Monday, August 29, 2005

Philadelphia Inquirer article about SACDs

There was an article in this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer about SACDs. Some interesting points and statistics about recent production trends are brought up in the article:

* "SACD sales declined from 1.3 million discs in 2003 to 790,000 in 2004, according to the Recording Industry Association of America."

* "Three complete SACD Beethoven symphony sets are out; two more are in the making. Complete sets of Mozart and Shostakovich symphonies have also appeared."

* "San Francisco Symphony's SACD recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 was a turning point. "We thought it would sell 1,000 or 2,000. But it sold 5,000 in three months," says John Newton, an industry veteran who now remasters discs for RCA."

* There isn't logic as to what to sells best yet. The Anonymous 4's American Angels CD, a disc noted for its atmospheric sound of a small vocal ensemble, sold only 2% of its releases as SACD. Meanwhile, 30% of a recent Telarc release of Haydn's Seasons were SACD-format.

SACD stands for "Super Audio Compact Disc"--which is a compact disc that records at a higher sampling rate (96kHZ) and a higher word length (24kHZ). It's a proprietary format that has been masterminded by Sony and Philips, but the technology is starting to be licensed by record labels, especially classical labels whose content particularly appeals to audiophiles. The format supports 5 channels (or tracks) of listening, as opposed to the normal 2 for stereo. They weren't too successful in selling these a few years ago, because it was only supported by special surround-sound players. Now, it's much more common for a record label to issue a hybrid-SACD, which allows for playing on most commercial stereo systems.

But does SACD matter to a larger public anymore? Will record companies really re-master and re-release their entire catalogs as SACD? How long would that take? Maybe 20 years, like CDs (roughly a good percentage of the pre-digital run)--but what new technologies will be in place then? Isn't all this getting a little silly?

Another big constituency for buying classical discs are libraries, who usually don't have the facilities or equipment to incorporate surround-sound listening. Then there is the audio preservationist who in digitizing one of these discs would need to preserve 5 tracks of audio, instead of the normal 2. Imagine the size and the structural complexity of that item.

Furthermore, how would cataloging requirements change to allow for documentation of these system requirements. I'm sure Jay Weitz has already thought and posted about this, but it will be awhile before the majority of catalogers will be able to do this masterfully. I need to look more at the SACD specifications to know if we are really dealing with a music recording or a series of data files. Some of the cataloging fields that might come into play include: 538, 007, 006, 300, and just some 500 fields related to description of what this recording format is and requires.

How a hybrid Super Audio CD works.

It seems that high-quality (SACD and DVD-A) audio will be around in some form in the future, especially for select constituencies (classical and jazz); but for most other genres, the rule will be Internet distribution (streaming and MP3 downloads). This might not change even if size and bandwidth matters are resolved, because of the value that classical (and jazz) listeners place on the physical album and its constituent parts.


At Sat Oct 01, 08:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful invention it is, this thing we call the Internet!

At Sun Oct 02, 12:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It pretty much covers FREE Marketing related stuff.


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