The End of the Audiophile Nightmare?

Last week, Cirrus Logic unveiled two new Crystal digital-to-analog converters that the company says will support both dueling high-definition audio standards: DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD (SACD). As a result, the new DACs should enable the creation of universal DVD players for both the mass and high-end audio markets. The new DACs are the CS4397 "SuperDAC," which the company describes as a "high-performance audio DAC on a single chip" with 120dB dynamic range performance; and the CS4391, a lower-cost DAC also supporting DVD-Audio and SACD and sporting a 108dB dynamic range.

Terry Ritchie, of Cirrus Logic's Crystal Audio Products Division, clearly feels your audiophile pain: "The consumer doesn't want to be concerned with standards or compatibility issues; they simply want to put their DVD disc into a player and get the best possible performance. While DVD-Audio and SACD compete in the audio space to become the next-generation audio format, manufacturers that opt for our new chips can roll out universal DVD players that support both formats with a single chip."

As most audiophiles probably realize, DVD-Audio and SACD currently are engaged in a marketing duel to become the leading audio standard by the turn of the millennium. Cirrus Logic's Fred Valenzuela notes that "With SuperDAC, the standard becomes irrelevant, since our chip supports both formats as well as HDCD. This means that manufacturers now can migrate into the lucrative high ends of DVD and CD equipment markets and roll out new flagship products without the risk of investing in a standard that could become obsolete. Our development of the first universal SuperDAC enables the emergence of a whole new category of consumer audio products: high-end universal DVD. With the SuperDAC, we enable high-end universal DVD systems to provide professional-quality 120dB performance, which is great news for the entire audio market: manufacturers, recording artists, producers, and consumers."

The company also claims that the DAC's new architecture removes jitter noise and "thus eliminates the need for expensive phase-lock loops or voltage-controlled oscillators, further reducing overall system cost and making mainstream universal DVD players a reality." Cirrus Logic says that the new DACs include Switched Capacitor techniques, Multi-Bit Delta Sigma Modulator architecture, and Dynamic Element Matching, which work together to "substantially reduce both noise and signal distortion compared with traditional 1-bit DAC designs."

Ritchie states that "One of the audio manufacturers' biggest headaches is how to lay out the complex analog circuits to minimize jitter noise. Thanks to our new DAC, this headache is gone. The manufacturer no longer needs to worry about jitter noise and the complex analog design associated with reducing it."

Cirrus Logic demonstrated the new Crystal DACs at the Audio Engineering Society Convention in New York City last week. The CS4391 is expected to be available to manufacturers by late September, with the CS4397 SuperDAC expected to hit their test benches in December.