Musical Fidelity A324 D/A processor Page 2

"Over the past 12 or 14 years, a large number of DACs were marketed," wrote Antony in his press handout. "Initially, some got excellent reviews, but none had a market life or more than six or eight months. With few exceptions, they all used DAC and filter topologies similar to those of the CD players they were purported to improve upon."

After the Digilog, Antony concentrated on CD players, and over the years his company has produced some of the best—culminating last year in the limited-edition Nu-Vista 3D, which our analog-retentive Mikey reviewed—and flipped over last October.

As Mikey reported, the Nu-Vista 3D was originally to be an SACD player because Antony was initially very enthusiastic about SACD. In fact, Antony said he still hopes the format will succeed. But he began to have doubts because of the software situation. How many "phases" of rollout would it take for a complete Beethoven symphony cycle to appear on SACD? Or one complete major opera recording?

"There's virtually no software available!" Antony fumed. "And look what there is! Reissuing old analog tapes onto SACD is bizarre. And a few tweaky labels recording nose-flute and cello recitals in a drafty church is not proper software availability.

"Sonically, I think SACD is just wonderful, and from a purely musical and philosophical point of view, I'd like to see it succeed. But I think it's just too late. What's the bloody point if there isn't any software?"

"What about DVD-Audio?" I asked.

"DVD-A?-bit/192kHz—is fantastic...without watermarking. But with analog watermarking, DVD-A is about the worst sound in existence." Never one to mince words, Antony described watermarked DVD-Audio as "diabolical."

However, as Antony noted, the promise of hi-rez formats has stirred things up—"whetted people's appetites for increased performance," as he put it. "Unfortunately, in practical terms, that performance isn't available."

How many SACD titles are there after nearly three years? A few hundred: the umpteenth release of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, 20-year-old, early-digital recordings from Telarc—recordings they could likely no longer sell at full price on regular CD. Gems like Favorite Chinese Instrumentals, which you can order from The Elusive Disc for only $24.99.

After three years and three so-called "phases" of rollout, there is no complete Beethoven string quartet cycle on SACD. No complete recording of an opera by Wagner, Mozart, Verdi, or Puccini. Frank Sinatra and the Beatles are not on SACD—not one bloody disc. I'm beginning to sound like Antony.

How could the industry—the Big Players, who presumably can hire the Biggest Brains—have created such a mess? It seems that they not only don't learn from mistakes (like Betamax), but they don't learn from their successes, either (like CD). Standardization is what helped CD succeed. That, and plenty of software from all major record labels. (After three years, CDs had all but displaced LPs from record-store shelves.) I don't recall that the CD was rolled out in "phases." But then, I don't recall hearing about phases one and two of SACD's rollout, either.

According to Antony, Sony's strategy seems to be to flood the market with millions of SACD-capable machines, then force the software makers to produce software. "But that isn't going to work," he said.

Fed up with the SACD software situation, Antony decided to make the Nu-Vista 3D a CD player instead of an SACD player. "What we're doing—maximizing the performance of CD—is far more realistic. We're helping people get more from the discs they've already got without having to scrap their entire collections and spend more money. Did you know that there are two million titles in the CD catalog? Two million!"

It was my turn to quiz Antony: "Did you know that more CDs are issued every hour than SACDs are issued in a month?"

"I wouldn't be surprised!"

Actually, as I quickly confessed to Antony, I'd made that up on the spur of the moment. It's what Norman Mailer calls a "factoid." What's the point of being a journalist if you can't create facts? But it's probably true. Dozens, if not hundreds, of CDs must be issued every hour, worldwide. Meanwhile, this is a fact:

The Naxos CD catalog (not counting its associated labels) is larger than the entire SACD catalog (from all labels) so far. Think of what inexpensive Naxos SACDs could have done to kick-start the format!

Nah, I don't see much hope for new classical recordings—or much else on SACD, for that matter. Part of the problem is the cost of "authoring" an SACD. As John Atkinson points out, a CD can be authored for as little as $500. The cost of authoring an SACD is 20 times higher. Not exactly feasible for a classical recording that might sell no more than 1000 copies.

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