Always Good To Be Invisible

"For decades the pursuit of high–-quality sound on high-end systems drove the recording industry, especially the classical music branch."

Say what? So let me get this straight, the music business was primarily driven by a concern for both better sound and audiophiles?

In classical music I can sort of see it, but the rest of the record business, rock records and high quality sound, no way! Never let music reviewers do music business trend stories may be the key lesson to be gleaned from Anthony Tommasini’s semi–ridiculous article in this past Sunday's New York Times ("Hard to be an Audiophile in an iPod World.") Search his name on the NYT website to see this very strange piece.

Tommasini obviously became enamored with a new book, Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music written by one Mark Katz who teaches college level courses in DJ culture at UNC/Chapel Hill. Katz is quoted as having published absolute nonsense like saying the major labels "stock rhetoric concerned fidelity." Yeah, and if you believe either Katz or the rhetoric, then we got some nice fifty dollar CDs you need to take a look at. Sometimes academia's whole "publish or perish" culture works against it.

Don't be nave: "stock rhetoric" also touted how much CDs cost to make. And how after an initial period when they’d cost considerably more than the LPs which they replaced, CDs would descend in price. I'm not saying the record business is all corruption and ill will but I think most reasonable people who've had any dealings with it would agree that looking out for consumers and artists, let alone attaching value to an esoteric concept (compared with raw capitalism) like sound quality, have never been its strongest suits.

Did Katz call up the big record labels, let them spew and then assume it was gospel? Sounds like it. And then Tommasini, who should have known better, assumed Katz was gospel? Did either of them actually listen to a record, these paragons of fidelity of which they speak? One audiophile truism concerns just how many bad sounding classical records came out of the "golden age" of recorded classical music. And how many rock records, which routinely sound bad, actually have more fidelity in them that might be expected. Sadly, sound quality is somewhere around fifth or worse on the list of label priorities in these or any other days. All that crap about "hi-fidelity" that was often printed on the inner labels of LPs was pure marketing blather. Yes, records used to sound better and labels marginally cared about it once upon a time, but again let's face it, improving their products has never been a "driving" consideration for major record labels. It was all about raising the prices and moving out the product baby. The allure of music, that fact that people need it, made their chicanery possible. And profitable.

To be utterly self–interested about this piece, the lead of the story that laments the demise of audio magazines and the "big advertising bucks" (I almost choked on that one) that sustained them is a tad insulting. Again, I'm thinking a little research might have cleared this up, because last time I checked, there was a stylish little rag called Stereophile that was reviewing products and music with wit and grace. Hey, we may not be High Fidelity, which is mentioned and which died twenty years ago not last week as implied in the piece, but hey, we do our best.

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David Aiken's picture

"a stylish little rag called Stereophile that was reviewing products and music with wit and grace"I can agree with everything in that sentence apart from the "and music". Not enough music reviews to really justify that addition in my view, especially when the reviews are treated as an afterthought and dropped in issues like February's. I don't regard the R2D4 article as music reviewing, even though I enjoy it greatly.Now if only you would devote the same space to music as you do to equipment. Then I could agree with you.

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