You are reading the older HTML site

Positive Feedback ISSUE 9
october/november 2003



scull.jpg (41286 bytes)

I stumbled on a TV spot for Circuit City the other day. It depicts a salesdroid pushing goods to a 30-something dimbulb. The ‘droid says something like, "okay, you've picked out your home theater system, your big screen TV and DVD player, but do you have any movies with explosions?" Thump! I fell out of my chair. Mr. Potato Head, obviously working on reduced current, looks confused for a moment, then a light bulb flashes dimly above. He smirks and wags his finger at Circuit's best, and off they go in search of DVD thrills.

Okay, on the surface the message is obvious: Circuit City has it all, including DVDs. Got it. But… but… doesn't anyone involved have any sense of irony or destiny? Is this how Circuit sees its primary customers? Don't they realize they're playing right into the worst possible stereotype (pun intended) of the quick-buck mess home entertainment has become when the only criteria is a good quality explosion? That they're not building long-term customers by pushing them out the door with a plasma and a crappy HTIB? Or is that reality, chums, and we'd better get with it? Gawd, I hope not…

Hell, you want explosions? I've give you one; run down to Katz's Deli on East Houston for the biggest, best pastrami sandwich you ever had. ‘Bout an hour later… kaBOOM! Let's see Circuit sell a system that gets the rumble and roar of that ordnance going off! The dynamics will, ah, blow you into the next room!

Of course, Circuit wants to sell boxes. And they know how; appeal to the lowest common denominator and make them feel good about their baser instincts. Urrrp! (beer can crushes against overhanging brow, knuckles drag on carpet...)

The other side of the coin, unmentioned, is the concept of staying home with the wife and kids watching a movie, even one with explosions, and getting that visceral, experiential "You Are There!" rush. That mortar round just blew your socks off! Smokin'! And that may lead, with some cultivation, to future upgrades and even an appreciation of music. Oh the howwah.

It's up to YOU, dear reader, to get out there NOW and show these Philistines how wonderful music and video can be on even a modestly-spec'd home theater system. (Or, even, blasphemy, stereo!) It's just ridiculous, but surely a sign of the times, that HTIBs are at the leading edge of the destruction of taste and the devolution of society. NO ONE CARES ANYMORE! Or… do they just not know any better? Would hearing "better" actually make things better? I say yes.

Can't Get Me No… Satis-fAKshun...

K-10 and I recently attended a press event at Sterling Sound located in the new, ever-so-chic Chelsea Market. Sterling has a fabulous space plus great mastering rooms backed by breathtaking views of downtown NY. The press event, called by Sony and Rolling Stone, and supported by, who else, Circuit City (and Clear Channel Radio), announced a cross-promotion hyping SA-CD. (Note how Sony now refers to the format's initials, the dash evoking a closer identification with Red Book CDs.)

Rolling Stone readers will find a hybrid demo disc including stereo and multichannel tracks in the "Top 500 Albums of All Time" issue on the stands November 21st. They'll be exhorted to bring the disc to Circuit where they can audition both formats on a special display. One fly in this ointment is that DVD-A in-store displays never worked; one channel was out, or the cheapo receiver would be set to Stadium, or some other nonsense—they always sounded like crap. No one in Circuit City or anywhere else gives a shit, a major reason for high-resolution's failure to penetrate the mass-mentality, such as it is.

Looking uncomfortable, Jan Wenner showed up late, said a few words, and left early. He was all for letting his reader base of 1.3 million (with a reputed 11 million pass-on readers) know about SA-CD and why they should buy into this hot, sexy technology (YEAH baby). One audio wag whispered to me, "That ought'a raise Rolling Stone reader awareness for about half a second." A good point; and how many of lo those many readers even have an SA-CD machine? How many have even heard of SACD? Few, no doubt. And if they do have SA-CD, it's probably thrown into that 20 watt Matrix-style HTIB bought as an afterthought. Sure, Gen Whatever will spend time culling and downloading music, making playlists, and burning discs, but hook up a system? Way too complicated, dude.

The Good News

Sony announced some rather startling facts'n'figures. Bel Canto, Krell, MSB, and Musical Fidelity are quoted as equipment partners. Regarding software, they note ABKCO's Rolling Stones Remastered series has hit the 2 million mark in worldwide sales since its introduction in March 2002. Dark Side of the Moon is over 600,000 unit sales globally. And Sony's Legacy label shipped 700,000 units of the new Bob Dylan Reissue Series (15 albums worth) since they were released in September 2003.

They went on to tout releases by Universal, Blue Note's upcoming SA-CDs and ABKCO's first SA-CD single. And of course, Sony will keep on putting out new product, as will Chesky, Concord, Domo, Groove Note, Harmonia Mundi, FIM, Fantasy, Mobile Fidelity, Sugar Hill, Rounder and Telarc.

Bad News Bears

Like most press events, there was a sub rosa message to be had. My Deep Throat at Sony told me that they were going full throttle to retrack SA-CD players into the mainstream mass-market, "It's the only way to make money," observed Mr. Throat while carefully examining his shoe tops.

I've often pointed out that the comparison between SA-CD and DVD-A has been somewhat lop-sided as SA-CD machines were often more "audiophile" with stiffer power supplies and better output stages. As DVD-A machines and recordings mature, both formats will now compete on a level playing field in the same market. It might even make some smoke. And where's there's smoke… you'll find audiophiles! badaboom (Haven't done one of those in a while.)

Countering this vision of sameness, Sony is rumored to be making a SA-CD player with a non-proprietary digital output so the unit can be used with other converters! We shall see…

Of course, this all begs the question, as pointed out by Fellow Scribe Steve Guttenberg, why Sony didn't release hybrid discs from the very start rather than single-layer SACDs. And why doesn't DVD-A have a hybrid available even today? This odd strategy must have come from the patently false premise that since everyone loves DVD-V they'll love DVD-A even more. Bzzzzt!

In fact I read with some amusements that there's now an "experiment" under way for the production of double-sided DVD-A discs. "Experimenting? What is this, cancer research?" quipped Mr. Guttenberg in one of his more pithy moments. In any case, it's more than obvious that the Race to the Bottom has begun in earnest. Alas.

Kids don't care; they're listening to compressed audio tracks and don't think about better sound quality. (Unless we show a few of them how it can be, then some might convert.) And the ever-shrinking ranks of middle-aged audiophiles just don't have the time to sit down and listen to music these days. Nope, they want to listen to it at the office or in the car; witness the recent spate of surround sound units built into luxury wheels like Acura.

Guttenberg was also gobsmacked by another matter. "J-10, how many audiophiles out there have a high end system with a DVD player as their digital source?! They think that DVD transports are better than standard CD units, but that's not true at all!" he protested. "You've got crappy DVD players with 20 cent op-amps feeding expensive preamps, amps and speakers!" He was in the groove, as it were. I put him on speakerphone and sat back while he got it all off his chest. The doctor is in.

Vox populi speaks, and it ain't pretty folks. Get out there and share your passion for better sound. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

Okay, I'll get off my high horse now. Upcoming episodes of the Scull Factor will include an interview and pix with David Manley done in Paris where he and his mastering/mixing facility live, and more than you ever wanted to know about listening chairs!