One of the drawbacks of the new DualDiscs released by the major labels to date is a lack of consistency when it comes to portability—the ability to easily transfer the music to any device the listener prefers, such as an iPod, media server, PC, or MP3 player, or to make a back-up CD for car use.
When, on his long-running TV variety show, Jackie Gleason used to order up some "traveling music" from music director Ray Bloch, he got a live orchestra's worth. But when Gleason, a composer and conductor in his own right (he wrote his show's unforgettable theme song, "Melancholy Serenade"), actually traveled, his listening options were severely limited compared to ours. By the time the comedian died in 1987, Sony had introduced the Walkman cassette player, but Apple's iPod was still more than a decade in the future.
I saw it coming back in 1996. That was when Rega introduced their full-bore assault on the state of the art of record replay, the Planar 9 turntable. The P9 was and is a superb product, but because it sells for $3900—more than five times the price of the company's bread-and-butter model, the venerable Rega Planar 3—its introduction created an enormous price gap. And that's not to mention all the numbers between 3 and 9 that have languished for so long: How could you not expect Rega to fill in the blanks with Planars 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8?
While a relative trickle of copy-restricted CDs have been released in the US, European labels have been more likely to experiment with lock-down technology. Russia is battling extreme piracy, as its culture and mass communications minister, Aleksandr Sokolov, reported to his government last week, asserting that pirated wares account for 80–90% of the overall audio and video sales in that country.
Music industry executives widely believe that "ring tones"—snippets of favorite tunes—and music downloadable to cell phones will be the next big trend, perhaps one that could help restore some luster to the industry's tarnished bottom line. "Music-related products for PCs and mobile phones are on pace to deliver as much as $500 million in combined revenue in the US for 2004, according to Nielsen SoundScan figures and analysts' projections," reported Brian Garrity in a mid-December issue of Billboard.
Paul Barton, founder of PSB Speakers International, is an icon of the North American speaker industry. A talented designer who has for many years produced innovative and cost-effective designs at a range of prices, Barton does not let time stand still, constantly updating and revising his designs. But what makes him unique, in my view, is that, unlike the designers at most North American speaker companies, whose successful affordable designs are trickled down from their more expensive models, Barton, like the British designers, seems to get most of his excitement from his budget lines. His original PSB Alpha was, in its day, the most significant entry-level speaker made in North America since the original Advents of the 1970s.
New experiences are some of the most pleasurable parts of being an audio reviewer. Despite being involved with the High End for longer than I care to think about, I had never had the experience of owning, living with, or reviewing a pair of electrostatic speakers, be they full-range or hybrid. I'd heard various Quads plenty of times at shows and in the homes of audio buddies, but in my own listening cave? Never.