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Beyond the CD: A Bid to Burnish Records' Sheen
Old 15th March 2003
Super Moderator
Remoteness's Avatar
🎧 15 years
Thumbs up Beyond the CD: A Bid to Burnish Records' Sheen

Here's a long but positive look at those little silver disks.

Beyond the CD - PART I: A Bid to Burnish Records' Sheen -

March 13, 2003

IN the age of online music, when any 15-year-old with a
modem can download the complete works of Eminem, some
listeners may well have bought their last shiny silver
disc. After a 10 percent plunge in CD sales last year, the
record industry is desperately trying to find a way to take
its business online - and make it pay.

But a second front is developing in the music
counterrevolution, with a different set of weapons aimed at
a different kind of target. The strategy is to keep
listeners - especially older, more affluent ones - buying
discs, and making what is on them richer in sound and

The discs in question are not in the 20-year-old CD format
but in two more advanced forms: SACD (for super audio
compact disc) and DVD-Audio. Both contain music remastered
in high-resolution digital audio, often in cinematic
surround sound, like DVD movies. Although the two formats
have been around for several years, such discs were priced
much higher than normal CD's and tucked into specialty
racks found only in larger record shops. Figuring out what
machines could play them has generally been confusing, or
at least obscure.

But now the record industry is giving new priority to these
feature-rich audio discs. Having lowered their prices to
typical CD levels, the labels are ramping up re-releases of
classic albums, and planning releases of new albums in
those formats. On March 24, for example, EMI's Capitol
label is reissuing Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" on

Hardware makers, meanwhile, are lowering prices on players
and home theater systems, and are planning to put the
format into cars and portable players.

"In 2003 you'll see EMI and other music companies
experiment aggressively across a range of platforms," said
John Rose, executive vice president of EMI Recorded Music.
"This is going to be a very important year."

In short, the record industry is looking for the kind of
silver bullet that Hollywood found in DVD's. "The movie
industry has done a brilliant job in bringing real value
back to movies," says John Trickett, chairman of the 5.1
Entertainment DVD-Audio production company and record
labels. "Now it's time for the music industry to bring it
back to music."

With that mission in mind, record companies are coming at
consumers with up to three new features: high-resolution
audio, multichannel capability (better known as surround
sound), and in the case of DVD-Audio, TV-based multimedia
content. So far much of the material has been geared toward
audiophiles and baby boomers, with a range of classical
music as well as classic rock titles from artists like the
Police, the Eagles, Steely Dan and Creedence Clearwater

The presumption is that before DVD-Audio or SACD can entice
users of tune-swapping communes like KaZaA, it has to be
sold to those who not only still pay for music but are also
willing to pay to enhance their listening experience beyond
that of a typical CD.

That audience is more inclined to embrace new hardware,
which for both SACD and DVD-Audio is typically a DVD player
with an additional chipset and six outputs for surround
sound, or in many cases, a specially designed "home theater
in a box" system. What the industry gets in return, besides
the consumer's money, is the peace of mind that comes with
the latest in digital content security: most experts agree
that neither format's content will be pirated anytime soon.

More to come...
Old 15th March 2003
Super Moderator
Remoteness's Avatar
🎧 15 years
Thumbs up Part II

Beyond the CD - PART II: A Bid to Burnish Records' Sheen -

March 13, 2003

...Make no mistake, there is a war going on between DVD-Audio
and SACD. Sony and Philips, co-inventors of the original
CD, created SACD primarily as a platform for stereo and
multichannel music, with a high-resolution technology
geared at recreating the fluidity and frequency response of
analog sound. Most SACD's on the market have a hybrid CD
layer, meaning that they play CD-quality audio in regular
CD players and high-res audio in SACD players. (While the
SACD platform supports multimedia content, no current
SACD's carry onscreen graphics or video.)

DVD-Audio, introduced by Panasonic, Toshiba and the other
patent holders in the DVD Forum, is a music-centered
variation on the standard DVD, usually containing a
high-resolution multichannel mix of the album and
additional content like lyrics, photos, band interviews and
music videos. You need a DVD-Audio-capable player to take
advantage of its high-resolution tracks, but any DVD player
can read the video content and play a low-resolution stereo
mix of the music.

Stuart Robinson, editor of, said he
believed that both formats were of equally high quality, a
leap beyond CD audio.

"Both of them sound amazing," Mr. Robinson said. "Now
what's important is the quality of music on the format, and
not the format itself." High-resolution audio alone may not
make much of a difference to the average consumer, however.
"I'm not sure how many people are going to appreciate the
differences between Dolby Digital and high-resolution
DVD-Audio," he said, "but everybody can tell the difference
between stereo and multichannel."

Everybody who has heard it, that is. Sales figures are
still quite low: for every 2,000 CD's sold in the United
States last year, only one DVD-Audio disc went out the
door. Nielsen SoundScan reports that just over 300,000
DVD-Audio discs were sold last year, nearly triple the
previous year's total but a far cry from the 650 million
CD's sold. SoundScan lumps SACD's in with CD's because of
the backward compatibility, so it is harder to estimate
their sales figures. (This will change within six months.)
However, it is safe to say that sales exceeded one million
in 2002, owing largely to Abkco Records' release of 22
remastered Rolling Stones albums on hybrid stereo SACD last

While most of the people buying the disc had no idea that
it was anything more than a restoration of the original
master tapes, SACD proponents chalked it up as a major
market-share victory.

