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Hi-Fi '99

 

PS Audio Power Plant

  PS Audio was showing the benefits of using their Power Plant power filtration devices.  By using their power filters PS Audio claims it will add "extraordinary depth, tighter deep bass, increased slam, wider soundstage, improved 3-d imaging, better contrast..."

 

It is finally time to give credit where credit is due.  Many people do not realize, and have never seen, the REAL people who make each Stereophile show tick.  They have chosen to remain nameless, yet here they are for their very first time being thanked by anyone in the industry in print.  A huge thanks goes out to all of them for making the shows extremely enjoyable year after year.  Without them the show would be nothing short of a confused mess.

 

Nicoll PR

Helping out all the low-life, ungrateful, ever demanding press are the gracious women of the Nicoll PR firm.  This is the backbone of many a high-end company in making sure new product information is given to the right people at the right time.  They rock!!! 

 

Manley Listening Session

Seen here is a listening session at the Manley Labs room during the Hi-Fi '99 show.  A great gathering of music lovers are seen here such as: to the lower right is Jimmy D. Lane, just above him in the blue striped shirt is none other than the legendary Ken Kessler.  To the top right in the white shirt is the famous home and professional electronics industry chick EveAnna Manley.  Also seen here are a few of the women who keep the shows a joy to attend.  Me?  i'm the dweeb stuck behind the camera.

 

Bob Ludwig

None other than the famous Bob Ludwig attended the Hi-Fi '99 show!  His mastering credits are so long, his awards so many, that to list them all here would take up pages and pages (and pages and pages)!  Here is a mastering engineer's mastering engineer!  Bob is ever gracious, humble, and an all around great guy to know.  Wish there were more like him around.   Needless to say, it was great to meet Bob and talk with him about things music and life in general.

 

Lisa Astor of Stereophile and Ultimate Audio
Lisa Astor

 

Lori French & Mary Cardas
Lori French & Mary Cardas

 

EveAnna Manley & Wendy Griffins
EveAnna Manley & Wendy Griffins

 

Karen Richardson & Jan Mancuso
Karen Richardson & Jan Mancuso

 

Lisa Astor of Stereophile was the moderator of the Hi-Fi '99's Women In High-End Audio seminar.  The panelists were some of the industries leading women who in this seminar discussed their viewpoints and concerns about various issues within the industry.   These leading women consisted of Lisa Astor of Stereophile/Ultimate Audio, Mary Cardas of Theta Digital, Lori French of Power Marketing & Sales, Wendy Griffins of Inside Hi-Fi, EveAnna Manley of Manley Labs, Jan Mancuso of Reference Recordings, and Karen Richardson of Bryston.

The first question posed to the panelists was "What do you consider when you put together your system?"  EveAnna Manley says she enjoys it when her listening room audibly more closely resembles a mastering studio. "It is how it sounds when the music is created" says EveAnna Manley. Another panelist says if the music is not involving then something is wrong.  Jan Mancuso feels that the gear needs not be "braggable".  The overall consensus is that the music that matters.

The next question was "Is the new "format war" of digital audio killing the audio/music business?"  Jan feels that people just wanted to enjoy their music.  She also feels that by the industry trying to sell and resell different equipment and software titles is not fair to the consumers.  In turn, they are making the consumers upset.  Mary Cardas says "Right now there are enough formats."  Many of the panelists feel it is confusing the public and the fear of what they buy today will be obsolete shortly.  Therefore nobody wins.  Jan says even though there is now a DVD-Audio standard, there is no mastering software to make DVD-Audio discs (!).  Also, who will buy these more expensive discs?

