New formats, same old story?

OK, we continue to be inundated by advice to upgrade to a new digital format. Most say SACD, the rest tell us that DVD-A will be the ticket. My thing is that I would be ready to buy if things were sorted out. They are not yet. It doesn't look any clearer to me than it did a year ago today. Am I blind? Neither has taken precedence. More importantly, neither has had the major influx of software we have been waiting for. A major determinant as to which one wins out in the end. Yes, SOFTWARE. Where is it? Sure, there are some titles out there(how many currently???), but new albums are still more often than not released CD only. The people at the record stores still have not heard of either of the new formats. Yes, I know Sony keeps dangling the influx of new players(even cheap ones) at us, but I am still in the same mindset I was last year. That I don't want to invest in a new player that won't be a REAL step up in terms of CD playback(which would make it worth it) until one of the formats emerges as the future path. And, once the players come, will they be obsoleted by a new twist a couple of years later? As in multichannel - which I am not interested in, or by offering a digital output of the new format's signal. Are my feelings correct, or do I need the way I see things corrected? Thank you.
Hi, Trelja: As usual, you've hit the nail on the head and fairly described the dilemma that many of us are facing. I've been delaying a buying decision for the past 6 months, thinking one format or the other will emerge triumphant. From the technical articles I've read, SACD appears to be the better format (rather like Beta vs. VHS). Sony is certainly trying to induce us to buy SACD by dropping its prices, but from a practical viewpoint, the REAL issue that will decide the victor is software. Right now, there is precious little software in either SACD or DVD-A format, and much of what is available is re-releases of older recordings. Given the enormous amount of older, 2-channel recorded material (LP's and CD's) that forms the collection of most serious listeners, it's unlikely that multi-channel will predominate the market for quite some time. Given what you and I have said, the situation has forced me to give much more serious NEAR-TERM consideration to an alternative solution: buy a really good upsampling / DAC unit, such as the Perpetual P-1A and P-3A units. I had a long phone conversation recently with Walter Underwood (Underwoodwally), who is one of the owners of Perpetual Technologies (and former owner of Hi-Fi Buys in Atlanta, which closed about 5 years ago). Walter had a number of very interesting comments about the ability of a really good upsampler, which requires very sophisticated interpolation algorithms, to almost match the playback ability of SACD. Perpetual Technologies is selling their two units via Internet, so the prices are very reasonable. Their systems currenty for speaker correction (code is available for a limited number of speakers, with more to come), and will soon have room correction capability as well. To provide room correction, they will rent you a calibrated CD and microphone, which you use to record about 1 minute of music. You then upload the sample to them over the Internet, and about 3 hours later you come back to their site and download the room correction code into your Perpetual Technologies unit. Slick. The total cost of their system, with the additional cost to get customized room correction code, will be under $2000. It's got me thinking really hard about doing this as a first step to get the most from my large collection of LP's and CD's, and deferring a decision about SACD or DVD-A for another 1-2 years until the market shakes out. What do you think?
That room correction unit is certainly good news. I have listened to a sigtech offering room correction and the difference was greater than most other hardware tweaks we use.

Hello Trejla:

This was a very good post, and it is one of the main reasons that I am sticking to LP's only.

Has CD technology, and or any future potential improvements been fully implemented yet ???

I am very wary of a new format contrary to what all of the reviewers, and or individual folk are writing.

I have the same feeling Trelja, especially the part about the "new" format being obsolete a few years from now. We have already seen this. In 1996 HDCD came out and was the technology that was going to make Red Book obsolete. Then Red Book 24/96 DACs came out which sound for the most part as good as HDCD, so HDCD is already all but forgotten.

Not saying which format is better, if I were a betting man, I would place my money on DVD-A for the simple reason that it fits closely with the natural progression of Red Book technology. As I understand it, DVD-A is basically 24bit/192Mhz. These DAC chips like everything else will be cheaper in the future and will soon replace the 24/96 chips in the typical mass market $199.00 DVD player. Even in non-DVD, the budget Cambridge Audio D500SE CD Player already has a 24/192 DAC. I see 24/192 DVD-A no different than CD players progressing from 16 bit, to 18, 20, and now 24 bit; and SACD while better in the opinion of many (I have never heard it) could go the way of HDCD by the time 24/192 is replace someday by something like Red Book 26/384 or whatever is next.