"Abkco's launch of the 22 albums thankfully triggered
similar ideas with other labels," says David Kawakami,
director of the SACD Project for Sony Corporation. "Record
labels just need to understand, like Abkco does, that
hybrid SACD can be sold like any CD." In May, Sony Music
will be rolling out 15 classic Bob Dylan albums in hybrid
format, remastered in stereo for both CD and SACD players.
And by the end of the year, Universal Music Group will have
released hybrid albums by the Police, Steely Dan, Johnny
Cash and Peter Gabriel.

"It's going to take a long time before the world's billion
CD players are replaced totally by SACD players," Mr.
Kawakami said. "Certainly when that happens, however,
record companies will have the option to go to high-res
only. Hybrid SACD is a perfect transitional product."

By this summer, the DVD-Audio camp will introduce its own
half-CD half-DVD. Industry executives confirm that owing to
the specifications of most DVD players already in homes,
the initial run will be a dual-sided disc, much like the
DVD movies with wide-screen on one side and standard view
on the other.

This year, as competition within the formats heats up, the
number of available titles will grow into the thousands for
each, and will no longer just include audiophile favorites
and baby boomer classics.

"Previously, we've had to look at the older demographic,
with its disposable income," said Robin Hurley, vice
president of Warner Strategic Marketing, which is in charge
of Warner Music Group's DVD-Audio back-catalog releases.
"My feeling now is that it's irrelevant. DVD is for youth,
and DVD-Audio will be the next wave." The goal for many
labels is to release an SACD or DVD-Audio at the same time
the CD comes out; Warner expects new Linkin Park and
Madonna DVD-Audio versions to ship alongside new CD's this
year and at a similar price.

While the SACD had a head start in development and in
selling the more compatible hybrids, the DVD-Audio group
has been quicker at moving its technology outside of the
living room. Last fall, Creative Labs introduced the Audigy
2 soundcard, which combines with the PC's DVD-ROM drive and
5.1 speaker system to create an ad hoc DVD-Audio player.
The next stop for both platforms will be the car.

"When I first heard surround sound, I said, the perfect
environment is in the car," says Elliot Sheiner, a
Grammy-winning mixing engineer who is currently at work on
surround-sound versions of both the Steely Dan and REM
catalogs. "You get DVD-Audio in the car, and people listen
to surround sound for the first time, they will want it in
their home."

Still, the multichannel content and security requirements
of DVD-Audio and SACD make it a physical challenge for
aftermarket hardware makers. Multichannel tracks require
not just stereo's Left and Right, but six discrete
speakers: four "satellites," a subwoofer, and the
all-important center channel. Only a handful of cars,
including models from Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo,
have been designed with room on the dashboard for that
center speaker.

For DVD-Audio, the biggest news will come from the
automakers themselves, possibly as early as the New York
Auto Show in April. Industry executives say that Detroit's
Big Three are all gearing up to launch DVD-Audio as an
option, and it may become standard in some luxury cars by
the fall.

The third domain deemed crucial to the success of either
platform remains relatively unexplored. The only "portable"
on the market is a DVD-video and audio player from
Panasonic, but it was not designed for music-only playback,
and you cannot really wear it on your hip when you go
jogging. No one has announced a specialized high-resolution
audio-only portable, but the SACD group at least has an
excuse, since SACD hybrids play in portable CD players.
(The SACD camp begrudgingly acknowledges that the hybrid CD
layer can also be ripped into MP3 format for use with other
portable players.)

Perhaps DVD-Audio and SACD are not yet meant for joggers,
for whom sound quality takes a back seat to skip protection
and feather weight. Some audiophiles eye the MP3-playing
masses with suspicion, puzzled as to the enjoyment that can
be had from less-than-CD-quality sound. Although even the
record companies are hung on the quality judgment, they all
agree that boring old stereo may be the problem.

Surely, sitting in the middle of an audio hologram of
"Roxanne" or "Hotel California" is more interesting than
hearing those tunes emanate for the umpteenth time from a
pair of speakers. Perhaps that, and some "bonus material"
that the movie industry uses to impress shoppers, will help
turn music lovers back on to the shiny silver disc.
Old 15th March 2003
Jules's Avatar
F**cking format mess.

I vote for SACD.

The Sones eh..... that is tempting...

not good for new musical talent development, not good at all.. grudge

Remix, reissue....
Old 15th March 2003
Gear Maniac
🎧 15 years
DVDaudio can help upcoming bands show their tunes best.
Think of the potential.
Old 15th March 2003
Jules's Avatar
If you are talking images & promo videos I agree with you.

Come to think of it, with no pictures, looks like the (better?) SACD is doomed..

OH well....
Old 18th March 2003
Motown legend
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
🎧 15 years
While you can't put a full-out video game on a SACD, you can put just as much as on an enhanced audio CD.
Old 18th March 2003
Gear Head
🎧 15 years
Most consumers still don't know these two formats exist. I've seen the Sony-Abko SACD-Stones' re-issue ads, but thats about it. I have yet to see any SACD or DVD-A p.o.p. displays in the record stores I go to. Even if SACD is truer to the original source (which I don't know that it is, haven't heard it) my .02 worth is that the masses will want a surround-sound music disc to play in their surround-sound home systems. Um, DAD-A isn't a surround-sound format though, is it?

I believe consumers will continue to balk at paying, on average, $15 to $18 for a two channel audio only format, no matter how accurate, when for a buck or two more they can get the latest 150 million dollar James Bond flick.

Perhaps we can get Tim of EAR to weigh in on this, as his company is one of the few manufacturers (Manley and Sony being others that come to mind) with products marketed to both pro audio users and audiophiles.
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