One of the hottest audio technologies at the recent CES, as far as the general public was concerned, wasn't SACD, or DVD-Audio, or even new MP3 players. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, digital satellite radio jumped into the limelight by announcing its impending rollout this year. Two companies are poised to compete for the top spot, lining up car manufacturers and CE companies in a classic format battle that is sure to heat up by summer.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of new products are unveiled to the consumer electronics industry each year at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But there would be no new products without the efforts of the scientists, engineers, journalists, inventors, company founders, and retailers who bring a product from concept to market.
Several rooms at the Alexis Park featured SACD front ends, but as we moved around the floor of the main LV Convention Center, we heard and saw a lot more about DVD-Audio than SACD. Denon showed their DVD-3300 DVD-A/V player, which began shipping a few months back for $1199. No new models were on the floor, but the Denon rep suggested that something new will be appearing later this year. Pioneer was promising a universal DVD-A/V/SACD/CD machine in the future, and Yamaha was also showing a new DVD-Audio machine, the DVDS1200, in their booth.
Audiophiles on a budget will be pleased to learn that not everything on display at Alexis Park requires a second mortgage. We were particularly impressed by the Audes model 037 loudspeaker, of similar size and sound to Revel's excellent Performa F-30. At $1200/pair, the Audes offers extraordinary value. All the company's products, including the drivers, are made in Estonia for export to North and South America, Western (and parts of Eastern) Europe, and Asia. The company has yet to establish a dealer network in nearby Russia because of economic uncertainties there, according to an Audes executive, who cited Russian prejudice against Eastern European products as another discouraging factor.
Evolutionary. That's the word that comes to mind after strolling about the Alexis Park, home of Specialty Audio exhibits at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show. The revolutionary stuff usually makes its debut at the Las Vegas Convention Center; here, in the high-end halls, we find manufacturers and designers more interested in perfecting existing technology.
The largest of six divisions of Royal Philips Electronics, Philips Consumer Electronics Mainstream intends to push the audio industry in several directions this year, according to a presentation made by the division's CEO Guy Demuynck at a January 5 press conference in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Long a dominant force in research and development, as well as in marketing consumer electronics, Philips has great hopes for every segment of the audio market. 2000 was a record year for the company, Demuynck said, and 2001 should be very good as well.
Recently, the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA) announced the release of a new CD compatibility specification called "MultiPlay" for the computer and consumer electronics industries. OSTA says that the new specification is intended to ensure that Compact Disc Recordable (CD-R) and Compact Disc ReWritable (CD-RW) discs created on personal computers can also be played in consumer CD and DVD players.
If it's the software that sells a new format, then several recent announcements bode well for both SACD and DVD-Audio. Last week, DTS announced plans to begin shipment of the first DVD-Audio music recordings produced by its company-owned DTS Entertainment record label by late February 2001. Also, the first multichannel SACD to be produced by a major label from an original multitrack master, Mike Oldfield's recently remastered 1971 classic Tubular Bells is due for release from Virgin Records in February 2001.
It would be easy to blame the popularity of home computers for a recent slowdown in audio component sales, except for the fact that PCs are having a tough season themselves. Maybe all of those audio dollars are being spent to cover losses in the stock market or to buy new PlayStation 2s. Regardless, sales of audio products suffered a bit of a slump this past October compared to last year.
Although it first appeared as an infant technology more than 20 years ago, digital audio amplification may finally be coming of age. Recent months have seen announcements from several companies, including news of Apogee's DDX technology (see previous report) and Cirrus Logic who recently purchased their Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) digital amplification technology from B&W Loudspeakers (see previous report).