The MP3 audio format has been rapidly gaining a solid reputation in the last several months. Portable products such as Diamond Multimedia's Rio have hit the market, and websites (typified by MP3.com) have gained financial success. (See related story.) But one area that has so far lagged is MP3-based playback and recording equipment for using the files at home without moving a computer next to the stereo.
Danish audio-video manufacturer Bang & Olufsen has long been known for its unusual product designs. Eschewing the normal tendency of consumer electronics manufacturers to design their circuits and transports into stackable black boxes, the company's current home-audio line includes colorful vertical CD stacks with sliding clear-glass doors and brushed-aluminum cylindrical speakers.
In another milestone for digital broadcasting, Lucent Digital Radio announced last week that it has successfully tested its In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) system, live and over the air, with National Public Radio (NPR) member station WBJB-FM of Lincroft, New Jersey. According to Lucent, the tests showed that there was no degradation of the host FM analog channel during the transmission of the digital FM signal over the same band.
It wasn't too long ago that rock band Pearl Jam set their lawyers after the dozens of independent websites pre-releasing pirated versions of the band's album Yield, hoping to curtail its availability on the Internet. How times change. On June 4, any consumer with access to the Internet and a RealNetworks G2 player will have the opportunity to visit the world's "ultimate listening posts" when the Red Hot Chili Peppers' new album, Californication, and Def Leppard's Euphoria, will be available in their entireties for streaming on the Web---four days prior to their official June 8 release.
Providing another boost to the nascent DVD-Audio market, Zoran Corporation, a provider of integrated circuits (ICs) and software for digital video and audio applications, announced last week the availability of a new DVD decoder IC chip, the Vaddis IV. Zoran says the chip is optimized for fourth-generation DVD players and will include integrated DVD-Audio decoding. According to the company, the new Vaddis IV decoder enables the design of flexible and advanced---yet affordable---new DVD players.
In a tersely worded press release, Carver Corporation announced that on Wednesday, May 12, 1999 it filed a voluntary petition under Chapter 11 in United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington. The cause of the filing was "an accumulation of unpaid debt and resulting legal actions filed by creditors. These actions created the prospect of an inequitable distribution of payment to creditors and prevented the Company from being able to operate as a functioning business entity. In October of 1998, the Company ran out of working capital and laid off the remainder of its workforce. Subsequently, at the invitation of the Board of Directors, Robert W. Carver, the founder of the Company and former CEO, stepped in to take over."
Last week, the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA) announced its forecast that Internet sales of traditional consumer technologies to online households should reach at least $14 billion by 2002, representing 13% of total industry volume. CEMA also revealed that consumer research shows interest in buying consumer technologies online should grow by at least 135% in the next two years. The study found that the vast majority of online shoppers opt to consummate the purchase online instead of at a retail store because of price.
Plenty of noteworthy new audio products are making their debuts here at HI-FI '99. EveAnna Manley has unveiled her prototype DAC/preamp, the Wave, featuring an UltraAnalog-based 20-bit D/A converter and a tube line-stage. With four digital inputs, four analog inputs, a processor loop, and three variable outputs, the fully remote-controllable unit should appear at dealers in late summer at a suggested price of $7000. Manley says an optional 24/96 pop-in circuit board is in the works.
Following the Sony/Philips jump from the starting line with Wednesday's SACD announcements, the DVD-Audio camp quickly came up to speed at the HI-FI '99 press luncheon with their plans for players and discs to appear this fall. First up at the podium was Jordan Rost from the Warner Music Group. Contrasts with the SACD position were established from the start when Rost made it obvious that, unlike SACD, DVD-Audio seeks to embrace not only high-end audio, but also various forms of video, and even Internet interactivity. Rost even went so far as to say that DVD-Audio discs could "play on CD players if a hybrid disc is feasible and desired," thus possibly deflating Sony's insistence that backward-compatibility is what sets SACD apart.
In an Internet world, the audiophile's quest for sound quality via high-resolution formats like DVD-Audio or SACD might be the last gasps of a dying generation. New media and technology companies like Liquid Audio, Diamond Multimedia, and RealNetworks are betting that the new generations of music lovers care more about how music is distributed, stored, and manipulated than about how it ultimately sounds. Les Garland, one of the founders of MTV and VH-1, has stated that "Technology fueled the growth of the market for music during the time when we pioneered music on cable. The Internet is having a similar effect, tenfold, driving artists and consumers to embrace digital media."