Sony Super Audio CD Player

TOKYO (06/15/2000) - If you thought recorded music couldn't get any better than CD, prepare to think again. Two competing formats, Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD Audio, are about to battle it out for space in your living room.

The SACD is already on the market, with six machines available from five different companies. DVD Audio, meanwhile, is expected some time late this year or early next year. DVD Audio was delayed by demands for a stronger copyright protection system, after the recent hacking of the DVD Video format.

Until now, the bad news about SACD has been that pricing has been fairly restrictive. The top-of-the-line model will set you back a whopping US$7,000, and you won't get much change out of US$2,500 if you buy the cheapest of the players.

But that's all about to change.

Sony's new SCD-XB9 Super Audio CD player is the first on the market to be priced at less than $1,000. The machine, which hit the streets of Japan last weekend, retails for 80,000 yen ($750). That's still a pretty expensive addition to a home audio system, but its a price that puts the system within the reach of a much greater number of people.

The player accepts both conventional Compact Discs or SACDs, of which there are currently around 180 titles available worldwide. Titles are largely classical and jazz, although some pop discs, including Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, have also been released.

The format was developed by Sony and Philips Electronics to satisfy demand for a higher-quality audio than CD can offer, and for a medium that can produce more faithfully the "warm" sound offered by analog recordings, where music is not compressed or filtered.

The disc can hold 74 minutes of six-channel audio and uses a system called Direct Stream Digital (DSD) where an analog waveform is converted to a one-bit digital signal and directly recorded on the disc, bypassing the filtering and PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) used on CDs.

This journalist, who admits to being somewhat skeptical of the improvements possible over a CD and by no means an audiophile, was impressed by the new machine and format -- SACD delivers a noticeably better sound than conventional CD under good conditions.

It remains to be seen how pricing for DVD Audio will shape up when that format makes its way into shops. If it's as competitive as the recent SACD players, you may find it takes a long time to choose your next sound system.

Manufacturer: Sony Corp.

Model Name: SCD-XB9 (Japan); SCD-XB940 (Europe)Price: 80,000 yen (Japan); around 1,000 euros (Europe)Availability: Now in Japan and Europe. Launch details for the rest of the world are still not decidedWeb Site:

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