Another question posed was "Is two-channel audio dead?"   Karen Richardson says she is finding two channel audio is still alive for those who also want to enjoy a "quiet", more intimate time with their music. EveAnna simply said "No."  The came internet concerns with the question "What has the internet had on you business? On audio?"  Karen says people have found us on the Internet and it has helped them gain new customers. Jan said it is a great way to stay in touch with customers.  "It is a great way to have dialogue with customers around the world."  Wendy Griffins commented that since her company is located in the UK, the internet is frustrating because you pay for phone usage by the minute.  At the retail level, though, it is a wonderful resource for information.   Of course there were comments about the downfall of the internet too.  People seem to also not value the dealers.  Web surfers will go to audio salons listening to equipment until they find what they want to purchase.  Then they will find a dealer on the internet and buy via the web from a different dealer to save money. This is not fair to the individual dealers.  Of course then when a service issue comes up, the consumer might try to have the dealer they did not buy the product from to assist them.   his is, of course, not appropriate behavior or fair to their local dealer(s).

 

Larry Archibald
Larry Archibald
Joe Piccirlli
Joe Piccirlli

  At the Academy Advancing High Performance Audio & Video (AAHPAV) lunch/press conference, Larry Archibald opened it up with a few good words, then Joe was the next guest speaker.  Joe discussed that the AAHPAV is continuing supporting Stereophile through their shows.

Andy Regan then came to the podium and discussed how successful the Ambassador and Master classes were. He feels one of the reasons why the seminars are popular are due to the various technologies that are quickly appearing on the market.  As most people know, i am virtually the only press member in the industry to have had an Ambassadors degree for the past year and now have a Master's degree.  Anyway, next up was George Ross to the podium.

George RossGeorge Ross of the Warner Music Group and member of the DVD-A consortium spoke about the multimedia convergence of the DVD Video and DVD Rom into a single high-quality system.   DVD-Audio gives an entirely new path to bring the consumer ease of use combined with versatility and of course high-quality content. Also, DVD-Audio discs will be "web aware" in that when played on a computer, a DVD-Audio disc could have features which interactively link up to the internet for a virtually unlimited information and marketing purposes.

DVD-Audio differs from DVD-Video in that a DVD-Audio disc can handle upwards of six channels of 24-bit/96kHz signal (with MLP). Flexibilities include video, graphics, text, slide show, internet hyperlinks, and more.

DVD Features

Bob Stuart, whose company is behind the MLP "lossless compression" scheme spoke about the various DVD-Audio formats as well. From two to four channels which can be from 44.1 to 192kHz. Instead of writing more about all this, Bob gave a much more thorough presentation in the AAHPAV's Master Program i attended at Hi-Fi '99. Please see my seminar coverage below.

Sennheiser 3DLeave it to the folks at Sennheiser to come up with a new twist on headphones.  For those who love surround sound yet desire to not disturb the neighbors, the all new Surround 3-D Sound Collar ($299) could be just the ticket to happiville!  The unit in placed on your shoulders.  No worries about weight fatigue due to their ultra-light 35 ounce structure.  Once placed on your shoulders, the front speaker fire forward while there are side-firing speaker on the right and left side of the unit.  There is a controller that can be adjusted for various ear highs to optimize the experience.  There's more, but if you have a local Sennheiser dealer i highly suggest checking these babies out!

Sennheiser also is showing their new HD 590 ($349) headphones which replace their model HD 580.  Using their "Bionetic" design for optimum comfort, a new dampening element is used to help control the diaphragm oscillation.   New computer aided design is also used to good effect for optimum magnets too.

 

Kimber Kable announced two new S-Video cables.  The model S-Video Cu ($160 for one meter) uses their hyper-pure copper internal wire utilizing special MST geometry with two balanced, electrically isolated signal. They also offer the new S-Video Ag ($320) which uses the same design but with silver.

 

Wattagate 350In the Kimber Kable room they were showing the new WattGate 350 IEC plug rated @ 15 amp. The IEC plug is the end that is connected into your high-end gear (and most computers).  The 350 has nice backshell and adjustable strain relief. It also requires no soldering and it has WattGate's patented "Permalock" action. Standard IEC plugs that is used in most electrical cords have their wire threads connected directly into a very thin piece of metal see the leftmost piece in the photo above.  With the new Wattage 350, the wires are cut and stripped all the same length, then the bare wire ends go into one of the three terminals (left piece with wire connected to it).  The WattGate 350 can handle up to a 10 gauge wire!  The results is higher contact pressure and more contact surface which in turn means higher power transfer capability. Unlike standard IEC plugs, the blades have a triple layer of plating with a final surface of 30 micros of 24 karat gold.

