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New Audio Formats

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Scott tackles the SACD/DVD-Audio vs. CD issue. It seems to me that the issue here is not the quality of the music, it’s the content.

For one thing, the DVD-A format will provide the issuer more control over how we use the content. We may not be able to pull anything off these discs. I don’t own one, so I’m not sure the exact implications of the DVD encoding. I know that DVD movies are a pain in the ass to decode and reencode in another format. While this isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, the following WOULD be, in my book:

Another drawback: Unlike CDs and MP3s, which you can play just about anywhere, DVD-Audio and SACDs don’t have that portability. Cars, portable CD players or boomboxes don’t have the technology to play them yet.

The YET part is the one that we need to watch for. Once they start saturating the market with portable players, these things may just catch on. The sound quality will be better, no doubt, but the restrictions may not be worth it (see “Fair Use”). For one thing, surround sound technology is VERY limited in it’s uses. If I’m in the middle of my living room listening to Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and it sounds absolutely phenomonal, that would be great. However, if I take it to work and am listening to it in my headphones, where is the benefit? Surround sound doesn’t sound good in headphones or in your vehicle, does it? I’m not that familiar with any freak… errr.. audiophile that would install surround sound in his SUV. Obviously, he would have a lot of money to spend friviously, which I don’t.

Only a small percentage of my music listening is done in my living room, while sitting still and doing nothing BUT listening to music. The vast majority is done in my trusty old Discman, with the headphones on. Normally, I’m also doing something else (such as working, or doing a project or playing on the PC). So, realistically, I’m probably not the target market. However, I can appreciate an upgrade to sound, but how much farther is the new format going to take us? I don’t have a real problem with near-CD MP3 tracks, so am I going to appreciate the upgrade from Digital CD to SACD/DVD-A? I’m not sure.

“Most people aren’t looking for a multichannel experience. They are just looking for a convenient, good-sounding, inexpensive format,” says Jon Iverson of Stereophile magazine.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I want portablility, convenience and accesability. Don’t try to force-feed me a new format because it’s easier to lock it up and control the content. If you come out with a smaller, more convenient disc that sounds better, we’ll consider it.

I don’t think these formats are going to catch on, for three main reasons. First, there are two competing formats. Two, most music consumers right now are extremely wary of being restricted in what we can do with it. Three, the upgrade to the equipment. If they were backward compatible with regular DVD players, it might work. I believe this is not the case though. Since DVD players are so widespread now, is everyone going to be willing to go out and upgrade the DVD player they just got when the prices came down?

Another thought: Remember mini-discs? I actually thought they would catch on, since they were smaller and more convienient. For some reason, they didn’t.

However, I haven’t heard the new discs yet, so I don’t know how good they really do sound. In reality though, when you get deeper than CD-quality sound, who notices? Unless you have super-high-end equipment and a VERY sensitive ear, a song in extremely hi-fi sound vs. simply hi-fi isn’t going to sound much different.

I am definately going to check these out though… and when I do, I will let you know.

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