SMR - CEDIA UK Expo. 2000

The 109th AES Convention ~ a Report by ~ Page 12 of 15

SACD players have limited value without software to play on them. To nurture the format's growth at the creative end, Sony chose AES to unveil its new eight-channel Sonoma workstation. The Sonoma's modular design equips producers with end-to-end Direct Stream Digital (DSD) processing for recording, editing, mixing, mastering, and authoring. (In DSD processing, signals are recorded at a high sampling frequency (2.8224MHz) and converted to 1-bit data.) Still a year away from widespread release, the Sonoma will be seeded to roughly 70 top production sites..

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Tying together the pro-monitoring and audiophile playback ends, Sony also introduced the SS-M9ED loudspeakers ($8,000 apiece) featured at the AES demo. Powered by amplifiers from Pass Laboratories, these speakers offered a wide, enveloping soundfield and pinpoint imaging. According to their designer, Dan Anagnos [shown], the 5-way design features a proprietary super-tweeter to handle the 22-100kHz range made possible by the DSD format, and the speakers' consistent linear crossover performance even at high frequencies and high power levels make it ideal for both studio and home applications.

In addition, an SACD hybrid disc production line developed by Philips and Sonopress has been installed at the Sonopress factory in Germany, and has already begun production. From recording to manufacturing to playback, all the links in the SACD chain are now in place. In one year, the format has gone from underdog to top dog, as the rival DVD-A camp continues to spin wheels rather than discs.

Lingering Questions...

Despite the considerable strides SACD has made in the year since its rollout, unresolved issues remain. The lack of a digital output standard makes the format difficult to integrate with multichannel pre/pros, which typically employ digital domain processing, The mandatory Analog-to-Digital and Digital-to-Analog conversions negate SACD's superior resolution capability, yet owners of high-end digital pre-pros from Lexicon, Meridian, EAD, and others are the natural customers for SACD's audiophile quality. A few processors (Theta and Proceed) have analog bypass capability, but only for the front stereo channels, which will not accommodate multichannel SACD.

With only analog outputs from SACD players, users lack some of the features routinely performed in the digital domain by home theater processors, such as bass management and speaker time alignment.

When I raised these issues during the Q&A session following the SACD demo, the response from Sony's U.S. Director for SACD, David Kawakami, was that both these subjects and a possible IEEE-1394 (Firewire) digital output solution are currently being considered by project engineers, but no decisions have been reached at this time.

To its credit, Sony has refused to compromise the quality of its releases with non-transparent digital watermarking, the latest controversy hobbling the rival DVD-A format. Yet Sony can only control its own software, and the issue will likely surface if and when other labels consider releases in the SACD format.

On a more theoretically troubling note, elsewhere at the AES Convention, Stanley P. Lipshitz and John Vanderkooy of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, presented a paper entitled "Why Professional 1-Bit Sigma Delta Conversion is a Bad Idea." The authors claim to prove that when properly dithered, single-stage, 1-bit sigma delta converters are in a state of constant overload, making it inherently impossible to guarantee the absence of distortion, limit cycles, instability, and noise modulation. In their abstract, the authors conclude: "The audio industry is making a tragic mistake if it adopts 1-bit sigma-delta conversions as an archival format to replace multibit, linear PCM." Tragedians are encouraged to have plenty of Kleenex on hand before downloading the paper, Preprint 5188 from the AES website.


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