 

The Academy Advancing High Performance Audio & Video (AAHPAV) gave some great training sessions which were financially sponsored/supported and endorsed by various manufacturers.  Sadly, it seems i am the only web journalist who last year received his AAHPAV Ambassador's degree.  This year i also seem to be the only one who has successfully earned a Masters degree!  These sessions were taught by some of the best names in the audio and video industry such as Dr. Floyd Tool of Harman International, Joe Kane of Joe Kane Productions, and Bob Stuart of Meridian Audio Ltd., and Joe Kellogg of Dolby Labs.  A very small portion of the huge wealth of knowledge from the Master sessions are below:

 

Andy Regan, V.P. Meridian America

Opening Dialogue

Andy talked about various sales techniques. How giving the customer/consumer proper service and using honest business practices are a few of the keys to success. We need to be more solution-based and give people solutions to their audio and video desires. The market shift is broadening from "solidarity" to a more mass appeal (probably due to home theater). Andy even discussed how the computer industry can effect the dynamic of audio/video sales.  As you readers here well know, the internet is also greatly changing things too.

The bottom line is that in offering higher expertise, specialty stores are of a higher value.  In turn, consumers will appreciate the added value this brings. It is the better salespeople that give reasons to their customers why they should have higher expectations in their audio/video systems.

 

Dr. Floyd Toole

Dr. Floyd Toole (VP Engineering, Harmon International)

Acoustic Design

Loudspeakers sound different in differed rooms, and even in different positions within the room. Some speakers are more "room friendly" than others. "Room friendly" speakers generally have a good, smooth frequency response both on and off axis. Alas, some speakers are "hostile" to rooms - no amount of tweaking can remedy their ills. Adding to this, some listening positions in a room will be better than others too.

Room wall and floor reflections greatly affect the outcome of the way a speaker sounds at a listen position. "It is simply not possible to separate the two components" says Dr. Toole. To much acoustic treatments can be just as bad as none at all. By balancing the room treatments of absorbing, reflecting, and diffusing, one can arrive at a good acoustic space in which to enjoy sounds. In fact "special devices" do not necessarily need to be used (RPG Diffusers, Sonex, etc.). By simply using, say, a sofa or bookcases we can have a more visually natural acoustically designed room.

Like many things in life, there needs to a balance. In this case an acoustic balance. Reflected sounds are a natural part of our lives. Ideally we want customers to enjoy their rooms and the sounds within it (both live and reproduced). In the end there is no ideal room, but by combining the room, speaker, and listening position do we can arrive at a good end result.

 

Bob Stuart

Bob Stuart, Chairman of Meridian Audio, Ltd

Digital Technologies

The reason why different systems sound different is due to their own unique error imposing themselves onto the signal. If a digital signal is engineered incorrectly, you will see a higher level of undithered quantization distortion. It is important not to allow this to happen. This is why we have dither my friends. Triangular distribution dither works "perfectly" for jitter reduction according to Bob Stuart. Dither can be noise-shaped too (Sony's Super Bit Mapping for example). Without dither we would hear a harder, more grainier sound from CDs.

Low level information is very important to get correctly. This is why as we improve our sound reproduction system we may hear more sounds. Bob says referring to sound reproduction systems "The more noise there is, the less detail there is."   It is the same as when we upgrade our music reproduction system and hear more instruments.  The better the low-level detail of a system , the more we hear.

A digital system with higher sampling rates, higher than 44.1kHz, is important due to having less problems with the digital filters effecting the signal within the audible range.  Of course Bob Stuart spoke about different digital encoding and decoding schemes too. He, of course, gave a bit more, um, thorough data of his companies Meridian Lossless Packet (MLP) system. MLP reduces, compresses, the signal through various means.

