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Weekly AUDIO NEWS for March 14, 2001
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New Mini-Optical Disc for MP3 - Dataplay Inc. has just introduced a 50 cent-piece-sized optical disc specifically for MP3 files, that will hold up to 11 hours of music. (The news release didn't state at what sampling rate.) Units will be available by this fall for home, car and portable use, and some will be recorders enabling users to burn MP3 files unto their own discs. Though previously the major record labels have seen MP3 as a huge threat - due to the Napster hassle primarily - three of the five major record companies have already announced plans to issue albums on DataPlay discs later this year. The originators also see the new format being used for electronic books and other entertainment forms in such devices as cell phones, digital cameras and PDAs.

One stimulus for development of the format was the very high cost of solid-state "flash" memory - many MP3 players require spending around $60 for a card that only holds a half-hour of music. DataPlay discs will cost around $10 each and hold 500 MB of data, but like CD-R can only be recorded once. Among the proposals for use of the huge storage on the tiny disc is to sell an artist's latest album with encrypted copies of previous releases on the same disc. Then if the buyer really likes it they can call or use a web site to purchase the key to unlock the other albums on the disc. Or the DataPlay disc would be given away free with a couple teaser tracks from a new album - then the buyer would have to again pay to access the complete album or additional material on the same disc.

The DataPlay introduction ties in tightly with this month's editorial Save Our Sound. Ironically, while audiophiles and other discerning ears are being well-treated for the first time in decades with two different high resolution audio formats (SACD and DVD-Audio) capable of multichannel sound, the digital masses are getting a new format that has even less resolution than 44.1 CDs and is limited to sorta-two-channel. No matter what sampling rate is used, MP3 can approach the best CD quality, and most use 96K or 128K at most; far from the highest-fidelity option because the higher the sampling rate the more space the files take and the longer to download or burn. A new greatly-improved codec called MP4, using Dolby AAC, has far superior fidelity to MP3 at any sampling rate and can truly claim in some instances to be close to CD quality, but that introduction doesn't seem to be happening yet. When it does, most MP3 players will not play it either.

New Digital Amplifier Chip Steps Up Audio Quality of Smaller Gadgets - Tripath Technology of Santa Clara, CA has improved the audio performance of tiny op-amp chips by making them digital amplifiers that produce a more distortion-free signal using much less power and generating less heat. The miniature power-processing chips allow fitting them inside PCs (Apple's Mac G4 Cube has them), cell phones, car stereos, and PDAs. They are nearly three times as energy efficient as comparable analog models. The firm's CEO (named Adya Tripathi) also proposes use of his technology to build tiny and inexpensive noise reduction devices (using digitally-tailored out-of-phase signals) that could quiet noisy blenders, car engines...perhaps even cell phones at the next dinner table with the amplifier chip in them!

- John Sunier

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