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Super Audio CD Set To Ship During October

BY Greg Tarr & Joseph Palenchar

Make an appointment with your mortgage company, Super Audio CD is here.

Sony formally announced last week plans to market in October the first two players based on the Sony-and-Philips developed Super Audio CD high-density audio disc platform, one model at $5,000 the other at $3,500. The system is billed as the “ultimate” high-fidelity system for recorded music and will be focused on a niche of super-discriminating audiophiles.

Sony also announced availability at launch of some 40 SACD titles, most are classical, from various labels. Sony Music labels will provide about half of those, and discs will be priced at $24.98.

But company executives insisted the introduction does not signal the start of a new format war with the forthcoming DVD-Audio platform.

The SACD format, they said, is an extension of the audio CD platform and is positioned to “support the existing and predominantly stereo music market.” Initial players will offer only two-channel output, although a multichannel adaptation is in development.

DVD-Audio, on the other hand, was designed as an extension of the DVD video and DVD-ROM platforms as a multichannel platform and is based on PCM technology allowing more scalable performance, at the sacrifice of adding some “anomalies and artifacts” not found in SACD’s Direct Stream Digital (DSD) system.

Demonstrating the importance of the format to Sony, the company staged a formal send-off in New York, where Sony Corp. chairman Nobuyuki Idei, Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola, recording artist Wynton Marsalis and other Sony dignitaries praised the merits and potential of the new system.

Mike Fidler, Sony consumer A/V products group senior VP, said his company will ship next month the SCD-1, billed as a reference-standard player at $5,000, and SCD-777ES, a $3,500 unit.

Both are two-channel-only devices that are expected to appeal mainly to audiophiles with high-performance component systems that are dedicated to music-only listening.

Earlier, both Sony and Philips announced plans for the platform at the IFA Show (Internationale Funkausstellung) in Berlin, Germany. There, Philips surprisingly detailed plans to enter the DVD-Audio market, and Sony European Consumer Group president Jean-Michel Perbet said, “We are studying DVD-Audio. It may be a different kind of product… perhaps more mass market.”

Meanwhile, Guy Demuynck, Philips audio business group managing director, outlined this timetable for Philips-brand SACD and DVD-Audio products:

  • At the end of the second quarter or in the third quarter of next year, Philips plans U.S. shipments of a “very high-end” DVD-Video/SACD player that incorporates two-channel SACD playback.
  • As early as the third quarter of 2000, Philips will ship an all-in-one SACD/DVD-Audio/Video player, which he said would appeal to “convenience-minded” consumers.
  • A Philips-branded SACD-only player will be launched “as soon as prices come down” to more affordable levels, said Adri Baan, CEO of Philips’ consumer electronics division. That could come as soon as late 2000 or early 2001, Demuynck told TWICE.

Philips explained that its first SACD player will be sold early next year under the Marantz brand and will be dedicated to two-channel SACD playback.

On the SACD software front, Sony said several types of SACD discs are possible, including one with a single high-density layer, a disc with dual high-density layers for longer pieces of music, and a hybrid disc combining standard CD and SACD.

Sony expects the SACD discs will be sold by hardware dealers, some software dealers, and over the Internet. A special merchandising kiosk has been developed for dealers who wish to support the format with software.