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Hi-Fi '99

Barry Willis & Chris Phenner
Barry Willis & Chris Phenner
Andrew Keen & Roger Dresslker
Andrew Keen & Roger Dresslker
Todd Moore & David Touve
Todd Moore & David Touve

  Friday afternoon there was a conference titled "Download Music Off The Web".  It was hosted by Barry Willis of Stereophile and the other speakers were Roger Dresslker of Dolby Labs, Andrew Keen of the now defunct Audiocafe.com, David Touve Noizebox.com, Todd Moore of RioPort.com, and Chris Phenner of Tunes.com.

David feels that MP3 downloading will eventually become outdated as newer download/compression schemes become available. My personal feelings are that as there is built a wireless network, we will subscribe to transmitted data (music, video, information, etc)  and receive these signals from small devices accordingly.   Even now Microsoft and others are looking for ways for the consumer to centralize their digital data needs.

WARNING: Long ranting by me below:

Let's look at what one of the largest software manufacturers are doing.  Microsoft has an operating system (OS) called Windows CE.  This is a very stripped down OS that can do things from basic word processing and presentations to e-mail, surfing the web and playing MP3 files.  Now for me to make my point.  Windows CE devices are already appearing on units from refrigerators to car stereos.  Windows CE is also on small handheld devices (handheld and palm-sized devices) to home set-top boxes.  With these devices we can right now use wireless systems to send and receive data.  For now the data rate (also referred to as bandwidth) is slow.  Eventually we will have the ability to access all of our data through higher quantity data bandwidth transfer rate on a world-wide satellite network(s) or other means.  No longer will we need to own hard-drives per se because all our data will be stored on very large network servers (what most website data is stored on today).  The advantage of this is that no matter where one travels, s/he can use a universal personal data presentation device where one's personal audio, video, etc. will be easily accessible.  Of course "hard-wired" linking such as those through fiber optics will have a faster transfer data rate than wireless, though wireless data transfer rates will be more than sufficient for most to eventually all consumer needs.

What all this really means basically is that i live in New York, can be in Singapore, and access my music/movie collection through what will then be a standardized LCD touch panel enabled audio/video device or the like.  No longer will i need to take all the current physical data storage devices as i do now (and those who have seen me during trade shows drag over 30 lbs. of these devices know i will be a very happy man here).  Even now in good ol' 1999 i can use my wireless network to access my e-mail and other internet needs.  My AutoPC, handheld PC, palm PC, laptop computer, and home computer systems are all synchronized so that my appointments, address book, e-mail, and other important data files are always current and up to date on all devices!  i am not talking the future here, this is now!

The future will make data transfer faster and more seamless.  Instead of my needing many hard drives for data storage, virtually none will be required (as it will be on a server accessible via a wire/wireless system).  Alas, my humble apologies for rambling here.  Maybe the past week of lugging around over 30 lbs. of data devices has made me tired and wish for a better way of handling my data needs.  Remember, CDs and DVDs are nothing but data storage devices.  Our music and movies are encoded to digital data, stored on a device (CD or DVD) and then the data is decoded on hardware accordingly.  Imagine a world where you will never need to own a physical medium like CDs if you so choose.  What's more, as better technology is available it is seamlessly upgraded on the world's systems all through the inventions of better software encoding/decoding (hardware will by then be so fast at processing data that processing rates will be moot and things will be done through software).  Even now with our slow 500 MHz computers, DVD data can be enjoyed through virtually pure software decoding.  As Doc Brown said in the movie Back to the Future, "The future is what we make of it.  So make it a good one."  End of Steve's rant.  My humble apologies for being long-winded here.


Melos' new tubed CD/DVD player called The DVT ($1,795) uses two 6922 tubes in the output stage for DVD digital signal quality with tube analog output sound.  (Humor) The Melos comes in any color you desire, as long as it's black of course.


Manley Wave
Manley Labs
were showing their new killer digital WAVE.  The WAVE is a digital to analog unit which also offers 100% analog inputs and remote controllable volume too!  This is like a do-all connect-all digital DAC preamp and even the couch potatoes will love the wireless remote control capabilities.


MBL Room
In the MBL room they had a new digital transport.  Their new unit is a full reference-quality DVD/CD player called the mb11621 ($14,900).  It comes in a deluxe gloss black case with gold colored legs and top accents.  Like virtually all the MBL products, this unit is truly visually stunning!  Of course their speakers are extremely unique too.  Definately worth checking out!


