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.
Lori French & Mary Cardas
EveAnna Manley & Wendy Griffins
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
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
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).
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 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
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.
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
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.
In 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.
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
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 (VP Engineering, Harmon International)
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
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, Chairman of Meridian Audio, Ltd
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 of Joe Kane Productions
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, 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.