How Digital Technology exposed the Audiophile Fraud

Audiophile hardware… pardon, equipment, is expensive. Full stop.

It is a “given” that to enjoy “true” music you must allocate a budget that equals the purchase of a supercar otherwise, as Califano (an Italian singer) used to sing, tutto il resto è noia (everything else is spleen.) But is it actually so?

Currently I’m listening some Antonio Vivaldi’s concerts played by Yo Yo Ma, in CD – quality (44/16) FLAC format through a couple of bookshelf B&W loudspeakers connected to my old (sorry again, “vintage”) amplifier that receive the analogue signal from a thunderbolt DAC made by  Zoom Japan. Not factoring the computer, the whole setup costs well below a thousand Euros and the quality is very good.

Of course an audiophile would strongly disagree with this statement. He would surely start talking about the superiority of the brand X’s amplifier or the absolute need of a thousand Euros-per-meter loudspeaker cable to have the music flows more “liquid” and so on. And he will rebuff with a pity look in his eyes whoever says something different: ignorant can’t actually understand the “truth”, so let them listen at their Iphone’s earbuds.

To some extent this audiophile is right: expensive rigs can produce awesome results. But a simple logic shows that this statement is wrong and doesn’t match the reality of the digital music industry.

First, it is false that an 100.000 Euros music set up sounds 100 times better than a 1.000,00 Euros one. The more you get close to physical limitation of whatever equipment, the price of each improving step raises more and more and the quality result is more and more less than proportional.

Second, the majority of the music labels still sells their music in CD quality, i.e. the 1980, Red Book standard (16 bit, 44Khz) and even those CD advertised as “24bit recorded” are actually downsampled to the usual standard. With vinyl there was some sense in purchasing costly turntables to minimize the impact of the moving parts on the quality of the electrical signal to be sent the amplifier. Digital files free us from this need. Sure, there are different quality level in digital-to-analogue conversions (DAC) hardware. But a lot of what is sold right now is just “whistles-and-bells”. Spending money for a DAC able to handle 24bit/192Khz or DSD128 streams is useless because, right now, none of the big music labels are releasing high resolution versions of their catalogue, limiting to a very little niche of contents. So where is the point in spending huge monies to buy something that is of no use?

Third (or, maybe, Second, continued), high resolution files make sense only if the music to be played contains a very high dynamic range (from the lows of drums and percussion to the highs of violins and triangle), high personality musical instruments and great players. “Dirty” music like blues (think of John Lee Hooker) or rock (Jimi Hendrix jumps in) is not enhanced by  “better” mastering, as there is no improvement in overmastering a Lady Gaga tune. Furthermore, a lot of the music available on the market is a “bookshelf product”, i.e. something that has been designed to be sold in a very short timeframe, just to be replaced by the next new “version”. Can you actually tell the (musical) difference in the “artistic” production of what is currently sold as “music”? It is not a coincidence that, more and more, “artists” are known more for their eccentricity or fashion look than for their “cultural” production. This is not a rant about how better was the good ol’time music, but a precise cost-benefit analysis: no need to invest in better recorded music, if what has to be sold doesn’t worth it and – more important – if the customer base is not willingly to pay the premium price.

Conclusion: a logic approach to the sound quality that involves a look at the marketing digital strategy of the music industry and the account of the Far East sound-handling devices’ quality shows that it doesn’t make sense to waste money into “audiophile level” equipment.

What we do need is just better music.

 

Copyright Piracy Incitation

I was looking for an HI-Res album to buy and I found it on HIRESAUDIO.COM. When I tried to buy the tunes, here is what I got:piracyincitation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The short story is: if I want to pay for a legitimate copy I have to wait don’t know how much time.

Why on Earth, apart being a law-abiding lawyer (no pun intended), should I restrain myself from looking for some torrent? (BTW, should I do it, who might blame me, since I already paid for “SIAE TAX” on my terabytes of storage?)

Copyright stakeholders are still living in the last century, don’t they?

 

Staying Under the (Mainstream) Radar

Staying under mainstream radar while releasing meaningful and original contents is a good way to attract people actually interested in your activity, thus making easier – as Seth Godin said – turning strangers into friends and friends into customers.

An empirical look at the way people and companies use profiling and stats suggest that to get more traffic (i.e. pay-for-click ads) contents are shaped just to attract people rather than to provide actual information.

Think of the usual effects of looking at your analytics: you take note of the queries made by users and you shape your content accordingly, to be sure to attract people who use these words. The price you pay for being that “smart” is that you’re not the one who controls the content of your website because you let the users (or, better, Google) do it on your behalf.The result is that all websites are made equal and turned into some sort of digital brochure. In other words, is the tail that is wagging the dog.