Mark Levinson Rack System
In the Dynaudio room they were using an entire Mark Levinson system.  On the top is their No 39 CD Transport while just below it is the No 32 Reference Controller preamplifier.  At the bottom is the No 30.6 Digital to Analog Converter.  Guess we can simply call it a basic Levinson "rack system".   (Humor) Coming soon to a Circuit City and Best Buys near you.

The sound in the Dynaudio room was very dynamic and full of life!  Stop by the Hi-Fi '99 Speakers page to see what all this great digital gear was hooked to.  The new Dynaudio speakers are not to be missed!


sacd.jpg (9619 bytes)

Sony/Phillips press conference announced their SACD format.

Paul Reynold of PhilipsPaul Reynolds of Philips gave the initial presentation. He discussed key issues such as copyright protection and data packing (compressing the data on the disc). Direct Stream Digital provide "analog-like" characteristics according to Mr. Reynolds. Direct Stream Transfer was designed specifically for DSD to insure no loss of data. The compression scheme used for the SACD is claimed to be about 2.3 to 1. There are three options for the manufacturing of the SACD software.

Options of SACD software include having only a single layer high definition option or having two layers with one being "red book" CD and the other being the high definition SACD layer.  The two layer option will play on upcoming SACD players as well as standard CD players on the market today.

Sony has officially released their V1.0 standard book called the "Scarlet Book". Sony and Philips are planning for three phases of release.  Releasing product, then offering appropriate digital interfacing, and conquering the world.   Ok, i just added the conquering the world bit.  Just seeing if you were paying attention :-) .

SACD authoring can be accomplished on a simple 266 mHz computer with proper hard drive storage devices.  In fact there are quite a few mastering facilities working with DSD while Philips is now manufacturing these dual-layer hybrid discs.  We saw some discs yet they did not hand any out.  Of course even if they did hand some of the discs out, no reviewers have a SACD player to play them on.

Mike Fiddler of Sony came to the podium and spoke about Sony and Philips renewal of their commitment to the music industry. My mind seems to be thinking about how they also know their CD "cash cow" is coming to an end.  To clarify, Sony and Philips make money off every CD right now. This all ends in a year or so. The revenue they receive each day is, needless to say, staggering!  Therefore of course they are probably scrambling for another "cash cow".

Sony SCD-1
SCD-1 (right) is the first SACD disc playback unit offered on the market with a retail price of $5,000.  It is slated to be available starting in the third quarter of 1999 with 40 music titles being offered.


Dual Descrete Optical Pickup  Dual Mono Audio Stage
The SCD-1 uses watermarking and other means for copyright protection.  The internal circuitry uses various digital filters, dual discrete optical pickups and the analog audio stage is dual mono.


Of the forty titles planned, classics such as Miles Davis Sketches of Spain and Kind of Blue will be included.  Billy Joel's 52nd Street is planned as well. After the launch Sony plans on releasing 10-12 titles per month.

Bob Woods of Telarc came to the podium and thanked Sony for including Telarc within the the fold of labels included in the initial releases. Sony owns Legacy, Columbia, and their own titled recordings by the way. Bob also requested that the audio industry not to go to "war" over this issue of SACD. Why does all this remind me of the Beta vs. VHS formats.  SACD is mainly Sony and Philips, DVD-Audio is everyone else.  Things that make you go hmmmm...  As for me, the only real benefit i can tell is the CD layer that gives backward computability (avoiding the sound quality/reproduction issue of DSD vs. DVD-Audio).  Also, Sony said they planned no computer interfacing for personal computer systems.  By the way, Sony's SACD is not a recognized official format by the WG-4 in DVD offering. In other words, Sony and Philips is doing this on their own accord.

"Telarc's first releases will be 100% DSD" Bob said. Surround might be available on SACD the 3rd quarter of 2000.

During the questions and answer time, it was asked about the software price differences. Alas, they never commented about a specific "street price" of the music titles. Len Schneider asked about the manufacturing costs and Mr. Reynolds claims it is similar to DVD dual-layer.  Upon further inquiries later in the Q & A session, $24.95 to $19.95 is Bob of Telarc's guess at the "street price" of the SACD discs.

Sony/Philips has no retailers or distribution in line at this time!  In other words, they are awaiting for reviews to help spur the market interest which, in turn, may help Sony/Philips sign distribution retail.

As for copyright protection specifics and copying discs thereof, there was no direct answer due to their "sensitive" nature according to Paul Reynolds. In the end the content provider can decide about if, and how many copies can be made of their software. The SCD-1 does not output a direct digital stream (read: no digital output what so ever for the DSD stream). It does have digital output for 16-bit/44.1kHz digital output (plus analog output).














































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