"An amusement park for the mind." That was how, some years ago, one engineer described the Audio Engineering Society's biannual conventions, which alternate between European and American venues. The 111th convention, subtitled "Advancing the Art of Sound," was held at the cavernous Jacob Javits Center on Manhattan's west side in early December. (It had originally been scheduled to take place last September, but was postponed for the obvious reason.)
Trees. All I could see from Route 44 was trees. Many, many trees. How many trees? Exactly 251.1 million maples, hickories, pines, hemlocks, ashes, and oaks of all colors, with trunks 5" or greater in diameter, according to an online survey I later found on the Web. Once you get away from I-95 and the coast, Connecticut seems to be one large forest, its towns peeking out from barely adequate clearings. And not just "seems"—the same online survey says that 57% of the Constitution State's 3,205,760 acres are officially classified as "forest."
It was an unusually fine day for a New York September. The W train crept from the subway tunnel into the sunlight of the Manhattan Bridge—"My God, the World Trade Center's on fire!" came the voice of the woman driving the train. I vividly remember what I did the rest of that day—the day the world terribly changed.
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.
As I write these words, it is exactly 15 years to the day since I left the English magazine Hi-Fi News (then Hi-Fi News & Record Review) to take the editorial helm of Stereophile. What has driven my editing of both magazines (and, Carol Baugh, p.10, I certainly do "edit" them) has been the view that the traditional model of a magazine—that it dispense and the readers receive wisdom—is fundamentally wrong. Instead, I strongly believe that a magazine's editors, writers, and readers are involved in an ongoing dialog about their shared enthusiasms. Stereophile's involvement in Shows stems from this belief, and it is in this light that its "Letters" column should be regarded as the heart of each issue.
Listening to multichannel music with the new SACD and DVD-Audio players has produced equal parts contentment and consternation. The contentment is easy to understand: Here are media that can reproduce music with better-than-CD resolution and, for the first time, re-create a believable illusion of the entire acoustic space in which the performance was recorded. The consternation is related to those same two issues: 1) maintaining the resolution and tonal balance relished with high-quality stereo, and 2) making the psychological transition from two-channel to multichannel listening. Both of these are barriers to audiophile acceptance of multichannel music.
As part of this issue's coverage of the recent Consumer Electronics Show (see Sidebar), I report on my dissatisfaction with almost all the surround-sound demonstrations I experienced in Las Vegas. As a music-lover, the last thing I want is to have trumpets and drums attacking me from behind, yet almost without exception, that is what record producers seem to feel is an essential part of the DVD-Audio and SACD experiences.
The affair started quietly enough, with the following exchange that appeared in Stereophile's January 2001 "Letters" section, following my decision to put the Digital Audio Labs CardDeluxe high-end PC soundcard on the cover of our September 2000 issue:
Mastering engineer Denny Purcell let out a long sigh. "Does anyone in this room believe that any of this is going to do any good?" he asked. Of the eight or nine people—each with decades of experience in the music and/or audio industries—hanging out at Georgetown Masters Studios for SDMI's Phase II listening tests this past October, not one said "Yes." The consensus: the watermarking issue will probably be dead and forgotten within a year.
Charles Hansen said it best, in a recent e-mail: "People have been holding back from criticizing this technology because they weren't certain that some new discovery hadn't been made." Ayre Acoustics' main man was talking about "upsampling," whereby conventional "Red Book" CD data, sampled at 44.1kHz, are converted to a datastream with a higher sample rate. (Because of its association with DVD-Audio, 96kHz is often chosen as the new rate.)