It seems that the record label industry has gone “format-happy”. Perhaps “format-crazy” is a more appropriate term. The introduction of all of the new audio formats has left us at Toronto HiFi scratching our heads. Most consumers are also confused and have not even heard about these new formats. We demanded some answers and found the perfect person to get them from.
In a recent sit down with Doug Lexa, Sales Manager for DTS Entertainment, we got the latest scoop on all current music formats and where DTS fits into the picture. You could say Lexa comes from the old school of the music industry. He has many years of experience from being an avid music fan, all the way to founding and growing various successful independent record labels. Dressed casually in jeans, a blazer and pair of sneakers, Lexa is a down to earth kind of guy that was happy to share his insights and views on the current audio formats with us.
We began by talking about the state of the music industry as a whole. The music industry is in the process of reinventing itself. The advent of the mp3 format along with broadband Internet access has sent tremors through what was once a stable business model for record labels. Today, record labels are faced with the challenge of providing additional value to music lovers so that they pay for music as oppose to downloading it for free.
Initially the record companies focused their attention on shutting down music downloading entirely and struck an early blow with their success against Napster, the first popular music sharing service. Unfortunately for them, peer-to-peer sharing services popped up all over the Internet right after Napster was shut down and quickly proved to be impossible to stop. That’s when the record companies joined the online revolution and began selling music on the Internet.
The other side of the coin is providing added value in the optical disc medium. Sony targeted audiophiles with their SACD format which was followed by the high-resolution DVD-Audio format supported by several major electronics manufacturers. Both also offer multi-channel playback and DVD-Audio offers extra content as well. Of course in order to enjoy multi-channel audio, you need five or more speakers plus a subwoofer. Unfortunately, neither format has enjoyed much mainstream success. And it’s really unfortunate because multi-channel, high-resolution music has incredible potential for all music fans, not just audiophiles. It is a three-dimensional musical experience that you have to hear to believe, rather than just listening to two channel music. So why have these formats seen only moderate success?
For starters, the lack of a unified format has made things difficult. SACDs require a DVD player with built-in SACD decoders, while DVD-Audio requires its own decoders. Even though DVD-Audio discs will play in almost any DVD player it doesn’t mean you’ll be hearing the high resolution audio track – what you will hear is video-quality audio. Confused yet? Probably. That’s exactly why most people can’t be bothered to wade through this mess. So you’ll either need a stand alone SACD player, a newer DVD player that is DVD-Audio capable or a universal player. You’ll also need to pick up some analog audio cables since both formats output their signals only through analog outputs. So getting into SACD and DVD-Audio can be expensive. A lack of selection of music in both formats is also not helping. The majority of the music released so far consists of older albums re-mastered in the new formats.
However there is hope for high-resolution, multi-channel audio to go mainstream.
DTS Entertainment produces surround music in two formats that contain high-resolution DTS encoded multi-channel audio: DVD-Audio and DTS 5.1 music discs. DTS 5.1 music discs offer all of the benefits of SACD, while DVD-Audio offers high-resolution audio (24 bit with a sampling rate of 96 kHz in 5.1), multi-channel playback and video content, as well as other value added features such as artist bios, photo galleries, lyrics, etc. Unlike the other two formats, DTS 5.1 music discs don’t require any new equipment to play. The DTS signal is sent through a DVD player’s digital output (either coaxial or optical) to the receiver. If your audio equipment is properly set up to play DTS movie soundtracks, you’re ready to listen to music encoded in DTS. No extra cables are required either. As was previously mentioned, DVD-Audio discs can also be played back by DVD players that do not have DVD-Audio decoding – they just won’t play in DVD-Audio mode. As stated by Lexa, DTS is taking steps to merchandise and market all DTS releases as surround music discs. This will help alleviate the confusion of the numerous formats for the consumer. A DTS surround music disc will simply play in any DTS capable DVD player. For a complete catalogue of surround music discs check out the DTS website at www.dtsonline.com.
What’s the future of surround music discs? Lexa believes that what will really get the ball rolling for surround music are artists that write and produce music with surround in mind. Music written specifically for this format can take full advantage of it. Clearly, this makes a lot more sense than turning older recordings into surround mixes. Older albums were never intended to be listened to in surround. Lexa is also encouraging more artists that appeal to younger generations to release their new music on surround music discs. Surround music discs come in all flavors from classical music to rock, hip hop and electronica. Another important factor in expanding surround music to the masses is the inclusion of DTS-capable players in cars, says Lexa. Many people listen to music mostly in their cars and majority of cars produced today come with at least four speakers. In fact, some car manufacturers already offer surround capable systems as an option in their cars.
The most important advantage that DTS surround music has, is that it doesn’t require any additional equipment – any DTS-capable system will do. As long as new content keeps coming, the road for surround music discs has already been paved.
If you haven’t experienced multi-channel music yet, you should definitely give it a try. It will give you a fresh and exciting perspective on music.