It's easy for us audiophiles to feel neglected. Consider that this year witnesses the debuts of not one, but two new audio formats that should answer the prayers of just about every frustrated audiophile out there: SACD and DVD-Audio. Both approaches represent the state of the art of recording and reproducing music, and finally fulfill for serious listeners the promise that CD teased us with more than 15 years ago.
It's a reviewer's privilege to be able to switch back and forth between tube and solid-state gear (or combinations thereof) as the mood or the assignment moves him. Still, I find I'm inevitably drawn back to the Epicurean delights of triode tube gear. When done right, there's an alluring musicality to it, like the breath of life. However, in any tube vs solid-state contest, the relative tradeoffs between tone and resolution—sweetness and articulation, euphony and frequency extension—must be taken into consideration.
Kalman Rubinson gives a long listen to the 1998 Stereophile Editor's Choice winner, the Z-Systems rdp-1 digital preamplifier. Like many audiophiles, Kal eschewed tone controls in favor of the purist approach—until he met the rdp-1. As he puts it: "Now, the time has come for DSP to give the audiophile some powerful tools to tailor frequency response and to correct faults in the recording."
The most common complaint about record companies: CD prices are too high. In fact, many blame Napster's runaway success on the insistence of "greedy labels" on pricing discs at $15 or higher. Apparently BMG Direct, a division of BMG Entertainment, has put two and two together and found it equals $9.99.
Mastering engineer Denny Purcell let out a long sigh. "Does anyone in this room really 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 in Nashville for SDMI's Phase II listening tests, no one said "Yes." The consensus: The watermarking issue will probably be dead and forgotten within a year.
Following on the heels of its announcement last week of the first commercially available DVD-Audio disc (Swingin' for the Fences, by Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band), Silverline Records says that Aaron Neville will become the first major artist to release an album in the format. Silverline expects that, on October 24, Neville's solo album Devotion will be released on DVD-A. The disc will also include audio tracks compatible with standard DVD players.
After a difficult gestation, DVD-Audio may finally be moving toward becoming a market reality now that a major record label has stepped forward to support it. Warner Music Group (WMG) has issued several recordings in the new format, covering a range of genres. DVD-A is "the most significant industry format launch since the introduction of the CD nearly 20 years ago," according to an October 2 WMG press release.
Slap echo got you in a flutter? Jonathan Scull writes, in "Fine Tunes" #27, that "last month I delved into avoiding reflective, parallel-wall slap echoes from ruining your audiophile day. But I've since learned of a perfectly useful workaround that's much less costly and involved than horsing around the Sheetrock." George Cardas lends a hand.