Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn



Let the Beats Go On: European Commission OKs Apple’s $3B purchase of Beats


The European Commission issued a press release to say that the Apple-Beats deal cleared under the EU Merger Regulation legislation. The goal of the EU’s merger policies is to examine such deals and "prevent harmful effects on competition."

Apple has confirmed it will buy Beats for $3 billion, making it the company’s largest acquisition ever. Beats is best known for its premium headphones, but also recently launched a subscription music streaming service that was the key to Apple’s interest.

The commission said on Monday that although both Beats and Apple sell headphones in Europe, their combined market share is low and the two companies are not close competitors. The EU noted that headphones from Apple and Beats "differ markedly in functionality and design."

It was also said that major headphone competitors, such as Bose, Sennheiser and Sony, would remain in the marketplace after the Apple-Beats deal closes.

It’s now up to US regulators to issue their approval, and it would be surprising if this didn’t happen soon.

via European Commission OKs Apple's $3B purchase of Beats.

ReadKit RSS Reader for OS X on Sale 50% Off


ReadKit.175x175-75ReadKit, an RSS reader for OS X, is on sale at 50% off for a limited time. I use ReadKit, and it replaced NetNewsWire for me. It’s got a nice, clean interface, and works smoothly. It’s not perfect, but I like it better than the other apps I’ve tried for managing RSS on the desktop.

Get ReadKit from the Mac App Store for $5.

Bose accuses Beats of using patented noise-cancelling tech


Bose Corp. filed a lawsuit on Friday that accuses popular headphone maker Beats Electronics of infringing upon several of its patents.

The suit claims that Bose lost sales because Beats—which Apple announced it would acquire for $3 billion in May—used patented noise-cancelling technology in its Studio and Studio Wireless headphone lines.

Beats’ products that allegedly use the technology “can also be used for noise cancellation when no music is played, a feature that Beats also advertises,” the suit states. “Thus, Beats specifically encourages users to use the infringing functionality. Beats advertises no method to turn off features that cause end users to directly infringe.”

Bose is probably taking advantage of the fact that Beats is now valued at $3 billion. But why didn’t they wait a few months more? Apple doesn’t yet own Beats, and any money that can be obtained in a suit like this would come from Beats, not Apple.

Also, noise-cancelling technology is quite old; I’m surprised that there are patents like this, but these may simply be patents that refine the technology.

I’m reminded of the Grateful Dead’s wall of sound concerts, where sound engineer Bear (Stanley Owsley) discovered that he could cancel out the sound coming from behind the musicians using two microphones. If you watch The Grateful Dead Movie you can see those noise canceling mikes: the singers sing into the top one, and the lower one picks up the sound from behind them to cancel it out. Alas, the technology was in early stages then, and the sound of the vocals from that period isn’t great.


via Bose accuses Beats of using patented noise-cancelling tech | Ars Technica.

DVD Notes: The Forsyte Saga


Forsyte saga dvdA few years ago, I watched the 2002 TV adaption of The Forsyte Saga with Damien Lewis. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) I was impressed by this series, which looks at an upper middle-class English family and the events that unfold as people in the family stop conforming to tradition. From a trilogy of novels by the hugely prolific Nobel-prize winning author John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga is, to be blunt, a high-class soap opera, but in the style of Marcel Proust or Henry James.

I was therefore tempted to go back to the BBC’s 1967 television adaptation, which shows the trilogy in 26 episodes, rather than the twelve episodes of the freer adaptation of the later version.

This work looks at the truth behind the veneer of an established, monied family, and how some of its members break with tradition. A son falls in love with his daughter’s governess, and goes off to live with her, giving up his life of comfort to eke out a living as a painter. His daughter later grows up and falls in love with a bohemian architect. Another of the sons makes a bad marriage. A daughter marries a gambler who loses too much money.

But throughout the entire series – and trilogy of novels – this family is seen as losing its anchors as modernity catches up with it, and as people begin questioning the sacrosanct idea that “He’s a Forsyte,” as though that will get everyone through the tough times.

This TV series bears the mark of the times. Shot in black and white, it’s fairly rigid, because of the type of cameras used. Some of the acting is a bit melodramatic, but the direction is interesting and, in some ways, innovative. While most of the series is shot like a play on a soundstage, some shots look like those used in French nouvelle vague films.

It’s a fascinating series, a bit like Downton Abbey on a lower budget (I’m sure that Downton Abbey was strongly influenced by this series). While it shows its age,

The Forsyte Saga runs 1295 minutes on 7 DVDs, and is available in the UK at the astoundingly low price of around £13. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) The US edition is about $55, but if you’re in the US, and have a multi-region DVD player, get it from the UK.

