It's a brave new audio world: Coinciding with last week's release of Medeski, Martin & Wood's latest work, The Dropper, to retailers' shelves as a polycarbonate-and-aluminum CD, Liquid Audio announced that the title was simultaneously being made available as a full-album digital download. Liquid reports that this is the first time a Blue Note title has been released in a digital format at the same time as its physical release.
Like the companies in most high-tech industries, audio businesses are a volatile lot, with startups, mergers, acquisitions—and the occasional bankruptcy or flame-out—not uncommon. In that ongoing tradition, at the 2002 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ultralink Products announced on January 7 its intention to purchase the assets of cable manufacturer XLO Electric.
More good news for budget-conscious audiophiles who are waiting for that all-in-one universal high-resolution audio player: Yet another chip manufacturer is announcing a decoder IC that will allow new DVD machines to untangle just about any audio file format. Last week, LuxSonor Semiconductors joined the growing list (see previous) of chip manufacturers that are including both DVD-Audio and SACD in one package.
SACD partisans Sony and Philips continue to release new disc players that also decode DVD-Video, but not DVD-Audio. And arch-DVD-A supporter Meridian, as well as companies such as McIntosh, are releasing DVD-A and DVD-V players that don't do SACD. But there are exceptions, notably Pioneer, who debuted the first widely available "universal" player, the DV-AX10 SACD/DVD-A/CD player, last year.
Last year in late October, Universal Music Group finally announced its first set of SACD titles and the high-rez format's supporters jumped for joy. Then, at the January 2003 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Universal stood on the podium next to Sony and announced several key SACD releases from the Police, Peter Gabriel, and others.
The dawning of the age of inexpensive universal DVD-Audio/SACD/CD players may finally be upon us. Cirrus Logic recently announced the introduction of their CS4392 integrated circuit chip, which the company describes as a high-performance Crystal digital/analog converter that "delivers unrivaled sound quality while providing manufacturers a cost-effective solution for next-generation DVD-based audio products including DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD (SACD) players."
It's been a roller coaster ride for satellite radio upstarts Sirius Radio and XM Radio this past week as both companies fortunes shifted yet again. In a classic billion-dollar consumer electronics gamble, Sirius and XM are betting that they can reach critical mass by selling enough specially equiped digital radio receivers through car manufacturers while simultaneously signing up enough subscribers to reach profitability.
Although some won't openly admit it, plenty of audiophiles with nice systems also own iPods. And they are not alone. According to figures recently revealed by the Consumer Electronics Association, more than 152 million Americans, representing 70% of the total US adult population, own some kind of portable entertainment device.
Record companies are having a tough time making new friends these days as they toy with ways to restrict consumer use and distribution of their products. Amid sliding sales, mediocre new releases, high prices, and failed attempts at implementing restricted-use CD technology, the big labels clearly need some advice on getting back on track.