I'm writing this one week after returning from Schaumburg, Illinois, where I attended my first real audio show since the Florida Audio Expo in early 2020, just as the pandemic was starting to gain momentum. Everyone I talked to was hopeful, but no one could predict what attendance would be like or what people's attitudes would be.

There were a few glitches, mainly logistical: Shipments didn't arrive or arrived damaged. One exhibitor had to carry an integrated amp to the show on his lap, first on a bus and then on a plane. (I didn't think to ask: Did the amplifier fit in the overhead bin?) Another exhibitor had to find a new pair of loudspeakers to demo with—quickly—after the first pair arrived with pieces rattling around inside the box.

After years of precautions and isolation, it felt a little weird to climb into an elevator with eight or 10 of my best maskless friends, but after the eighth or ninth time, I got used to it, and I managed to stay healthy. I've heard about (and confirmed) a few COVID cases apparently contracted at AXPONA, but it doesn't seem to have been a superspreader event.

The show's one sour note was sour indeed: In the days before the show, the industry lost a beloved member, Dynaudio's Mick Tillman; see Industry Update in this issue.

The numbers for the show were pretty good: 118 exhibiting companies filled 138 active demo rooms. Dozens of vendors filled the Expo and the Ear Gear Experience. According to the organizers, about 7500 people attended, plus 98 journalists. (Yes, I know: Journalists are people, too.)

The remarkable thing was the vibe: Everyone I talked to seemed happy, even giddy, to be attending an audio show again. Julie Mullins, one of the four Stereophile writers who covered the show summed it up well. "It felt wonderful, even a little weird, to be back—foreign yet familiar. The energy was palpable: People—exhibitors, attendees, press—were clearly happy to be there. It's good to be back. We all realized what a special thing it was to get together with old acquaintances and do what we love."

Last Month, I presented evidence, limited though it was, that streaming companies are already profitable—some of them anyway. Here's more. Following the recent announcement of streaming service Deezer's merger with I2PO, a special purpose acquisitions company, and a forthcoming IPO, company financials were released. Despite performance that in some ways was disappointing, Deezer managed a gross profit each of the three fiscal years leading up to the merger.

As the rest of the industry grew, Deezer's profit shrunk, from 18% to 12%. Still, that's profit—rather, gross profit. Not quite the same as profit, but close.

If more evidence of the industry's strong prospects is needed, consider this: Several existing companies have been buying up music rights left and right, and investment funds are being constituted solely for that purpose. Investors obviously are bullish about recorded music's future.

The last few weeks, though, have also brought sobering financial news. Investors punished Spotify when it missed forecasts for new users, despite strong numbers in other areas. The company's management blamed Russia's Ukraine war and a new Russian censorship law, which caused Spotify to lose many subscribers. Meanwhile, Pandora and satellite-radio company SiriusXM both lost subscribers—revenues still rose—raising fears that music streaming's seemingly endless expansion could be approaching its limit. Time will tell.

Regardless of how long the expansion, music streaming is here to stay. Its critics, though, have one serious concern: that this new, streaming-based music ecosystem isn't paying musicians enough. You know the story: The recording industry may be thriving, but musicians earn tiny fractions of a penny for every streaming play. Comparing streaming revenues to revenues from physical-media sales isn't simple, but streaming payments can seem shockingly low.

A recent analysis based on numbers released by Spotify and performed by Tim Ingham, founder of Music Business Worldwide, sheds some new light and provides some new context. About eight million music acts have music on Spotify. Of those, only 2.6 million have released 10 or more tracks, the rough equivalent of an album. Of that 2.6 million, only about 165,000 have more than 10,000 listeners monthly. These specifications—10 or more tracks plus 10,000 monthly listeners—constitute Ingham's Spotify-based definition of "professional or professional-aspiring musician." Doing the math, that means that only about 2% of all musicians and acts on Spotify are pro or pro-aspiring.

Elsewhere, Spotify estimates that 199,000 of its musicians sold a ticket to a live performance on Songkick, Ticketmaster, etc. in the year before the pandemic, which matches up reasonably well with 165,000.

Ingham asks how many of those earn—arbitrary figure—$50,000/year. The answer: about 16,000. That's just a fifth of 1% of all the musicians on Spotify, but it's 8%–10% of Spotify's "professional or professional-aspiring" musicians, by Ingham's definition. Is that good? Bad? Indifferent? I don't know; you decide.

Two Changes at Stereophile this month: Jason Victor Serinus ascends to the rank of senior contributing editor—well deserved after many years of reporting on and reviewing both music and audio equipment. Also, in this issue, you'll find a new page that will appear occasionally: Rabbit Holes, in which writers explore odd and interesting ideas and (especially) musical niches. First up: current rock/pop music(!), assessed by mastering engineer Tom Fine.

A Rare Erratum: In his May 2022 review of the Luxman M-10X stereo power amplifier, John Atkinson reported the power-supply capacitance of the Parasound Halo JC 1+ (with which he was comparing the Luxman amplifier) as 44,800µF. But that's just the capacitance of the input stage (both channels combined). The Parasound's output stage has a total capacitance of 198,000µF/channel, or a combined 396,000µF, which compares favorably to the Luxman's. Which could be one reason that, despite the Luxman's excellence, JA found that with the Parasound amp, the lows had extra weight.

rt66indierock's picture

Gross profit is a small piece of the puzzle. If it is emphasized (see Block Inc.) someone is trying hide actual earnings. I looked at Deezer’s financials and saw nothing that would make me want to invest.

But it is entertaining to watch you analyze financial information.

Jack L's picture


Technically, power supply using hugh filter capacitance could be a curse instead of a blessing if not design/built right.

Larger the filter capacitance will give better rippling removal, but will provide much high impedance for the entire audio spectrium besides the 60Hz rippling. That's why bypass capacitors of much much lower capacitance are always there for the higher frequencies - a must return passage of music signals in class A amplication.

Depending on the REVERSE recovering time of the silicon diode rectifiers being installed there (shorter the better), larger the filter capacitance, more DC charge is stored in the filter caps per cycle. It therefore needs & takes MORE time in discharging to power the amp & takes LESS time to recharge in the next cycle. The recharge time could be minicule, resulting very low capacitance impedance loading for the rectlifiers. Such low impedance will generate short high-amplitude charge current pulses which ring back into the power transformer like hell.

Resonances of the bypass caps can be another issue to tackle.

As a tube addict, I would not use any large filter capacitors in any tube HV power supply. Theoretically, the really ideal tube power supply will be employing Constant Current Source (CCS) using MOSFETs. But that is another story all together.

Jack L