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November 2006
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

Audiophile Best Of 2006 Equipment Award
Digital Music On Hard Formats Is Almost Dead!
Why would an audiophile buy a new CD player? Part 1
Article By Steven R. Rochlin

 

  This week within the Enjoy the Music.com Industry News page we reported on the sales numbers provided by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). They are the largest trade group that represents the Unites States recording industry, including all major recording labels. As the sales numbers show, from January 1 to June 30, 2006, shipments of physical products are down 16 percent. These figures include the usual hard formats such as CD, vinyl records, cassette tape, music video, SACD, DVD-Video, and DVD-Audio discs. The biggest loser is DVD-Video with a staggering 92.6 percent decline, with SACD coming in second worst with a 44.6 percent loss. DVD-Audio is not that far behind with a 35.1 shortfall as compared to the same period in 2005. So what accounts for the overall sales gain when the RIAA combines all formats?

Think digital downloads my friends. Ok, so this is not rocket science as sales of Apple's iPod have skyrocketed and the soon to be available Microsoft Zune will reach the marketplace. iTunes and others are selling a staggering amount of music in the first half of 2006. How much you ask? How does $223,600,000 sound to you? Of course i am not counting the $181,100,000 in mobile (ringtones, music videos for cell phones, etc) or $64,800,000 in mobile music subscriptions. Sales of SACD and DVD-Audio discs combined could only muster up sales accounting for a paltry $7,300,000. Heck, vinyl singles sold $7,700,000 of merchandise during the same timeframe! Kinda makes you want to rethink the whole hard format digital game now doesn't it? Perhaps those vinyl guys know something the SACD and DVD-Audio guys don't?

 

Why i Do Not Review Digital Products
Always get a good chuckle from those who proclaim that CD is not dead. Ummm, are they living on Mars or, perhaps, like the Walt Disney now non-planet Pluto? Sure its a dog's life, and i'll throw them a bone. There are many new releases on CD and obviously more than their vinyl counterpart, yet digital downloads are the mass consumer's preferred choice. What makes me wince is that people are using decades old technology to enjoy music. Think Commodore 128 and Apple Lisa territory. How many computers have you upgraded to over the past 20 years... and why are you still satisfied with using discs that contain compressed data?

"What?" you ask as you think CD is not a lossy compressed format. Well, you are right and wrong. The CD itself is not compressed, but take a look at your CD collection.

Look at it! See all those CDs? Good!

The reality is approximately 99 percent of them have been mastered from a much higher data/sampling tape. During the mastering process all those additional bits were thrown away. Gone, deleted, removed from the face of the CD Earth. You aint never gonna get 'em back kiddo!

Ok, maybe Pacific Microsonics (now owned by Microsoft) HDCD or Sony's Super Bit Mapping technique was employed during the reduction of the bits. The end result is that the best a CD can hope for is perhaps 1985 technology... at best! Dare i mention that Atari's old Jaguar or Sega 32x nearly two decades ago has 32-bit processing... and remember that each additional bit allows for vastly more data.

Sure, we have modern CD players that oversample, just as the video guys had line doubles and now quadrupers and the like. A computer chip/program adds data between the real samples and long ago Theta Digital had a great DSP engine back in the day called the Gen III processor. It is called interpolation. Car guys say "I don't care if you are Jesus Christ, you will not make more power without more air." To paraphrase, "I don't care if you are Jesus Christ, you will not get better sound unless you have more real data.

If you are like me, looking at well over 3,000 digital discs, the reality is truly sad. At least with vinyl you may have a good chance at extracting more data from those grooves. With digital you are stuck with those 1s and 0s. A better laser, better processor, and better cables... nothing will make more digital data magically appear. While there have been better DSP engines and transports that provide more accurate disc reading, why is it that the majority of consumers are not buying SACD and DVD-Audio discs?

These higher storage formats provide a way to have more of those wonderful 1's and 0's, and therefore can provide higher resolution sound. The kids are buying up Xbox 360s and Sony may be betting their life on the success of their new (over priced) system. Speaking of Sony, it appears they are now so busy with Blu-ray promotion that SACD came and went about as fast as Beta and Elcasette. Ahhh yes, all in the name of progress. Can one of you kind readers hand me another proprietary Sony device? You see, am in the bathroom and ran out of toilet paper.

 

Stop Buying Hard Formats, Demand Better!
Many years ago i was asked about the future of music and even way back then i knew the future was not hard formats. The future was, or should i say is, digitally downloaded/stored music. It doesn't take a rocket engineer to realize that we should no longer be doomed to the stupidity of corporate greed via format wars. Offer the best digital download you can and a simple codec plus DSP chip(s) can do the rest.

USB DACs are gaining ground, and rightly so. Many audiophiles appear to already realize the demise of having a single album on a hard format, instead desiring a large catalog of music stored on a memory chip or hard drive. It is time the audiophile community ignores hard formats and demand the major labels provide high resolution digital downloads. Talking about the not-so-dead-yet-nearly-dead CD (or probably dead SACD format) and hoping for new releases is laughable at best. At worst, it is a direct insult to your intelligence about the ability of higher resolution digital formats and demanding major labels offer them in digital download form.

 

CD Is Not Dead
CD is about to go the way of vinyl. It will be around for quite some time as the market saturation of the format is too immense to ignore. Add to that, the revenue stream is still too large for the bean counters to ignore. Then we have the fact of manufacturing a CD is dirt cheap and you can get plenty of free CD-R discs after rebate come the day after Thanksgiving. The digital storage media DVD/-R/+R, capable of holding well over 7 times the amount of a CD. It, too, will be free, or nearly so, come November 24th. So take a nice long look at your CD collection and do not remember it as being a format that holds music that has been lossy compressed. Instead, remember the good ol' days when you actually had to manually load a disc into a player to hear the music. Decades old technology can still sound pretty darn good. Ask the vinyl guys; they will say the same thing. As i always say, in the end what really matters is that we all....

 

Click here for Part II of this article.

 

Enjoy the Music ("Electric Cafe" by Kraftwerk right now),

Steven R. Rochlin

"Musique rythmique
Son electronique
L'art politique
A l'age atomique

Electric Cafe

Culture physique
Cuisine dietetique
L'art dynamique
A l'age atomique

Electric Cafe

Musica electronica
Figura ritmica
Arte politica
De la era atomica

Electric Cafe

Images synthetique
Forme estetique
L'art poetique
A l'age atomique

Electric Cafe..."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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