One by one, the name brands of audio are confronting the difficult issue of whether or not to take their products online. Recent brands to join the club include Roksan, Chord Electronics, Harman/Kardon, and PS Audio. Now it's time to add one of audio's deeply rooted loudspeaker marques, Celestion, to the list.
The Mark Levinson No.30 has enjoyed a continuing residence in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing since it was reviewed in our February 1992 issue (Vol.15 No.2). Madrigal includes the No.30 in its "Reference" series, by which they mean that the unit will not become obsolete. Thus, when new technology became available, the No.30.5 update was introduced, consisting of a single digital-receiver printed circuit board to replace the original's three boards, and a new digital-filtering board. This revision was favorably reviewed by Stereophile in October 1994 (Vol.17 No.10).
High-end digital audio's rapid advancements are pushing integrated circuit designers to exceed their previous limits. San Diego-based AKM Semiconductor has joined the chip elite with two new digital-to-analog devices that further push the performance envelope. The AK4394 is a 24-bit/192kHz stereo DAC based on Asahi Kasei Microsystems' advanced multi-bit delta-sigma technology. Its sibling, the AK4356, is a 24-bit/192kHz, six-channel DAC based on the same technology, but boasting a useful and fascinating array of features.
The ultra-High End may be stagnant in some areas, but the rebound in mainstream consumer electronics is visible everywhere. Canton, Massachusetts-based Tweeter Home Entertainment Group has announced record results for the quarter ended September 30, 1999: an increase of 39.5%, or $74.6 million compared to $53.5 million in the same period last year. The results are similar to those posted recently by nationwide electronics chain Best Buy, which also had a record quarter. Tweeter's comparable store sales increased 5.2%, not counting results from the recently acquired Home Entertainment and DOW Stereo/Video chains.
Hoping to "forever alter the way people shop for medium to high-end home entertainment products," KnowledgeLINK has launched its e-commerce website, GetPlugged.com, which it claims will "educate and entertain consumers, and seamlessly link them with the nation's best A/V specialty retailers and custom installers." The site offers what it calls "a highly informative, fun, uniquely interactive shopping experience for the audio-video consumer."
Last week, IBM announced a new device that it says will allow mobile users to add an extra 10 gigabytes (GB) of hard-drive capacity to their notebook PCs. Why is this important to audio fans? IBM is intending the new drive, called the Travelstar E, to primarily appeal to those wanting to take extended music libraries with them on the road.
In his review of the Wadia 830 CD player, Brian Damkroger states: "My take on the Wadia was that: a) it probably wasn't going to sound that much better than the best of the $1000-ish players I had around, and b) even if it did, the differences wouldn't matter enough to me to justify its cost. My audio path took a dramatic turn one weekend, however, when a pair of cable manufacturers stopped by to demo their new products." Read about his journey and the ultimate audio destination will be revealed.
This may come as no surprise to Stereophile's website audience, but a report released last week finds that the heaviest users of the World Wide Web are also avid consumers of traditional media, listening to CDs and radio and watching television as they point their browsers to e-commerce, informational, and recreational sites.
"The bottom line is that good stuff really is better, and unfortunately, it usually costs more," proclaimed my friend Charlie over lunch one day. Our conversation had drifted to our newest toys, and although Charlie isn't an audiophile, he's passionate about his hobbies and appreciates performance and quality. He'll talk animatedly about exotic mountain bikes or Leica cameras, for example, and he has a garage full of Snap-On hand tools. Last winter he conducted an exhaustive search before selecting a particular pair of Zeiss binoculars—and the price of one of his James Purdey or 1930s-vintage Charles Daly shotguns would stagger even a veteran audiophile.
As January 1, 2000 approaches, and the MP3 whirlpool continues to swirl, one simple fact has made me feel as if I'm stuck at the starting line of the entire download controversy: The sound quality of MP3 has yet to improve above that of the average radio broadcast. Until that changes, I'm merely curious—as opposed to being in the I-want-to-know-it-all-now frenzy that is my usual m.o. when to comes to anything that promises music you can't get anywhere else.