October 14, 2002
This Just Pegged My Bullsh*t Meter

While the ultimate thrust of this article, that DVD-Audio and SACDs are new formats beginning to catch on in the audio world, is probably true, a whole raft of assertions are a really pure example of what happens when a marketroid and a particularly clueless press monkey get together to hatch a story.

So, being the resident audiophile here at AMCGLTD (I know Jim is probably at least as knowledgeable, but he has his own site to run), I'm here to separate the facts from the horse-hockey:

  • I remember when CDs came out. The only people who fussed about the sound quality compared to vinyl were pop artists. You know, the people who multichannel and overproduce the hell out of everything? Want to know why? In the 1980s, when these things came out, all the pop recording studios were still analog from end-to-end. Analog mics, analog mixers, analog tapes, geared toward an analog medium. So it was no surprise they thought their stuff sounded bad, because the CD showed every little screwup, cheat, and limitation in their very expensive but completely obsolete equipment.
  • The folks who really cared about recording actual performances, mostly classical guys (is Telarc even still in business any more?) had been making digital recordings for several years when CDs came out. Digital mics, digital mixers, digital tape recorders, and the skills to use them. Unfortunately at first they had to mix this all down into an analog medium, the album (cassette tapes sounded too crappy to be worthwhile. No surprise most pop music was sold on cassette by this point). When the CD came out these people could give you exactly what they recorded. No surprise the classical music world switched to CD and never, ever looked back.
  • Lots, and I mean lots, of people have home theater rigs nowadays, and more are adding them every day. Now that you can get an AC3 receiver for less than $300, you have very little reason not to. CDs don't have the ability to take advantage of these new developments because of the way their standards were written back in the late 70s. DVD-Audio lets you leverage your existing home theater investment.
  • Because of this, Sony's attempt to set yet another standard will fail just like Beta and those minidisc recorders.
  • "A good vinyl setup will get you a little better to the real performance than a compact disc set up". What a buttmunch. Aside from the clicks and pops, which were of course present in the original recording, the specs of the CD standard are far and away better than what vinyl will ever be able to produce. This is like someone saying a painted portrait of a person is a much more accurate representation than a photograph. Easy to say when commissioning a $10,000 portrait is in your price range (or a $50,000 stereo rig, which is what he means when he says "good"), but the result will still be an interpretation, an interpolation through a medium with clear limitations on just what can be represented. Mere mortals are quite happy with crystal clear photographs, which for all their bourgeois tackiness are still an actual, and perfect, image.
  • "if you're working around the house, then it (the enhanced sound) doesn't really matter." More buttmunch goodness. File this one under "duh". The enhanced sound of CDs didn't make much difference over a cassette tape either. No surprise that they stayed a stero rig-only device until they got so cheap and so small you could nearly give them away. DVD players cost $1500 when the came out, $500 three years later, and now can be found for $150. I give them three years until they are every bit as ubiquitous as the CD before them.
  • Record companies are still completely out of touch with their own customer base. DVD audio costs more than CD audio?!? When you can already buy DVD movies for less than their CD soundtracks?!? I'll stick to DVDs thank you. They're more fun and don't cost as much.

I've already decided to start my own little one-man boycott of the recording industry until someone figures out a way to force them to charge realistic prices for music. If they were $8 each I'd buy two a week. The ones I want are usually $18, and I think I've bought two in six years. This from a guy with a mid-four figure stereo system sitting in his living room!

So for now if I want music I listen to the radio. It may not sound very good, but at least it's free.

Posted by scott at October 14, 2002 12:36 PM

eMail this entry!

Punishing the music industry is easy for classical fans. Berkshire Record Outlet has loads of closeouts, overstocks and foreign labels at ridiculously low prices. I would think that other genres have some underground labels worth supporting.

Amazingly there are some people out there still preaching the superiority of vinyl. This guy for example. Scroll down to "Sound Reproduction." He haunted the message board I used to spend a lot of time on, trying to turn every discussion into his personal anti-digital soabox.

Posted by: Lynn on October 15, 2002 11:24 AM

One thing and one thing only drives these new formats: copy protection. Reason enough to spurn them right there.

I still have my quadraphonic rig from the Seventies, when classical recordings were issued with hall ambience in the back channels and pop recordings had stuff darting at you from all directions. Of course, classical recordings in general were geared to reproducing some semblance of "live" sound, something pop was spurning even in the dear, dead days of mono. The new 5.1 stuff is great for people whose favorite utterance is "Hey, look at this!" Me, I think I can live without it for now.

And yes, Telarc still exists.

Posted by: CGHill on October 20, 2002 10:25 AM

I finally finished writing my thoughts on this one... here.

Posted by: Jim S on October 21, 2002 04:37 PM
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