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Weekly AUDIO NEWS for Jan. 23, 2002

CES Report 2 - How High the Res at CES

In the High End Audio area (The Consumer Electronics Show calls it Specialty Audio) the two new high-res disc formats as well as advanced upsampling processors for standard CD all got plenty of attention. Many exhibitors showed DVD-Audio or SACD players and a couple showed universal players that handled both formats. Many of the sources in rooms showing electronics or speakers were one or the other of the two new formats.

According to DVD-Audio promoters, there are presently 187 releases available. A Panasonic instructional presentation on DVD-A downplayed interest in SACD (the truth is there hasn't been a lot of interest in either  new format). It also used a graph showing how closely a 192K sine wave approached an analog wave; the truth is that 192K can only be used on two-channel mixes - not surround - and only a couple of DVD-As so far have been recorded at 192K for the stereo tracks. The 96K example, as used in most DVD-A surround (some are 88.2), would show serious stair- step pattern and the same example with DSD would be the closest to the analog original.

At the opening of the SACD press conference President Takashino of Sony observed that the large crowd of press representatives that attended showed the great interest that still exists in the audio area. 15 different manufacturers are now making or have announced SACD or universal players, and several new record labels have joined in support of the high res format, including major players EMI and Universal. Over 600 DSD/SACD titles are now available and four times as many multichannel discs are now being produced as stereo. The walls of the SACD display were almost completely covered with discs, including some unfamiliar labels: Exton, Venus, and SME (lots of Miles Davis reissues). There was also a lengthy display of the SACD players from different manufacturers. Universal President Larry Kenswil said that SACD has the potential to become the standard of the music industry. Kiosks playing and exposing SACD are being installed at selected Circuit City, Tower, Best Buy and Tweeters stores throughout the U.S.

The audiophile contingent with a wait-and-see attitude on the new formats has a subgroup of 44.1-upsampling enthusiasts who don't want to buy their large CD collections all over again in high-res and are not yet convinced of the value of music in surround sound. They are discovering that some new entries in the upsampling game are coming close to the astonishing improvement heard with the super-expensive dCs black boxes. So although the trend seems to be back to one-box CD/DVD players with built-in DACs, they are not giving up on outboard processing of various sorts. And don't forget JVC's xrcd, which is issuing many new RCA Living Stereo titles and holds to the cutting edge of what can be accomplished with the present 44.1 Red Book CD (See this month's xrcd reviews). Finally, Classic Records announced at CES their first "Back to Mono" LP reissues - including even some 10-inch Blue Notes! Let's hear it for high-res l950 mono!

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