The recent struggle between the RIAA and Napster may seem like a distant battle rumbling off in some foreign realm, far removed from most audiophiles: about once a week we get e-mails asking why a high-end audio website should even cover such stuff.
For the millions of fans who search the Internet for their favorite music, one thing always required is the name of the artist or song sought. But what if you don't know exactly what you want to hear, and would rather search for the kind of music that suits your mood?
It's bad enough for stores competing with each other for consumer loyalty—imagine how retailers must feel when the largest consumer-electronics company in the world decides to compete with you as well. This grim reality came true for dealers around the world last week, when Sony Electronics outlined its plans for SonyStyle.com, which the company describes as "an information-rich e-commerce website." The site is scheduled to be launched this fall.
According to a new report, the number of adults going online to access music-related content has exploded in the few months, increasing 48% between December 1999 and March 2000. These numbers are based on recent findings released by market analysts Cyber Dialogue, who say that "The dramatic growth in online music users can be attributed to the media's newfound obsession with Napster, Gnutella, and MP3. When combined with a marked increase in online music offerings and the proliferation of file-sharing software, the increase in demand for online music makes perfect sense."
By their very nature, most audiophiles seem perpetually restless, never content with that last tweak. Following in that hallowed tradition, PS Audio has been trying to reinvent the technologies traditionally used in power-line conditioners to optimize those pulses of alternating current that juice our audio systems. The company made waves with the introduction of their Power Plant line of products last year (see previous report); their P300 garnered a very positive review from Stereophile's Robert Deutsch.
With Napster as the little red devil with a pitchfork prodding them on, the third-largest record company in the world, EMI, making good on its earlier announcement, last week became the first major label to begin releasing music online. In a move the company hopes will silence the critics who say that Napster has become successful because the big labels have provided no Web-based alternatives, EMI put over 100 albums and 40 singles online "through all the normal retail websites."
Information released last week by NPD Intelect reveals eye-opening statistics about digital audio recorder formats. The numbers show that, from January to May 2000, unit shares of digital recording sales in retail stores were 30.8% for CD recorders (not including computer-based systems), 40.9% for MiniDisc recorders, and 28.3% for MP3 recording devices (also not including computer-based systems).
With new high-end audio formats hitting the shelves and MP3 and Napster dominating the online music news, developments in the world of radio have taken a back seat lately. But two announcements this week offer a peek at where the broadcast business might be headed.
DVD-Audio has been "almost here" for so many months that it seemed almost anticlimactic when the first players finally emerged on dealer shelves this week. Late in May of this year, Panasonic announced (see previous story) that they would be releasing two players, one under the Panasonic banner and the other under the company's Technics brand, in July. It looks as if they've finally made good on their promise.
Judging from the e-mails we get, some folks wonder why Stereophile's website continues to cover the advance of such lo-fi formats as MP3 as well as the problems encountered by companies like Napster as they tangle with the music business. But consider this: a new study reports that the market for digital music players will grow to $6.4 billion in 2005—more than 34 times 1999 shipments—which is also nearly 80% of the $8 billion reported for sales of all audio products, including portables, from last year (see previous article).