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Mix Magazine

This installment of The Bitstream column appeared in the December 2002 issue of Mix Magazine.

The Bitstream

This column discusses some items to round out your cavalcade of gear…

Hey Santa, Is The Beard Real?

Well, gentle reader, another year draws to a close. We’ve looked at some interesting technologies, and summoned enough pluck to discuss some pretty hairy subjects. This month, we’re going to slow down and examine a few toys, er, products that, if you’re good, just may show up in you stocking around the holidays.

First thing I’d like to do is discuss optical disc players and the format war resulting from what many see as too many formats and not enough consumers. I’m going to weigh in here and say, “SACD? DVD-A? Who cares!” First off, admit that surround is the killer app, at least in the realm of home theatre and popular music. Given that, and greenbacks burning a hole in your pocket, there are more and better choices for disc fullfillment this holiday season than ever before.

From HTIBs (Home Theatre In A Box) with stealth multichannel SACD playback to blessedly affordable audiophile systems, the CE folks have all the bases covered. If your looking for the highest fidelity reproduction of a surround aural experience, then SACD’s your man and, with Sony’s HTIB Dream Systems running around five to seven hundred dollars, there’s no excuse not to pick up on one. If better quality and more capabilities are attractive to you, then the boys and girls from Eindhoven have got your number. Philips’ LX8000SA has, as does Sony’s, multichannel SACD playback hiding in amongst its other HTIB attributes and it does it all quite nicely for under $1000. For more discerning palates, Philips’ DVD962SA is a stand–alone multichannel player, with SACD, CD-DA, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-V, DVD-R, DVD+RW, VCD and SVCD capabilities at an MSRP of $599. It’s easy to use and makes even dusty old CDs sounds sweet since all PCM is upsampled to 192 kHz. Remember, only SACD can provide multichannel audio playback with the highest subjective fidelity and no stinking TV to distract your enjoyment of a pure musical moment. As an audio professional, it’s also comforting to know you don’t have to spend unreasonable amounts of time and money creating a really great SACD title.

Now if you’re looking for something that combines a potential authoring headache with all the sights and sounds of a multimedia extravaganza, then DVD-A will keep even the most comatose couch potato amused. Only DVD-A combines good quality multichannel audio with video for when you don’t want to think too much but just sit and be entertained and Onkyo’s got DVD-Audio players for every budget. Their entry-level DV-SP300 has a suggested retail price of just $200. The step-up DV-SP500 and DV-CP500 five-disc DVD changer go for $300. All three, like the Philips DVD962SA mentioned above, upsample to 192 kHz so the obligatory filtering exhibits better transient and phase response. Unfortunately, DVD-Audio can’t do multichannel 192 k, so the King Of Quality subjective listening award still goes to SACD.

Philips DVD962SA
Philips’ DVD962SA DVD-V & Multichannel SACD Player

For old fashioned stereo, both SACD and DVD-A provide first rate playback. But what if you’re a producer, and we know producers never make a decision when they can put it off ’till later...So, why decide? Instead, pick one of the new “universal” players that can handle whatever disc you throw at ’em. For the past few years, you had a choice of either Apex’s SACD/DVD-A combi player, a product so bad it wasn’t worth the plastic it was made from, or really great but way too expensive examples from Pioneer and Accuphase. Finally, vendors have broken the price barrier with combi players, giving you both SACD and DVD-Audio playback in affordable packages.

To continue their leadership role, Pioneer debuted their DV-47Ai, a $1200 combi player with iLink out to their upcoming VSX-49TXi preamp/processor with iLink inputs. OK, so $1200 isn’t affordable for many of us worker bees, so how about the DV-45A $700 version without the iLink feature and scaled down video performance? But wait, there’s more! Both Marantz and Onkyo have also heard the siren song of interoperability (had to get the “i” word in at least once) with their new universal players. Marantz has the DV8300 which, at $1500, won’t be on my shopping list any time soon. Another audio/videophile–grade product, it includes multichannel DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, SACD playback along with MP3, CD, CD-R, CD-RW and Video CD. Not to be left out, Onkyo’s announced their DV-SP800 reference universal DVD/SACD player at a suggested retail price of $1000 and their high end Integra division introduced the $1200 DPS-8.3. Sweetness.

