northridge, CA, north of Los Angeles, the laboratory includes a 10,000-cubic-foot anechoic chamber for testing and measuring loudspeakers, and a multichannel room with computer-controlled, hydraulically operated platforms for positioning front left, center, and right speakers (a reviewer's dream!).
It's no secret that Dolby Laboratories doesn't aim its audio compression technologies at the high-end consumer audio market. After all, Dolby excels at finding ways to get maximum performance out of limited-bandwidth environments such as the audio cassette, or the space alloted for 5.1-channel soundtracks on DVDs.
In a move that is likely to push record labels into the uncharted territory of direct sales, BMG has announced its intention to add in-house sales to its network of music sites. "BMG will be moving in the fall to its own fulfillment capability because of the demands of consumers," said senior vice president Scott Dinsdale at the Business Online 98 conference in San Francisco last week.
Last week, Xing Technology Corporation announced its sponsorship of the First Annual MP3 Summit. In a statement, the company urged music-industry executives to discuss copyright issues, technical standards, and music distribution, and to participate in developing the future of MP3.