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pete9012s's picture
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Ken Ishiwata

I enjoyed this interview with Ken Ishiwata,from this Saturday's (June16th 2012 Telegraph)

I don't know about you but it makes me feel very old-were has all the time gone!)

 

How music finally recovered from CDs Ken Ishiwata – a crucial figure in the development of compact discs – tells Matt Warman the music industry sacrificed quality for cost but is now finally primed to recovery

From vinyl to cassettes, through to CDs and now to iPods and MP3 players, music has never been more convenient. But does it sound better? In the view of one of hifi’s most respected personalities: no. “Sound quality has gone down for the average user over the last ten to 15 years,” says Ken Ishiwata.

A 30-year veteran of the hifi industry, Ishiwata was the godfather of the first CD players to offer sound close in quality to their analogue predecessors. A key audio engineer at Marantz, he worked at the firm before it was bought by Phillips to bring out the first CD players.

Only now, he says, is digital music turning the corner and beginning to sound as good as vinyl did. He says that at the beginning of each cycle of innovation, the audio industry has consistently sacrificed quality for convenience, and then left others to pick up the pieces.

“If you go back to the Sixties or Seventies, people just wanted the function – a refrigerator, a washing machine – now people want the lifestyle”, he says. “So we had great analogue sound – but our industry needs something new every 15-20 years. Back then they had the cassettes, they were quite popular but they reached a peak so they had to come up with something new. Sony and Philips got together and came up with the CD in 1982 – all new quality was possible, but we decided to come up with reasonable technology for the price. We designed the specifications so that it could be affordable for $100.”

Only recently, says Ishiwata, have CDs really matched the quality of what they replaced. “Of course initially all audiophiles rejected CDs. British companies like Linn were laughing, saying ‘We’re never going to introduce the CD’.”

The CDs began a process where music became, as Ishiwata puts it, “more and more part of people’s lifestyle, and so we have to adapt to that.”

Ishiwata is currently the “Master Tuner” for Marantz, who later this year will launch a £900 iPod dock called the Consolette. It’s the first I’ve heard that sounds like a real hifi system yet comes in a package just the size of a single speaker. “I think usually engineers do not understand music; but I’m coming from the music side and then I studied engineering,” argues Japanese-born Ishiwata. “I try to see people’s lifestyle and how they think and feel so I can manipulate sound.”

The trouble with new music formats based on the digital MP3, however, is that initially the way to keep costs down was to compress the file size too much, says Ishiwata. That meant that although storage was expensive, more tracks could be fitted on to a single device.

“When the MP3 player first came the memory was so expensive, but now there’s 32GB on your iPod. Today you don’t need to compress. The majority of the download is still mp3 but actually your recording capacity is big enough to have non-compressed music. And so now a lot of people are using Apple Lossless and sound quality is beginning to improve again.”

Ishiwata says movie soundtracks are increasingly provided in exquisite quality, and often uses American Beauty for his own audio demonstrations. Although music streaming services such as Spotify are not exactly studio quality, he says “They’re not bad, and in five years time I think they’ll be a lot better.”

It’s Apple, however, that still dominates the MP3 market via the iPod and iTunes. “I’m not sure improving sound quality at this moment is a benefit for Apple,” Ishiwata says. “Their product is not sold for the quality it’s sold for the sexiness and the convenience. They are interested in audio but they are very business oriented. For them it is not the right time yet.” Apple is, however, dipping its toe in the water: Mastered for iTunes brings audio files based on studio quality masters, and even former CD refuseniks Linn are now launching an ultra-high quality downloads service.

Nonetheless, for now, “most users are using highly compressed MP3s. It’s unfortunately more convenient. But in the nature of people they always want something better. It always goes down, hits the bottom. But it’s already coming back up.” Marantz’s Consolette, and host of new models from other manufacturers due in the autumn, will test that theory.

 

 

There were 35 comments about the article here,

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/9333797/How-music-finally-recovered-from-CDs.html#

 

                  

 

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

Meaningless, wrong, irrelevant, FOS and boring if you ask me.

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

fr0g wrote:

Meaningless, wrong, irrelevant, FOS and boring if you ask me.

+1.

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

Can you clarify your remarks on the article...for those of us uninitiated?:)

cheers,graham

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

fr0g wrote:
Meaningless, wrong, irrelevant, FOS and boring if you ask me.

We didn't.

However, I would like to read how your ideas would be better for Marantz than KI's given that...

"Despite the UK market being down 16% overall last year, D+M UK's sales were up 6%, and Marantz up 33% year-on-year."

(From Andrew's Valencia blog.)

Yes, the article seemed to suffer from being written through the filter of a newspaper journalist (even then some Telegraph reader's comments showed it was still too 'geeky' for them), but it was worth a read and worth posting here.

Thanks for posting it Pete.

