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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
October 1999

More Waiting -- and Worth It

This will be a very interesting month for audiophiles. Sony and Panasonic are poised to deliver new SACD and DVD-Audio players, and Mobile Fidelity has announced its first two SACD titles (Sony has already produced SACDs). Consider this month one during which we in the audio press will go to work telling you about the new formats, their capabilities and sound quality. I look forward to hearing both formats to discover if the promise shown at HI-FI ’99 in Chicago is for real. I also look forward to seeing what forms DVD-Audio software will take. I suspect you will see fewer and fewer audio-only discs as music continues its convergence with the video and computer worlds via DVD.

However, in these early days, there is one thing you will NOT read on SoundStage!: recommendations of which format to support over the other. Why? Perhaps the biggest audio event to occur over the past month is Cirrus Logic’s announcement of universal DACs that will decode SACD and DVD-Audio discs along with DVD-Video discs (for current 24-bit/96kHz software), standard CDs and HDCDs. As Jim Causey reported on AudioVideoNews, the chips will be available in abundance in December, and I suspect that between then and now we will hear some company announce the intention of making a universal transport mechanism that will accommodate all of the disc formats. Once this happens, the floodgates will be open for high-end companies to start making universal players.

What this means for you, however, is more waiting. The good news is that you will soon be able to sidestep any perceived format war because you will be able to buy a single disc player that will cover all bases. Moreover, you will likely see both new formats thrive -- and probably establish unique identities. Watch SACD become home to audiophiles. People at Mobile Fidelity have told me that the company is supporting SACD because its sound quality is simply better than that of DVD-Audio. And I believe them -- they have future sales resting on this decision, and I heard the SACD demo in Chicago, and it was impressive. I think DVD-Audio, on the other hand, will be the first to bring high-quality multichannel sound to audiophiles and perhaps mix video, text and even connections to Internet sites on discs. As I wrote last month, CDs will still be around for some time -- maybe forever -- and the HDCD ranks seem to grow each month. And the best thing about all of this is that you will be able to play all of these on one piece of hardware.

In terms of pricing, everybody knows that the cost of the first SACD-only players will be very high, while the first DVD-Audio players will be around $1000, not cheap but affordable for a lot of people. However, you would be a sucker to buy either of these this month. The soon-to-be-available universal chips will cost less than $7 each in large quantities, and so you’ll see frou-frou, cutting-edge players as well as units from the Camelots and MSBs of the audio world -- in addition to the mass-produced players that will also be available. Eventually, there will be something for every budget, just as there is now, and the sound will surpass what’s available now at any given price point.

So this month we will finally hear SACD and DVD-Audio, but next year is when the real fun begins. The long wait is coming to an end, and if things happen as I think they will, we’ll all be very happy with the results: a single component for all of our digital-music needs.

...Marc Mickelson

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