Deputy Jules' recent brush against hard-drive based RedBook playback might have been just the beginning. Using the $14,000 Combak Reimyo player as a one-box audiophile reference, the VRS Audio Systems Revelation music server, at least during his initial short-term encounter, acquitted itself as an equal. The magnetic medium of computer hard-drive storage eliminates jitter and the laser interface and error correction interpolation issues that plague conventional playback. Countless iPOD users already enjoy this without perhaps acknowledging the inherent technical feats. Meanwhile, Marja & Henk's recent expose on EAC and the jitter inherent in poor CD pressings points at certain future advantages of bypassing hard copies altogether for files downloaded directly from the original mastering facility

Naturally, hard-drive systems are prone to eventual crashing and booting problems. Audiophile versions especially of high-volume libraries will necessitate backups and ultra high-speed extraction/upload protocols without compromising data. And while CD artwork and liner notes can be scanned and displayed on a screen which need not be connected to a computer but can be a stand-alone dedicated audio unit, certain users could well prefer the old-fashioned 'analog' method of reading printed ink while leafing through real paper and jewel boxes.

Still, the writing's on the wall. High-resolution integrated or separate transport/DAC schemes of audiophile CD playback could morph into hard-drive systems and thus make our very expensive present solutions combating the inherent challenges of uncompromised CD playback obsolete. In fact, a highly placed source inside Philips told one of our European correspondents that the decision to discontinue SACD has already been made. As implausible as this may sound -- and it could well be incorrect -- this source has been very accurate in the past. At the very least, such a statement could make one pause for just a moment before audiophile life continues on as usual. As usual?

On the amplifier front, so-called digital topologies are becoming more and more prevalent. The latest Bang & Olufsen ICEpower modules -- the new 250, 500 and 1000 ASP versions -- can produce up to 1200 monaural watts into 4 ohms in very compact turn-key packaging. Including power supplies, short-circuit and overheating protection, the 1000 ASP measures 9" x 6' x 2.4' and weighs 3.75 lbs while the 500 ASP shrinks to 7.8' x 6" x 2.1' and weighs a mere 2.78 lbs. We're talking ready-made high-efficiency amplifiers that run cool and are in need only of a chassis. Positive Feedback currently has some molecularly-treated Audio Magic versions for review while 6moons will soon look at some from new Danish firm JJAZ. The word is that the Jeff Rowland monos are more or less stock modules encased in the firm's typical trademark jewelry-type chassis.

Sony, Denon and Yamaha have already developed their own iterations of digital amplification to which we must add Tripath, Texas Instruments, Audio Physics, LP Audio and likely numerous others. Sonic Impact sells a basic Tripath amplifier with volume control and battery power supply for $38 which moon man Jeff Day is currently putting through its paces. From computer-based audio on one side to digital power processing amplification on the other, events are in motion that could significantly alter how High-End audio defines itself 10 years hence. That includes preamplification. While firms like Ayre have gone to extremes to redefine analog volume controls; while firms like DACT and Goldpoint cater to boutique audio firms with high-class resistor-ladder attenuators; companies like Bel Canto Design and Coda-Continuum rely on state-of-the-art Burr Brown chips for digital-domain attenuation that sports vanishing noise floors and ultra-precise inter-channel balance.

In cables, Serguei Timachev's revolutionary amorphous Stealth Indra interconnect has, I'm told, already a speaker cable equivalent in the works which brings technologies currently pursued in the Defense Sector into ordinary civilian homes while the very thin, very flexible cables from Dutch company Crystal Cable seem set to make a dent in the macho notions of required girth, mass and unwieldiness that dominate the cable sector. And Carbon fiber as a unique RFI/EMI repellent is now making inroads into the power cord arena with Michael Wolff's designs

Tubes as the last bastion of unrepentant audiophile nostalgia are making a curious comeback in, of all places, digital circuits. This is evidenced by the celebrated ModWright and Exemplar Audio mods on Sony and Denon universal players and any number of Asian machines from Xindak to Shanling, Cayin to Eastern Electric. On the speaker front, we have introductions like Anthony Gallo's groundbreaking $2,590/pr Reference 3 that sinks more engineering savvy into a single product than most other companies spread across their entire lineup.

DEQX from Australia and TacT from Denmark offer speaker/room correction products which can replace a speaker's analog crossover networks with ultra-steep digital circuits that provide true phase and time alignment with user-adjustable frequency domain contours. Add laser turntables and cartridges with built-in A/D converters and there are enough upside-down sightings of an overhaul of traditions in sight to make technically challenged reviewers lose their cheap lunches. The upside-down perspective becomes so only if we resist change, of course, and cling adamantly to what we know and have gotten used to.

But then the new isn't always better. It's often nothing but a commercial ploy to sell you on the perceived need of having to replace what you already own. The current wellspring of statement RedBook digital makes the proposed superiority of SACD and DVD-A mute in many people's opinion while the persistent lure of
vacuum tube audio despite inferior measurements continues to suggest that we still don't know how to correlate certain aspects of listener satisfaction with test bench results. If there's one thing that seems clear in all of this, it's that pricing for truly impressive performance continues to come down. Simultaneously, options to spend significantly more than necessary have exploded to obscure this 'everyman' trend but the fact remains that you can attain true High-End performance for less today than probably ever before. It's unfortunate then that to be taken serious in the market and garner desirable press endorsements often becomes synonymous with overpricing. It's a sad fact that has many value-conscious manufacturer play the dice of deciding how to position themselves - good sound in cheap and light boxes or good sound in expensive and heavy ones?

At the end of the day and for the purposes of today's limited format, if you're committed to certain old notions of HighEnd audio, things are definitely anything but okay in the ol' Okay Corral. Better get ready for a very messy shoot-out. If, on the other hand, you're ready for the new, this gun fight position could turn around 180 degrees and look rather inviting and exciting. At 6moons, we hope to be hip, jacked-in and curious enough to stay in touch with these changes while we continue to report also on the old, established and entrenched. If we fail to spot newsworthy developments, we shall rely on our readers to share information with us by requesting reviews from the underground or interviews with industry insiders you have reason to believe are on the cutting-edge of worthwhile discoveries. That form of audiophile community sharing is the most rewarding and fun part of running a small enthusiast publication for a niche readership. I want to once again extend this invitation to you: Participate with feedback and let us know what it is you'd like to see from us.

After all, we're all in this together. Most of us are too old to get much ego satisfaction from talking to ourselves in the mirror. While we were young and pretty, that was different but now? So keep us company, okay?