 

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

Sadly, I believe that in today's society it is largely accesibility and convenience that count.  True, there is significant minority that embraces the concept of quality reproduction of music, but the majority are quite happy to listen to mp3 quality.  Let's face it, your average mp3 file is not that bad when you listen to it, particularly on the move, but it's knowing what the alternatives are that causes the outcry among the initiates when mp3 is heralded as the (only) way forward.  Ken Ishiwata talks a lot of sense and, whatever the journalistic filters or whatever, his views should be respected.  Those of us who care and look beyond the immediate convenience of bog-standard mp3 need industry figure-heads to fly the flag and keep the dream of top quality music alive and accessible to anyone who wants to step beyond that acoustic curtain.

If I am honest, I can happily listen to a decent mp3 music file, but would prefer the alternatives every time...if convenient.

As for Ken Ishiwata: keep up the good work and shout it loud from the rooftops!  :cheers:

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

- 1 to the other posts.

I read this in the DT and thoroughly enjoyed the read, and background info on the CD.

 

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

ESP2009 wrote:

 

If I am honest, I can happily listen to a decent mp3 music file, but would prefer the alternatives every time...if convenient.

 

 

Did I really say "happily"?  :O

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

pete9012s wrote:
“Sound quality has gone down for the average user over the last ten to 15 years,” says Ken Ishiwata.

Not that you'll read this, but I'm afraid I can't agree with that Ken, even if I agree with most of what else you say.  For a start, 15 years ago, for 'average people' (ie not audiophiles) music on-the-go meant cheap 'walkmans' with three buttons for stop, play and not-very-FF, through which they listened to either poorly-recorded mix-tapes made on their Binatone, or commerical musicassettes of extremely variable quality to begin with.  The minimum baseline standard of SQ today is 128K MP3 which easily outperforms the sound the same folk had 15 years ago.

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

MajorFubar wrote:

pete9012s wrote:
“Sound quality has gone down for the average user over the last ten to 15 years,” says Ken Ishiwata.

Not that you'll read this, but I'm afraid I can't agree with that Ken, even if I agree with most of what else you say.  For a start, 15 years ago, for 'average people' (ie not audiophiles) music on-the-go meant cheap 'walkmans' with three buttons for stop, play and not-very-FF, through which they listened to either poorly-recorded mix-tapes made on their Binatone, or commerical musicassettes of extremely variable quality to begin with.  The minimum baseline standard of SQ today is 128K MP3 which easily outperforms the sound the same folk had 15 years ago.

Good point.

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

He makes a good point that usually when new audio technology is introduced, initially it's all about convenience and not SQ, and it's been like that for years since cassettes came out in the mid 1960s.  But I can't agree that for the average consumer the SQ has decreased; on the contrary I think it's never been better.

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

MajorFubar wrote:
But I can't agree that for the average consumer the SQ has decreased; on the contrary I think it's never been better.

+1

No portable cassette deck of the 1960s or 1970s (with it's mono earphone socket) would be a patch on an iPod with a half decent set of budget headphones/earphones today. The cassette deck would have cost about the same proportion of an average weekly wage back then.

Things had improved by the time the Sony WM-D6C Walkman Pro emerged in 1984 (but that cost £225 at the time, and in today's money - adjusted for 28 years of inflation - would buy an awful lot more than an iPod).

 

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

 

 

I don't particularly rate much of the KI stuff personally, but the oberservation that the medium within which music is being packaged has gone down (LPs have more potential resolution than CD, Open Reel more than Compact Cassette, DAT more than Minidisc/DCC, CD more than MP3/AAC etc) is certainly true. 24 bit downloads, although much superior to CD, are not a mainstream proposition at the moment.

 

 

The replay equipment however has generally been on an upward curve (when not being dumbed down for the mass market).

Turntables have improved, CD players/DACs certainly have as well, amplifiers generally have, and speakers have (when not being hampered too much from being deisgned to look nice over sounding right).

 

 

It is quite sad though that in the AV market strives in the quest for superior formats (uncompressed Hi-res soundtracks), is in such stark contrast to the "sound only" music industry.

 

 

It cheapens the value of music to something that accompianies your lifestyle, as opposed to being a part of your life!

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RE: Ken Ishiwata

I think the thing to look at here is what kids today (sheesh) are brought up with.
I don't think many have even heard a good turntable setup.
And why should they, everything is geared to point-click-download-play on crappy earbuds.

IMHO, music today has become a backround noise instead of the soundtrack of our lives.

Don't want to sound like a Grumpy Old Dude here, but I feel the days of brilliant musicians is all but over and taking their place is an army of manufactured product relying on MeloDyne & AutoTune.

HD downloads offer a glimmer of hope to those who still appreciate quality over convenience :pray:

Anonymous
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RE: Ken Ishiwata

I have met Ken Ishiwata once and he is a really nice guy. And he likes tubes, but unfortunatly we don't see this back in his designs.

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