Additional Coverage
James Saxon


What’s in a name, that the high-resolution compact disc announced at CES should sound so sweet?

According to Classic Records, one of several sponsors of a new DVD-based CD format, the super disc will be called the 24/96 DAD (Digital Audio Disc). Chesky Records wants it known as the 96/24 Super, while Mobile Fidelity refers to it as DVD 96/24. According to Kevin Halverson of Muse Electronics, a designer of the transport required to decode CDs of 24bits/96KHz sampling rate, the high performance software should be called an Advanced Audio Disc (AAD), a rose of a name of which Shakespeare might approve.

The AAD is designed to use the extended storage capacity of DVD Video, but for two (stereo) music channels only. As a consequence, the amount of computing power dedicated solely to music will be enormous. Compare the present 16 bit PCM sampling rate of 44,100 times per second, which can contain 85,536 possible levels of information, versus AAD’s 24 bit PCM sampling rate of 96,000 times per second which permits up to 16,777,216 possible levels of information. As Halverson nicely understates it, "This represents a substantial increase in resolution and bandwidth."

Translating the densely-populated format into better music requires a new digital transport capable of decoding huge amounts of uncompressed information. Ironically, present DVD Video players will play AADs because the disc used for AAD and DVD is the same. However, because they are designed to reproduce videos accompanied by audio tracks using a form of lossy compression, existing DVD transports have greatly reduced audio playback capabilities. One would not want to use a DVD Video machine as an audio-only transport for AAD. On the other hand, the new AAD transport being designed by Muse Electronics, Resolution Audio, and others, is capable of playing not only AAD in all its full glory, but also DVD Videos to boot.

Halverson analogizes the sonic benefits of AAD to the higher resolution video presented by DVD. In other words, once one hears AAD, his expectations for sound quality will be forever changed. For this reason other "purist" audio companies have made a commitment to AAD playback.. As of February 1, 1998, the list of AAD transport designer/manufacturers included Ayre Acoustics, bel canto Design, conrad-johnson, Muse Electronics, Resolution Audio and Theta Digital. In coming weeks, others are expected to announce plans to participate in this marvelous audiophile initiative.

Of course, the finest playback hardware would be little more than a technological curiosity without software. Despite stagnation in the music industry, Classic Records plans to release 30 new discs in 1998, all recorded in the AAD format. Chesky Records forecasts 12 to 18 AAD titles. Mobile Fidelity promises a slate of AAD offerings, as well. The most intriguing possibility is the rumor that a major Japanese hardware manufacturer intends to release nearly 3000 new titles on AAD in the foreseeable future. Let us hope the rumor pans out. Although a few dozen AADs does not an industry make, the advent of thousands of new AAD discs in coming months could spark the attention of the buying public. The subsequent ringing of cash registers might inspire greedy multi-national music and hardware companies to stop procrastinating on a new compact disc encoding standard. AAD may well provide the impetus to better sound for us all, which here at Soundstage! is devoutly to be wished.

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