CD's? Not for this audiophile!
March 5, 2002 1:00 PM   Subscribe

CD's? Not for this audiophile! The new race is between Super Audio CD's and DVD Audio. Since we've seen CD-i, CD-3, the 3 inch CD, the dreaded Digital Compact Cassette, and sadly the minidisc fail as the next big thing, where do we go from here?
posted by remlapm (30 comments total)
The MiniDisc didn't fail, it's fairly popular in Japan and Europe. I've seen so many people using it in the subways in NYC. Usually when I see someone with a MD player, I give them a smile and they look at mine and smile back. I think the record companies were aiming too high when they expected people to buy pre-recorded MDs that were grossly over priced. Another drawback was that prior to NetMD, you could only record onto a MD at 1x speed (I think you could do it at 2x or 4x if you had a special Sony MD recorder and a special Sony CD player.)

As for DVD audio... well it sounds good but the fact is it won't be popular unless the cost of the players and the media drops significantly, also they'll need to come out with portable DVD players.

3 inch CDs are now being used for data storage.
posted by riffola at 1:12 PM on March 5, 2002

who needs ANY media if you have broadband wireless. think delivery, not format.
posted by machaus at 1:19 PM on March 5, 2002

it won't be popular unless the cost of the players and the media drops significantly

I agree, but they said the same thing about CD players and home computers.

think delivery, not format.

I was hoping that was going to come up, I think now you can only have Stereo from broadband. Once 5.1, 7.1 and 6.0 formats can be streamed, you're right, the format will become obsolete.

Ok, I'm stopping moderating my own thread, sorry.
posted by remlapm at 1:29 PM on March 5, 2002

who needs ANY media if you have broadband wireless. think delivery, not format.

[sarcasm]yeah, great, 'cause i really want to give my local evil telco more money for their right to listen to my music.[/sarcasm]
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:31 PM on March 5, 2002

(i agree with Riffola: My minidisc player is awesome: Unlimited music available through cheap discs; easy, flexible recording and re-recording; digital-quality sound, unlike mp3 players which play... mp3s. uggh.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:32 PM on March 5, 2002

I like SACD because its encoding scheme eliminates the need for PCM. There is no worry about dithering, aliasing, and other problems that come up with PCM audio. It's much simpler and cleaner. I hope that someday, all digital audio will be encoded that way.
posted by Potsy at 1:34 PM on March 5, 2002

MP3 players will work fine for me, thanks. And if your ears are so golden (mine sure aren't) you can just encode at a higher rate.
posted by jragon at 1:34 PM on March 5, 2002

I have to agree. I think downloadable music will be the future because companies can never agree on formats, ever. SONY is a big culprit of the make up your own format so no one elses products can us it and despite a noticable failure this usually works for them. Already you can see there are a bunch of formats. Why the fuck would I buy any one of them until I knew which was the standard. On top of that, I still like my vinyl better, although I have actually heard some digital formats that sound really amazing.
posted by bob bisquick at 1:55 PM on March 5, 2002

minidiscs failed because the record companies lobbied to rid the recorders of digital outputs, thus rendering them useless as "music copying devices." sure you can copy from MD to MD in analogue, but what's the point in that? had they been marketed as tools to successfully "copy music without any sound degradation," they'd be a lot more popular today.

take a look at any MD recorder: digital in, but only analog out. i love using them to record, but transfering that recording somewhere else always bums me out. what a gyp.
posted by afx114 at 2:05 PM on March 5, 2002

Personally I'll stick with my CD player. Media is cheap for write once (which is all I ever use any way), players are cheap, and I haven't been able to tell the difference between a CD I burned from high bit rate MP3 and the original. Of course, it may all just come down to a matter of taste.
posted by turacma at 2:13 PM on March 5, 2002

I must agree with jragon:

I recently bought an mp3 cd player (they really are incredibly inexpensive now -- I purchased mine for $70 *and* it came with a car kit) and I use it nearly every day. It takes me 30 min. max to burn 10-12 albums to disc, whereas with the MDs I owned was realtime, *plus* the fact that you had to look at levels, etc (I had one of those supposed "digital transfer" kits for my computer, which really was a glorified USB sound card -- you still had to hit record on your MD, check the levels, etc.) With the MP3 CD player, there's really none of this hassle, I just queue up the stuff for the disc, let it run, pop it in my CD player and go, with the added benefit that if I stop at a friends house and they want to grab some MP3s I can just dump them onto their computer. Also, I typically only need to carry two discs with me, as each CD holds, again, about 10-12 albums. Of course, the major upside of MD players is basically near-DAT quality that's cheap and portable. Most of the people that I know who own them have them for this purpose (recording either DJ sets or live PAs), not really for listening to music on the go.

