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Multi-Channel Audio - is its days numbered ?

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by CJROSS, Jul 23, 2002.

  1. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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    What do you guys think ?

    I for one think when mainstream mags are carrying columns from contributors questioning the merits of SACD & DVD-A for audio due to their multi-channel formats, are we seeing a backlash beginning to occur ?

    ************************************************
    Sound Affects by Alan Sircom in this months HiFi + magazine

    As someone who wholeheartedly accepted the home cinema revolution in the mid-1990s, you might think I would be equally enthused about multi-channel audio replay. Sadly, that's not the case.
    DVD-Video and home cinema digital surround sound systems brought a whole new thread to the home entertainment party. They brought films into the home with an increasingly high degree of fidelity, just like records did for music enthusiasts a century earlier. They also added an entirely new sub-species of enthusiast, a new geek-speak vocabulary and gave journalists something to write about.
    DVD-Video became the fastest selling consumer electronic concept in history and, despite being still in its infancy, now resides in one in ten UK homes. It's not hard to see why either; in picture and sound, it is demonstrably better than the VHS alternative and is more 'consumer friendly' than the larger, now-forgotten LaserDisc. Better still, the learning curve for manufacturers was relatively light, as they had already invested in digital engineering skills to get a foot in the CD door.
    This made consumer electronics manufacturers complacent and willing to try new technology on the public. 'If DVD-Video is such a massive success' the logic goes, 'then surely we can produce a new music carrier that matches that success?' This created the DVD-Audio/SACD tussle that is plaguing high-end music systems today.
    This 'let's make another DVD' plan is a flawed argument, for a number of reasons. First, part of DVD-Video's appeal was that it 'puts films on CD'; the general public has become very attached to the 12cm polycarbonate disc, but not very good at differentiating the finer points of distinction between them. Collar a passer-by and they will likely be able to distinguish three flavours of 12cm disc; music CD, computer CD and DVD-Video. You might get lucky and find someone who adds CD-R or even CD-RW in there, but talk about CD-Text or DVD-Audio and you'll get a blank stare in return. Second, DVD-Video is proving to be a hurdle in its own right. The 'Video' part of the name 'DVD-Video' is effectively invisible; people buy software 'on DVD' and do not make the distinction on what kind of DVD it is. The majority of DVD-Video player owners think that their Mariah Carey DVD-Video is a DVD-Audio disc because it has music on it. What the industry is trying to do with DVD-Audio and SACD is as difficult as attempting to explain the difference between MOSFETs and transistors to someone who is about to buy a clock radio. At best, it appears useless information to the consumer; at worst, it disenfranchises them entirely, preferring to wait until the format war dies down, lest they end up with the Betamax of the 21st Century.
    But to my mind one of the most significant stumbling blocks to new surround sound music formats is surround sound itself. Although sales of DVD-Video have gone through the roof, attendant sales of home cinema receivers and speakers have not risen as dramatically. Of course, more home cinema kit is being sold, thanks to the sheer number of DVD players in circulation, but the numbers don't suggest that every DVD-Video owner has a burning desire to add surround speakers.
    Most surround sound TV manufacturers will admit that the speakers supplied with a TV set are often left in the box, even if the owner has a DVD-Video player. The all-in-one DVD home cinema system is at least a step in the right direction for surround sound, but few of these have speakers of sufficient performance to get decent quality CD audio, let alone cope with the increased bandwidth and resolution of SACD or DVD-Audio. Through such a system, these multi-channel formats don't offer better than CD sound; they simply offer more than CD sound. And that alone suggests what direction the disc manufacturers will take in order to make SACD or DVD-Audio take off.
    At first, I had great hopes for the formats. The first run of stereo only SACDs, mostly back catalogue classics, offered a chance to hear people like Miles Davis in a manner only someone with access to the master tapes had before. While such releases are continuing to stun listeners and justify the format, this is commercial suicide in today's quick hit market. If DVD-Audio and SACD hardware is starting to appear in affordable systems, companies will pin their hopes on multi-channel Britney Spears discs and the like. And that will spell the end of these formats as the audiophile's friend.
    Perhaps I am too harsh on DVD-Audio and SACD. They are beginning to take hold in the US and some of the SACD stereo recordings are true masterpieces. But I can't help feeling that these are the glory days for next generation music carriers. It's quantity, not quality, that's in the pipeline.
     
  2. Cliff

    Cliff
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    The problem the industry has is that the general public is generally satisfied with the quality of the ordinary CD. Although the likes of Alan Sircom and the HiFi press complain about the new formats and the loss of the REAL quality format (the LP record) I would say Jo Public is no fool. He likes CD. No compression- Freq response and Dynamic range to match most peoples hearing.

    I have to have a pop at the HiFi press as this is hypocrisy. It still cries over the loss of the LP record with its horrible clicks and pops. They even forget the loss of quality on the inside grooves due to reduced linear velocity! It's like saying your CD will start playing at 44kHz sampling and half way through we will be on 32 and after 25 mins of play (just before you flip over) we will be on 16KHz sampling!
    If you re-invented the LP record today would it sell .. NO WAY!

    Anyway, back to the new formats. If they are sold at the same price as a CD(and why not) then they will replace the CD in the long run. However, there is not the demand, so the take up will be very slow. Jo Public is buying cheap DVD players at the moment and is not interested in the audio formats.

    There was a quantum leap in quality and convenience between LP and CD . This is NOT the case between CD and the new audio formats. True they are better with increased sampling and resolution, but Philips and Sony, at the time of inventing the CD determined the parameters were better than the ear could resolve. There was plenty of data space on the CD so there was no need to compromise at the time. Has human hearing improved in 20 years? I don't think so.

