The triumph of mid-fi

Isn't it ironic that companies like Sony and their products were distained as "mid-fi" by audiophiles just a few years ago but today we seem to be falling all over ourselves to get their SACD players while the vast majority of so-called "high-end" manufacturers have yet to produce anything like this. Comments?
The people at Sony, Phillips etc have the budgets to develop all kinds of new technologies, i.e cd's
I think the role of the high end isn't to develop new formats or technologies but really to improve upon them. Meridian I think is the obvious exception though, they have been heavily involved with the development of DVD-a.
I agree with Vik.

Sony and Phillips are HUGE companies with mega R&D budgets. These companies want to dominate the mass market (where the money is), and even certain high end markets. Just because Sony does not necessarilly make a world class preamp or amp does NOT mean that they could not if they put their mind's/R&D departments to the task.

Heck, Sony is a seriously dominating force in the high end video industry. Do you think it is harder to produce high end video than it is to produce high end audio?

Small or even not so small hi end audio companies can crank out great amps, preamps, speakers, and even digital, and some even make DVD players. However, many of the parts in their CDPs and DVD players could (most likely) very well be made by Sony or Phillips (like the transport). Most companies do not make their own transports and are at the mercy of the huge audio companies (like Sony, Phillips, or Pioneer etc.) for their transports. I have even heard of an audio company who made CDPs shutting down because they were unable to get the transports for their CDPs anymore.

High end companies are competing againt each other for your (our) money by building the best sounding equipment they can, whether within a budget or trying to build the best possible. They are motivated to give us better sound so that we will buy from them, and poeple that do buy demand better sound, so there is the market for real quality.
Sony, in particular, has a different market, as you well know, and has enough resources to actually create markets, and it should be obvious that they are, and have, created markets that they can dominate. While they obviously have the capital to create the finest possible, not trying to compete with another for state of the art is actually better for they're purposes because other companies are contributing to they're purposes. In addition, and perhaps a bigger reason, is that high end makers don't take enough of a market away from Sony.
It is also now in almost 2003 obvious that it is not a nessesity to create something that has better sound in order to create and/or dominate a market. It just has to be thought that it is better. If it had to be better, it would be. Cd's were at least good enough that the majority of people with the majority of record players and tape decks got improvments. Not enough were interested in updating they're equipment to actually find out if it was worthwhile and to most people convenience and accessability is more important, so long as the sound is sufficient. Where poeple tend to take sound quality for granted, Sony and others will take advantage where it benifits them.
One thing I hate is that these large corporations are essentially dictating to the consumer which formats their favorite artists will be recording on. So if you want to hear your favorite music on your system then obviously you have to buy the CD, or DVD-A, or SACD (according to the contract of the recording artist).

Heck, they're not even designing the best format they can design. It's all about marketing and the touted virtues of these respective formats is nothing more than hype and a clever marketing tool. I admire David Chesky for having the guts to use the best of what is available to provide a better high performance format and then supply recordings in that format. That's a very bold move for any small company and I wish it would catch on, because technically it's probably the best digital format available to the consumer. And I am in no way associated with Chesky nor am I set up to use his format at present. His selection of recordings is unfortunately too limited due to the fact that his is a small company. But if Sony, Phillips, and the big guns got behind Chesky's format, I'd buy into that in a minute. Either that or go back to high performance reel to reel tape, which beats our present digital formats soundly in many sonic parameters that I personally value. You've never heard high-frequency "air" unless you've experienced it on a great vintage reel to reel deck. Even my state-of-the-art vinyl playback cannot match good tape reproduction in that regard.

After all these years, it seems we haven't made much progress -- unless low noise and instant track access are among your highest priorities in audio playback. Too bad!
Rmueller raises a good point. If it takes big bucks to do SACD or DVD-A, what's stopping some high end manufacturers from forming a joint venture or a consortium? Lazy? Distrustful? Not motivated enough since they are selling plenty of high end redbook based stuff? I don't know. But the best right now is coming from the mid-fi's -- at least according to all the comments I've been reading here on the Gon about digital equipment.
Ozfly, the main problem is that even if most of the smaller and mid sized hi end manufacturers banded together, they really have little insintive in developing a new medium. Nothing compared to the insintive that Sony has... Sony controls all aspects of of music/album production from the creation of albums to sales of those albums to what Lo-fi and Mid-fi America uses for playback. This amazing control is borderline monopoly. Developing new standards that they patent allows them to earn amazing ammounts of money by 1-Allowing others to use the standard for the patent fee, 2-the ability to sell the new standard with their existing catelog of music that they own, 3-the ability to sell the recording equipment needed to record and decode the standard.

#2 (above paragraph) is HUGE, and most hi fi manufacturers know NOTHING of this business. It also allows them to have instant software for a standard that they come up with.

This would be the hurdle that would be insurmountable for hi fi manufacturers to overcome. I do not think it would be that hard to come up with a new digital starndard, the problem would be getting ANYONE to accept it. Why should companies like Sony and Phillips accept a standard that they make no money on?

It is the companies that record the music that will develop new standards, and not the companies that sell the products that play the music.

Thanks Tok. I may not have been very clear though. You are absolutely right that a new standard could not be easily established by any but the mighty. However, why can't a consortium of high end companies do a better job with SACD and/or DVD-A than Sony or Philips are doing? After all, the Panasonics of the world don't rule high end redbook reproduction. What are they waiting for? Is it illegal to improve on their designs? Again, sorry for any confusion in my earlier phrasing and thanks for the response.
Ozfly: The high end is a pretty small market, and only a subset of that has embraced either of these formats. Given that, it's not surprising that smaller companies are sticking to the sidelines for now. There just isn't a big enough market for them. If it appeared that one or the other format was going to go mainstream, then I suspect you'd see a lot more action. But not until.
I don't agree that the SACD market is too small for high end manufacturers.Consider some of the other products they sell.How big a market can there for a $10,000 turntable like the Walker Procinium or other such high end items? Surely they could sell more high quality SACD players at $1000 - $5000?
You also have to remember that the name of the game is to sell audio or electronic equipment, don't forget that.
The manufacturers need to sell gear to stay open, and that means that they need to balance the R&D decisions and Advertising money as well as other product launch/revision money.