However, I've got a *major* complaint about MDs: for some reason I cannot own a portable MD -- I keep breaking them. I've found the latch that holds the door closed on MDs to be poorly designed. The first MD I owned was made by Sharp, and this latch was made from plastic! Hardly a good choice for something that is going to be opened and closed thousands of times a year given normal use. Scratch MD number 1. The second MD I owned was made by Sony, and though the latch in this case was metal, I still managed to bend it at one point when I overzealously closed the cover, meaning that the cover really doesn't close too well anymore. Fortunately, the MD design folks, in their ultimate wisdom (and perhaps in the interest of safety -- what do I know?) decided that *nothing* will work unless the cover is known to be closed.

So, scratch MD number two, and scratch approx $250 spent on MD, and scratch 3 or 4 hours of recorded live sets that are stuck on MD format, and I'm heading back to DAT, or, for portable listening, MP3. (no, I can't hear the difference either. I suppose I should thank the earbleed levels at rock concerts attended in my adolescence for that.)

Saw this in preview:

minidiscs failed because the record companies lobbied to rid the recorders of digital outputs, thus rendering them useless as "music copying devices." sure you can copy from MD to MD in analogue, but what's the point in that? had they been marketed as tools to successfully "copy music without any sound degradation," they'd be a lot more popular today.

yeah, this always struck me as a bit lame; personally, I never used MDs to record anyone's music except my own, and there should really be no damn reason I can't dump that through SPDIF or optical onto my computer.
posted by fishfucker at 2:19 PM on March 5, 2002

Don't forget FMDs (Fluorescent Multi-layer Disc). 20-100GB!
"With C3D's proprietary parallel reading and writing technology, data transfer speeds could exceed 1 gigabit per second, again depending on the application and market need."
Supposedly they'll be out in a year.
posted by badstone at 2:25 PM on March 5, 2002

Yeah I agree about the fact that MDs need a digital out. I bought a MiniDisc player because I had my own weekly two hour radio show at my old college. I used to make two MDs during the week, so I didn't have to carry all my CDs with me. I've used it for recording live shows and an interview I conducted. It is a good format, I just hate the 1x/realtime recording speed.

I bought a MP3-CD player last year, and it's what I use most of the time. I just wish Philips made theirs with remotes and read ID3 tags back then. I encode my music at 128kbps, as I don't hear a massive sound quality difference between 128kbps and 160kbps.
posted by riffola at 2:34 PM on March 5, 2002

and does anyone know of any followup on the maniacs who are putting 10.8TB of data onto a solid state memory device the size of a credit card ?
posted by badstone at 2:35 PM on March 5, 2002

there are minidisc decks out there with a digital output. Pros and radio stations use them. Only the first minidisc portable by Sony had optical out, but the quality is still quite good if you go analog out. I like my minidisc player, very few portable devices fit in your front jean jacket pocket. and 5 hours per $2 disc is nice.

As far as Super Audio or DVD Audio, do you remember quadraphonic recordings?
posted by panopticon at 2:38 PM on March 5, 2002

The different writable media are beside the point. Recorded music is a digital format (vinyl enthusiasts excepted). It doesn't matter whether you store it on a CD, DVD, flash memory, your hard drive, or wherever. What's significant are your speakers, and what kind of format or codec is used to convert the sound into digits and back again.

I think ogg vorbis. is the way to go because it's an open format. Anybody interested in learning about the intrecacies of audio codecs is free to alter the source and make whatever improvements or changes they like. And even if you don't like linux, you can't deny that open source is way cool.

Honestly, I can't tell the difference between ogg vorbis, mp3 or CD audio. This may be because of my cheap speakers or my jaded eardrums, or whatever, but it doesn't undermine my central argument. If you want to consider the future of music, you must think of it in terms of software rather than hardware. Music is an idea, not an object.
posted by Loudmax at 2:46 PM on March 5, 2002

Hold still while I smack you with my iPod. All of these formats will fail.

