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Mid-December 2006
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Grammys, Low-Rez Audio, Audio Sound Effects & CES / T.H.E. Show
Article By Steven R. Rochlin
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

  There are so many things to write this month that i am perplexed to put them all in order! Since 2001 Enjoy the Music.com  has been providing live coverage of the Grammy Awards and it is good to finally see many other audiophiles take notice. Sure the televised part panders to mainstream consumers and the more popular musical artists, yet for years audiophile recordings, engineers, and musicians have been receiving accolades. We must also remember that historical recordings by Louis Armstrong, The Rubinstein Collection, etc. have been recognized by the The Recording Academy. As a longtime musician and member of The Recording Academy, we have gladly supported MusiCares Foundation, which is part of the Academy. MusiCares provides relief to musical artists who are hurricane victims, help musicians with addiction recovery, and various other duties to ensure musicians receive the treatment they need. Look forward to seeing many other sites and magazines supporting MusiCares, as without all the great music to enjoy our high-end audio systems would be nearly worthless.

 

Low Rez Audio
High-resolution music has been thrown out the window as iTunes and other online music sites appear to not offer CD-quality downloads, let alone anything remotely resembling 16-bit/44.1kHz. In the past few weeks various mail order catalogs featuring holiday gifts have been filled with an assortment of accessories for Apple's iPod. Color me stunned (at first) as the store Sharper Image, once know for selling very high quality products, is now promoting $199 to $299 single-tower speakers for the iPod and making all sorts of sound quality claims. As an example, the company's top-line $299 iTower Omega amplified stereo speaker & subwoofer system (all-in-one single tower SM252BLK) touts the following, "Enjoy amazing sound quality from your iPod® with this impressively handsome all-in-one speaker system. Features four stereo speakers (two left, two right channel), a single dome tweeter and two subwoofers — with 60 watts of power and a frequency response of 100Hz to 16KHz."

Sharper Image iTower

Besides the relatively low-fi 16kHz upper frequency and 100Hz lowermost frequency response plus a single cabinet claiming stereo sound, i guess what pisses me off the most is that they use the word subwoofer with a very high 100Hz specification. Add to that, the whole stereo from a single speaker cabinet (and single tweeter) is almost a insult of one's intelligence. As best i can recall in the printed catalog, which quickly found its was into the dustbin, also claimed using SRS technology. Now this brings up some interesting points.

With iTunes lowering the bar for sound quality in source material combined with iTunes-oriented products further lowering of sound quality, this one-two combination are sure to continue the lowering of performance expectations widely experienced by music lovers. Arguably, from the 1950's up to 1995 or so mass market consumers had a nice stream of audio products that would attempt to increase sound quality and reliability. Each new generation of products seen at mass market stores would give a chance at newfound resolution and the ability to achieve ever-higher sound quality.

In conclusion, today the high-end audio industry has the greatest opportunity to show people the difference between their chosen low-fi system and what true high-end audio can achieve. This is our Golden Opportunity, so let us not blow it!

 

Sound Effects
Looking up the definition of distortion on the Internet we have:

1. Sound which is modified or changed in some way...

2. Any undesired change in an audio signal between input and the output.

3. a process, often found desirable by guitar players, that alters a sound's waveform.

 

SRS, Q-Sound, digital equalizers, and various audio programs/plug-ins can be considered adding distortion, as they alter the purity of the original signal. Some say that tubes add distortion, though being mainly even-order it tends to sound complimentary versus odd-order distortion. Over the years we have all seen reviews of digital equalizers and digital room acoustic tuning devices. While they do in fact add distortion, certain audiophiles may agree that definition #3 could be the closest way of describing this complimentary effect.

So it begs the question, do audiophiles desire adding distortion to achieve a more desirable sound emanating from their system? Judging from the sales of Behringer's digital equalizers within the audiophile community it may be that audiophiles are trying to correct for either a bad recording or less than satisfactory sound system (or both). But what about Q-Sound and SRS that take this all a step further and add more than simple equalization?

