The international uncertainties of 2003 have not been kind to the specialist hi-fi sector, and are probably a key factor in this week's shock announcement. In a statement that sounds depressingly valedictory, the press release (reproduced in full below) baldly states: "TAG McLaren Audio ceases development of new products and commences a full strategic review of its participation in the audio market," before signing off with, "TAG McLaren Audio would like to thank everybody for their kind support over the years."
An old adage has it that "when Sony sneezes, the whole electronics industry catches cold." If that's so, there could be an epidemic brewing. Sony's profits plunged an astounding 98% in the first quarter of its current fiscal year. Thomson, Samsung, and some large retailers also reported big drops.
Downloading audio files, whether through a paid music service or not, continues to grow as a means to accumulate music in the US. According to a recent Ipsos-Insight study, as of April 2003, nearly one-third of the general US population aged 12 or older has downloaded a music or MP3 file from the Internet. This translates into roughly 65 million downloaders.
Bertelsmann may escape the legal wrath of its music industry peers, thanks to a decision rendered by Germany's top court on July 25. The Federal Constitutional Court in Berlin ruled to block delivery of a $17 billion lawsuit brought by other members of the recording industry over Bertelsmann's financial support of Napster. The block is good for at least six months and could be permanently renewed upon full examination of the lawsuit. Bertelsmann has already filed in US federal court in New York to have the suit dismissed.
As digitally recorded music moves through the recording and production chain, it can be handed off to a variety of studios, musicians, producers, record label executives, and mastering engineers. Sometimes this is done with a recordable CD or DVD, sometimes with a portable hard disk, and sometimes via a high-bandwidth Internet connection. Somewhere along the way, a good percentage of those files (some estimate up to 80%) get copied in an unauthorized manner and quickly end up on the Internet or on the street as pirated CDs before any official discs are released.
Turntables are intrinsically cool. Maybe it's that I am of the pre-CD generation, for which the acquisition of one's first really good turntable marked an audiophile's coming of age. Just as turntable technology has progressed to such awe-inspiring pieces as the SME 30/2 and Rockport Technologies Sirius III, less stratospherically priced 'tables now offer levels of performance that, if not revelatory, show why so many audiophiles (including yours truly) continue to love their LPs with something just short of fanaticism.
Will the threat of lawsuits have any effect on the file-sharing phenomenon? The music industry hopes and prays that it will. As of July 19, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) had sought and obtained "at least 871 federal subpoenas against computer users . . . with 75 new subpoenas being approved each day," according to an Associated Press report.