|What's got huge ears, excellent memory, deep loyalty and a very long - er, thing? Elephants of course. That's why two of 'em guard our bedroom. Hey, blessings come in all shapes and some grab ya. Hunted for their ivory, elephants know a thing or two about parts and extinction. I talked to a manufacturer yesterday who shared that the famous Riken Ohm resistors will no longer be available come January of next year. This follows the well-known and parallel BlackGate capacitor announcement. Behind this trend -- said to be accelerating -- lies another one: high-fidelity audio applications are dwindling. Custom manufacture of specialty parts of interest only to upscale HiFi firms is simply no longer profitable when computer firms place orders of 500,000 parts on a routine basis.
There you've voiced a circuit just so and suddenly, your recipe gets upset. A vital part went extinct. Will a Kiwame resistor become a crafty shoe-in for the former Riken part? Though selected at the same value, will it sound the same? Will it be a silently implemented running change, sonic changes be damned? Will you sweat revoicing the circuit once again which could well mean ordering new parts not presently in your inventory? What about the inventories you already purchased?
Consumers at large remain blissfully unawares of these pesky daily realities of manufacture. Audiophilia continues to shrink and with it, the palette of designer parts made by companies who can't fail to notice the prevailing winds and what they whisper - if you bank on audio sales to keep you alive, plan for a rude awakening. The number of CD-only transports is shrinking, too. With CD/ROM and DVD drives outselling CD-only equivalents by a factor of massive insanity, the choices a High-End manufacturer has to author his own CD player are getting less and less.
|If the parts palette goes more monochrome, it stands to reason that equipment relying on those parts will become less rather than more distinguished by fundamental individuality - that is, if you believe that parts measuring and spec'ing the same in fact sound different in the first place. The solution, of course, is the introduction of the High Fidelity concept to the cellphone/iPod nation. Their numbers dwarf those who remain ensconced in the church of audiophilia. They listen to music by rip, burn or stream. To find anything interesting in High-End audio, these music consumers will insist on coolness factor (small, styled), functionality (USB and Ethernet enabled; iPod, television and computer interactive; cross-platform ready) and accessibility (affordable pricing, visibility of existence). Internet-direct sales and custom options like ordering a Dell laptop from a menu of hardware and software choices could well be vital ingredients to that outreach effort.
It's all tied together. Audiophilia remains myopic, sales dwindle, suppliers move elsewhere, remaining manufacturers who cater to audiophiles face more and more hurdles well outside sales volumes. After all, much R&D is reliant on specific core parts. Remove some of 'em and many smaller manufacturers will simply not be able to afford to redo a design. With the amazing choices audiophiles enjoy at present, we must really consider ourselves very blessed by this showing of support for our hobby. For hardware makers, it's becoming more and more attractive to chuck the whole notion of high fidelity and move instead to where the action is: MP3 players, cellphones, computers, plasma televisions, prepackaged Class D modules stuck into tiny boxes, flat wall-hanging speakers that decor with the plasmas.
Or as Marc Mickelson pointed out in this month's SoundStage! Editorial, would you want to join our parade were you looking in from the outside? Condemning the iPod phenomenon as unworthy of musical passion is one of the first items that needs to be struck from our communal agenda. All it currently does is signal to those using them that we're arrogant, backwards or simply not with the times. Why bother with Hifi? It seems outdated, overpriced, complicated and exclusionary. Kudos then to Josh Ray, the 25-year old proprietor of SonicFlare.
|SonicFlare? Sun spots? Galactic activities? Nope, SonicFlare is a hyper blog dedicated to HighEnd audio and the computer convergence. Think daily newspaper column. Your favorite commentator gets to talk about|
|whatever grabs his fancy that day - woman's underwear, foreign politics, a recipe for Red Snapper. Except in this case, Josh simply collects articles, reviews, press releases and such-like he finds interesting and that pertain to his focus. He then excerpts them for a teaser notice and links back to the original content sources. He does that every day. The groovy aspect? He taps into an audience that currently doesn't even know that HighEnd audio exists.
|So give it up to Josh Ray. He's doing something unique that's propelled by youthful enthusiasm and a clear vision that only someone of the iPod nation can convincingly reach out to this nation, making inroads, building bridges. Those of us in the audiophile press are simply not on their radar. Nor do we speak their language. Thankfully, Josh's really into audio. I mean, he could have decided to promote Indonesian elephant masks or wooden frogs with umbrellas. Instead, he opted to give us old timers a much-needed boost. Way to go, Josh - and thanks. We need blokes like you. Manufacturers, you can contact Josh via e-mail to submit whatever press or event releases you want him to consider for his site.
All the parts must work together to benefit the whole - and Josh is quickly making himself an important part of our thang. With this type of support arriving (and the vision behind it), perhaps HighEnd audio can grow as big a contented smile as Froggie with his rotund belly filled to bursting? Here's to hoping.