As with past HI-FI Shows, we asked visitors to HI-FI '98 to vote for the room that offered what they thought to be the best sound. The ballot in the Show Guide asked visitors to list the best, second-best, third-best, and worst sounds, for which I allocated 3 points, 2 points, 1 point, and -1 point, respectively. Any exhibitor that received more than 0.7% of the total votes cast is listed in the Table. I've tried to include both the exhibitors and the brands demonstrated, as listed in the Show Guide and in our report text in the September issue of the paper Stereophile. My apologies if I've left anyone out.
It's the voice that grabs you first, balanced preternaturally high in the mix. As the singer effortlessly projects the vocal line, imperceptibly grabbing breath without disturbing the long, meandering melody, you can't help but realize what a superb instrument she had. As the song's harmonies modulate their way to the dominant, the bass guitar stubbornly sticks to the tonic so that what would otherwise be a conventional chord progression is transformed into a yearning series of suspensions echoing the lyric's despair. As guitarist Tony Peluso hammers down on his power solo, his instrument so fuzzed and compressed that the very plectrum strokes are thrown forward as disconnected transients, it becomes evident that there are layers upon layers to the backing vocals, each carefully placed upon the others by a master orchestrator, each appropriately filling in the gaps in the harmonies without turning the mix to glutinous syrup.
"What the heck is that icon trying to tell me?" I had switched on Denon's new DVD-3000 player—a cute "Welcome to DVD World" message scrolled across its display—and put a disc in its drawer. The icon, which looked at best like a Japanese character and at worst like a child's drawing of a house (complete with windows), was lit up in light blue on the display. But the game was given away by the magic words "96kHz 24 bit" illuminated in red below the mysterious icon. For this was no DVD movie, but a test pressing of Chesky's new Super Audio Disc, The Super Audio Collection & Professional Test Disc, which makes use of the DVD-Video specification's provision for including a two-channel, linear-PCM signal encoded with a 96kHz sampling rate and a word depth of up to 24 bits. (Contrary to what you may have read in the popular press, using DVD-Video to carry high-definition sound quality does not introduce a new and incompatible standard.)
I don't know how many of you buy disposable diapers, but while Harry (now 6) and Emily (now 5) were still toddlers, diapers played a large role in my life. I can still remember my panic when I first saw the miles of drugstore shelves devoted to Pampers and Huggies—not just large, medium, and small, but such a variety that it could almost have been possible that each child had a diaper tailored for him or her. I'm sure that even the weirdly shaped backside of Tommy Pickles could have been securely wrapped.
Back in my bass-player days in the 1970s, I used to do a regular cabaret gig, providing musical support for sundry British stand-up comic acts. I flashed back on those days when I recently watched Fierce Creatures, the John Cleese/Jamie Lee Curtis/Kevin Kline/Michael Palin vehicle, on satellite. There, playing the part of a zookeeper, was pint-size comedian Ronnie Corbett, whom I backed a few times. (He always bought the band a bottle of Scotch—you remember stuff like that!) Ronnie used to open his act with the old "They said Thomas Edison was crazy...they said Henry Ford was crazy...they said Albert Einstein was crazy..." gag, which ends with "They said my Uncle Charlie was crazy...actually, my Uncle Charlie was crazy!"
It's a beautiful drive, considering you're on a freeway. You take I-25 north out of Albuquerque, Sandia Peak to your right and the Jemez Caldera and Mount Taylor dimly visible in the distance to your left. As you broach La Bajada hill south of Santa Fe, the Sangre de Cristo range—the "Blood of Christ Mountains" described by Paul Simon in "Hearts & Bones"—appears before your windshield. You take the Old Pecos Trail exit to the City Different, but before you reach town you bear to the left, then take another left opposite St. Vincent Hospital. There, in a cul-de-sac, you peer up at the street sign: "Stereophile Way," it says (footnote 1). "Not just a street, but a philosophy," I kidded Larry Archibald when the city told him that he could name the road where the magazine's headquarters would one day be situated.
The DVD Forum's Working Group 4 (WG-4) is expected to deliver the "0.9" version of its official DVD-Audio specification this month, with "1.0" to follow shortly. While information is scarce, it appears that WG-4 is talking about four different kinds of disc, each of which will be playable on one or two of three different kinds of players. And that doesn't include Sony's and Philips' "Super Audio CD" proposal (see Peter van Willenswaard's report on SACD a couple of weeks back on the website), or the Classic Records-led "DAD" format, which uses the provision of the DVD-Video specification for 24-bit/96kHz audio data. (DADs will play on DVD-Video players that have appropriate D/A sections---also see the past item on the web site.)
There was something odd about the clock on Jim Thiel's office wall. I didn't get it at first, other than noting that instead of the minutes being marked off at 12 five-minute intervals, Jim's clock had 24 markings. That was it: as well as the number "12" in its usual place at the top of the face, there was another "12" at the bottom, where the "6" usually is. The clock that Jim built was typical of everything this laconic loudspeaker engineer is involved in: logical, functional, and different from what anyone else in the same field does. In his cigarette-strained drawl, Jim explained that the short hand of his clock always points toward the sun: directly up at noon, directly down at midnight. That's the way a clock should be, declared Jim, and when you're in his company, it's hard to see how he could be wrong.
Coming soon on the Madrigal Audio Laboratories website is La Folia, a music webzine. Edited by Mike Silverton, La Folia sets out to supplement the audiophile press by directing its emphasis at recordings elsewhere neglected: present-day art music (aka "classical"), free and improvisational jazz, category-defying hybrids, and whatever else strikes their "clutch of sweet-spot stuckees as rare and well done."