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No. 92 January 2012



2012

Just in a moment we will have 2012. When in November 2009 I watched the movie 2012 (dir. Ronald Emmerich) I did not even think about the things that are ahead of me. Well, it was not about far future, this was only two years ahead, but I could not go beyond the things that were happening around me.
And it was about that everything changes so quickly, that it is difficult to predict anything, even in general. Because who could predict, that the whole Europe will be in the most difficult crisis since the WWII, or that there will be talking about the end of the Euro zone and with it the European Union? And that this will not be discussed by madmen, but by serious politicians and economists? Or even better – who could say, that despite all this, Poland will be in the best situation, and will still be developing and will be the last stable and safe place in Europe, even compared to the mightiest nations… And that our own foreign affairs minister will call to create a federal union in Europe. Probably nobody. And yet tomorrow everything can turn around completely, can’t it? This is why any kind of forecast is only far going speculation, based on very weak premises.

Remembering a completely different scale, but translating this uncertainty to audio, we can also see a certain chaos in what is happening. What will be the main stream of sales? How will the individual parts of our branch evolve? How will the sales of music and films look like? What about physical carriers? Will Compact Disc players disappear? If yes, then when? What about vinyl? Will class D amplifiers – analog and digital (not all class D amplifiers are digital, but every digital amplifier is class D ) – rule the market? Will class A amplifiers disappear from the market due to restrictive laws of the European Union regarding the emission of greenhouse gasses? And many others. There are a lot of such questions, those could be amended with the one about the future of home cinema and its place in our branch, about the development of wireless music transmission, etc. Or about the role of the audio magazines – those paper and internet ones. There is a lot of questions and only a few answers. The rest is mere speculation.
So what is left? The responses to this, very simple and straight forward question, will be as different, as there are people who will respond to it. I can tell, that we just have to stay calm and do what we do. We should not dose off, look around alertly, but also not rave, not to madden and just go forward.
This is why I would like to respond (try to respond), quite reasonably, to some of the questions posed above, based on my experience, on my conversations, which I had last year with manufacturers, distributors, sellers, audiophiles, press editors and journalists. And there was a lot of the conversations, I already forgot with whom I talked, what I talked about, but I see clearly a certain scheme coming out of those meetings, something like a “forecast”, however it would sound.

The biggest change that occurred in 2011 in our branch, was the final presence on the market audio files with a higher quality than mp3 (AAC). I am talking about CD quality and high resolution WAV and FLAC files.
It is not the case, that this year a trend appeared of moving away from the physical carrier, or even that the number of files downloaded from the Net increased. It is rather about a systemic change, a change which made some other, separate elements fit together. First of all we had an explosion of DACs on the market equipped with and USB port. Those ports are now present in almost all new stereo amplifiers or even preamplifiers – please look at the new series Azur 651 from Cambridge Audio, pre Ayon Orbis or TAD C-2000, just to name a few of the most obvious ones.
This means a very aggressive entrance of PCs and MACs to our world. This permeation of those two worlds was foreseeable, but it was not known when it would happen and in what form. So I tell you – NOW and using USB. A computer as a high quality sound source is not a new development, because computer people experimented with that for a long time, what you can see in very good computer sound cards.
And probably the combination of the audio world forces and computer geeks forced the appearance of so many USB DACs. As Paul Miller notices in the newest “Hi-Fi News & Record Reviews” (Rise of The USB DAC, December 2011, Vol. 56, No 13, p. 92), a part of this movement is a change in the architecture of the new computers, where slots for external modules disappear, including those compatible with PCI and PCIe, what makes less and less computers compatible with high quality sound cards. This happens because most of the needed modules, including sound, but also graphics, are integrated in the main processor. So when somebody wants to send out an audio signal to a hi-fi system, a certain separation is needed – we have to use an external DAC. Actually in the computer world those are seen as external sound cards.
The evolution of the USB DACs is accompanied by a growing series of labels. HDTracks, Linn Records, Chandos, AIX Records, 2L, Naim label, Deutsche Grammophon, Naxos etc. – in the internet we can find more and more places, where we can buy recordings, also high resolution ones. A symptomatic example can be a simultaneous premiere of a 24/94 file and a CD of the new album of Tori Amos Night of Hounters, or the quick appearance of the new U2 re-master Achtung Baby in hi-res, just after the beefed up, multi-disc physical versions were brought to the market.

