MP3 audio files have quickly become the dominant format for downloading music over the Internet, and have just as quickly raised the ire of music labels and artists looking to protect their musical assets. For example, a petition signed by nearly 400 European recording artists (including Mstislav Rostropovich and Barbara Hendricks) was handed to the European Parliament last Tuesday by French composer Jean-Michel Jarre to protest lax copyright protections exacerbated by digital technology. The petition states, in part, "We want to use new digital technologies like the Internet to create and to deliver our music, but we will only feel confident doing so if we know that the laws are there to stop our works falling victim to pirates."
We've all heard about "Internet time"---that fraction of the "normal" time interval for a similar activity to occur on the Internet. As if to put an exclamation point on the concept of Internet time, the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) plans to make audio history March 10 at the 1999 NARM Convention coming up in Las Vegas.
One of the classic problems with digital technology is what is known as the "cliff effect": when digital signals reach their limits, they don't fail gracefully like analog ones do---they go off a cliff and crash hard. Not only has the tendency for digital signals to exhibit their limitations noisily in the audio recording and playback environment been a problem for engineers and listeners, the effect on the digital broadcast industry has been tough to circumvent as well---until now.
The most important issue facing the high-end audio crowd at this Show is the looming battle for high-resolution audio formats. DVD-Audio and SACD posturing was everywhere, with SACD probably displayed the most. But it was a relief to see that manufacturers were starting to consider putting both SACD and DVD-Audio processing in a single box, thus making the choice for consumers much easier. This means that the makers of disc players are not forced to choose sides, and are able to please everyone. It allows consumers, as well, to make a single-player choice and be covered for the coming armegeddon. But it will put record labels in a tough spot: which format will they support for their releases---SACD, DVD-Audio, or, somehow, both? We'll keep you informed.
January 9, 3pm Some fascinating prototypes were on display at the Madrigal breakfast at Bally's this morning---and we can't tell you about them. But when the Cone of Silence is lifted, you can bet we'll spill the beans, particularly in view of Madrigal's confidence that there will be a future market for very-high-quality surround-sound music reproduction. In the meantime, we are able to report that the new Proceed DVD transport has enough upgradeability options to allow for just about any future digital format: DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, DVD-Video, etc. The transport will also allow for easy upgrading to future interface schemes such as IEEE 1394. And, unlike many other DVD-Video transports, the Proceed should be able to play CD-R discs. For two-channel fans, the Mark Levinson No.32 Reference preamplifier is in production and will be available next month. Price of the two-chassis, dual-mono unit, without phono stage, will be in the region of $15,000. Madrigal is already back-ordered.
Ah, it's good to be home again. We have finally arrived at the Alexis Park complex, the enclave of specialty audio. It's a much more civilized venue than the Convention Center, but, here as there, new products prevail. Only drawback this year: Someone has apparently rerouted the airplane take-offs from nearby McCarran airport to directly overhead, making it tough to continue a conversation or demo for more than 5 minutes.
Friday, we'll venture into the Alexis Park complex and the adjoining exhibits from T.H.E. Show, where most of the specialty audio manufacturers have set up shop. But so far, at the Las Vegas Convention Center and adjoining Hilton (which we are currently touring), live 24/96 digital audio is conspicuous by its absence.
Your dauntless reporters---Tom Norton, Steven Stone, Michael Fremer, Bob Deutsch, Larry Greenhill, Jon Iverson, and Barry Willis---have shown up on schedule for Philips Electronics' 1999 kickoff press conference at the Desert Inn's Grand Ballroom II, attended by a hundred or so other journalists.
If one were to judge by new high-end audio-product intros at this year's CES, the industry appears to be hopping. So far we're only halfway through the Alexis Park (the home of most high-end audio exhibitors at the Show), but our bags are already overstuffed with brochures. Not surprisingly, a lot of the two-channel manufacturers are branching out to the multichannel market.