CNet brings the news that Sony Music is experimenting with a new twist on the CD format called the Blu-Spec CD, so named because the masters are made by cutting the discs with a blue laser (like Blu-Ray discs), and not an infra-red one as is customary; the change in lasers apparently results in a more accurate digital signal being transmitted. Will audiophiles be convinced to drop an extra dime on these discs (which, apparently, can be played the CD player you own right now—well, if you haven’t gone all-digital yet, that is) because of their purported higher quality? More on this new format from a site about CDs and the Playstation 3:
While this is surely an interesting method to improve sound quality, we must note that Blu-spec CD is not really a new format but a new technique applied to an existing format — CD. It’s applied to one specific step of the whole CD making process, namely the cutting of the physical CD master. It competes with other attempts at establishing new standards for making CDs…
[big list of each label's highest-quality formats here]
And above all, of course, it competes with Super Audio CD for the affection and money of consumers interested in superior sound quality. As you can see from the above overview, all of these approaches relate to different parts of the creation and manufacturing process, so there seems to be no technical objection why all of these couldn’t be combined into an ultimate single high-quality carrier. That could be an RBCD but we suggest is be a hybrid SACD. Where DSD-CD, HDCD, XRCD and Blu-spec CD can create a better CD layer, we think use of a blue laser could also make a yet finer SACD layer (typically recorded using a red laser) while the more transparent ‘super high material’ of SHM-CD and the special silver alloy coating of HQCD would make a better disc overall.
The objections are not even political but of course of financial nature. These various process improvements are surely patented and the record companies plan to license them to others, perhaps even each other. Now if only they could get their act together, agree on a cross-licensing agreement and create this ultimate carrier. We’re not going to speculate about the name this should take (SHM-DSD-XR-HD-SA-CD anyone?) but of course, we are pessimistic this will happen. More likely in music shops selling physical media, already facing difficult times (not only the brick & mortar stores but probably also the online retailers) you’re going to see separate racks for XRCDs, SHM-CDs, HDCDs, Blu-Spec CDs and SACDs next to the regular CDs.
Sadly, the consumer will not have much choice other than between the original CD and one of these new formats: as these are ‘proprietary’ formats, you’re not going to see a single album released in multiple formats. If this were to happen, inventory/stocking problems would get even worse.
Just in case you wanted to relive the HD-DVD/Blu-Ray wars of last year, the music industry is more than happy to help! Awesome. Some 60 titles from Sony Music’s back catalog are available on Blu-Spec in Japan. You may not be surprised to learn that they’re more expensive than their plain old counterparts; Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, for example, is 2,500 yen (about $26) on Blu-Spec, while a plain CD copy is 1,653 yen (around $17.50, marked down from 1,785 yen / $19). I’d think that in these troubled economic times, items with a ~50% markup over their vanilla counterparts wouldn’t be attractive to even the most die-hard snobs, but I guess Sony wants to prove that I’m wrong.