Within the confines of the cozy analog audiophile kingdom, things couldn't be better: Turntables, cartridges and phono preamps can be found in abundance, while mounds of new and used vinyl can be scored by the truckload.
Cats vs. dogs, Wile E. Coyote vs. Roadrunner, Spy vs. Spy, Analog vs. Digital. It seems that some battles will never end, and so it is with flux vs. bits in the professional recording industry. The Audio Engineering Society (AES) conventions dazzle showgoers with the latest audio recording and processing gear, mostly digital, and this year's show is no exception. The big buzz heard 'round the hall were higher sampling and quantization rates for future music formats such as DVD-Audio. But off-site, at the nearby ANA hotel (great choice of venue---just add LOG) in downtown San Francisco, key industry heavyweights were holding a meeting to discuss the future of analog recording technologies.
Neither Verance nor Digimarc have made friends in the consumer world, as they continue to develop and implement watermarking technologies used to restrict the use of digital media, such as DVD-Audio and CD discs. Audiophiles, in particular, are resisting any form of restriction technology, such as watermarking, that alters the digital data on a disc at the expense of audio fidelity.
For many audiophiles, the reasonably priced "universal" DVD-Audio/SACD/CD player is the magic combination that will trigger a jump into the new high-resolution audio formats. As an answer to those universal player prayers, Wolfson Microelectronics, UK–based developer of audio ICs for multimedia and communications applications, announced the introduction of two new six-channel audio DAC chips last week—one of which brings the contentious formats together in one box.
One of the constraints of the DVD format that is much hated by consumers around the world is the notorious "region code," whereby a DVD disc will only play in a machine that was bought in the country or region that the disc is licensed for. Hollywood claims that this is the only way to protect a work's licenses, which may vary from country to country. But region codes have made it tough on citizens in countries with few DVD releases and world travelers who try to bring home and play discs that they find abroad, leading to the widespread use of "hacks" to circumvent the restrictions.
The healthy trend for the audio market continues: the Consumer Electronics Association reported last week that revenues from factory shipments of audio products to dealers this February increased by 8% over last February, to a total of $542 million. "The fantastic sales in February spurred the year-to-date total for audio sales to more than $1 billion; a 6% increase over the first two months of 1999," said the CEA.
Retailers Ultimate Electronics, Sound Advice, Harvey Electronics and Good Guys have all reported strong sales for their most recent quarters, leading into the holiday shopping season. The only sour note was posted by Circuit City, which has stated that earnings are below expectations across all product categories.
I was looking forward to seeing Antelope's recently announced Rubicon Atomic AD/DA Preamp at CES, but so is the company. At the time I visited the room, DHL still hadn't found and delivered it, so we have Director of Sales and Marketing Marcel James standing next to the poster.