I read dire warnings about HMV's health and future as a retailer of those spinning discs we have known and loved for so long. First they were black and shattered if you dropped them – not a great idea. They then got modern, flexy and durable and sounded rather good. Then we stepped into the modern world with lasers and now – puff – it has all gone. Well, it is going fast.
In the place of the physical comes the ephemeral. Is a digital file there, or not? I suppose it is. Music was encoded as wiggles on one disc and as bumps and pits on its successor and then as, well, something on a memory stick or hard drive. The faster the storage mediums change the more ephemeral music seems to become, at least to me. And to poor old HMV. As I walk down aisles of CDs in their flagship Oxford Street store, as I like to do every now and then, I wonder who buys all those CDs. The answer is of course – virtually no one. Downloads overtook CD sales long ago and now you get music from Spotify, not HMV. Blu-ray music discs remain a curiosity and I doubt whether Blu-ray will ever be anything more than a movie medium, even though Blu-ray players do a great job with high resolution 24/96 digital audio of Rock concerts.
Music disappeared long ago from High Street record shops of any name. Virgin, Tower Records and others have all shut down, leaving HMV to struggle to the end. It's a sad tale in a fast-changing world, but the simple truth is digital technology of baffling complexity nowadays has a quiet grip around our unknowing throats. In a world of electronics indecipherable to all except an engineering elite, companies like Broadcom and Mediatek rule the roost, and Wolfson Microelectronics are amongst them, engineering high quality audio. This is where we are going – fast. Chips of alarming complexity now exist inside cables no less – I feel faint! These chips lie behind products from Naim, Halide, Exposure and Meridian we review this month. Outside there may be little to catch the eye. Inside high resolution digital audio is the name of the game and it's ramping up fast. We may be losing the silver disc, but we are entering a new more flexible world where sound quality remains a major issue and is quietly improving. I hope you enjoy reading about some great new digital products we review in this issue – and are not too baffled by it all. The days of the disc are over it seems.
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