Scientists vs Audiophiles 1999 More Letters part 4

The Pact with the Digital Devil
Editor: The e-mail said: "Dr. Gizmo, did you read Robert Orban's letter to the editor in the October Stereophile? Want to discuss? Meet me at the Oak Room, Plaza, at 8pm, 10/4.—The Devil"

This didn't surprise me. I have had many exciting debates with the Devil, which is one of the advantages of being the world's oldest audiophile. I was there when Joshua tested the first horn.

The Devil looked great. He was sunburned, had a long ponytail, his diamond ear studs glistened. The Tempter was wearing an ecru silk shirt, black Armani blazer, ripped jeans, work boots, and a Rolex Oyster Perpetual. He looked just like the "A"-list rock'n'roll producers you find in "A"-list recording studios all over the world.

Before I describe my conversation with The Almighty One, let me quickly tell you about a meeting we had 30 years ago. It was all about the pact he made with the fashion industry that resulted in textured polyester, which led to totally carefree clothes for men and women. Total convenience—you could now throw your dress, pants, or three-piece suit in the washer, then into the more dry cleaning or pressing, no more nasty wrinkles. The Sulfurous One was proud of having designed the Arnold Palmer powder-blue textured polyester knitted leisure suits, and their accompanying white shiny shoes and belts, that virused middle-class America. No more cotton, no more silk, no more wool. Who wanted to be bothered?

He Who Knows the Truth in Our Hearts ordered the martinis, then pulled Stereophile from his pocket. As his shoulders slumped, he began to cry: "They don't understand me, and then they betray me...and seek redemption. It is so unfair."

Being a big fan of Oprah, Montel, and Geraldo, I knew exactly what to do. I reached over, held his hand, and said, "I feel your pain." With that gesture of compassion, The Tempter let it all out.

"It was one of my best and biggest affected billions. It was win/win for everyone. I was running out of religious fakes, and the music industry was already filled with greed and vanity, so I created digital audio with the promise that if you signed my Digital Pact, I would make recording squeaky-clean, make editing wrinkle-free, make it possible for hundreds of thousands of musicians to have their own recording studios, deliver more profits, more jobs, new cool audio toys, and create new music opportunities to sell billions of little silver discs. The only thing I demanded in return was...just give me your music soul. The price was right, and almost everyone signed up gladly. I also encouraged everyone who signed my Digital Pact not to worry about telling the truth about digital audio because, let's face it, the public is never interested in music quality—only new hits that go platinum. Of course, there was one small, pesky, insignificant group of music maniacs who rebelled." He tapped the Stereophile cover. "But they speak only in foreign tongues that the public doesn't understand, so I didn't care."

The Devil blew his nose and sipped his extra-dry Absolut martini on the rocks (with one olive). "And this the thanks I get? The pro audio industry is beginning to feel guilty? I was there at the 1999 New York AES convention. I heard everyone muttering, 'Digital sound sucks.' I don't get it. Of course digital sound sucks, of course polyester double-knits feel like plastic—the Pact everyone signed was not about quality, it was about greed, convenience, ego, and mendacity.

"You know, Dr. Gizmo, I've been making the same deal for thousands of years: no surprises with me. I was totally up-front."

The Devil was feeling better now. He opened the October Stereophile to p.15. "It upsets me that more and more 'sensitive' audio engineers now want their souls back and are seeking forgiveness and redemption, so they're writing these letters to the editor to try to prove that they care about music quality. It doesn't matter—once you sign a Digital Pact with me, you never get your music soul back. The first to line up to sign my Digital Pact were audio engineers, who always need a reason do create something new and better...not."

Because the Devil is such an old friend, I had the confidence to, like Daniel Webster, confront him: "What about all the 'new and improved' digital formats?"

He laughed hard enough to shake the Oak Room's chandeliers.

"My dear Dr. Gizmo, give me a break. New format, new floormat. Just look at the modern recording studio. Even if God in Her Infinite Glory invented a new and improved digital format, recordings can't sound much better than my original dismal digital format, because recording studios, with their absurd egotistical complexity, are extreme machines of music discombobularity! By this time the Devil was laughing so hard I thought he was going to pee in his jeans. "Millions of dollars of technology and hardware, all feeding loudspeakers with $29 ferrite magnets, mounted in the wall. Give me a break. There is no redemption in digital. That's the deal."

I had to pick the Devil up off the floor and calm him down. I gave him my martini, which he gulped down.

"Dr. Gizmo, last night I listened to 1000 of the latest CDs of pop music's biggest stars and compared them to some of my Ben Webster 1954 vinyl, and my confidence was restored. If the music industry thinks they're going to pluck their souls back from me with new digital formats, they'll have to start smoking a different brand of weed. No new and improved digital format will redeem their musical souls, because it's impossible to express the soul of music in a modern digital recording studio—and that makes me very happy."

He burped, then looked at me. "There is only one way I would renegotiate my Digital Pact. But I won't give that secret away."

The Devil paid the bill, said he was going over to St. Patrick's Cathedral to see if he could drum up some business, and asked if I wanted to join him. I told him I was going to Bloomingdale's to check out the new Donna Karan fall collection. He Who Loves Hot Climates hugged me good-bye and said, "Stay in touch."—Dr. Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg Guildmeister, The Triode Guild