Well – beefed up versions. In the November issue I presented The Dark Side of The Moon Pink Floyd in the Immersion Box Set version. That was the first of three re-issues – I already have Wish You Were Here, and there will also be a box with The Wall. The company EMI issues such collectible prints, trying to catch as many as possible wealthy (because those boxes cost a lot) music lovers and fans. This is confirmed with the very rich versions of Achtung Baby U2 (I have the Limited Edition, and there is also an overkill Uber Delix Edition), box of Sting for his 25th anniversary, Aqualung Jethro Tull (40th Anniversary Box Set), or a box with Nevermind Nirvana (Super Deluxe Box Set), just to show you a few of the most important ones.

This shows the crisis of normal editions – I do not suspect the labels to have a good heart, or any kinds of feelings against the fans. This is pure business, and the companies go where the money lies. And probably they got to the conclusion, that in the physical world money is in the pockets of wealthy buyers and in boxes. All the others migrate to the internet.
A part of the process is the increasing popularity of vinyl. Parallel editions on CD and vinyl, also by Polish artists (like the box of Grzegorz Turnau Och! Turnau Och-Teatr 18 V 2011, or the beautiful, limited, blue single 12” Cairo from Kamp! – brilliant, warmly recommended!!!) are not only for the diehard fans of this format, but also for all the others, who have a turntable, but do not think, that this is the only source of music. And this trend will last for a few years, probably (because in economy, and we deal with economy here, trends are important, and not single movements).
And yet I heard in Munich, during the High End 2011, voices, that this is a “bubble”, and it will turn out quickly, that not so many people need this, and that the companies entered into something, that they do not fully understand. How things will be, I cannot tell. But it seems, that vinyl, one of the two physical formats, will stay with us for a few, or maybe a few dozen, years.
The second one will be the CD. As it seems. With the wave of departure in the direction of files and computer players the fact gets lost, that we still have billions of CDs at home, and many people, mostly above 40 years old, do not want to change that. They want something sure and easy to use. Somebody like this just powers up a player, places a disc inside and presses “play”. Until playing files will not be as simple and intuitive, it will remain secondary to them.
This is a reverse flow from the common “gravity” towards the internet, and it was noticed by the manufacturers. I talked this year with the head of sales of Cambridge Audio, who said, that they will manufacture CD players as long as people will need them. And from their research they know, that there is still large demand for such devices – this is why a CD player is present in each new series from this manufacturer. They add digital inputs, but the disc transport remains the main source of the signal. And this is not all – one of my responders, a CD player manufacturer, told me, that being at one of the most important, currently, CD and DVD drive manufacturers, as well as a file player manufacturer, he saw a new, high-end CD drive! And that company worked on it for two years, because they assumed, that sales of physical carriers will increase shortly. This is not much, but still, it is there.

So how will the audio world look like in 2012? On one hand it will be virtual, based on the internet. We will witness an explosion in this – new file players, shops offering them, amplifiers with USB inputs. There will probably be the last of the puzzle elements – DSD files, finally condemning the SACD to death. Or not – who knows, if the forecast about physical carriers will be true, this might give the discs a second breath. Because the CD and LP and – to a lesser extent – the BD will be present as sound sources. They will not die as quickly as predicted by the digital gurus. This is time of crisis, and sooner or later the whole content will migrate to a kind of cloud, present in the Net and our discs. This is the logic of changes in electronics. However as long as there are people who had some contact with physical discs in their youth, there will be a market for discs, maybe in the form of beefed up boxes.

