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SoundStage! Update

High Rez Here and Now

July 11, 2007

The "death" of high-resolution digital formats -- which haven't saturated the mass market, as some predicted -- is greatly exaggerated. Sure, SACDs and DVD-As are not selling at Wal-Mart, but neither are the high-end amps and speakers SoundStage! reviews. SACD (and to some extent DVD-Audio) has become a niche format that is associated with high-end audio. One only has to look at the Acoustic Sound catalog to see this. They deal in high-end equipment; they also sell vinyl, SACD and some CDs. SACD and DVD-Audio have gotten a bad rap because they were not properly promoted, but I don't see that as any reason for the press to ignore them. Why should we go along with the crowd that buys boom boxes and mid-fi equipment?

SACDs are about as readily available as anything else these days. You can order almost all of them from Amazon, with Acoustic Sounds for a few of the oddball ones. Who shops in stores anymore? Only kids looking for metal or over-promoted pop.

Now, a few supporting facts.

These labels are releasing hybrid SACDs exclusively -- all releases, not just some: Chesky, PentaTone, Channel, LSO Live, Linn, and 2L. Four of these are audiophile labels of the first rank. PentaTone has been so successful that they have signed long-range contracts with the Russian Symphony and, more recently, the Pittsburgh Symphony.

These labels have SACDs as a portion of their releases: MDG (about 30% and growing), RCA, BMG (some high-profile classical releases come out on SACD, and BMG continues to release Living Stereo titles as three-channel SACDs), Alia Vox, Arts, BIS, Harmonia Mundi, Tacet, Telarc (almost everything, but they still have double inventory with CDs), Heads Up (same as with Telarc), EMI (when they come up with a release where multichannel sound really matters, like the Beatles' Love).

AIX Records releases everything in DVD-Audio and has won lots of awards. The Warner labels are still releasing DVD-Audio discs, but in double-disc sets where there's a CD and a DVD-A. The complete Doors recordings were DVD-As. Reprise is putting a DVD-A in its complete Ring soundtrack.

There are probably more SACD releases now than ever, but the general public doesn't hear about them. All the more reason we should cover them -- to let people with high-end equipment know that there are releases that will make the most of their hardware dollars. The audio press belongs in the company of Acoustic Sounds, not Wal-Mart.

I see no reason why we should join the "high-rez is dead" mentality. I have a hard time choosing new titles for each of my "Radical Sounds" columns on Ultra Audio -- there are that many....Rad Bennett, radb@soundstage.com

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