SMR - CEDIA UK Expo. 2000

The 109th AES Convention ~ a Report by ~ Page 10 of 15

On the multichannel encode/decode format front, DVD-Audio continues to stumble, mired in endless skirmishes over copy protection and digital watermarking issues. The delay has afforded an opportunity for the competing Sony-Philips Super Audio CD format to solidify its head-start foothold with both slow but steady title releases (currently 141) culled from Sony's extensive jazz and classical library, as well as newer, more affordable player options.

After a year of positioning SACD for the two-channel audiophile market, Sony and Philips took the wraps off the format's multichannel capabilities in one of the Convention's most impressive demos. After a tantalizingly brief introductory sample of a 4.1 version of Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" taken from Simon Heyworth's never-released quad master, the demo showcased lengthier excerpts in a variety of musical styles. A newly mastered two-channel version of James Taylor's "JT" made a compelling case for the precision and detail enabled by the higher-resolution format.

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Tracks with surround channels were demo'd on a prototype Philips SCD2000 with multichannel playback capability, since all current SACD players (from Sony and Marantz) are two-channel only. On "Both Sides Now," Joni Mitchell's live recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, the voice and sax hovered with startling realism along the front soundstage, while a rich orchestral canopy extended into the surrounds. With film further along than music in multichannel mixing, it was no surprise to hear more aggressive use of surrounds in a Jerry Goldsmith compilation from his scores for "Basic Instinct" and "The Wind and the Lion," followed by his unreleased, SACD-mastered composition, "Fireworks: A Celebration of Los Angeles."

The most effective selection, though, was the subtlestan excerpt from "Sacred Feast," Tom Jung's a cappella choral recording that transported listeners to the rich resonances of Trinity Chapel in Hartford, Connecticut. Using surround channels for naturalistic ambience rather than gimmicky panning, it's a stellar example of multichannel music done right. Best of all, it's commercially available now, on a hybrid disc featuring both 2- and 6-channel SACD versions on the same layer, and a Redbook CD version on another layer. Unfortunately, there are no players that can process the multichannel version.


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