Integra DPS-8.3
Integra’s DPS-8.3 “Universal” DVD-A/V & SACD Player

On to computer toys…Let’s start with the simplest of controllers, Griffin’s little dude, the PowerMate. Small, metallic and always affordable, their PowerMate is the minimum daily adult requirement now set by the US Government for USB controllers. Joining me and the PowerMate in the Tiny Is Good category is JL Cooper’s new CD–sized MiniDesk. Having left one of their full sized controllers in the drier too long after washing, they found that it had shrunk to a convenient size for traveling engineers. The result was the CS-32, a miniature USB/MIDI control surface for the most commonly used functions in audio software. It sports 32 dedicated channel strips with 20 mm faders, 6 rotary encoders and transport controls with a nice jog wheel. Another compact item of great utility is IOGEAR’s MiniView III USB 2–port KVM switch. With on–screen display and built–in cross platform emulation, it makes CPU sharing with a single keyboard, monitor and mouse easier than most KVM alternatives.

Griffin PowerMate
Griffin’s PowerMate USB Controller

What else? Apple’s iPod…sheesh, what’s not to like? The price point seems high but try out the competition and you’ll see why it’s a peerless product. The 20 G version holds enough high quality audio to make anyone happy while simultaneously acting as a boot volume and PIM, not to mention acting as a backup for those session files and all the other crap one tends to accumulate while out and about. Being able to carry PCM files of mixes in progress around is great for reality checking. Now if only someone would make a Optimod emulation plugin for iTunes and the ‘Pod, life would be complete.

Since Big iPod’s arrived, only my Handspring is singing the blues. Just when you thought your goofy PIM would forever gather dust, Philips has given it a new lease on life. Their ProntoLite for Palm is a simplified version of Pronto software that turns a color Palm OS PDA into a really decent learning universal A/V remote. With ProntoLite, you teach your PDA to send infrared signals controlling up to ten A/V devices. Not bad for $19.95…download it for free at <http://www.pronto.philips.com/index.cfm?id=420> and give it a spin.

…and now for something completely different, I give you the Vestax VRX-2000. Actually, I’m not sure this product even exists, it might be an urban legend in the making. I assume it can be purchased for whatever undisclosed sum but cannot confirm as their marketing contact, along with Elvis, appears to have left the building. The VRX-2000 is a mastering lathe for the desktop crowd. Lacking only a vacuum system and active cooling, it claims to be able to cut a 14 minute song on special vinyl blanks. Just the ticket for the DJ who has everything.

Vestax VRX-2000L
Vestax’s VRX-2000L DIY Cutting Lathe

I know my studio/office could use a little snazzing up and I’m sure a nice Xserve would make my day…are you listening, Santa? Trouble is, they’re noisier than all get out. So, both AcoustiLock and XtremeMac have come to the rescue with iso booths for your rack–mount gear. AcoustiLock’s Silent Server is a stealth black box either 4 or 7 U high and features their home grown heat pipe cooling technology. It has a huge flat top, perfect as a coffee table for your clients or as landing pad for the RC helicopter that’s under the tree. The XtremeMac crew have chosen to go with a more metallic look with their Xrack iso product in keeping with the Xserve’s brushed metal face. With a slew of options and plenty of space, both products works equally well housing your host computer or fan–ladened outboard gear.

Acoustilock Enclosure
The 4 U Version of the Acoustilock Enclosure

While we’re on the subject of computers, I wanted to mention the cost–no–object UI enhancement of the year. Wacom’s Cintiq 18sx is an outstanding SXGA (1280 x 1024) 18" LCD display with a little something different: it’s also a tablet featuring Wacom’s wireless, battery–free technology. For doing your editing and day–to–day DAW chores, it doesn’t get much more visceral than that. At $3,499, it also requires a hefty bank account.

2002 saw the passing of audio pioneer Henry Kloss though his legacy lives on in may ways, including Tivoli Audio’s Henry Kloss Model Two AM/FM Radio. Forget the cheese computer speakers from Fry’s, loose the overpriced drek from Bose, this puppy will more than do justice to that less than awe inspiring sound card you got goin,’ and all with the look of real wood.

Tivoli Model Two
Tivoli Audio’s Model Two AM/FM Radio

Though you claim you’ve been good this year, only Santa knows for sure. So, you may find yourself as the proud new owner of a nice lump of bituminous fossil fuel in which case, whip out the credit card, log in or head on over to your favorite CE retailer and do your part to help the US spend our way out of this slump!

Bio

OMas was captured by rogue elves and forced to write this column while under the influence of Red Eye, aka Hochzeit Schnapps.