Are audio format wars good or bad for audiophiles in the long run?

Are audio format wars good or bad for audiophiles in the long run?
Good, may the best format win
24% (58 votes)
Bad, creates confusion and waste
64% (151 votes)
No opinion
2% (4 votes)
10% (24 votes)
Total votes: 237

Are format wars, such as the battle between DVD-Audio and SACD, worth all the trouble? Some would argue that they let the consumer decide what is best, while others feel that these battles should have been fought in the boardroom and standards committee meetings. What do you think?

Colonel F.  Tooth's picture

There just might be more than a kernel of truth to the "survival of the fittest" theory. We're not going through anything that is without precedent; after all, format wars occured during the '50s, '60s and well before. Rest assured, they will occur again just when most believe that audio uniformity has surfaced once again. I'll still have my SETs, horns and turntable if I am fortunate enough to live so long.

Denis Powell's picture

Anything that pushes the limits of domestic audio reproduction is worth it in the end. Yes a format war can have many irritating features such as consumer confusion, petty "mine is better than yours discussions",labels releasing on one format only etc, etc. Commercial success is vital for the survival of any product and both DVD-Audio and SACD can survive and indeed thrive. The imminent arrival of affordable dual format machines will give mainstream consumers a chance to compare and hopefully enjoy the benefits of both formats. Audiophiles will still have the option to buy specialist single format machines that will undoubtedly appear from those companies that continually push the boundries of home audio. Everyone can win in this situation.

Jerome Lang's picture

The guy who feels that only multi-channel will rekinde his interest is obiously in a rut. He needs to go out today and buy a 2 ch SACD player. Listen to it for a week and then try listen to his DVD player again. All that good equipment is just wasted on DVD materials. More doesn't always means better.

GregM's picture

SACD can do everything DVD-A can do, better than DVD-A can do it. So let's get rid of DVD-A and unify behind the best format and go forward. There really is no war. SACD is the best thing for music and DVD-A is just a weak video format with 24/96 tacked on to try to make money for Warner Music Group and Verance--to be avoided at all costs by those who care about music.

Tim Naff's picture

I don't think the call on the formats is all that simple. I think it will be made or broken by several factors that include the availability of software, the affordability and proliferation of hardware outside of the few corporations that have a vested interest; and the apathy of the general public toward sound that exceeds the quality of the red-book standard. What may end up making SACD viable is the proliferation of DSD mastering equipment that makes it a short step to create SACDs while you are at the bread-and-butter business of generating red-book CDs. Many have eagerly anticipated the entry of multi-channel into the fray. I agree with ST on this, although I don't agree with his conclusion that the hi-rez formats are a plot to pull us into a multi-channel format trap. The problems with multi-channel, in my opinion are two-fold: first, the kind of holographic imaging that we 'philes crave requires that the listener be situated on a line that is equidistant from each adjacent pair radiating sources, which places almost impossible constraints on multi-channel speaker placement and listener position; second, who wants to hear instruments *behind* him or her anyway? Multi-channel is great for movies; but for music, its liabilities far outweigh its benefits from this 'philes perspective. The hi-rez options, however are, however, at the heart of what the high-end is all about -- we have suffered, up until now, with varying degrees of garbage-in/garbage-out with our systems that cost tens of kilobucks. We *have* to take the hi-rez formats seriously, since they have the potential to finally validate our investments in those systems, not to mention our future investments. I appreciate Stereophile's honest treatment of the topic, including both the A+ ratings given to the SACD players and the comments by ST. On the subject of ST, I think he is a national resource -- not because he might be perceived as the Andy Rooney of Stereophile, but because he combines several synergistic qualities: a passion for music and audio, a willingness to be politically incorrect, and, most of all, an uncompromising integrity. I often feel like Sam is a rogue brother: a maverick, yes; hard to live with sometimes, yes; but always willing to call it like he sees it and keep us all honest! If you'd like me to clean this mess up and submit it as a letter, contact me at

Mark Lemelin's picture

This is a tough call in my opinion. I could easily agree with those that feel that these "wars" provide the opportunity for the consumer to choose the "best" format. On the other hand, I think that we have seen in the past in the entertainment industry that the best standards or products (in regards to quality or performance - not convenience) do NOT always win. This provides us with a dilema that I am not certain is easily solved. I don't think many in the high-end realm would be comfortable with the standards set by the typical industry or government groups that currently exist. I think we'll just have to ride this one out. Perhaps the best outcome would be what I see has been happening in the computer industry - multiple standards win, and the consumer IS provided with an on-going choice, rather than being stuck with the standard that became obsolete (look at all of the optical formats, tape formats, memory cards, and magnetic media that are still in use). For those of you into computer gaming, yes I realize that we have been losing on the performance end of the spectrum with the loss of Aureal and thier A3D standard, and 3dfx with their voodoo format, etc., so it has not been a picnic for us either!

Kenneth Cooper's picture

I just hope Philips/Sony don't get too propritary on us. Remember the very sad Beta situation where the clearly inferior product won? Having both CD and SACD on the same disk should, I would think, give Philips / Sony the edge. As for my own experience having both DVD-A and SACD, I've stopped buying DVD-A disks. Some were disapointing. I haven't found a bad SACD yet, not to mention the fact that SACD has a 'cleaner' sound according to my ears. Try Glen Gould's playing of Bach's Goldberg Variations - Wow! Note: The most wonderful surprise from both of these is the way they make my old CDs sound. Seems to take that CD signature harshness away. Hell, I'm spending more time just replaying these than playing the new format disks (don't know if that would be the case though if I had an unlimited pocketbook).