I've recently been rereading Mark Lane's and Donald Freed's 1970s screenplay cum novel, Executive Action, which develops the theory that John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a conspiracy between organized crime, expatriate Cuban Batistists, and Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex." Long predating Oliver Stone's JFK, the book is fascinating, convincing stuff, from authors who had done considerable research into what really happened in November 1963. But, like all conspiracy theories, it falls down on the hard rock of reality: the more people and organizations are involved in a conspiracy, the less likelihood there is of anything happening at all, let alone going according to plan.
Someone once said that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Well, this month, we will see not one but two better mousetraps, in the form of Sony's and Philips' Super Audio CD and the DVD Forum's DVD-Audio. Both are intended to replace the humble CD, now in its seventeenth year; both offer higher-resolution digital audio; and both offer multiple channels. To accompany SACD, Sony's $5000 SCD-1 two-channel player is now on sale (and will be reviewed in the November Stereophile), while Panasonic has announced October sale dates for two DVD-A players, the $1000 Panasonic DVD-A7 and the $1200 Technics DVD-A10.
Audiophiles have a mess on their hands. In a somewhat surreal press conference in May, a half dozen audio luminaries—representing Sony, Philips, and several titans of the high-end recording business—stood on a HI-FI '99 stage looking awkwardly at the audience.
"Do you have another DVD player?" asked Classic Records' Michael Hobson. As is usual in important demonstrations, Murphy's Law had struck with a vengeance. The prototype Muse DVD player Kevin Halverson had worked on most of the previous night was refusing to play the DVD Mike had placed in its tray.
As you can read in this month's "Industry Update" (pp.35 & 37), the two conglomerates who hitherto seemed driven to offer the world two competing standards for the forthcoming Digital Video Disc came to their senses. Instead of consumers being offered Toshiba/Warner/Matsushita's SD and Sony/Philips's MCD, there will be just one high-density 4.75" disc to take both video and audio data storage into the 21st century.
"The idea that intellectual property in a Net-based economy can lose its value horrifies most owners and creators. They'd better get over it."—Esther Dyson, "Intellectual Value" Wired, July 1995, p.136
There has always been something uniquely satisfying about holding a paper magazine in your hand and riffling through its pages. Images and textures are of higher resolution than any video screen, and the ease of use of the paper-page bundle can not easily be replaced. People are developing electronic substitutes for paper, but the interesting thing is that these researchers are endeavoring to imitate the look, feel, and functionality of paper—but with digital inks and charged surfaces. For now, plain old paper and ink are just too perfect a medium to toss when it comes to packing information into a compact, portable, high-quality package.
"Bugger!" A Pennsylvania state trooper had stepped out from behind the overpass on the Turnpike and was aiming his radar gun straight at me. I reflexively jammed on the anchors, which was a) pointless and b) downright dangerous, considering I was in the middle of a phalanx of cars and trucks all cruising 5-10mph over the speed limit. But what can you do?
I've watched from the sidelines with great interest the recent debate in this column over Home Theater (footnote 1) At one extreme is the suggestion that Stereophile begin reviewing video and Home Theater products. The other end of the spectrum was best expressed by John Atkinson at Stereophile's 1993 High-End Hi-Fi Show in San Francisco. Hearing the booming bass overflow of a Home Theater demonstration blasting down a hallway, he said, "They've brought televisions to our hi-fi show!"
Conventional wisdom has it that you should listen to an audio component, preferably in your own system, before you decide to buy it. But who, these days, has the opportunity to do this consistently? Even an audition in the store isn't guaranteed; I have to drive two hours to get to the nearest dealer with decent customer service and a good inventory of interesting gear. And though he generally stocks a fairly wide range of components, like any dealer, he carries only a small sample of all the hi-fi gear that's currently, in principle, available.
It was a powder blue Pinto. Brand new, it drove like a bowl of Jello with wheels. No matter how firmly I gripped the steering wheel, I had no confidence that it had any kind of relationship with the wheels on the road. And pickup? There was none. But because its designers had sacrificed all quality to build it cheaply, the Ford Pinto was equally cheap to rent when I did so back in 1980.
Stereophile is devoted to getting the best sound from a home audio system. But as I have written before, audiophiles don't have access to an absolute sound, only to what has been captured in the pits or grooves of their discs, which is itself the result of a creative process. The playing back and the making of recordings are therefore two sides of the same coin. This is why I get actively involved in recording projects and why I publish articles about those projects, the most recent of which appears on p.50. "Project K622" describes the making of a new recording of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto (work number 622 in the Köchel catalog of Mozart's compositions, hence the article's title), which is being released both on hybrid SACD and on 180gm vinyl. (You can buy both from our secure "Recordings" page.)
"One of the worst-kept secrets in audio engineering is that what we hear does not always correlate with what we measure." So wrote the late Richard Heyser 30 years ago, as quoted in Time Delay Spectrometry, a 1987 anthology of his writings (footnote 1). What do we hear? Music heard live consists of a sound pressure that changes according to the logical demands of two things that have no physical reality: the way in which music is structured in time and pitch, and how that structure is ordered by the composer/musician. Heyser, one of the most perceptive audio engineers I've had the privilege to meet, repeatedly emphasized in his essays and papers that the reproduction of music is a multidimensional event.
I recently came across a 1998 report, "Explaining the Computer Productivity Paradox," by Kevin Stiroh and Robert H. McGuckin III, that discussed the apparent fact that the widespread use of computers has not resulted in any significant increase in worker productivity. This is indeed a paradox, as my experience in the magazine business has left me with the opposite impression. We all do more, with less, than at any earlier time.