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Will new audio formats drown out the CD?

US recording industry gives Super Audio CD, DVD Audio a big push

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Buying music these days is like staking your entertainment dollar to one in a circle of fast-spinning tops: Several similar-looking formats appear poised to replace the standard compact disc. So how to tell which is the "best" – and, more important, which will be the last to fall?

Millions of CD recordings are sold in the US each year – about 882 million in 2001 alone. But consumers' interest in the reigning audio format is flagging. Last year, sales fell for the first time since 1983.

The drop-off did not go unnoticed by music stores, which reduced their CD orders by 7 percent during the first half of this year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

The group attributes the decline to technology-savvy consumers who now "rip" (download) songs from the Internet or "burn" copies using a computer or CD recorder.

One result: Music companies are scrambling to find a more secure alternative to the CD.

The pitch to consumers, many of them feeling quite comfortable with the standard discs they now have: New, protected formats also offer richer sound.

"The [standard] compact disc is a format that has come to the end of its run," says Jerry Del Colliano, publisher of Audio Revolution, an audio-video industry magazine.

Two new music formats are considered likely successors. Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD Audio (DVD-A), say most experts, offer big improvements in sound quality over standard CDs (depending in part on the quality of the rest of a listener's audio system, and even the types of music he or she favors).

Both technologies also offer copy-protection as a standard feature. Only some CDs are now locked against duplication.

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