Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, surround-sound music looked like the next big thing, but in the intervening decade and a half, precious little rock, jazz, or world music has been recorded in surround. True, in the early days of SACD and DVD-Audio formats there were hundreds of remixes of older stereo recordings, and some were recycled on Blu-ray, but the number of newly recorded 5.1 titles remains paltry. Looking back, the early 2000s should have been an ideal time to launch surround music; multichannel home theater was peaking, so there was a large number of households … Read more
This past Wednesday, at the Time Warner Building in New York, Sony Electronics demonstrated a renewed interest in high-resolution audio. The company had a full slate of high-resolution hardware on display, and promised review samples would be coming our way in the near future. The initiative includes a commitment to make high-resolution audio "a more convenient, compelling, and cost-effective listening experience for digital music enthusiasts everywhere. To support this, select Sony products will come preinstalled with high-resolution tracks from Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment."
The flagship high-resolution audio model, the HAP-Z1ES ($1,999) … Read more
At first blush you might think the Audiophiliac would be thrilled to hear the news about the Universal Music Group's new High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-rays -- and I would be, if I didn't know how this story plays out. In 1999 and 2000, the original high-resolution SACD and DVD-Audio formats debuted and quickly faltered. Then the record labels tried again with the DualDisc format in 2004, and that one came and went so fast most people didn't even know it existed. I heard a lot of those discs, and I didn't feel that most (but … Read more
Great-sounding albums are becoming increasingly rare, so when I find noteworthy efforts I'm happy to share the news. The goal is highlighting new stuff -- or at least newly recorded/remastered music, and this time I'm going to make separate digital and analog lists. This one covers digital standouts on CD and SACD; next weekend I'll cover LPs.
The list is based on music that I played at home, so I'm sure I've missed some great albums. Share your finds in the comments section.
Bluesman MacLeod … Read more
A great-sounding recording will sound its best only when it's properly mastered to LP, SACD, DVD-Audio, or a high-resolution file. Those formats will reveal the full glory of the music in ways that lower-resolution formats like MP3 or analog cassette always miss. But if you didn't have access to the high-resolution file to compare it with, a great recording will still sound pretty terrific as an AAC, M4A, or 320kbps MP3 file, because the recording's innate quality would shine through. On the other hand, a heavily compressed, processed and crude recording will always sound heavily compressed, processed … Read more
At the end of May, Onkyo will start selling Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel music downloads, first in Japan, and by the fall of this year worldwide. That's either a brave or foolhardy move.
Multichannel music formats -- starting with quadraphonic LPs and tapes in the early 1970s, DTS encoded surround CDs in the 1990s, and DVD Audio and SACD in the early 2000s -- have all suffered from a lack of consumer demand. Very, very few surround releases were initially recorded in surround; most rock and jazz titles are remixed from older stereo recordings. The Blu-ray format has now … Read more
High-resolution formats like Blu-ray, DVD-Audio, SACD, and LP are all capable of delivering superb sound quality, but having music in those formats doesn't automatically guarantee great sound. The recording itself would first have to sound great, or to put it another way, a great sounding MP3 would sound better than a heavily compressed and studio processed 192-kHz/24-bit Master Audio Blu-ray.
Worrying about what sounds better--FLAC, WAV, or AIFF files--is a total waste of time if you're listening to an Adele or Black Keys album: the music's processing levels are so extreme, there's nothing for … Read more
Quadraphonic was the first music surround format, and the first to bite the dust. That was in the 1970s. The SACD and DVD-A formats debuted at the dawn of the century, promising vastly improved sound quality over the CD, and both formats flopped. Their futures looked bright, so why did they fail?
Of course the record labels knew selling a new format on the basis of sound quality was a risky business, so they tacked on 5.1 surround sound. There were millions of households in the early 2000s with multichannel home theaters, so selling new music surround formats looked … Read more
The analog vs. digital debate has been raging for nearly three decades, and there's still no clear winner, because it's really just a matter of personal preference. I'm fine with that, but there's a lot of sniping in the analog/digital wars, and each side never misses an opportunity to put down the other side as misguided, deaf, just plain stupid, or worse. Each side claims its chosen format is superior and the opposite's is garbage.
I'm an analog guy, but I'd admit that analog's distortions, speed variations, and noise/hiss make … Read more
Why did home theater buyers readily accept surround sound, but consistently reject multichannel music formats? From Thomas Edison's very first phonograph in 1877 through the late 1950s, monophonic sound was the only way people heard music at home.
Stereo arrived in the late 1950s on LP and analog reel-to-reel tape, and stereo has remained the most popular music format to this day. Quadraphonic (four-channel surround) debuted in the early 1970s, but didn't survive the end of the decade. People didn't want to plant four speakers in their living rooms, and the Quadraphonic Wars ensured the format's … Read more