One way is through a de-correlator which transmits only the changes in the signal (which is also how DSS satellite dishes data compression scheme works by the way).  For musical program, MLP can save typically 48% of the data storage needs according to Bob Stuart. Of course he rightly states the file compression percentage will vary depending on the source signal and how it varies. Another benefit is that various playback bit rates are supported in 1-bit steps (i.e. 16, 17, 18... 23, 24-bit). Bob also discussed the Sony/Phillips SACD high definition DVD disc too.

One of the dilemmas is in the digital interfacing of DVD Audio products.  Most of us computer dudes know about FireWire which is capable of carrying all the data necessary YET FireWire has some problems according to Mr. Stuart.  FireWire is packet-based and therefore jitter needs to be under 2 picoseconds (very hard to do with FireWire)!  So what i am basically rambling about here is that to transfer the signal there needs to be an extremely high rate of data transfer that is also incredibly precise.  Hey, why not multi-mode laser?

 

Joe Kane

Joe Kane of Joe Kane Productions

Video Technologies

DTV systems may seem complex, yet the reality is that they are nothing more than bits. It is easy to upscale, or downscale these bits. In the digital era, delivering different data resolutions of the same signal is easily done. For example 600 x 800 lines may be the best for a 13" monitor while 1024 by 768 could be for the 19" one.  The new digital TV era could technically use an optimized data stream for each unique electronic device!  To continue on this, today's TV with tuner will be more like a computer system.  You could record a program on the TV's built-in 2 gigabyte storage system to later be viewed as we do today with today's VHS/Beta machines.  Imagine, no more magnetic tape storage devices!

HBO is offering a few high-definitions movies which are being broadcast now. In fact there are quite a few HDTV stations around the United States!  The Jay Leno show, for example, is just one of the many programs offered in the HDTV format.  i hate to be the Doubting Thomas here, but Mr. Kane is talking about being happy about only two or three stations in his area broadcasting HDTV.  Not sure how you feel, yet my regular cable system has 36 channels and there is little of interest to watch.  How does that Pink Floyd song go... "i got 13 channel of $@!& on the TV to choose from."

Alas, the very early adopter will be doomed to very high price in hardware and very little to watch. My humble opinion would be to lay low a few more years. Of course if you already own a data-grade projector and/or have Bill Gates money, have fun with HDTV. By the way, there is no test pattern software to calibrate/set-up an HDTV system! Joe also said some stations that broadcast HDTV do not even know what channel they are broadcast on on if you call them and ask!

In the end Joe Kane really did a great job at presenting the various facets of providing good HDTV to consumers. Still, me thinkith Joe gave a great seminar packed with wonderful information for seasoned pros and for early learners like me.

 

John Kellogg

John Kellogg, Director of Multi-Channel Music Development for Dolby Labs

Multi-Channel Audio Formats for Music and Film

DVD Audio discs are predicted to come out in the fourth quarter of 1999 or the first quarter of 2000.  New players could either be DVD Audio players only or "universal" players that do both audio only and the current movie discs too.   Alas, there is no industry standard digital output connection/conductor that will transmit six channel 24-bit/96kHz signal. SPDIF will be offered on some DVD players with also 5 to 6 analog outputs. For now, the 1394 "FireWire" is the front runner.  i seem to be asking myself again, why not use multi-mode laser?

Copying a DVD Audio disc will be limited to one copy per original disc through a protection scheme. John admits that this protection scheme will probably be broken one month after it is released to the public.  i have to agree with him here.  SCMS, what the industry feels protects the copying of commercial DAT tapes, is easy to defeat.

John also said to be weary of promoting too much of the 24/96 hurrah. Buzz words can work for and against the industry. As a side note, i have a published article in Ultimate Audio about why our electronics are incapable of 24-bit resolution today (and for a long foreseeable future).  Our current electronic systems just can not "do" 24-bit due to thermal noise and also the inherent noise floor of gear. Regardless, DVD can easily offer a very good improvement over the 16-bit/44.1kHz CD.

 

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