Editor's Note: This is Part Three of a six-part series from reader Hervé Delétraz of Switzerland, who is chronicling the development of his DIY (do-it-yourself) audio amplifier. Part One is here, and Part Two is here.
Love it or hate it, MP3 users are a huge new market, as yet untapped by the music industry. Portable digital compressed-audio players, whether employing Flash memory or compact hard drives à la Apple's iPod, are estimated to begin reaching critical-mass sales numbers around 2006, with an installed base of 24 million units by 2007. Most observers agree that this dramatic growth has been driven, in large part, by the vast quantity of no-fee music that is available in the format, as well as the players' ease of use and flexibility.
The music industry repeatedly points to online file trading as the explanation for its declining market. But annual sales are still well ahead of 1998's figures and several analysts note that when you take into account the economic downturn, increased competition for entertainment dollars, high CD pricing, uninspiring new music, and consumer resistance to copy protection, those negative numbers should really be far worse.
We wrote last week about the increasingly heated debate over DRM copy protection, with everybody from Steve Jobs to the RIAA weighing in on the subject. This week was just as wild and whacky on that front.
Looks like it might be a while before a profitable formula jells for selling music over the Internet. News this week indicates that one of the largest music retailers, Tower Records, is finally ready to challenge the market, while online distribution pioneer N2K will be scaling back operations until things steady a bit.
The Elf Foundation's accomplishments are extraordinary. In just four and a half years, the nonprofit organization has facilitated the design and construction of more than 40 Rooms of Magic. These are private entertainment theaters in medical facilities for children: hospitals, as well as centers for autism, abused children, and kids with long-term disabilities. And none of the design work or state-of-the-art equipment for these children's oases costs the host facilities a cent.
We all know the refrain. Classical music is losing its audience. With shorter attention spans, the ascent of the iPod, a penchant for music (and spoken word masquerading as music) in the background, and the submergence of audio by home theater, fewer and fewer people in the United States are being exposed to art music of the past and present.
Last Thursday, Virgin Entertainment Group announced an agreement with RedDotNet, a Digital on Demand company, that Virgin says will allow its customers to download music and create custom CDs, DVDs, and MiniDiscs in-store. Virgin describes the deal as "a revolutionary development heralding a new wave of music retailing." As part of the agreement, Virgin will become a shareholder in Digital on Demand, RedDotNet's parent company.
First with CD players, then digital preamps, and recently amplifiers, digital technology has ground inexorably through the audio chain. Several companies have been developing ways to shorten the analog path or remove it entirely. Meridian's "digital" loudspeakers come to mind, as well as the amplifiers from manufacturers Spectron and TacT.
Last week, Cirrus Logic unveiled two new Crystal digital-to-analog converters that the company says will support both dueling high-definition audio standards: DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD (SACD). As a result, the new DACs should enable the creation of universal DVD players for both the mass and high-end audio markets. The new DACs are the CS4397 "SuperDAC," which the company describes as a "high-performance audio DAC on a single chip" with 120dB dynamic range performance; and the CS4391, a lower-cost DAC also supporting DVD-Audio and SACD and sporting a 108dB dynamic range.
Although the CD was successfully released into the music industry gene pool 20 years ago, several companies are still tinkering with its DNA in order to assist record labels in restricting how consumers use their discs.
"The Record Player Reborn" declare the new issue's cover, referring to reviews of LP players from Oracle, Acoustic Signature, and VPI. But digital isn't forgotten, with John Atkinson raving about about Chord's new $599 portable DAC, Larry Greenhill upgrading his Bryston BDP-2 file player with a new soundboard, and Digital Audio Review's John Darkø kicking off the issue with a guest editorial on the boom in personal listening in Japan. And topping it all off is our annual "Records to Die For" listing: 56 albums every audiophile should have in their collection.
Technics’ little gem of a speaker, the two-way SB-C700, signifies both the Japanese brand’s return to the high-performance audio scene and the start of Stereophile’s 54th year of continuous publication. Paradigm’s Prestige 95F tower speaker also gets the full review treatment, along with an idiosyncratic two-box CD player from the UK’s Audio Note, BAT’s cost-no-object Rex II tube preamplifier, and Apogee’s affordable but great-sounding Groove D/A headphone amplifier.
New companies are springing up all around the web to provide songs for custom CD compilations. (See previous articles 1, 2.) You go to the site, choose up to 70 minutes of music from their catalog, and the finished disc is mailed back to you in a couple of days for between 10 and 20 bucks. The challenge for these companies is to have an attractive catalog of artists and songs to choose from.