It's been a tough year for some of the audiophile record labels, as witnessed by the demise in late November of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (see previous story). The shock of MoFi's sudden departure even prompted Kimber Kable's Ray Kimber to fire off an e-mail to everyone within virtual reading range, urging them to buy a few audiophile CDs and LPs right now, before it's too late.
In a move that is sure to enrage users of blank digital media, Canada's Copyright Board has finalized plans to add a levy of 5.2 Canadian cents on CD-Rs and CD-RWs, 23.3 cents on audio cassettes over 40 minutes in length, and 60.8 cents on MiniDiscs and recordable audio CDs. In a market in which blank CD-Rs used for computer backup typically cost less than C$1 each, this represents an increase of at least 5% per disc. Interestingly, DAT tapes are excluded from the tax, as they are not seen as a threat to the music business.
We're still waiting to see even one official US release of DVD-Audio software, but reports are trickling in that the recording industry is nonetheless planning for the multichannel high-resolution audio landscape. The latest bit of news comes from mastering facility Future Disc Systems, which announced last week that it is now mastering DVD-Audio projects, and will soon be ready for high-resolution surround sound.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is reporting that factory-to-dealer sales of audio equipment posted strong gains in October, rising by 8% over last October's sales figures and eclipsing the $1 billion mark for the first time since 1995. The CEA says that growth occurred in all segments of the audio market except portable audio, sales of which remained consistent with last year's levels.
Any FM-radio DJ who was on the air in the US through the late '70s and early '80s will tell you that the song most often requested was easily Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" popped up regularly, but it was never a contest. So it comes as no surprise that Zep's epic hit would make the list of the 10 songs included in the "Millennium Mix" being presented this month by Dick Clark. (Never mind that the millennium actually ends December 31, 2000.)
Audiophiles have been hit hard lately, as DVD-Audio's release schedule has succumbed to piracy concerns and Sony has so far refused to allow digital outputs on SACD decks. (Only digital outs for CD playback are allowed.) You can listen, but don't touch. But at least there are still no such restrictions on CD players that would inhibit the use of their digital datastreams . . . for now.
As reported last March, loudspeaker manufacturer Von Schweikert Research closed its doors after a disastrous flood hit the factory (see previous report). Many thought this was the end of the story, but last week, Dr. Edward Gonzaga, of the Gonzaga Investment Group, announced the formation of a new version of the company, to be named Von Schweikert Audio.
Last August, we reported that brick-and-mortar retailer Tweeter Home Entertainment Group had aligned itself with online retailer Cyberian Outpost to leverage each company's respective strengths, both on- and offline. The trend continues as, last week, brick-and-mortar retailer Harvey Electronics announced that it has reached an "agreement in principle" with CoolAudio.com (see previous story) to merge the two companies through an exchange of common stock.
The quest for new speaker technologies has resulted in some novel approaches to the reproduction of sound, as witnessed by products announced in the last few years by NXT and 1 . . . Ltd. (See previous story.) Some of Stereophile's readers may also recall that, back in May 1996, American Technology Corp. shook things up in the audio world by announcing what the company described as its "breakthough" new technology, the much-debated HyperSonic Sound (HSS). This was followed up in February 1997, when ATC announced the introduction of its Stratified Field Technology SFT, which company literature touted as "a significant improvement over conventional loudspeakers."
One of the challenging attributes of the new DVD-Audio format is the ability to release music in high-resolution multichannel (four or more) sound. For some this will be a thorny issue: Can previously released recordings be remixed to take advantage of the extra channels without sounding gimmicky? Should classical and/or live recordings use the surround channels for concert-hall ambience? How long will it be until consumers even care about setting up their systems to take advantage of more than two full-bandwidth channels?