PS: What I left out was that Joe and Jane Consumer is most likely never to have more then one system; which will most likely be a HT system. Their DVD player and HT system is also their CD player and audio system. So when (if) 24/196 DVD-A is standard in all DVD players, there will be a market of hundreds of million of consumers to sell these CDs to, not just a handful of audiophiles interested in SACD or something else.
Boy,,,Sugarbrie hit it on the head. It is a numbers game, and we've all seen the number of former "high-end" stores that have sold their souls to home theater in order to survive. Remembering the Beta vs. VHS was never a question of which was better,..but which sold the most to the average user. With most people that would have been high-enders years ago, now being in the "lets rent 2 movies every night of the week" group you can bet their interest in SACD is...well most people don't even know that either of the higher resolution formats even exist..or care. I wish Sony well, I would love to have the sound of vinyl with the convienence and lack of surface noise of the digital format, but with better sound than current RedBook. However, let's face it...the high-end is a difficult business for a manufacturer or retailer to make money in now-a-days.
Sugarbrie is correct,except he/she forgot to mention that Joe and Jane Consumer are nerds...and they are not audiophiles! This is exactly the Beta/VHS thing all over again. Back then... Joe and Jane looked at both VCRs and the VHS was $50 bucks cheaper so they bought did all their rube friends.

Of course our less-than-marketing-wise friends at SONY never got the message. They knew they had the superior format and, by God, they were going to get their extra $50 bucks a pop. As it turns out, they should have given away the hardware (or sold it on a parity with VHS) to establish the format. In the end, it was not Sony, JVC or Phillips, but Blockbuster who ended the Beta/VHS war. This has to be perhaps the biggest marketing SNAFU in audio/video history.

As Yogi says...."Now it's Deja Vu...all over again"!

It's almost like SONY expects to they are producing just enough SACD software to suck in the "just-got-to have-it-at-all-cost audiophile market. Well, please excues me this time...I've been on that bus before. The technology is growing so quickly you can must likely expect both formats to be extinct before they gain market dominance. (CD's still sound just fine to Joe and Jane...for today.)

In the final analysis, Joe and Jane of the future will be playing those little "CD" looking "memory chip" things about the size of a quarter (like Mr. Spock drops into the consols on the Starship Enterprise). The new format, dubbed "Wal-Bay", will be developed in a joint venture between the two great entertainment giants of the day...Wal-Mart and ebay...and will, of course, be backward compatible with all audio/video formats known to man, including Beta.

I will be 106 years old and finally all my 78's, 45's, LP's, reel-to-reel, 8-tracks, compact cassetts, el-cassettes, Beta, VHS, SuperBeta, SuperVHS, 8MM, 6MM, CD's, DVD's, mini-disc, SACD's, DVD-A's will be all playable on one machine (I didn't buy Polavison or you think I'm stupid?)

Right now, you are reading this...getting real P.O.'ed and thinking..."There ought to be a law!" ...where's Andy Rooney when you need him?
It was not just Beta vs VHS. There is/was SVHS. How many people hear own a Super VHS VCR? It has been around for over 10 years. Your newer TV and DVD player most likely have a SVHS input/output. Toshiba even makes a VCR that will record SVHS on standard VHS tapes. Joe and Jane are nerds, so even a better VHS system does not sell.
Rehasing old history...the way I heard it, Beta lost when Panasonic made significant monetary payments to the large SoCal porn distributors to stop making Beta tapes. The home market for Beta quickly went limp. Remember though, Beta did not die, it went on to dominate the pro video arena. Sony made money.

Unlike the video tape past, the audio future will not be determined by behind closed door soloists. Audiophiles and music lovers are right now in a postion to influence which formats survive. In order to exercise that influence we will need to stop standing on the sidelines rationalizing our inactivity and instead join the fray. Buying new products and building a library entails taking risks, but isn't everything worth having worth risking something to get?

To everyone sitting on sidelines, stand and be counted, STAND! (na na na na na na na na na na na).
Perhaps a Sony 777 or 333 SACD unit with a Bel Canto DAC-1, or the like, is a reasonable way to go. Venture into the new format..while improving the standard format.
Has anybody heard either of these formats? Even on a marginal HT receiver and marginal speakers they sound drastically smoother and more listenable than anything previous. On a good system they are tremendous.

2 things important for either format (assuming software is available)are disc prices and copy protection. The discs are $10 higher than "sale" CD prices, which will not encourage the mass market to buy them. There is also very little support from high end manufacturers. No one wants to committ till the copy protection crap is resolved, and the digital hi-rez signals can be output out the digital port. Not unlike early CD players, the DACS will be improved but the poor early adopter will be w/o a cost effective upgrade path.

Not unlike DIVIX, the greedy corp. fools may kill both formats before they catch on.
Get 4 identical speakers, full range. Add a processor that supports circle surround (un-encoded) or similar (both Theta and Meridian have music surround processors that apply), turn off the center channel and the sub and you now have a sound system (on live recordings only) playing good ol' 16/44 CD's that will kill either of the two new formats --- and you get to use all of your existing music.

