June 2002   

Like a Broken Record
The RIAA tries to outrun the hackers

: Remembering Henry Kloss


Remember the saying, “You sound like a broken record”? You used it when you wanted to shut someone up who was saying the same thing over and over again. Its origin, of course, is from the (first) days of vinyl: When the stylus encountered a crack, a scratch or a piece of dirt, it would get knocked into the previous groove, so the same little bit of music would play forever. Today, of course, that would be considered an artistic choice, but in the days when the preferred mode of music playback was strictly linear, it was highly annoying.

Ironically, nothing sounds more like a broken record these days than the record industry itself. Like a needle stuck in a particularly irksome groove, the major labels are once again howling that record sales are being killed by piracy. If it all sounds very familiar, it's because we've been here often: When analog cassettes became a major delivery medium (thanks in large part to Henry Kloss — see below), when DAT machines were struggling their way onto the market (and failing) and when Napster was getting a million hits a minute, the record companies were making the same dire prediction.

This is not to deny that something is going wrong in the record biz. The revenues of the five major labels that control the RIAA (and it recently almost became four, but for reasons that are about to become obvious, nobody seemed to be interested in buying EMI) were off last year, for the first time in a long time. But to put the entire blame on piracy ignores the fact that we really did have a recession, particularly in the music-loving high-tech sector; plus, we were targets of terrorist attacks, both real and imagined, which put a severe damper on commerce in general, especially of the leisure kind.

And let's not forget that minor accounting problem EMI had when it sacked Mariah Carey: Barely nine months after giving her the fattest recording contract in history, it bought her out, taking a $49 million hit. Then, it cut 1,800 jobs to cover it and announced it was pulling its stake out of music retailer HMV. You gotta love this business.

The rest of this column, along with 56 more, is now available in The Insider Audio Bathroom Reader, published by Thomson Course Technology PTR.

Copyright ©2006 by Paul D. Lehrman

The world of audio mourns the loss of two giants, both from New England. David Blackmer, founder of dbx and Earthworks Audio, passed away on March 21, in New Hampshire, at the age of 74. George Petersen's appreciation of him appeared in last month's issue and can be found on mixonline.com.

On January 31, in Cambridge, Mass., inventor and entrepreneur Henry Kloss died at age 73. For over 40 years, Kloss (pronounced “close,” as in “near”) was one of the most important figures in the world of consumer audio — what we used to call “hi-fi.”

In the gear I've collected over the years, I can find almost every generation of Kloss-designed products. There is a speaker by Acoustic Research, the company he co-founded in 1954, which produced the first acoustic-supension speaker system so that listeners could hear decent bass without a box the size of a refrigerator in their living room.

There are speakers by KLH, which he co-founded, that lived in several of my college dorm rooms. The other room where I spent all my time in college, the electronic music lab, also had KLH speakers, four big ones. And when I moved into my first apartment, my roommate had a KLH Model Eleven, the first “suitcase” stereo system, whose low price, good sound and ruggedness helped millions of folks participate in the musical explosion of the '60s. KLH also made a hi-fi table radio, which introduced many to the world of FM, and the very first product to incorporate Dolby B noise reduction: a reel-to-reel tape recorder.

There are Advent products (including the speakers that I bought for my father) that were also used as monitors in the first two classical radio stations where I worked; the cassette deck, which Kloss created by installing a Dolby B circuit into a Nakamichi transport, instantly bringing what had been a lowly dictation medium into the realm of high fidelity, where it has lasted for over 30 years; and the NovaBeam television projection system, which, although it was a commercial failure (among other problems, the video sources of the day looked pretty awful when they were magnified that much), won an Emmy Award and paved the way for the ubiquitous home theaters of today.

Finally, there are Cambridge Soundworks systems, the pioneering tiny-speakers-with-external-woofers design that millions of computers (including two of my own) are now plugged into, which have raised thousands of listeners' consciousnesses about surround sound.

Henry Kloss wasn't a “pro audio” guy, but without his contributions and the audience they created, very few of us would be doing what we're doing.

Copyright ©2002 by Paul D. Lehrman