CES-SUX

SoundStage! UKA year ago, I wrote about CES as being about as lively as a funeral. This year, it was like one of the slower episodes of The Walking Dead. I don’t know if I should rejoice for those high-end audio manufacturers who are optimistic/naive/stupid enough to think that luxury hi-fi has a future in the Venetian, let alone any future at all, or if I should rend my garments.

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Mainstream Vinyl: The Shinola Runwell Turntable

SoundStage! UKWhen the mainstream news sources in the UK recently revealed that vinyl was outselling downloads, the LP-über-alles brigade had every reason to crow. Call it “reaching critical mass” or whatever denotes such a turning point, but it meant far more than actual unit sales could signify: if this is going to be the case, a hint of a backlash against non-physical formats, then it indicates how a segment of the public really has embraced (or should that be “re-embraced”?) vinyl.

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Headphone Shows Rule

SoundStage! UKOne learns to embrace, as one ages, a lovely contradiction: expect the unexpected. As the LP revival had been stewing for 30 years, ever since CD slapped it across the face with a glove, its success had to be 50/50, but we were aware of it. The surprise value, then, was the same as Brexit’s or Trump’s election: it could have gone either way.

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Heinz Lichtenegger: Kiss My DAC!

SoundStage! UKAt the recent hi-fi show in Paris, the first person I happened upon was Heinz Lichtenegger, locked in conversation with one of his dealers. Heinz is always animated and passionate about everything: opera, wine, turntables -- you name it. He didn’t become the world’s largest manufacturer of record decks by showing a lack of faith or enthusiasm. And it is this that had him steaming.

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The iPhone 7 and the Audiophile

SoundStage! UKIt’s that time of year again: show season. OK, OK, there were regional shows over the summer, but the heavy stuff (other than Munich, the biggest high-end show on the planet) tends to be held in the autumn. I guess the idea always was / still is to get customers fired up for Christmas or, as seems more logical since I don't know that many people who find TechDAS turntables or Nagra power amps under the tree, to get them to buy something new for the winter, when we spend more time indoors.

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No Apologies

SoundStage! UKHmm . . . it seems that I have upset a whole bunch of you. According to one chat group I’m a “racist” and “a piece of s***,” so I must be doing something right. As my dear friend, the late and sorely missed Harvey Rosenberg, of Futterman and New York Audio Labs fame, once told me during a similar situation as he fed some grapes to a hooker through his car window while we toured the Lower East Side, “Ken, it is better to be hated than ignored.”

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High-End Hi-Fi's Glimmer of Hope

SoundStage! UK[Warning: If you are easily offended, or a Democrat, or earning less than $200,000 per annum and bothered by it, or are inherently antipathetic to those with money even if they’ve earned it by hard work, please skip this month’s column, because no apologies will be forthcoming.]

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Taking the Bad with the Good

SoundStage! UKThank goodness for the summer months -- not that I (nor most of you) ever stop working. As for my failure to relax, websites and magazines don’t take breaks, but a huge chunk of the audio industry certainly does, not least because the collective populations of most of Europe take off for the whole of August. Sometimes, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I welcome the period of relative inactivity.

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A Real Reel-to-Reel Return?

SoundStage! UKArmed with 20/20 hindsight, can anyone honestly say that they anticipated the revival of open-reel tape? When a company like ReVox -- out of the production of reel-to-reel hardware for a couple of decades -- announces a new deck for the 21st century, and there is talk of other new machines on the hi-fi grapevine, then the comeback is more than wishful thinking.

Vinyl, I can understand: it’s less fiddly than tape, and it is an affordable, pre-recorded medium, especially if you don’t mind second-hand LPs. The hardware is inexpensive, with decent, brand-new turntables for under $300, and the world is rich with second-hand decks for those who like to refurbish, or simply save money. So comprehensive is the comeback of the LP that, like the tube revival (since 1985-ish), no one remarks on it anymore: LPs are back in the fabric of hi-fi in general.

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LP Redux: The State Of Play

SoundStage! UKA tip of the hat to American sociologist Robert K. Merton, the man credited with the phrase “unanticipated consequences,” which has joined “perfect storm” for its usefulness and conciseness in describing a set of conditions. More often heard today as “unintended,” it describes precisely the unexpected effects of an action, originally applied to economics and social programs. True to its meaning, I certainly never expected to use it in relation to the vinyl revolution.

Everything about the revival should have been predictable: upswings in LP sales, the re-opening of dormant record departments and the emergence of new pop-ups selling LPs, an increase in “wry” magazine coverage in the mainstream (usually taking the piss out of audiophiles), increases in turntable sales, and back orders due to the dearth of pressing plants. For me, the only questions remaining would be 1) the true scale of the revival and 2) how long it would last, both of which cannot be answered yet, as vinyl is still on its ascent.

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