My dogs were killing me. It was the end of the second day of the 1985 Summer Consumer Electronics Show, which I was visiting on behalf of English magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review. I had been dutifully tramping the capacious corridors of Chicago's McCormick Center and the rooms of the (now demolished) McCormick Inn, looking for signs of musical life amid the huge promotion for the 8mm tape format, which was being heavily touted at CES as the future of both video and audio (!) reproduction. Even trade-paper headlines shouting "Audio: Not Just Video Peripheral!" failed to lift my spirits as I took the shuttle bus over to the Americana Congress hotel on South Michigan, where most of the high-end audio companies were hanging out.
When J. Gordon Holt founded Stereophile in 1962, it was very much the outsider. Compared with the mass-market magazine of which he had been Technical Editor, High Fidelity, Gordon's Stereophile was the very model of an "underground" publication, with a publication schedule as irregular as its production values were inconsistent. Its writing was from the heart, however.
My eyes were inexorably drawn to a surprising headline this morning: "New Studies Say Universe Younger than Objects In It." A study by Indiana University's Michael Pierce has just been published establishing a new value for "Hubble's Constant" (the ratio of velocity to distance for distant, receding galaxies) which suggests that the universe may be as young as 7 billion years old; at the same time, researchers at Harvard are saying that the universe is somewhere between 9 and 14 billion years old. Quite a discrepancy! (A billion here, a billion there—pretty soon you're talking real age.)
Someone once said that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Well, this month, we will see not one but two better mousetraps, in the form of Sony's and Philips' Super Audio CD and the DVD Forum's DVD-Audio. Both are intended to replace the humble CD, now in its seventeenth year; both offer higher-resolution digital audio; and both offer multiple channels. To accompany SACD, Sony's $5000 SCD-1 two-channel player is now on sale (and will be reviewed in the November Stereophile), while Panasonic has announced October sale dates for two DVD-A players, the $1000 Panasonic DVD-A7 and the $1200 Technics DVD-A10.
Audiophiles have a mess on their hands. In a somewhat surreal press conference in May, a half dozen audio luminaries—representing Sony, Philips, and several titans of the high-end recording business—stood on a HI-FI '99 stage looking awkwardly at the audience.
At the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show in January—see the report in this issue—Sony and Philips held an SACD Event at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. There were trippy lights. There were the Grand Pooh-Bahs of Sony, Philips, and the record labels. There was loud multichannel Big Brother and the Holding Company. And there was Sony's main SACD man in the US, David Kawakami, supplying the pep talk.
Although inclined to mood swings bordering on the manic-depressive, I am generally a very patient, tolerant person, willing to accept and overlook the foibles of those less perfect than myself. But even my incredible equanimity has its limits, beyond which the milk of my human kindness curdles, becoming as lumpy as last month's yogurt.
No one ever had to pay for recorded musicit was always "free" on the radioand the home taping of LPs, the copying of cassettes, and, later, burning CDs made buying music optional. Then Napster and other file-sharing sites kicked it up a notch and made it very easy to assemble a 10,000-song collection without spending a dime. Now, Spotify, BitTorrent, SoundCloud, MOG, and YouTube make music instantly accessible on demand. It raises the question: Will music lovers continue to buy music? Paying for recorded music is now, more than ever, a voluntary act.
Perhaps it's the air in San Francisco, or more likely the fact that exhibitors and attendees were equally upbeat, but I came back from Home Entertainment 2003, held at the grand old Westin-St. Francis Hotel days before I write this month's column, jazzed. I was one of 15,123 consumer, international press, and trade attendees, according to the official stats, and we were treated to more than 100 exhibit rooms showing and demonstrating 225 brands of audio and home-theater gear. Stereophile's full report on what we saw and heard at the Show will appear in our September and October issues, while our web coverage can be found starting here(footnote 1).
In the old days, when audio-show reports routinely appeared in the print edition of Stereophile, life was easier. I spent my show days visiting exhibitors and listening to new gear, but I decorated those days with record shopping, dining out, and staying up late to visit with friends in the industry. And because hard-copy deadlines always seemed to be at least a few days away, I would wait until I'd returned home before doing any actual writing.
A number of recent letters have accused us of snobbishness and elitism because we devote so much space to reports about components that "common folk" can't afford. We are "snobbish" because we seem to look down on anything less perfect than a Wilson WAMM speaker system or an Audio Research SP-10 preamplifier. And we are "elitist" because we seem to show little interest in any components which fall short of state of the art. Far from being chastened by these letters, I am proud, to declare that they are right on target.