It’s the time of year for saving money!
Let me start this post with a shout-out to my old friend and first client, David Del Grosso. He was the cult of personality behind DTS and DTS Entertainment. He was the loudest voice supporting music in surround sound and more along with the likes of John Kellogg (Dolby), David Kowakami (SACD) and Bob Stuart (Meridian and MLP). He was also the first, paying advertiser on AudioRevolution.com (to someday become AVRev.com and then to be sold by your’s truly on 2/29/08 to Internet Brands) without him who knows what AV publishing would have been. David was the guy who made Boyz II Men, Marvin Gaye and Queen into award winning surround sound. He had a bold vision. A vision that the music industry in the mid to late 1990s simply wouldn’t listen to.
They should have.
David’s vision was to kill the Compact Disc in place of the ever-present DVD-Video disc. Note: this was at a time when DVD-Audio (MLP, video content, surround sound and much of the hope of the audiophile world) was locked in. SACD, one of Sony’s historical worst ideas, was locked in on a non-video format that was doomed from its concept for anyone other than the most hardcore of audiophiles. Both of these massively failed formats required a) a new disc player (think: about $1,000). b) a new preamp or receiver (think: anywhere from $1,000 to $7,500 depending on your system) c) possibly many channels of amplification (think: God-knows how much cost) and d) upwards of nine audio and video cables (think: $100 at a minimum cost and upwards of many thousands of dollars of cost depending on your audiophile cable needs-wants-desires).
David pointed out that at the time, upwards of 90 percent of the people in the United States had a DVD-Video player and its two-cable solution already in place. Only VHS had more market penetration. While Dolby’s surround sound option offered a pretty “lossy” 10:1 compression – DTS offered a nearly “lossless” (not as good as MLP’s “lossless” option but…) 3:1 compression. DTS could fit a 20 to 24 bit stereo audio track on a DVD-Video disc but that wasn’t all. They could also stuff a 3:1 compression (nearly lossless) 5.1 or 7.1 mix. They could have offered music videos, band interviews, photo slide shows and more. This was a disc with far more value than any Compact Disc ever to be sold to date decades later and at far higher prices.
SACD was always a joke – then and today. DSD was a killer concept in recording theory but most meaningful music was (and is) recorded on consoles that aren’t pure DSD thus negating the benefits of DSD playback. SACD additionally had no video playback in a world filled with DVD movies, X-Box, PS-3, satellite TV and more. It was a relic and a mistake before it was launched.
David’s concept was first and foremost to sell music at a fair price. Legacy discs would sell for $9.99 and new music would sell for $13.99 per disc. Consumers would get high resolution music, video supplementals and so much more for their lower spend per disc. SACD couldn’t compete.
So what was the problem? The remaining major music labels at the time (four total) were scared shitless of conflicts of interest and collusion. They couldn’t have an honest conversation among Baby Boomer, unfortunate pony-tail wearing douche-bag executives. The result was that they literally wrecked a nearly $38,000,000,000 industry circa the mid-1990s for something that today represents about $8,000,000,000 in U.S. sales. Congrats gents. You suck.
The audiophile industry would have boomed if mainstream consumers bought audio in meaningful ways like they did at the time with movies. How much longer would have the Virgin Mega Stores and Tower Records would have stayed viable if people were buying music in 5.1 or 7.1 for both their homes and cars? The answer is: a LOT longer. How much innovation and growth would have come in the audiophile business if music in surround sound was paired with movies in DVD-Video? Plenty.
The classic audiophile neuroses over fine details over the big picture won out again and with no winner whatsoever leaving us today with 70-year-olds waxing poetic about the “warmth” (translate as: gross 2nd degree harmonic distortion) and “ritual” (translate to: move on from smoking a dube an playing side one of DSOTM) about vinyl for one more circle around the drain of audio relevance. The future is clearly a discless one. The future of audio is one that embraces digital files that can for $20 for any good-souled audiophile can reproduce the sound on a master tape (analog or digital) with near 100 percent accuracy. The future is: for the price of about one over-priced Compact Disc that today’s music lover and-or audio enthusiast can get nearly every album ever recorded for $20 per month streaming (in many cases in High Res MQA) to their DAC. The sad reality is that we could have been 98 percent of the way there 20 years ago.
David, you were right!