The Music Goes Round & Round Page 6

We often create that contention ourselves. SOTA called me a "crude mechanic," the nicest thing that's ever been said about me. But we contribute to that as well, because we do things in isolation. We also tend to compete internally instead of going out there and telling the rest of the marketplace that have never heard about Linn or SOTA or Oracle or whatever. My favorite story is about a guy in my company who went to a hi-fi shop where he used to work, and a customer came in with a prototype Syrinx tonearm. "Who sold you that piece of fucking crap?" my employee asked the guy. The guy said, "You did!"

Archibald: Turntable manufacturers need to recognize that people look at turntables as a group, and they look at CD as a group. It's not that people decide whether or not to buy a new CD player or a Linn or an Oracle or a SOTA or a VPI; they actually decide whether or not they're going to buy a turntable or a CD player. Once they decide to buy a turntable, then they will exercise choice.

Tiefenbrun: But that's not true. The majority of people with CD players have turntables as well. It's not an either/or choice; the magazines have made it an either/or choice.

Riendau: The dealers, too.

Archibald: But Stereophile readers write and ask, "Should I buy a CD player or a turntable?" People who are buying new systems look at it this way—should I even bother to buy a turntable?

Tiefenbrun: Well, if they're not interested in music, they don't need one. Because if they're interested in music, it's going to be another 10 or 20 years before they're going to be able to access the number of titles.

Archibald: There was a time when you bought your first record; you didn't have any investment in records.

Tiefenbrun: Yes, but what happens to lots of people is that the buyer of a CD player will either buy a cheap system that comes with a turntable and a cassette recorder anyway, or they'll add it as a component to an existing system. I'm not saying that there's nobody who buys a CD player and bases their system on it, but my experience is that, within a couple of months, they get a wee bit interested in music and want to buy something not available on CD—they go into a shop and buy a turntable.

Archibald: But if that were true you wouldn't have the massive sales of CD players vis-à-vis turntables . . . [Uproar] Yes, people are buying lots of (particularly high-end) turntables but people are also buying lots of dollars' worth of CD players.

Tiefenbrun: Sure, and people are buying lots of aspirin. Where's the connection?

Herman: All the turntable manufacturers are busier than we've ever been. April was a record month for Linn and for SOTA; what does that say? VPI's back-ordered, and we're all producing as much as we can. The point is that CD has caused some confusion, which is now beginning to resolve itself. The industry is very much alive and, as Ivor says, if someone can't get what they want on CD and they want music badly enough, then they have to revert to what has been the standard for all these years.

Riendau: What happened is that the big magazines say to a manufacturer,"You have a $100,000 contract for advertising, that makes your CD good." If I have $250,000, then my CD player will be very good. And if Rodney comes up with $400,000 worth of advertising, then his CD is going to be at least 634 times better than mine! Basically, these magazines with tremendous circulations—who print, "Is this the End of the Dinosaur?"—these are the people who are creating the MacDonalds attitude. "Why go to a great Italian restaurant? MacDonalds is good enough."

Tiefenbrun: People get the whole thing out of proportion; we're all too extreme, too all-or-nothing. CD's another format, there'll be others. DAT is coming out in the autumn; we'll have R-DAT, S-DAT, 8mm with PCM, read/write CDs, CDs that are compatible with video—and the whole thing'll go to ratshit and the consumer will find himself with a collection of silver discs that won't play in his new machine! I've said for years that the LP is going to survive, if only by default. But it has a qualitative advantage. You have all the software out there: minority music, choral music, jazz, and—dare I say it?—Country & Western. That stuff, it's going to be years before, in number of titles terms, CD equals a "record". Even if it's only five or ten years, people want music now. They've got records now.

Riendau: CD made people interested in listening to music again. There were a bunch of crappy turntables out in the field, things that were tracking with pennies and quarters on top of the headshell, and people were disgusted listening to music because AM radio was sounding as good. CD regenerated excitement, and a lot of CDs sold out there. It was just like when MacDonalds showed up—I mean, everyone ate in MacDonalds, but after that it kinda settled down and people went back to the great restaurants.

Tiefenbrun: There is a difference between the hi-fi industry and the radio business, but it's been obscured because the radio business describes their stuff as "hi-fi." They've stolen all our words, the only words that made sense, so we're in this strange dilemma when people say that record-player production has gone down. What's that got to do with us and our business? Almost nothing!

Atkinson: It's like looking at the statistics for record sales: the best-selling classical record in the UK last year was actually 1016th overall. People interested in classical music are such a tiny minority that that market can be healthy and grow and expand and won't even show in the overall figures.

Herman: It's interesting that none of the major turntable manufacturers with "high-end" pretensions are making CD players.

Tiefenbrun: Our company could make a CD player without any tremendous difficulty, but maybe we are doing things wrong as well. Maybe we are not taking our products to the market enough, because our products are very expensive. We've released a turntable that, with an arm and cartridge, will be $575. I think products like that will generate a lot of interest in turntables. We should be using design as a more powerful tool to do the job better and to address more people.

You're talking to the guy who has a world monopoly on single-speed turntables! I'm always telling our customers that they can't have this and they can't have that, but really we should be opening doors, rather than closing them. We have to go out a wee bit to the market. I think we have to communicate better, address more people, make better, more affordable hi-fi for more people. We have to go out and sell our stuff. You can't complain about the Japanese for selling their stuff—they do it brilliantly—but I think we can compete at any price point, apart from the very low price area—even they can't do that, they have to go Taiwan or Korea. It's all in our own minds; we've got to decide what we want to do, then go out and have a go at it.

Forty years ago, Sony was a small company.

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