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.

 

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.

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.

 

Our Digital Health And Electronic Money. IT Security Gets Tough

Let’s say the truth: IT security is just a bubble that no “serious” manager cares of. There is no possible explanation for the fact that today we keep talking about the very same things I’ve heard back in the early nineties, sold by somebody who wants to re-invent the wheel. But the indirect Paypal attack against Apple targeted at the upcoming Applepay platform and the spin put on the health-related application  might change the situation: a (very)personal computing device allowing to manage the two most critical things of a (Western) human kind: health and money.

Can a company really afford to market software pre-release as “final” just to meet a marketing-set deadline? Or lure people into trusting a payment platform, risking to become liable in case of problems caused by a poorly implemented security?

It is really (still) possible to discharge any liability with a “simple” contract and put the barrel on the users’ shoulder when serious issues are involved?

IT companies should carefully think about it before entering into a sector where people aren’t so keen in just waiting for the next fix or hardware upgrade. They might be dead or bankrupted, in the meantime.

A kindLE of Magic (or, why Apple’s Ipad is a bluff)

Despite Apple’s claims, Ipad can’t be an Amazon Kindle competitor. Here is why.

Apple’s Ipad announcement raised the usual hype on general press and even gained the cover of The Economist. Steve Jobs said, during his Yerba Buena talk, that Jeff Bezos, at Amazon, did a great job with Kindle, but Apple is actually going a step ahead whit its Ipad. Well, of course Mr. Jobs needs to say that, but the statement might prove to be incorrect.

A question first: what is the Ipad? Answer: a keyboardless computer (but if you want, you may purchase a separate one.)

Sure, you can read ebooks (with some fancy visual trick), you can write your papers and run your presentations, and do your math with Numbers, and enjoy thounsand of Iphone application, and surf the Internet and do everything a normal computer does. So, back to the point, the Ipad is just a (not-so-powerful) general purpose computer.

And now comes Kindle.

Question: what is Kindle?

Answer: a book reading machine.

Kindle does just one thing (allowing people to read books) and does it damn good. The battery lasts for a long time, the download of the purchased book is fast and free almost everywhere in the world, eyes aren’t tired by reading through the screen, usability is at every opposite-thumbs equipped human being’s range, learning curve is measurable in terms of minutes.

I don’t actually know whether or not the Ipad will be a bluff, what is sure, is that Amazon Kindle works like a kind of magic.

Thank you Mr. Bezos.

Microsoft to admit Mac OS X is better?

According to MacRumors.com, Microsoft launched a new ad campaign targeting the price difference between Apple and MS Windows-based notebooks.

Advertising’s “unique selling proposition”  is: “pay less, get all you need”, thus prospect buyer are (supposed to be) lead to focus their attention on a sort of “second – third? – best” option. Who really need a better computer with a superior operating system? Ok, Windows is still far behind Mac OSX but for daily life activities, who cares?

Although Microsoft ad wizards did their best to hide this campaign’s secondary meaning, the “confession of inferiority” is blatant. It won’t change the future (and the present) of the operating system market, nevertheless this communication strategy is an interesting signal.

Time only will tell whether Microsoft choice will backfire or boost Windows sales.