It's five years from now. Wide bandwidth has made audio-on-demand as commonplace as ATM machines and cellular phones were in 1999. Music lovers can plug into the Internet from almost anywhere and download any tunes they wish to hear anytime they wish to hear them for only pennies per song. Portable devices the size of wristwatches contain entire libraries of music. Picture frames, computer screens, and ceiling tiles all double as loudspeakers. Intuitive programs suggest personal playlists based on databases of prior requests. People are awash in a sea of music.
One of the most amazing things about the march of technology is the way quality goes up as prices go down. Only a few years ago, CD recorders were among the rarest and most expensive audio components. Now they're beginning to appear at budget prices.
I am sad to say that Larry Archibald's "The Final Word" column in the November issue, posted this week in this website's "Archives" section, is his last. When Larry, Stereophile's publisher emeritus, resigned from his salaried position at Emap Petersen at the end of June, he and I had envisaged him continuing to contribute "The Final Word" to the magazine.
Madrigal Audio Labs designed the original Mark Levinson No.30 nearly 10 years ago with the idea that, as a Reference Series product, it would never be made obsolete. John Atkinson reviews the No.30's latest upgrade, the Mark Levinson No.30.6 Reference D/A processor, after sending his personal unit from 1992 back to the factory for the required work. What he got back included new D/A converters in the unit's twin towers. Was it worth the effort, and does this processor still define the state of the art? You'll want to read his report to find out.
Trying to get a grip on where the new high-end audio formats, DVD-Audio and SACD, might be going? A logical place to start might be to check with the factories getting ready to crank out the discs and see how the orders have so far stacked up. After conducting just such a survey, the International Recording Media Association (IRMA) released last week the first projections for next year's worldwide marketplace introduction of DVD-Audio and SACD.
In recent years, format-driven commercial radio has pushed opera off its playlists. The few remaining classical stations concentrate on the standard symphonic repertoire with only an occasional foray into opera, to the dismay of the genre's many fans.
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.