From the Barstool of the Publisher – July, 2008


We’ve become a really half-assed society, to a sickening degree.

This month’s industry profile on Gus Skinas from Super Audio Center proves that. Skinas has developed a system that makes digital audio sound like an analog recording, bringing warmth and emotion back into digital music.

I’ve heard it. I sat in his room as he played me an SACD (Super Audio CD) surround master of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” It’s safe to say that I’ve probably heard that song more than a couple hundred times in my life, but hearing it there was like hearing it for the first time all over again — only better.

The reason I say that we’re half-assed is because despite the obvious difference in quality and warmth that the recording provides, Skinas is in the unenviable position of trying to push this technology. And the people he’s trying to push it to — the people who should care more than anyone — are happy to stick with a mediocre, at best, status quo.

Large labels have either flat out rejected, or at least glossed over this technology in lieu of cheaper, lower quality recordings and we, as consumers, are continually telling them that’s o.k. with us.

Don’t get me wrong here. I love my iPod. If I could, I’d probably make out with it. Let’s face it, Apple has developed a technology that is easy to use, affordable and wonderful at catering to our gotta-have-it-now mentality.

But what Apple and the music industry are missing out on is the chance to play those tracks on something bigger and better than tiny ear buds or crappy computer speakers and have it sound remarkable. There IS a better way.

Has our society gotten so complacent that we won’t push for better when better is available?

It’s finally starting to happen in the auto industry, where car makers and consumers are switching to alternative fuels. But without the lobbying effort made by environmentalists over the last several decades, that would have never happened. And without a lobbying effort by audiophiles, a crossover to an improved technology won’t happen either.

And you know what? I think this is more important than the environment! This is our culture, our art, the reason why living life is enjoyable. To me, art and music are the answers — or at least a big part of the answer — to the big question of “Why are we here?”

Music lovers will never have the lobby that we need, but subtle gestures can make a big difference. Next time you buy a CD ask if it’s available on Super Audio CD, even if you don’t have a SACD player, yet. Let stores and labels and even artists know that quality is important.

Yeah, it’s more expensive. I don’t have the cash for it now either, but think about the fact that 10 years ago alternative fuel cars were astronomically priced and rarely available. Now you can’t swing a dead spotted owl without hitting one. If we ask for it, things will change. If we don’t, it’s our fault.

See you at the shows.

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1 Comment

  1. The fact that mp3’s have been selling for years is alone proof of our lazy society. I do not own an iPod and refuse to do so because of Apple’s proprietary forcing to use their own lossless. I have been a stern lossless supporter (FLAC, Shorten) since 2000. If you’ve been paying for mp3’s, as far as I’m concerned, you’re being seriously ripped off, especially when paying by track.

    This industry needs more people like Gus Skinas, whom I’ve met through a mutual friend, because those who have embraced mp3’s have gone several steps backwards in overall fidelity. It is easy to pick out an mp3 from the original source because many of the key midrange frequencies are sacrifies, which give a given a recording its full range.

    You will also see more albums recorded in DSD — Direct Stream Digital — such as Pete Kartsounes’ latest CD, Out Of Nowhere. Once can clearly hear both the warmth (i.e., the strings from an acoustic guitar) and clarity.

    It also remains to be seen how BluRay will affect the video side, especially with Neil Young’s pending Archives to be released in that format. While I appreciate Neil going for the highest quality format possible, the question is has Neil done so too soon when the first versions of ANY technology will contain flaws.