For those audiophiles requiring the ultimate in quality sound, someone needs to come up with a better means of digitally sampling sound. It's impossible to recreate the subtlety of high violin notes with 44.1kHz 16 bit sampling because the frequency of the sound waves is too close to the samples. You end up with the audio equivalent of a visual moire.

Maybe when the recording industry finally wakes up (or whatever comes next rises from their ashes) there will be some means of acquiring high-sample rate digital audio files. Right now, many of my classical CDs actually sound better after having their sound-waves smeared by MP3 encoding. It's like descreening a printed photograph. The encoding reintroduces some of the analog smoothness of the original sounds.
posted by joemaller at 2:54 PM on March 5, 2002

Marisa Handler provides an interesting perspective on the format wars: which format is most approachable for independent artists? I've never heard anything by her, but I found that page when I was reading up on the issue last month, and it provides a decent breakdown of the various formats' strengths and weaknesses. It concludes that DTS CDs are the most cost-effective way to go for indie musicians.

DTS CD and HDCD (a Microsoft joint--yowza) are a couple of other/lesser next-gen competitors. From a consumer standpoint, DTS CDs seem somewhat compelling, in that they lack the copy protection measures found in DVD-Audio and SACD. Beyond the "is copying ethical?" argument, there's a practical issue. At $20+ a pop for discs in these new formats, I think consumers need to be able to make backup copies of discs in case something happens to the original.

I don't think the SACD/DVD-Audio format war's going to be resolved any time soon. Compact disc had a number of compelling features to give it traction over the other formats of the day: higher sound quality, greater durability/longevity, and better portability/size. The one major thing the next-generation formats seem to have over CD is higher sound quality (including multi-channel audio), which I don't think most consumers will go for. Worse, slapping increasingly draconian copy protection mechanisms on these formats breaks--to borrow a phrase--forward compatibility. In this context, it's the ability to move content from CD seamlessly to other devices like Rios, iPods and PCs without paying a format tax.

If you don't believe that forward compatibility is a more compelling feature to the average consumer than high sound quality, consider the mindbogglingly prevalent belief that 128kbps MP3s are CD-quality--this is apparently all the quality most people need, pitiful as it may be. Where do we go from here? People who want multi-channel and higher quality will spring for SACD and DVD-Audio, but probably not in high enough volume to drive the adoption of one format over another. Online distribution is the future for everyone else--hopefully with sound quality rivaling CD (e.g. not 128kbps MP3s).
posted by disarray at 2:56 PM on March 5, 2002

Don't forget DAT: Higher quality than CD, lossless, digital, and failed in all but high-end recording markets.

I, too, smack you all with my iPod. I've encoded all 262 of my CDs and can put a third of them on my iPod at any given time, and can swap it out with a different third in 10 minutes.
posted by kfury at 2:57 PM on March 5, 2002

I like vinyl
posted by corpse at 3:08 PM on March 5, 2002

I, as well, pull out my holy iPod and jiggle it in front of you. I encode my MP3s at a high bit rate, since I'm a picky listener, so I hear no qualitative difference in sound to any other consumer-end media. As a result, I can only fit 769 songs in my pocket, but that's plenty.

I change music alot, so I used to carry around like 15 CDs when travelling to New York from CT. The jewel cases would all crack (since I hate the wallets), the cds would invariably get scritched, and it weighed a ton. I was happy to rip them all and iPod them.

I remember having to carry around cassettes. A little more compact, but fragile and clunky.

As for classical, I have many of my classical selections on vinyl, which I believe does offer a better, warmer sound for certain kinds of music. But the difference is not great enough that I am unable to listen to classical on other media.
posted by evanizer at 4:09 PM on March 5, 2002

I want an iPod. That asside, the whole minidisc point is moot. It's not geared towards home audio listeners, its primary market is for cheap, portable digital audio recording for audiphiles and musicians, in combination with the aformentioned mini disc decks with digital out. A teacher of mine actually had a combination minidisc/cd burner unit, where she would put the minidisc in, hit a button, and a cd would pop out. Pretty cool.
posted by atom128 at 4:23 PM on March 5, 2002

too bad you can't plug a damned microphone into an iPod, or I would have bought one and a Mac to go with it.
posted by panopticon at 8:59 PM on March 5, 2002

Maybe when the recording industry finally wakes up

Who are you kidding? Most music is, sonically, merde, and the percentage of people who are not satisfied with CDs is miniscule. CDs, on all but the most expensive equipment sounded grotesque before, say, 1990, and yet no one cared or noticed.

