from http://www.indystar.com/print/articles/7/040172-2847-P.html Super CD Sony's Indiana plant to start producing 15,000 new enhanced-audio CDs a day By Chris O'Malley firstname.lastname@example.org May 3, 2003 TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Sony Disc Manufacturing next week will launch the first U.S. production of the "hybrid super audio compact disc," which backers say is to sound quality what the original CD was to vinyl records. This new generation of the 4-year-old SACD format -- coveted by audiophiles but still not a mass-market medium -- is compatible with conventional CD players. When used in specially equipped players it provides a richer sound and can play six separate channels of music rather than just stereo -- taking advantage of newer home theater systems. The discs are the most significant and "dramatic technological leap" since Digital Audio Disc Corp. manufactured its first CD -- Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" -- here in the early 1980s, said Mike Mitchell, general manager and executive vice president of the Sony-owned plant. It's the latest format launched at the sprawling facility, which on Friday observed its 20th anniversary. Gov. Frank O'Bannon hailed its longevity and adaptability despite rapidly changing playback formats through the years. The plant once made mini-CDs and laserdiscs. The former failed to catch on in the states, and the latter fell to the superiority of the DVD -- now the plant's biggest product at 1.1 million stamped out daily. O'Bannon said the 1,000-plus-employee plant is the kind of advanced manufacturing operation that Indiana needs to attract. Until now, Sony has been making its hybrid SACDs in Japan. The first hybrid SACD produces at Terre Haute next week will be a compilation of Bob Dylan songs and will be released this summer. Music retailers say the discs could spawn a re-launch of existing albums that have better sound quality and dramatic multichannel effects. Retailers of audio equipment hope hybrid SACD will rekindle sales, which have taken a back seat to advances in video, such as high-definition and plasma television sets. "This is kind of like high- definition music. . . . This is the first chance audio has really had to shine," said Tom Mincy, a senior executive of Indianapolis electronics chain Ovation. Production of the hybrid discs in Terre Haute next week, initially at 15,000 a day, will be the latest volley in a war with backers of a rival format: DVD audio discs. Warner Music Group, Panasonic and Toshiba are among the prime backers of DVD audio, squaring off against Sony Music and its various labels, including Columbia Records. Experts say it's hard to say which format will win in the end -- if either. Both might co-exist because a number of manufacturers, including Denon and Pioneer, make players that can handle both formats. One key advantage to both formats is dramatic improvement in storage capacity, or density. A standard CD holds 650 megabytes of information while a DVD stores about 17 gigabytes. The hybrid SACD technology, developed jointly by Sony and Philips Electronics, stores 650 mb on its CD layer and 4.7 gigabytes on its high-density layer. But its technological cat's meow is in the high rate at which it samples a musical signal: 2.8 million times a second, or 64 times faster than a CD. Hybrid SACD is compatible with CD players because it incorporates a top layer encoded like an ordinary CD. But to get the multichannel effect, the SACD disc must be played on a multichannel SACD player that's wired to a receiver or pre-amp with six-channel or "5.1" inputs. That includes most moderately priced home theater systems manufactured in the past three years. The price of a multichannel SACD player starts around $400. Denon and Pioneer make SACD players that also are compatible with DVD audio, starting at less than $500. Ovation's Mincy popped in a SACD disc of James Taylor's decades-old album "JT." In the song "Terra Nova," Taylor's voice comes prominently from the center channel speaker. At one point, Carly Simon sings a round: her voice eerily circling around the room on front and rear speakers. "You see how much bigger the acoustic space is?" Mincy asked. Audio engineers can remix just about any modern album in such a way, taking artistic license by pulling out a certain instrument, for example, and assigning it a particular speaker. Put enough microphones around a concert hall and multi-channel SACD could even allow a listener to select a particular listening position -- from the balcony or from row G. "There's an incredible difference listening in three dimensions," said Bob Woods, president of Telarc International. The record company known for classical music has released 62 albums on SACD so far, including Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." It's not clear whether SACD or DVD audio will kill the venerable CD at all. The quaint optical disc has had a rebirth of sorts with the advent of recordable CDs. And some music fans are more taken with the convenience of downloading music from the Internet rather than quality of the sound, said Ryan Jones, a senior analyst at Yankee Group in Boston. Sony is betting millions of dollars that audio superiority of SACD will prevail, just as CD sound trumped records and cassettes. "This," said Marc Finer, director of Communication Research in Pittsburgh, "is much more of a pure music medium." Call Star reporter Chris O'Malley at 1-317-444-6081. Plant milestones • 1984: first compact discs produced. • 1986: first CD-ROMs. • 1988: digital audio tape (DAT). • 1991: LaserDisc production (until 1998). • 1992: mini-CDs (until 1998). • 1995: Sony Play-Station software. • 1997: digital video discs (DVD). • 1999: super audio compact discs. • 2000: Sony PlayStation 2 software. • 2003 (May): production of "hybrid" super audio compact discs.