As I write this, I am recuperating from four days of frenzy at the 1986 Winter CES in Las Vegas, Nevada. I am also pondering why I was so unexcited by most of what I saw and heard of the high-end exhibits; high-end audio may have reached a developmental plateau of sorts.
Portland, Maine, my hometown for the better part of two decades, is a pretty hip place. We are not, for the most part, innovators in fashion, but we are early adopters of the more interesting latest styles.
For years now, what I take to be a Brooklyn style has been prevalent among the local twentysomething crowd. The hipper restaurants are full of pretty young women and bearded men in plaid shirts who, on the one hand, seem ready for the woodlot but who, on the other hand, seem too skinny to lift a decent-size chainsaw. Likely as not, they arrived on single-speed racing bikes converted for commuter use. Nifty machines.
Paul Gowan's letter in the October 1989 Stereophile hinted that, whether or not audiophiles enjoy music, it should be true that the emotional experience we derive from music is what really matters. There, barefaced, lies the problem: who are "we"? A well-known Latin epigram affirms that in matters of taste there is no point in discussion. And a Greek epigram (coined in fact by Max Beerbohm in his Oxford novel Zuleika Dobson) suggests that "for people who like that kind of thing, that is the kind of thing they like."
Editor's Introduction:In 1963, Stereophile's founder J. Gordon Holt published attacks on what he saw as the single largest step backward in high-fidelity sound reproduction at that time: RCA's introduction of "Dynagroove" LP records, where the recorded signal was pre-distorted and dynamically equalized to compensate for the poor performance of cheap phonograph players. "Issue 5...revealed most of RCA Victor's 'revolutionary' new system as nothing more than a sophisticated way of bringing higher fi to record buyers who don't care enough about hi-fi to invest in a decent playback system." Ten years later, Gordon wrote that, "As of 1974, the best we can say for Dynagroove is that there is no audible evidence of it on current RCA releases." (These articles were reprinted in June 1992, Vol.15 No,6, as part of Stereophile's 30th-anniversary celebrations.)—John Atkinson
A tradition is anything we do, think, or believe for no better reason than that we have always done it, thought it, or believed it. Most traditions are followed in this mindless and automatic way, and, if questioned, are defended with the argument of, well, that it seems to work. It's time-tested, true-blue and, because so familiar, as comfy as an old slipper. So why rock the boat, throw a wrench in the works, or fix it if it ain't broke.
It was a simple little thing that turned into so much more. Michael Lavorgna started it. Out of the blue and as sudden as spring, he sent an e-mail to me and speaker designer John DeVore: "Let's plan a trip to the Princeton Record Exchange!" And, just in case 60,000 beautiful LPs wouldn't be enough of a lure, Michael put a cherry on top: "The Triumph Brewing Company is right next door!"
Just about everyone knows that a new high-quality digital audio disc, called DVD, is being developed by the world's electronics giants. What few realize, however, is how politics and corporate politics influenced the format's technical specifications. The result may be unnecessary sonic degradation for millions of music listeners.
"This is offensive!" muttered usually mild-mannered Malcolm Hawksford, who was sitting next to me. "I'm leaving." The good professor was right. One thousand or so attendees at the 103rd Audio Engineering Society Convention, held at the end of September in New York, were being subjected to truly terrible sound. The irony was that the sound was that of 2- and 5-channel recordings made with 24-bit resolution and a 96kHz sampling rate, being played over a colored PA system to demonstrate the future of audio, in the form of DVD-Audio.
"Do you have another DVD player?" asked Classic Records' Michael Hobson. As is usual in important demonstrations, Murphy's Law had struck with a vengeance. The prototype Muse DVD player Kevin Halverson had worked on most of the previous night was refusing to play the DVD Mike had placed in its tray.
The announcement in October 1995 of the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) set the hearts of audiophiles and music lovers pounding. Although primarily a digital video and computer-data storage format, DVD's massive capacity could be applied to a "super CD" audio-only disc. Finally we would be liberated from the musical limitations of the CD's 16-bit word length, 44.1kHz sampling rate, and two-channel format. We were tantalized by reports of 96kHz sampling rate, 24-bit word length, and multichannel playback. Digital redemption appeared to be just around the corner.
As you can read in this month's "Industry Update" (pp.35 & 37), the two conglomerates who hitherto seemed driven to offer the world two competing standards for the forthcoming Digital Video Disc came to their senses. Instead of consumers being offered Toshiba/Warner/Matsushita's SD and Sony/Philips's MCD, there will be just one high-density 4.75" disc to take both video and audio data storage into the 21st century.
You would have thought the hardware companies who trumpeted at the January 2006 Consumer Electronics Show that their video DVD players would be in US retailers' showrooms by September 1996 would have learned an important lesson from the bungled DAT launch almost 10 years ago: Without first getting complete agreement of the software industry on substantive issues, it's foolish to announce a firm launch date for a new medium. September came and went without DVD discs or players being available in US stores. In fact, all that happened was that the bottom fell out of sales of 12" laserdiscs and laserdisc players.
One of the delights of being published by a multinational conglomerate that grows through acquisition, as Emap Petersen does, is that Stereophile finds itself in interesting company. Like La Nouvelle Revue du Son in France, for example, edited by the legendary Jean Hiraga, who turned me on to the sonic importance of wires and passive components almost 25 years ago. And Mojo, an English music magazine tightly targeted on baby boomers like me, who bought their first stereo systems in the '60s to better appreciate the progressive rock we lived and loved by. (I wonder if turn-of-the-millennium college students gather 'round a new G4 Mac to get off on MP3s the way, 30 years ago, we gathered 'round our precious vinyl.)