    Unfortunately, in this day and age, a slow take up means that the new formats will be superceded before becoming a commercial success. A pity..
     
  3. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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    Chris

    Some good points although I would disgree with the your views on the quality of vinyl playback dude convenience yes I agree, I too like you believe that CD has plenty to offer & the results Ive had from 44.1Khz redbook CD in stereo mode (HDCD recordings for example) has convinced me that multi-channel audio is not all its cracked up to be. I actually got my last DAC to sample the benefits of DAD 2CH 24/96 on the DVD-V format, I ended up buying 1 disc due to the very small catalogue (30 at the time) and the high cost of software (£26 a pop).

    The main hindrance about surround sound for people listening to established stereo formats is cost & performance of 5.1 rigs IMHO. Speaking for myself I cant believe that given say a budget of : £1200 for a pair of quality speakers that an audio purist will feel the need to downgrade to a sub and 5 sattelites – you will never convince them that listening to the fronts in the 5.1 package for CD/LP would come even remotely close to the £1200 pair, I use £1200 as a benchmark but the disparity is there for all price levels I feel and the actual stereo performance ratio in AV amps comapred to Hifi Amps is even wider IMO. This is all of course before we start talking of stands & cabling being factored into the equation.

    So why not concentrate in giving people what they want better 2 CH recordings? Which wont compromise their existing format collections, They could do it an instant with DVD-V but the white elephant that is DVD-A will scupper that, due to that I actually think 2 CH SACD will probaly end up as the hi-res digital format. I would welcome any format that gives the listener more insight into the music with a better recording but not at the expense of CD or LP collections that many of us own. Which I like you think is a pity we are being penalised unless we take the bait from the audio indusrtry unless we embrace MC.
     
  4. Cliff

    Cliff
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    I agree that if any format survives then it will probably be SACD.
    My reasoning is this. Most DVD player are situated near the TV or an AV amp and therefore not in the right position to play music through HiFi amplifiers and speakers. If Sony can introduce the SADC format to the music enthusiast to go with his HiFi gear then it will succeed as a music format. You are right about subs and sats. That won't fly with the HiFi buff.

    Technically. IMO, the use of Delta Sigma modulation which can be decoded using a one bit integrator is the way to go. A much cleaner solution..
     
  5. MartinImber

    MartinImber
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    A lot of use use HiF speakers so M/C audio would be interesting
     
  6. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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    Martin before I go any further may I say what fine taste in speakers you have dude Im a Castle man myself !! Back to MC audio and its inherent weaknesses for stereo sound, now you to me are someone who is interested more in the AV side of things going by your sig. Kit, this is where your main interests lie am I correct, now this thread is not actually having a pop at AV MC but more at the backers of SACD/DVD-A which hope & thinks that guys like you will actively embrace DVD-A or SACD in its MC guise without thought to what that means to your existing CD or Vinyl collection.

    Now from what I can tell there are there are 7 million DVD-V units in UK houselholds how many of these have MC 5.1 set ups & AV amps?, I will be very honest not many at all comapred to the high amount of DVD-V units, the majority being hooked up to a TV on their lonesome IMO. Now how many people have hifi amps, a lot more I would say and these make a much more decent fist a getting the best from sources like CD & Vinyl than say AV amps can achieve – I think that goes without saying. And I think that if most AV MC owners are truthful they cant really argue with the realistic nature of comparing like for like budgets when purchasing dedicated speakers for hifi use, for example Im sure if I added up all the money you have spent on your Castle 5.1 set up there brand new, it would add up nicely at very minimum to a pair of Harlechs or Howards, which would rather have for listening purely to hifi ?

    I think it will always boil down to what is your priority. For music lovers spending as much as they can afford on 2 Ch will be the case, whilst AV fans will do exactly the same for 5.1 but will still have a listen to music but IMO this is not the same as audiophiles looking for the best sound they can get from their budgets or equipment. FWIW I use my stereo amp for watching movies and find it excellent so Im sure it is different horses for different courses.
     
  7. MartinImber

    MartinImber
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    Um costs of speakers - £790

    Clydes £90 about 15 years ago
    Keep £250 recent
    Pembroke £450 last year

    Well the STRDB930 is quite good but not excellent at 2 channel, my old HiFi amp was no better, but was old and cheaper.

    The DVP-S715 is ok on CD, but see below.

    As to multi channel audio, I would like to try it but I would not think I must have it, SACD is both MC and stereo, well I want to get a budget SACD player later this year, I will get M/C simply because I already have M/C amplification.

    I also think SACD vs DVDA SACD will win partly due to Verance water marking scaring off DVDA buyers.

    To me SACD is souped up CD and makes sense as a non DVDV player whereas DVDA is based on DVDV, and would mean an all in one solution.

    Now our living room isn't particularly big, and I am not allowed to completely fill it with kit, as we have to sit somewhere and children need somewhere to play. My wife does not object to me buying things as long as I don't keep upgrading - ie she doesn't mind £500 spent on a component but if I bought a £150 component then a £300, then £400 - all replacing each other she would get mad!

    Since my AV and HiFi systems are one and will be staying that way, I did check if an amp upgrade was a good idea - found out 930 was still as good for that price.

    I could not afford more speakers for 2 seperate systems, and running 2 amps would leave the wife confused.

    But I hope to get M/C SACD but I will not restrict to M/C discs, I just happen to have a strongish set of speakers, and could handle stereo on M/C quite happily.

    Anyway the market decider will be all the cheapish midi systems, a lot of which are fitted with DPL quality cheap speakers as surrounds and centres, rather than full range all round.

    Anyway I think it is something to watch
     

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