And more – probably class D amplifiers will hit the market stronger than before. Because they get better and better, as shown by the amplifier D-Premier from Devialet, and can become centers of a modern ultra high-end systems (Paul Miller, editor in chief of “Hi-Fi News & Record Reviews” uses it as a reference amplifier).
What will disappear? Probably radio tuners will disappear, at least in the low and medium price ranges. And not only FM, although analog emitters will be working for a long time, but also DAB/FM – I meant stand-alone tuners. Because more and more people listen to internet radio, which is part of each file player, including video ones.
And besides that? I really do not know. Everything can happen, or nothing. We live in “transition” times, when the “new order” is not yet visible, although it is probably slowly born, and in ten or twenty years, we will be able to show some elements and tell, that those were the “beginning”. But now we do not know what they are.



CONVERSATIONS VI

As usual, there is a lot of small things, I would like to share with you. I will try to condense them all into one paragraph, to not waste your time – it would be better to listen to a new disc… Due to your activity, “High Fidelity” reached a record in reading in November – in this one month we were visited by 35000 readers (unique IDs), who clicked the individual pages 250000 times. From six years, the increase is about 30% year to year, but only with such numbers the growth is really overwhelming. About 80% of the visits were direct, or from other pages, while only 20% came from search engines, what means, that we are visited by people who know what they are looking for and are close to the music world. Thank you all very much!!! I also remind you my request – please click on the banners of distributors, visit their pages, etc. Thanks to them you can read “High Fidelity” for free! Please thank them in this way.
This year I do not organize the cover of the year contest, because I could not get devices, which would be interesting enough to be prizes. I wanted those to be three nice things, and not many smaller ones. If I still succeed, when one of the distributors or manufacturers decides to help us, I will organize it in January.
I already made interviews with Michael Fremer („Stereophile”) and Srajan Ebaen („6moons.com”). I would like to start a cycle of twelve interviews with prominent audio magazine journalists from Europe and USA (mostly the English speaking ones, because they are most influential). I plan to have interviews with people from “The Absolute Sound”, „Hi-Fi+”, „Hi-Fi Image”, „Hi-Fi News & Records Reviews”, “Hi-Fi Critic” etc. I already made first contacts, we will see how things go from here.
We will also continue meetings with interesting people during the Krakow Sonic Society meetings. After Gerhard Hirt and Srajan Ebaen there is time for some Polish manufacturer. Most probably this will be Mr. Paweł Skulimowski, the owner of Franc Audio Accessories. We plan the meeting from the beginning of this year, maybe we will finally succeed.

And in the tests in the coming months we should see (without any order):

  • DAC Shiit Bifrost
  • Italian stand mount speakers Franco Serblin Accordo
  • Polish loudspeakers Bodnar Audio
  • German line preamplifier/headphone amplifier Funk-Tonstudiotechnik LAP-2.V2
  • Polish floor standing loudspeakers Graj End GrajPudła Numer Trzy
  • Polish amplifier Mach Audio
  • Stand mount loudspeakers DLS M60
  • Loudspeakers from JAG
  • Loudspeakers from Audio Classic (from Poland)
  • Headphones HiFiMan
  • Converters USB-S/PDIF from KingRex and M2TECH
  • Turntable Transrotor Zet3, also in the version with two motors
And many others, but those mentioned are confirmed in 100%.

Once again I thank You for this year – it was better for us than any before!!!

Wojciech Pacuła
Editor in Chief



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Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

"High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

Once a year, we prepare a printed edition of one of reviews published online. This unique, limited collector's edition is given to the visitors of the Audio Show in Warsaw, Poland, held in November of each year.

For years, "High Fidelity" has been cooperating with other audio magazines, including “Enjoy the Music.com” and “Positive-Feedback.com” in the U.S. and “HiFiStatement.net”  in Germany. Our reviews have also been published by “6moons.com”.

You can contact any of our contributors by clicking his email address on our CONTACT  page.

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ALL PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE TESTED DEVICES ARE MADE USING THE EQUIPMENT OF THE COMPANY



Digital camera:
Canon EOS 5D MkIII

Lenses:
EF-16-35/L II USM
EF 100 mm 1:2.8 L IS USM


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