Personally, I’m more at ease with Henry Ford’s quote

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’

Alitalia’s Marketing Strategy and Cipolla’s Third Law on Stupidity

If you book the Alitalia’s cheapest fare on a flight it might happens (twice in two weeks, to me) that you aren’t entitled to get a decent quantity of miles for the Mille Miglia frequent flyer programme and mandatory given an (often) uncomfortable seat.

This Ryanair-like attitude (everything is an optional) might make sense for long hauls or mid-distance travels, where the passengers are available to pay a surcharge to board first or get some other goodie. But is completely useless for one-hour, taxi-like flights, were people go for the cheapest fare, and either don’t actually care about being good seated or earning a few miles.

Of course, Alitalia must justify the different fares for exactly the same thing (moving people from A to B), but this should be done by adding something more to the standard, and not by lowering the quality of the service first, and ask for more money to get something that was always been taken for granted until yesterday.

To put it short, letting a few “privileges” for the short-distance travelers wouldn’t have done any harm to Alitalia’s pocket, while it would have made people’s day better. Instead, the company chose to worsen its customers’ travel experience, without getting an actual benefit. This affects the passengers’ loyalty to such a company, and as soon as people is offered alternatives, they will surely catch it.

A classical application of Carlo Cipolla’s Third Law of Human Stupidity.

 

Dieselgate Volkswagen’s Advertising Strategy: Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Brand Invain

Yesterday I’ve stumbled upon the first Volkswagen’s TV commercial of the after-Dieselgate scandal.

At first sight, there is nothing different from the previous campaign: a car, its technical specification, the unique selling proposition and, final, a company full-screen logo. But, as they say, the devil is in the details.

The commercial only mentioned the car model’s name without any reference to the word “Volkswagen” during the whole duration and, when the logo-moment came, neither the name of the car-maker nor the claim “Das Auto” went on screen.

Volkswagen’s strategy to limit the lose of its market share, thus, seems to be oblivion-inducing based. Let people forget about the cursed name for a long enough time, to come back when  Dieselgate would have been buried in the past and the brand name can shine again.

If You Really Dislike Google, Just Do A Better One

The usual, questionable and acritical article raises “awareness” about the “danger” represented by the way Google handles the results of users’ queries, this time the “victims” being the “consumers”. The source of this article is a study supported by Yelp.

While I’m not a statistician, I wonder how is possible to give general credit to a study based on a “random sample” (no method to build the randomness is disclosed) of less than 3.000 people compared to the billions of users that daily query the web through Google, furthermore without taking into account the huge ethnic and cultural differences of the countries whose users come from.

And I wonder why the journalist wrote it  without asking an independent expert opinion. She just released what  seems just a summary of the study’s summary, without  actual knowledge of the topics involved. In other words, this article is somehow in between disinformation and misinformation. And, to be clear, I’m not questioning the integrity of the journalist (for instance she duly exploited the Yelp’s involvement in the study);what I criticize is that she didn’t actually deliver informative contents. No matter if this comes from a poor grasping of the mathematics methods, or by way of a lack of knowledge of the digital business world. Fact is the her readers aren’t given sound information, and what they got, instead, is the usual “Is-Google-evil?” article that, from time to time, appears all around the net.

Moving to a general issue, at the end of the day, things are pretty straightforward: Google neither is perfect nor necessarily “friendly”, but if you dislike Google, just build a better one, instead of using spin, FUD and the law.

Of course, If you ????.

Post Scriptum: I neither work for Google, nor have other kind of involvements with it.

Giuffrè Editore (Lexis-Nexis partner)’s Update Disturbing Policy

consolleLexis-Nexis Italian partner, Giuffrè Editore, is active in both the editorial and software business. One of its tool is a java application to handle the electronic document filing to the Court’s dock.

As the screenshot shows, the OSX version of this software requires on outdated java version because Giuffrè didn’t update its code. As they write on the website: “last java versions have problem. Download from here the recommended version”.

In other words: we don’t want to fix the software you paid, so stay stick with an older java version.

So  a lawyer wanting to continue using this software faces these alternatives:

  • downgrade the Java version installed on his computer, thus risking incompatibilities with up-to-date application and having his computer possible stability issues,
  • buy a computer (or virtualize one) “just” to use Giuffrè softwares,
  • move to another software and start using it for scratch.

Whatever the option, the customer is the losing part.

When Digital Automatic Advertising Fails

badadThis is what happens when you leave to a machine the handling of a sensitive task.

The advertising engine used by Repubblica.it coupled fashion photos with a dramatic picture of a Syrian kid scared by a camera that she thought was a weapon.

