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Positive Feedback ISSUE 7
june/july 2003


Things to come
by Danny Kaey


For the longest time I have been pondering the way to start this article, or in this case, a prelude to an article. Much has been said about the subject I am about to present; too many have missed the boat, yet others will set their feet firmly on terra nova—throughout history we have seen people fail utterly with the introduction of new technologies; at the same time this inevitable process made room for new thinkers to light the way.

I guess the best way to start this expose is by way of hitting the hammer on the nail: my name is Danny Kaey, I am 32 years old and I am an audiophile! Funny thing is that most my friends, relatives and others are not—worst of all, our number is diminishing by the day. Just the other day I was in the car with Dave Clark and I asked the question of exactly what an audiophile was. Looking up the word "audiophile" at, the answer comes back as "a person having an ardent interest in the stereo of high-fidelity sound reproduction". This expose isn't really about the various levels of audiophile-ism; nor is it an article as to the why's and what makes us tick. This article is about fear, fame and fortune in the new digital age, the new digital millennium and the pending digital audio revolution. My dear fellow readers, rest assured an audio revolution is coming and much quicker than you think—many will fail miserably, many will die a slow death—yet in death there is life and just as I had said earlier, many new companies will rise to the occasion and step up to the plate. What am I talking about you ask? Simple: the death (and rise) of high-end audio as we know it today. Oh boy. I said it. Instant humiliation by my peers. Or… is it? My biggest wish (and challenge) is that someone, somewhere will wake up, smell the coffee and become part of this new age in audio—the brave new digital domain if you will.

Lets look at the facts: First, there was phono (heck, there still IS phono) which lasted for a long time. It proved to be a viable medium at the time and for obvious reasons. Much later, say around the 70's, the compact cassette became mainstream (did you know that Philips invented the medium?) which lived alongside our fine vinyl collection for a while and then suddenly with the advent of the microprocessor and new manufacturing technologies came the all digital compact disc—who will ever forget the mass hype surrounding the launch? Perfect Sound Forever was the motto—ease of use, accessibility and portability became the first evident benefits of the format, FOLLOWED by sound quality (keep this sentence in mind as you are reading this essay). Indeed we saw two things happen; first and foremost, the compact disc put a hefty big ugly nail in the preceding formats' coffin. Second, perhaps most importantly, most if not all nay Sayers of the format became converts over time. Of course, one can argue over the validity and extent of my statement (there will always be a few among the crowds who would like to put themselves on a pedestal above all), fact of the matter is that compact discs have become the defacto standard by which all our high quality playback gear is judged (and yes, I do own some vinyl and love it!). I am willing to go out on a limb here and lay claim to the fact that the compact disc was pushed through amidst all the hype surrounding its validity in the audiophile world for lack of inherent quality because of the fact that both Sony and Philips wanted it to. You see, whenever new technological breakthroughs occur and ridiculous if not ludicrous sums of money are cohesively poured into advertising and marketing such achievements you can almost bet that you will take on that new "thing" whatever it may be. Cell phones, radios, computers, cars, you name it all of these important milestones had their fair share of nay Sayers banging on the door claiming this and that only to find themselves accepting the facts and becoming part of the rumble.

Today, we are faced with yet another form of audio revolution: the dawn of a new era of music servers, instant on play lists, gigabit Ethernet for awesome throughput, portable music devices that rely on hard disk storage, etc. you name it; pretty soon you too will realize that resistance is futile and you too will be converted! Sure, the flip side of the coin, ironically, that as technology progresses, we are faced with ever increasing amounts of data that need to be stored for the ultimate in fidelity—SACD, DVD-Audio, you name it—they all suck up gobs of bandwidth and then some. Pumping through several megabits of information per second (no, I wont bother explaining these terms in laymen language, because it is my belief that in 2003 everyone surely MUST have heard these words uttered before) we are acquiring more and more information detail from the recorded musical signal. So while one camp is reliant upon compression to reduce the amount of data to be encoded and or processed / transported, the other is after the exact opposite, albeit with one serious flaw: given two formats, all other things being equal (or to use my last remaining Latin, et ceteris paribus) you will ALWAYS choose the one that is most convenient over the other, even when it is in fact superior! Look at what happened to Betamax, or even DCC (hah! Do you even know DCC? No—I do not mean the record label, digital compact classics, I am speaking of the short lived and ill fated compact cassette backwards compatible Philips invention that was supposed to battle Sony's Minidisc head to head in the early 90's (wooha! Man, that's like 10 years ago dude!!!) The idea Philips had was ingenious—provide digitally compressed 20 bit resolution (if I recall correctly) music on a compact cassette style medium. Obviously, you were able to play your EXISTING CC music collection on DCC players and recorders, but of course, not the other way around. Smart, very smart indeed—only problem was who in their right mind would spend upwards of 60 seconds to access a track title pending on fast wind and re-wind times, when you could click next on your minidisk player and boom, instant gratification. A perfect example of what will happen to SACD/DVD-Audio and whatever else they come up with—yes, DCC was in fact SUPERIOR (by quite a margin back then) to the MiniDisc, but again, ease of use, portability, access times and all made DCC the long lost looser in the battle—though of course, one might argue that the MiniDisc was somewhat still born as well, aside from Japan I don't believe that the format really caught on anywhere else, and at any point was doomed for failure with the advent of yet another compression scheme, MP3).

Fast forward into spring of 2003 and the company that could: Apple computers. Apple you say? Aren't they dead yet? Well, no—not only are they not dead, Apple is leading the way in what could quite possibly be the first ever such mass appeal launch of virtual music on demand, or at least download without the typically associated hassles of digital rights management, or short DRM. You see, you can get yourself an Apple computer, launch the most awesome of all applications, iTunes, log onto their music server site and boom at the cost of c99, purchase tunes to your hearts content—of course, full length albums are available too. Once downloaded off your fast DSL/Cable modem you can then proceed to burn the just purchased music onto your CDR (for playback in your car for example) or even better, your iPOD for further enjoyment on the road, run or dare I say it, at home in your audiophile grade system! What Apple has accomplished here is by no means a small feat, especially considering that all other major labels have failed miserably at it not even a year ago! What makes Apple's system by far the best implementation of the idea is that you own the music you downloaded and hence you have the right to play it virtually anywhere you want (ok, there are a few restrictions, but you would really have to test the limits of your boundaries to ever run into any kind of issues, I know, I tried!). Again, what we see here is all the portions that make up a great recipe—ease of use, access, portability, mobility, simply put, music everywhere, anywhere and all over the place!

I have a 15gb iPOD good for 4000 (!) tracks of 128kbs encoded music material that I use for my leisure bike strolls, runs, walks and of course as music server in my main system—no, at this point, I will precede my follow up and separate review of the iPOD, the music coming out of it is not comparable in quality to the Cary 308T—BUT, it comes close (especially in higher resolution!) AND most importantly, its so much more convenient! No more plugging in CD after CD, looking for that one track, instant playlists of my favorite artists, etc. I'm serious folks, I'm DEAD serious—this is but a taste of things to come and those who aren't willing to adapt to the new way will be left behind—simple as that, heck if history is any indication its happened over and over, time and time again!

All that's left to be done are a few minor issues; higher resolution native uncompressed algorithms and of course resulting higher bandwidth internet connections and Ethernets, and ka-boom—you have instant bliss.

Have I touched a sour spot? Well, I sure hope so—guess what, there's more to come… to be continued…