Audio News for October 3, 2006

by | Oct 3, 2006 | Audio News | 0 comments

4000 Mark Hit in SACD Releases Worldwide – Sony’s Super Audio CD Project has announced that with the recent release of two SACDs in Chesky’s New York Sessions series the number of  releases in the format has topped the 4000 mark. About a year ago the 3000 mark was reached with the surround version of Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms. While most of the releases recently have been in the classical genre, many pop and jazz SACDs have been issued internationally but not distributed in the U.S. for some reason. The total has risen with many reissues of original PCM masters of classical and jazz mixed for multichannel by European labels such as Membran. With some of the major labels having pulled back from SACD releases, most of them have come from independent labels such as PentaTone, Channel Classics, Telarc, Hyperion, Chandos, Harmonia mundi, Praga Digitals and BIS. Sony/BMG claims to be the largest producer of SACD albums to date, with 699 titles in their catalog – but many of those were issued only in Japan. 

The majority of Sony SACDs have not been hybrid until very recently, and are unplayable on standard CD players.  Since compatibility of the SACD format was one of its main selling points, this was impossible to understand.  Sony seems to be following the same bizarre practice with their new Blu-ray DVD format – none of either  new format are playable on a standard DVD player, although Warner Bros. supposedly has a multi-format disc in the works. And none of the Blu-ray players announced thus far play SACDs.  Sony/BMG has reduced their SACD new releases to a trickle – mostly the Living Stereo three-channel series. But Sony products has announced a new SACD player: the SCD-XA1200, part of their high end ES series.

Online Digital Music in Demand – Between Christmas of 2005 and New Years, 20 million digital tracks were downloaded in the U.S. and a million in Britain. This shows the tremendous growth of iPods and other portable digital devices, the majority of users having broadband connections, and that users are consuming their music on a track by track basis nowadays vs. purchase of entire albums.  Digital music online has had huge growth, but still accounts for only 6% of total music sales in 2005 – though that was a 194% increase over the previous year. The demand for digital is moving beyond the teenagers. An example of the change was the announcement from Universal Music that over the next four years they would digitize for the Internet 100,000 tracks from their vaults. The downloading of classical tracks in the U.S. increased almost 100% last year.

But there are some serious problems to be solved on the way to digital Nirvana. Chris Nickson says, in Digital Trends, “The whole concept of DRM is going to have to be rethought.” [See Editorial this month.]  Privacy and security are other considerations. The latest update to iTunes sends data back to Apple containing not only details about the music, but also the unique identifiers for the particular computer and your iTunes account. Free file-sharing services continue and will probably never disappear. There are always those wanting stuff free or seeking the really obscure they can’t locate elsewhere. If users can download music securely from a site with a huge selection and at a reasonable cost, it will go smoothly.  But pricing varies greatly.  People in the UK pay more than the rest of Europe for an iTunes track, and both rates are higher than they are for U.S. consumers. Digital music kiosks in stores are an entirely new approach – even McDonald’s and Starbucks are experimenting with them.  Digital music downloading is definitely growing and experiencing growing pains.

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