When any company large or small undergoes the idea of making a new product or model, they are going to look at the demand for that product. If the demand is small than they will not spend a lot of R&D money on a product even if they know they can improve it because if they cannot sell to a large segment of consumers than they are inherently wasting money that could have been spent on product they are selling well.

Unfortunately in the end the number of boxes moved HAS to be an important part of the equation no matter how good of a product you can build.

The large companies are going to spend money in areas have growth potential, a large target market, or in an area where they feel they can be the dominate player. Examples of these categories are Plasma, camcorder, DVD, memory card product/Hard disk product.
I think the high-end audio companies are taking back the high-ground vis-a-vis SACD 'as we speak'. There is the Lindemann, which is already here and from what I have read bests the SACD efforts by Sony and Marantz. Audio Aero has announced their new SACD player (in Europe). I expect quite a few SACD players to be announced on this side of the water at CES next week. I expect them all to be better than the current slate of players.

That said, it has indeed taken awhile for these players to come out, IMHO because of licensing issues, the newness of the formats, and the engineering challenge of having to support BOTH CD and DVD at state-of-the-art levels (and perhaps adding DVD on top of that as well) in one player.

For major manufacturers such as Sony these days, the major markets seem to be for DVD video (replacing VCRs), home theater sub-sat systems, and laptop PCs. Walk into a Circuit City or Best Buy store some time and watch what audio equipment the customers carry out the door; for the most part, it's not two-channel stereo. Walk into a CompUSA computer store and you'll see Sony products, and multimedia sat-sub speakers, but no high-quality audio equipment. It's a comment on Sony's market share that they've had sufficient depth of resources to be able to afford developing SACD for what is, at most, a niche market for them. The equipment at the top end of Sony's line is quite good. Could high-end audio manufacturers find ways to improve upon Sony's best? Probably so. Has a large enough catalog of SACD recordings developed to support a consumer market for SACD players sufficient to attract a number of equipment manufacturers, including high-end firms, to develop and market new models to compete with major multinational firms such as Sony? Thus far, the answer seems to be that a market for such products exists, but it's a relatively small one. If you can find a higher quality SACD player than Sony, and have the money to afford buying it, by all means do so. When you're enjoying it, though, just remember that you would probably never have seen this format if Sony hadn't decided to commit their financial resources to developing both the equipment and a market for it. I don't work for Sony, or own any Sony stock. I'm just pointing out that audio equipment companies are part of a multinational industry which primarily rewards economies of scale in manufacturing large quantities of the things that the majority of consumers like to spend their money on, rather than small quantities of higher-quality goods for specialized luxury markets. Whether for good or ill, that's just the way the world is. Wishing things otherwise won't make them so.
Hi-end hardware is one thing...but we all know that newer hi-rez formats will be decided by the general public...not the hi-end audio crowd...and so far they have spoken...SACD and DVD-a are both busts....and not need a very good system to hear the improved benefits....and for the majority....sacd or dvd-a is just not the quantum leap cd was 20 yrs ago....
In reviewing the discussion on this thread (which I initiated) to date, it seems like most audiophiles concede that the general public determines what will be available in the audio world and unless high end formats like SACD are adopted by this general public, they will not be viable.

I find this viewpoint to be curious in light of the fact that manufacturers of high-end, esoteric gear with absolutely no appeal to the masses, have flourished for years. This proves that there is a viable "high end" market and not everything needs to be reduced to mass market quality to be economically viable.

I think the issue at this point is that Sony wants to recapture the dominance it had with the CD patent (which is expiring) through the SACD standard, and companies are reluctant to relinquish a new standard to them for the price they are demanding. On the one hand, I don't blame them, but audio quality will suffer if we don't make some higher resolution format economically viable.

I, for one, am willing to pay more than standard CD prices for a format that produces sound more like analog but I'm also dangerously close to throwing in the towel and just going back to vinyl if we don't start seeing some high end audio companies begin to produce SACD compatible players
I just saw a report yesterday that CD sales were down another 8%. With CD sales slipping every year to interenet downloads, I think it is crazy to think that a new media format that is more expensive than CD has any chance. If they want to succeed they need to have SACD and DVDA the same price as CD's. The industry is heading towards in home music servers, satellite radio, massive media storage on a recordable memory device such as memory stick by sony or SD by Panasonic. I am heading to CES tomorrow, but I have already heard about some new products from people who are already there. And so far big companies are pushing for 2 way product integration. Units that all talk to each other. Imagine how cool it would be to own one massive music server or mega disc changer, and be able to use it in every room of your house.
One more thing, to the people that think you need a really good system to hear the difference in SACD or DVDA over CD. You are wrong. Go to any store Tweeter, Best Buy, Circuit, wherever and bring a cd and a SACD or DVDA of the same recording. Use the SACD player with the SACD materil first, listen to that and then leave everything the same including the volume, and put a regular CD in the player the sound is tremendously different.
If you have never done this then do not say there is no difference or a slight difference. You need to do that test in that order to make a far judgement.
And to prove it I have done this in many stores using all kinds of gear.

I have also done this in a 12 volt system in a car. I played Fleetwood mack on a DVDA and then took the DVDA out and put the CD in the same player volume level the same, and you can deffinetly hear a big difference. Panasonic makes a DVDA player for the car that also plays DVD, and CD