fast forward: Face the music

The hi-fi market is about to be shaken up by the arrival of two successors to the CD - but which, if any, should you buy?
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ust when you thought it was safe to venture into the hi-fi market, along comes another format - or two - to complicate things. Sony has recently launched Super Audio CD (SACD), hailing it as the next generation in audio reproduction. Meanwhile, DVD-Audio, which offers similar claims, is due on these shores in the New Year. Both offer unprecedented sound quality for consumer products - although, for the moment, they are very expensive. Though popular wisdom claims that CD is perfect, critics have argued that recordings tend to be dry and sterile, losing some of the information retained by vinyl. It is this spine-tingling sensation that SACD and DVD- Audio offer - every detail can be heard. They can also deliver full surround sound, a feature that is increasingly relevant as more living rooms adopt home-cinema systems.

This could of course leave the consumer with another format dilemma and the confusing scenario of choosing from three different discs when shopping for the latest release. However, a repeat of the format wars of the past should be avoided, as it is mainly a matter of adding extra chips to allow one machine to play another format, and many machines will be able to play both new formats as well as normal CDs.

Pioneer DV-AX10

This machine does the lot. It's a DVD-Audio/DVD-Video player but it can also play CDs and SACDs. DVD-Audio belongs to the same family as DVD-Video, and it is likely that movie players which also play the new audio discs will soon become available. Aside from offering better sound quality than CD, DVD-Audio has the advantage of interactive features such as album notes, lyrics, biographies and artist photographs which can be viewed on a TV screen. Pioneer DV-AX10 DVD-Audio/DVD-Video player, pounds 3,500, available from May 2000. For stockists call 01753 789500.

Sony SCD-777ES

Sony's initial SACD players will be aimed at the top end of the audiophile market, but it has plans for cheaper machines and will ensure that its DVD products will also be SACD-compatible. Other manufacturers also have plans in the pipeline for universal players. As a successor to CD, SACD uses superior recording technology which captures the original sound source in all its glory - Sony claims sound reproduction is "infinitesimally" close to the original. Some SACD discs can be played on standard CD players. Sony SCD-777ES Super Audio CD player, pounds 1,700. For information and stockists call 0990 111999. n

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