Audio CD

By eweek  |  Posted 2003-03-05 Print this article Print

: Its not the format thats the problem, its your hearing!"> "One quick thing worth noting.—the "tyranny of the installed base" of CD-Audio is only one part of the equation. The other part is how difficult is it to upgrade to support the new features of the new formats, and whether the consumer sees the need for it. Moving from vinyl to CD was a no-brainer, which is why it went pretty quickly—the audio quality difference was significant. But it was still just a stereo signal that required no new speakers or amplifier with special decoding capabilities.
DVD-Audio has the benefit of higher fidelity, which for many is not significant, and holds more songs per disc, which is its primary benefit. SACD (and DVD-Audio, too?) adds additional channels and encoding to the mix. The problem here is that it requires more equipment to take advantage of the new features, and for many people that is not practical.
Besides, where do people listen to music discs? A large percentage use portables with only stereo headphones or carry-arounds with only two speakers, usually of middling quality, so the extra channels and encoding are lost. Cars are the best place. But this requires significant investment for older cars, not much in new cars, and in either case, road noise and other sonic distractions mean some of the additional goodness is lost here as well. Home is where you can get the best audio setup. But even then, how many households are going to have multi-speaker setups and be willing to buy the equipment to process the new format for full usage of the formats capability? I dont have surround-sound even, and of the people in my social circle only a few do. Part of the problem is the house itself—without extensive changes its not practical to wire a room for multi-speaker setups. Maybe when wireless technology is improved enough for remote unwired speakers, can the mulitchannel formats take off. Anyway, CD-Audio is good enough in quality, but doesnt hold enough songs per disc. Should that hold us back? No! I dont think SACD is going to make it in the long-run, much like MiniDisc and MemoryStick. Sony has been trying to lock into a licensing goldmine but seems to fall short each time. DVD-Audio I think has a great shot. But the MP3 CD will be a tough competitor because it works on computers, inexpensive portable players, and most DVD players. The ability to hold so many more songs per disc is also a huge benefit, and while compression is an issue, its often at the choice of the user what bitrate (sampling rate) to use. This ability to choose your own bitrate is part of whats made it so popular. Is it more important to get the most songs on your MP3 CD or to get as many as you can without sacrificing quality? I like that choice. So in that case, its good enough for me to buy my CD-Audio discs and rip em how I want em, and know that I can play them on a variety of devices." Gerry Giese "I think that the Compact Disc became such a successful format not only because of its more convenient size and superior resistance to damage and deterioration, but also because the signal-to-noise ratio is so much better than vinyl. While the frequency response of analog recordings certainly exceeds that of CD-Audio, the vast majority of consumers dont own audiophile-quality playback equipment, dont usually listen to music critically, and consider the noise inherent in vinyl (pops, clicks and groove wall noise) more annoying and distracting than a compressed frequency response. Consequently, the CD became an unqualified success, despite the overwhelming installed base of turntables. As for the newer formats (DVD Audio, SACD), I think the reasons why these formats have not yet made inroads are three:
  • For the masses, the improvement in sound quality isnt great enough to justify the purchase of new playback equipment (quality of consumer-grade gear; nature of mass-marketing listening habits).
  • For the techno-geeks, the use of (largely unnecessary) copy protection measures such as watermarking and prohibition of digital output, is off-putting.
  • The relatively small segment of the market that is audiophiles who will endure any inconvenience or additional expense to obtain the highest quality music playback is insufficient to ensure the success of any format.
I believe that until the recording companies replace the CDs they current manufacture and distribute with high-resolution, multichannel discs that are (a) not copy-protected, (b) will play in conventional CD players (in standard CD-Audio quality stereo), and (c) for the same price as standard CDs, the 20-year-old CD-Audio standard will continue to dominate, and the new formats will languish. As for departure from the current optical disc—maybe when flash memory (Im partial to Compact Flash, myself) reaches DVD capacities?" William J. Austin


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