An acquaintance in the world of CD distribution recently gave me an astonishing statistic: that the average classical title sells fewer than 2000 copies worldwide in its first year of release; which in turn means that many titles sell only about 500 copies! Given that the cost of producing a classical orchestral album can include up to $100,000 in union-mandated musician fees, such minimal sales guarantee financial disaster.
Please let me explain. Because I've never been especially adept at making lifelong commitments and irrevocable decisions, when it came to naming this new column, Managing Editor Debbie Starr and I decided that we would gather the passionate (and supremely efficient) minds of the Stereophile production staff, add a near–life-threatening amount of margaritas, and put the question to them.
In his "From the Editor's Desk" in the March issue of Stereophile's e-newsletter, John Atkinson recounts how, years ago, "erstwhile audio scribe Enid Lumley" demonstrated her pizza-box-tripod tweak at a hi-fi show. Lumley, JA writes, "placed the tripod atop a CD player and convinced her audience—including me—that the sound was better."
A couple of months back (March 1993, p.7), I wrote that as far as I was concerned, video was television dressed up in fancy dress, thus there was no place for coverage of the medium in Stereophile. As the magazine's founder, J. Gordon Holt, has been a committed videophile for many years, I sat back and awaited a reaction from him. One was not long coming. I am running his response as this month's "As We See It" feature.—John Atkinson
These days, too many audio stores are like hushed mausoleums. Audio gear is displayed like dead art, and the sales staff, unless you're known as a regular customer, either greets you with a predatory gleam or, certain that you've wandered in by mistake, ignores you.
Just what is the absolute sound, and how do you get there from here? What the heck are we looking for as we endure the mirth of others while purposefully setting up our high-end systems? Is it, indeed, the sanctified sound of acoustic instruments in real space? Can we ever really achieve that? Or is it the accurate realization of the signal on the master tape? Or—as was recently suggested at the New York Noise single-ended lovefest, covered in this issue's "Industry Update"—are some of us looking for the emotion and the artist's intent?
Having just spent the last four days at the 2004 Audio Engineering Society conference in San Francisco, I was struck by the sunny enthusiasm shared by many industry professionals for 5.1-channel surround-sound music.
Watching the Beatles Anthology TV shows last Thanksgiving, I was struck by how good recorded sound quality was in the early to mid-1960s and how bad it had become by the era of Let It Be. Early Beatles recordings may have been primitive in terms of production, but their basic sound quality was excellent, with extended response at the frequency extremes and a natural, clean-sounding midrange. Late Beatles recordings lacked highs and dynamic range, and sounded grainy by comparison. This was partly because, by 1969–70, studios had replaced their simple tubed mixing consoles with the first generation of solid-state desks, and their old tubed two-track Studers and Ampexes with solid-state multitrack recorders. These featured track widths so narrow that only the massive use of Dolby-A noise reduction made it possible to produce recordings that had any dynamic range at all!
Stereophile is finally collectible. Either that, or I'm the biggest audiophile sucker out there. A few weeks back, I finally caved into temptation and signed up for an account on eBay, the website via which millions of folks buy and sell stuff in an online auction, and on which someone once tried to sell a human kidney. (It was not allowed.)
In early 2000, the British magazine The Economist published a lead editorial addressing America Online's acquisition of media giant Time Warner. In the editors' view, TW was a clunky, old-style media company that needed a fresh injection of dot-com blood to help them reach a more narrowly targeted audience. "Sex, shopping and violence," the editors wrote, echoing Internet visionary George Gilder, "...are what people have in common. What differentiates them is their enthusiasm for folk music, tropical fish, or Viennese waltzes."
Mastering engineer Denny Purcell let out a long sigh. "Does anyone in this room believe that any of this is going to do any good?" he asked. Of the eight or nine people—each with decades of experience in the music and/or audio industries—hanging out at Georgetown Masters Studios for SDMI's Phase II listening tests this past October, not one said "Yes." The consensus: the watermarking issue will probably be dead and forgotten within a year.