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Saturday, October 12, 2002
Manufacturers push DVD-Audio, SACD as next generation CDs but will buyers bite?


Anyone old enough to remember spinning vinyl records also remembers relegating them to the nostalgia pile when CDs became the listening standard more than a decade ago. Now, CDs may be headed for the same fate. Over the last couple of years, manufacturers and record companies have rolled out two new musical formats — DVD-Audio and Super Audio Compact Discs (SACDs) — that they hope will replace the CD.

"It's really getting rolling. The number of titles is increasing rapidly," says John Trickett, chairman of the 5.1 Entertainment Group, which has produced almost 100 DVD-Audio titles. "If you compare it to the launch of the CD ... It's actually following the same pattern, but actually a lot faster."

SACDs and DVD-Audios, when coupled with the right speakers, sound superior to regular CDs. Parts of a recording that were buried in layers of music — a drumbeat, an extra guitar, perhaps some backup vocals — are now revealed, crystal clear.

Yet the new formats require an investment from consumers — many of whom seem satisfied with CD sound and have not even heard of SACDs or DVD-Audios. While the new discs cost about the same as a CD in the United States, or a tad pricier — about $19 — you'd likely need to upgrade your entertainment system to hear their advantage.

"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.

Both DVD-Audio and SACDs can hold several times the data contained on regular CDs. They are also multichannel (surround sound), instead of the two-channel (stereo) CDs. (Some SACDs are two-channel, made to enhance stereo sound.)

Jazz great Dave Brubeck recently heard a remastered SACD version of his classic album "Time Out." The difference, he said, was startling. "Nobody was even aware that there were limitations — now you can really hear that before you weren't hearing anything," says Brubeck. "You can hear the individual instruments better, and in a more natural way, as if you were hearing them live."

That might sound similar to what consumers were told back when CDs came along.

But Iverson says that CDs, while more convenient and durable than vinyl, were actually found by many audiophiles to be inferior in sound.

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