These technologies extract out of phase information and put it in the rear speakers. I am NOT talking about the artifical DSP processes that some suround recievers have.

This setup sounds better than any artificaly recorded surround music I have ever heard (DTS, AC3, DVD-A). And if you have great full range speakers, kills two channel audio. I don't know how many companies make processors that have this type of mode, but it sure is awesome.

VERY difficult to listen to 2 channel after hearing a top end implementaiton of this approach
Onhwy61. I have copied and pasted part of your statement here with a question:

"Beta lost when Panasonic made significant monetary payments to the large SoCal porn distributors......The home market for Beta quickly went limp."

What in your opinion is the correlation between "porn" and the market "going limp"?

This is a little scary for me. Personally, I am going to watch these format wars very closely.
To add my 2 cents, I've been listening to a wonderful Telarc hybrid (McCoy Tyner) on my SCD-1 and mentioned it the other night to a dinner party (six hungry mouths)on my deck (strictly non-audiophile). I have a pair of pretty mediocre outdoor speakers on the deck, hooked up to an equally mediocre CD player, but I put the hybrid on so they could hear it. The sonic effect was electrifying. After lots of oohs and aahs one of my guests started quizzing me about hybrid's availability, etc. He wants them for his car! Has anyone had a similar experience with SACD/hybrids? and cheap systems?
Thanks to all for the responses. It looks like we still have not arrived at the point where we would have liked to have been. I started on this road in 1997, waiting for the new format. In retrospect, I foolishly waited for over 3 years for one of them to become dominant. Not replacing a player that was THE major weak link in my system for a long, long time. My hope was that before the Y2K event, I would be sitting back enjoying a new way of listening to music. I was wrong. I still keep hearing all manner of opinion. Sony will win because they have the hardware end of things together. Sony will lose because most companies other than Philips will be going with DVD-A. Sony will lose because DVD is the format people have already chosen. DVD-A will win because of two of the reasons I listed as to why Sony will lose. DVD-A will lose because of the fact that they keep chasing their tail regarding encryption. One of them will win because people always need the new. One will win becaue companies always need to foist the new upon us. Both will win because there is enough room for everyone to be happy. Both will lose because there is still not enough(and won't be for a long time) software to support either. Sony will lose because MP3 is the heir apparent to CD. Both will lose because 99.9% of people think CD is "Perfect Sound, Forever". Are you confused yet? So am I. It was getting so that I didn't know what was happening. I was in what I will coin "Digital Daze". A condition marked by absolute confusion about digital audio. Finally, I just broke down and bought a short term fix. A Cambridge D500 SE CD player. A nice player to be sure. Just that I don't feel as if my thirst has been quenched. I still think I am suffering from Digital Daze. As always, Sdcampbell brings an amazing amount to the table. This time with upsampling and room correction. Upsampling is a route many in our community are turning to. Some even say this will be the answer far into the forseeable future. Kudos to Whatjd. Buying an SACD player, combined with an upsampler seems to be a smart way to hedge our bets. At least for a little while. Do I regret buying the Cambridge, and not waiting for the influx of SACD players, combined with the aforementioned upsampler? I don't know. I just don't know. I think I am just as confused as I was last year.
My biggest concern is that our digital audio players may be approaching the status of computers. By this comparison, I mean, are we approaching the day when the digital audio player we walked out of the store with today was obsolete the minute we slammed the trunk lid, like the computer we bought at the store yesterday? I dunno, but it concerns me, Doug
Take note..that very good people, like Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, VAC,..etc. have gotten out of the "source" business.
Name a great pre-amp....there are many.
Name a great amp........again, there are many.
Name a great speaker or cable...same story.
This source thing has had us in limbo for a long, long, time.
This is why there so many of us that still hold on to vinyl so dearly. To repeat myself..
Name a great tuner...there are a few.
Name a great turntable..there are a few.
Name a great digital god, what a mess.
I couldn't agree more, read my post above called

"Digital formats and obsolesence"
Yes formats may change but isn't this what progress is all about? Personally I think dvd audio will come out on top for the forseeable future because dvd technology is so popular and will continue to be. Consequently the software will be supported with more choice and new recordings by mainstream music makers. I am very happy with my "midfi"
denon 5700, toshiba sd9200 dvd audio and paradigm 80v 2
speakers. Surroundsound in the high resolution format sounds wonderful to my ears. I am frustrated by the slow release of good music on this format but it is coming. Joni Mithchell "Both Sides Now" and Steely Dan "Two Against Nature" dvd-a are two examples of excellent music that sound wonderful in this new format. When compared with the redbook versions the differences are clear.