While whenever you click the link to the picture the ads change (more fashion brands, mobile companies and so on), the final effect remains rather disturbing because of the feeling of misery exploitation transmitted by the whole image. So, putting aside ethical consideration, the outcome is that Fay.com got its brand associated to the wrong message.

The lesson to learn (or to remember) is that to deliver an effective advertising campaign, automatics doesn’t work.

 

Monetizing Your Internet Self. The Uros Baric Case

At the beginning of the Internet-Era marketing “experts” led people into thinking that the simple fact of having a website would have made them “rich”. To some extent this legalized scam (turned out into the infamous Internet-bubble) has worked efficiently luring the greed-part of our “self” and still preserves its momentum.  Time passed but the song remains the same (©Led Zeppelin :)) “Make Internet-monies fast!” the “marketers” shout, “go blogging-tweeting-socialnetworking and get rich!” (yes, websites and e-mails aren’t mainstream anymore.) The (booby)trap of this new scam is – again – the focus on empty technologies rather than on ideas, contents and experiences. It worth nothing to have a fancy Facebook page, a zillion of (purchased) “like” or “+1″  if you ain’t nothing to share. That’s the triumph of Aristophane’s Inferior Argument over the Superior.

Introducing Uros Baric, a young, talented classical guitarist from Slovenja. Baric runs a blog plenty of useful, firts-hand information about playing, (video)recording, digital audio and video workstations, blogging, classical music self promotion, and runs his own recording label too.

What makes Baric’s Internet presence unique is that instead of re-posting someone else’s re-post of something, he shares his own experience. He explores ideas, tries it into the wild and  shares the results: in one sentence, he builds knowledge.

Thanks to his experience, just to provide a couple of examples, I spared a lot of time and money not purchasing a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera and, on the contrary, I discovered the brilliant MuseScore notation software. That’s definitely turned me into a “customer”.

So, unless you’re a big company whose drive is, for instance, the price (and maybe even if you are), monetizing the Internet-Self implies time and effort to “give” people your experience and establish “confidence” to create a business relationship. This is nothing new, as Giancarlo Livraghi wrote back in 1997 is his “Price, Service, Trust” quoting Jonatha Moules:

Many of the virtual shop windows highlight massive discounts in colored flashes, apparently in the belief that cut-price offers are a key factor in successful selling …..

Massive discounting is certainly viable online ….. And since only a small proportion of Internet surfers currently use the medium to shop, low prices appear to be a good strategy for drumming up business.

But the assumption that electronic commerce requires less marketing spending, or is only viable through pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap strategies, is to misunderstand the new medium. One of the most important characteristics of electronic commerce is that it re-writes the rules of selling, but not necessarily in the way you expect.

Werner Knetsch, managing director of the German arm of the consultancy Arthur D. Little, argues that many assumptions about selling online have proved wrong. «The real challenge is creating a clear value proposition for customers. In marketing, being first and attracting customer “hits” on the web site have not proved as important as being well prepared for your new market. Remember, only 6% of visitors will buy something.»

Think of it, when you will assess the  “digital marketing strategy proposal” from the next “Internet Marketing Guru” knocking at your door.

What the US FCC Ruling on Net Neutrality Actually Means

The US FCC Ruling favouring Net Neutrality is a definitive step toward the shift of  Internet-regulation-power from the Parliament to the Government.

It is of little importance whether the FCC endorsed or rejected the (notably wrong and unjust 1) idea of Net Neutrality. What actually counts is that somebody else than a Parliament self-advocated a ruling power affecting fundamental rights that should have remained under the legislative assembly shield.

The US case is not the first and is not alone. Italian Autorità garante per le comunicazioni (a sort of FCC-like independent body) has since longtime passed regulations and opinions about issues that should be a prerogative of the Parliament.The most notably case is the anti online piracy regulation that superimpose a due-process infringing, parallel investigation and trial system to the actual, court-led criminal trials.

  1. The idea of an equal, non discriminated access to the Internet is not bad as such. But if a State wants to provide this opportunity, it shouldn’t be done at the ISPs and Telcos expenses. In other words: traffic shaping and – in general – the techniques that make possible to prioritize the packet’s transit – allow small companies to compete with bigger ones without the need of huge infrastructural investments. Why smaller companies should be banned by the competition “just” because somebody “wants” a free access? This “need” ought to be satisfied by the State itself with a Net-Neutral, publicly-owned and managed network leaving the private sector free to compete. I understand, of course, that this “socialist” approach is out-of-history and is not backed by an economic rationale. And this is exactly the reason why Net-Neutrality is wrong or – at least – non sustainable if its burden is on the private-sector only.