So don't hold your breathe for a better sounding mass market format.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:11 PM on March 5, 2002

Tangent: sound quality is getting worse and worse in life. The Western Electric telephone at my mom's house sounds way better than the crappy phone I bought in Caldor in 1996, which sounds way better than the cordless phone I bought in 1999, which sounds better than my cell phone.
Onward and downward to walkie talkies (or talkie walkies in France)!
posted by ParisParamus at 9:52 PM on March 5, 2002

Blue-Disc baby! 10 x the storage capacity of DVDs, better quality, read-writable, the whole shabang!
posted by Neale at 10:01 PM on March 5, 2002

One of the major limitations of digital audio is the average soundcard; most consumer-grade DACs max out at 48KHz/16bit, the same as DAT (and only slightly better than CD's 44.1KHz). Any computer-based format that exceeds this ceiling must currently be down-sampled anyway, rendering its advantages moot. There are numerous pro-grade cards available that can handle much higher rates, but their expense mostly relegates them to studio work.

The question is: what sampling frequency/bit rate exceeds the human ear's resolution? Most pro studios seem to be settling on 96KHz/24bit for tracking at the moment, but how antiquated will this seem in twenty years when storage and bandwidth are no longer limiting factors? How much resolution is finally enough, especially when the average listener seems plenty content with CDs and even MP3s?

I agree with those who tout their iPods as the first iteration of future music device. Once cavernous solid-state storage that fits in your pocket becomes affordable, low-resolution sample rates and comprimising codecs will be things of the past. In the meantime, digitize and archive your original audio at the highest resolution you can afford, and use whatever codec makes you happy for casual listening. It'll all be obsolete before long anyway.
posted by johnnyace at 8:30 AM on March 6, 2002

ParisParamus is completely right. The recording industry is so far from actually utilizing the CD format, its ridiculous to talk about moving up to another one. About few months ago, my family bought a new receiver on the advice of an audiophile magazine, and shuffled around our speakers so that we had the good ones with the new receiver. Then we tried listening to some music. All we could hear were slightly crisper highs, and a little less hiss. Then we put on Hotel California.

It was like a completely different song. The quality of recording was infinitely better than that of songs recorded twenty years later. Kind of depressing, actually. But a perfect demonstration of why we really don't need a new format, yet.

By the way, what's the deal with 24-bit recordings? Since most are going to be downsampled to 16-bit, this'll result in a slight loss of quality as compared to a native 16-bit recording, won't it? I'm assuming here that music bits are a lot like color bits...
posted by Ptrin at 8:52 AM on March 6, 2002

Ptrin, 24-bit recording is typically used in the studio, where you want the highest resolution possible on original capture. Most digital audio goes through a good deal of signal processing during mixdown (effects, EQ, noise-reduction, etc.), so a wider dynamic range is desirable.

Eventually, however, any audio destined for CD is indeed resampled to 16-bits and anti-aliased (very much like color bits, in fact). Often this actually improves the perceived "warmth" of the audio, much like encoding to MP3 sometimes mimics pleasing analog signal interaction.
posted by johnnyace at 12:55 PM on March 6, 2002

MP3 can handle 24 bit, as far as I recall. If you have a 24 bit capable soundcard and you use the special MPEG decoder plugin for Winamp, I can't see any reason why true 24 bit sound needn't be yours.

The only major use for 24bit in the home, in my opinion, is for instrumental recordings.. especially classical music. These pieces have a very wide dynamic range and sound too compressed on CD.

Away from classical music, Metallica's live 'S&M' album is another demonstration of the limitations of CDs. The whole thing is horribly compressed. You simply can't take a heavy metal band, a symphonic orchestra, and put the result onto CD and expect it to sound half-way decent.

This is where standards such as SACD and DVD-Audio come in. 24 bit/96Khz/5.1.. that concert would sound sweet... or even just in stereo.
posted by wackybrit at 3:44 PM on March 6, 2002

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