For many years SRS Labs has offered plug-ins for various computer media players (i.e. Microsoft Media Player) that use various tweaked digital effects to expand the soundscape, enhance mono signals to stereo, and specially designed algorithms as a solution to lackluster automobile sound. Audiophiles who have tried their hand at creating a very high performance car stereo quickly realized how challenging an environment the automobile can be. Therefore it may be of great aid to have a professional company provide a simple solution, as SRS Labs has carefully studied the problem and sell an easy way to achieve a desired goal. But what about home audio?

Home audio is much easier, though still challenging. The good news is that very high 32-bit (or more) digital processing is very inexpensive thanks to the likes of the many years old SHARC processor. The bad news is that, like almost everything else for audiophiles, there is no hard-and-fast all encompassing solution. Worse still, fast and dirty digital band aids may indeed make a lackluster system seem to sound better, yet it is probably not better than fixing your system via better components in the first place. While audio plug-ins can benefit some systems like the Shaper Image iTower, one would hope it would not a chosen solution over getting higher performance products in the first place.




CES / T.H.E. Show
Thanks goodness we are finally rid of the dreaded Alexis Park Hotel, referred to as Hotel Hell by a few of us within the industry. Gone are the stairs, the lackluster room acoustics in the upper floors and the stupidity of placing rooms so far away from each other that only a madman would have come up with such a disorganized setup. This is where T.H.E. Show hits high marks as room acoustics are very good plus  the rooms are well-organized and close together. The upcoming CES marks the first year high-enders will be placed in the prestigious Venetian hotel. Room acoustics are an unknown, as is the cleanliness of the power source. Then again it would be hard to sink as low as the Alexis Park, which by the way is the worst show venue i have even experienced in my decade plus of attending shows all around the world.

An added benefit to CES having high-performance audio at the Venetian is the accompanying prestige of the venue itself and the proximity of it to the other exhibition locations. Those of you who have been within the industry for well over a decade may remember when high-end audio was in the same hotel as the adult entertainment industry! Not that i'd mind seeing Jenna Jameson or Ron Jeremy showing their (under) wares in the same hotel as high-end audio products, yet perhaps it would not quite be the most industry-friendly way to attract a new audience. On the other hand, the adult industry earns many times more income than high-end audio, so perhaps...  

Eh hem. Getting back to the topic at hand, on top of things as it were, the Venetian should be a great promotion for our industry as we need to harness this fact. Speaking of great promotions, CEA, the folks who operate the CES, have formed their Great Audio Experience promotion (sadly, now defunct for many years). Here we have popular musical artists and educational material for consumers to learn about better audio. Add to that, a Zip Code locator allows United States users to find their local better audio stores that support the Great Audio Experience initiative.

Remember earlier in this article when i said we need to show people how great music an sound when given the chance? Well, now is the time we as an industry find a way to show the masses just how awful compressed audio and cheap n' easy iPod accessories truly can be! With the hopes of CEA's (now called CTA) Great Audio Experience, the A5, and the industry at large we need to find a solution in making the public aware of the current downward spiraling of sound quality. i shake my head and wonder while asking myself, "What is wrong with these people to be so happy with such crappy sound?" Of course judging from the so-called music i have been hearing on MTV, when they actually play music, perhaps the sheer lack of talent sounds better the less of it you can actually hear.

Perhaps the problem is me. Consumers obviously do not appear to care how low the proverbial bar for fidelity has sunken. Who needs a great meal that costs $25 and takes 30 minutes to make when you can have McDonalds for $5 in under 3 minutes? 

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season. As always, in the end what really matters is that we all....

 

Enjoy the Music (Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth right now),

Steven R. Rochlin

"...Peace on earth, can it be
Years from now, perhaps we'll see
See the day of glory
See the day when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again

Peace on earth, can it be

Every child must be made aware
Every child must be made to care
Care enough for his fellow man
To give all the love that he can

I pray my wish will come true
For my child and your child too
He'll see the day of glory
See the day when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again

Peace on earth, can it be
Can it be..."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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