In the past couple of weeks I’ve dealt with topics that could use a spot of freshening up. No time like the present.
Speaking up for speakers
A couple of readers offered their two-cents in regard to my recent review of the Audioengine 5 powered speakers—a set of speakers priced the same as Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi that, to my ears, sound far more balanced than Apple’s offering. The specific two-cents dealt with the fact that the iPod Hi-Fi includes digital audio input, a feature missing from the Audioengine speakers. Surely the iPod Hi-Fi held some advantage in this regard?
Well, yes, to the extent that if you have a device that outputs a digital audio signal, the Apple speakers can handle it and the Audioengine 5s can’t, but let’s try to keep the wonders of digital audio in perspective. Given comparable audio systems, a digital connection should provide better audio quality, but it can’t alter the laws of physics—it won’t provide the iPod Hi-Fi with a broader soundstage nor will it suddenly balance the iPod Hi-Fi’s sound. The Hi-Fi will still sound mid-heavy and lack detail on the high end regardless of whether you’re using digital or analog input; it’s simply the nature of the Hi-Fi’s sound.
Similarly—and this may or may not apply to the iPod Hi-Fi, as we haven’t tested it in this way—a digital connection requires that the speaker system include its own digital-to-analog converter [DAC]. If that DAC isn’t as good as the DAC in the source, you may find that an analog connection sounds better.
That said, we’re cocking a couple of keen ears at the Hi-Fi’s digital input to compare it to the kind of sound we get from the Audioengine 5s. We’ll report back.
Tune into SXSW redux
Last time we met I mentioned that you could stream a mess of music from bands featured at the recent South by Southwest music conference. Reader Jim got in touch to tell me that the folks at SXSW offer those tracks as a free BitTorrent download. Offered in two batches, this collection includes 941 tracks (weighing in at a little over 3GB). They’re MP3 files encoded at 128kbps, so we’re not talking pristine audio, but you can’t argue with the price.
If you lack a BitTorrent client, download a copy of the Java-based, open source Azureus.
The French thing
Okay, so the French National Assembly approved a digital copyright bill on Tuesday that would “ require DRM (digital rights management) developers to reveal details of their technology to rivals that wish to build interoperable systems.” Should the Senate approve the bill, it becomes law.
Apple has fired back suggesting that the law would promote “ a state-sponsored culture of piracy.”
As I hinted last week, while raising the specter of piracy is a good way to grab headlines, this is going to have just about zero effect on piracy. Music is already offered through peer-to-peer networks and newsgroups—often before the official release hits the streets. That music is often encoded at a higher quality than what you’d get from tracks purchased from the iTunes Music Store. Were I in the piracy business, I’d look for sources other than iTunes tracks stripped of their DRM.
As should be obvious, it’s about Apple’s desire to maintain its market. Purchase a fair amount of music (or videos) in a format that can play only on an iPod and your next digital music purchase is likely to be an iPod. Make music purchased from iTunes transportable to other players (including next-generation phones), and you’ve lost that advantage (though the iPod surely offers many others).
And, of course, “reveal details of their technology to rivals” is pure anathema to Apple. Sharing the details of its business and technology is not in the company’s DNA.
From a business perspective I understand Apple’s wish to oppose this legislation but the outfits that need to be concerned Right Now are the music subscription services. Their model falls apart completely if you demand that their wares be playable on devices that don’t support Microsoft’s DRM scheme.
If the legislation becomes law, I expect Apple to take its ball and go home, but this isn’t likely to be the end of it. Consumers (and, eventually, the law) favor interoperability. It’s only a matter of time before Apple’s hand is forced on this issue.