If you wish to read the books, you can get them in Penguin paperbacks, but there’s also a decent Kindle edition of all of the Forsyte Saga novels, plus Galsworthy’s later series A Modern Comedy, which follow the Forsyte family through the 1920s, and The End of the Chapter, which goes on even later. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

CD Notes: The Transcendentalist, Music by Scriabin, Cage, and Feldman


Listened to this recording a few times yesterday and today to review for MusicWeb. Great stuff. A nice selection of calm music, including a good performance of Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari. Includes a work by a young composer, Scott Mollschleger, in the Feldmanesque vein.

(Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Dear Music PR Person, You’re Doing It Wrong

If you send out digital music files or CDs, do it right, or reviewers will simply ignore what you send them.

I get a lot of music to listen to and review. I review classical CDs for MusicWeb International, and I review lots of CDs and downloads here on Kirkville. When I get CDs, I rip them so I can listen to them more easily on my Mac, or on my stereo that connects to my iTunes library. And when I get digital downloads, I add them to my iTunes library immediately.

I got two lots of music in the past few days, one was a single album, and the other was about a dozen albums. And when I added them to my iTunes library, I saw that they were poorly tagged. One had no tags at all: the tracks were just “track 1,” “track 2,” etc. The other had track names, but nothing else.


So, in the interest of helping music PR people get music listened to, let me make some suggestions for how you should provide digital music.

  • All tracks should be tagged. All tracks should have tags at least in the following fields: Name, Artist, Album, and Year. You can add a Genre tag, but I might change that. If you can’t bother with tagging files, why should I bother listening to them?
  • The music should be provided at a decent bit rate. The best option is to provide lossless files: either Apple Lossless or FLAC. You can provide WAV or AIFF files, but they take longer to download, so I recommend you avoid them. If you provide files in any other format, make them at least 256 kbps. (And please, don’t send Ogg Vorbis files.)
  • All tracks should be the same bit rate. The single album I got this week had 24 tracks at 160 kbps, and 1 track at 80 kbps. Do you seriously expect me to judge the sound quality of a recording at 80 kbps? If so, then you need a primer on digital music.
  • The downloads should include album art. This can either be embedded in the files (best option) or separate. If it’s embedded in the files, you should make sure the embedded file is at least 600 x 600 pixels, and you should include a high-resolution copy of the cover as a separate file. If you only send me a 200 x 200 pixel file for cover art, I’ll throw it away.
  • Include liner notes. All downloads should include liner notes. These should be in PDF format, so they reproduce the layout of what one gets when buying a CD (or a download with a digital booklet). Don’t send me Word files.

Feel free to include other items. You might want to include an EPK (electronic press kit; generally just a video with an interview of an artist). If so, make it clear whether I can use this video on my website. As for photos, make it very clear what conditions must be met to use them. For example, if credit of any kind must be given, make it easy for me to find out what I need to say.

I understand that some music PR people just send the files they get from labels. If the labels can’t get it right, don’t waste your time sending me crappy files. You may have an excellent recording to promote, but I’ll just delete the files and ignore the album. I’m not wasting my time with poor quality files, and I’m not wasting my time trying to find tags for untagged files.

If you can’t be bothered sending me quality material to judge your music, why should I bother reviewing it?

P.S.: If you’re sending out CDs for review, make sure to:

  • Upload track information to Gracenote. This is the service that iTunes and other media players use to provide track information when you play or rip a CD. So, if I want to play a CD you’ve sent me in iTunes, I want to see the track names. If I rip that CD – which I do for most CDs I receive, as it’s easier to play them, move around in them, etc. – then I want to know what tracks I’m listening to.  I got a CD the other day that, when I went to rip it in iTunes, no track information was displayed. That CD went on The Pile, and I’ll probably not think about it for a very long time.

The Reviewer’s Conundrum: What to Do with a Very Bad Recording?


I review CDs and DVDs for MusicWeb International, the site with the largest number of classical CD reviews freely available on the internet. I’ve been writing reviews for the site for nearly 15 years, and have reviewed some 600 CDs and DVDs.

MusicWeb reviewers receive a list of CDs every month or so, and choose the ones they want. (I also get some CDs directly from record labels.) So I go over the list, and check out what interests me, what new releases fit with my musical tastes and knowledge. In this month’s lot, I got a recording of a work I love and know very well – I’ll leave it nameless – that I tried to listen to this morning, but that was so bad, I had to give up. It’s a solo instrumental recording, and the performer plods through the piece, which, by the way, is played at a tempo which makes it about 50% longer than other versions of the same work.

So I’m faced with a conundrum. In general, I don’t like writing bad reviews; I think it helps no one, and harms the performers and record labels. But there is also a responsibility to write such a review, to alert other music fans about such a poor recording. It’s not like they can’t judge from themselves; the release is available by download, so anyone can listen to excerpts and hear what I heard, and see if they agree with me.

So what do you think? Is it better to write honest reviews of bad recordings, or just toss them aside, and spend time writing reviews of the good ones? Because, since the time of all reviewers is limited, every bad recording that gets reviewed means one less potentially good recording will go unreviewed.

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