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ENHANCED SOUND PUMPS LIFE INTO MUSIC BIZ.

Byline: Dan Stets Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire

Computers are coming alive with the sound of music.

Those machines no longer just beep and burp - or trumpet - when turned on and off.

High-quality stereo sound is becoming an integral part of the computing experience, thanks to the advent of advanced sound cards and sophisticated speakers.

Music is increasingly being used to enhance games, but also is leading to a whole new genre of multimedia products with video and music.

``People just flip when they see images on the computer and hear sounds on the computer. That is not how they have used a computer,'' said Liz Heller, senior vice president of new media at Capitol Records Inc.

It may be a bit early to start hyping the advances in sound, but users are beginning to discover their computers have startling new capabilities.

Software and hardware manufacturers are preparing for a future in which computers will be high-power entertainment centers using full-motion video - not that grainy and jerky stuff seen on most computers now - and sound systems rivaling some of the best home stereo systems.

Users seem to be learning about these new capabilities almost by accident.

For instance, Tom Waldrop, a gregarious spokesman for Intel Corp., said he had not suspected that his new home computer would play music so well.

``I'm listening to audio CDs I've had sitting around unopened for six months,'' said Waldrop, who bought a desktop machine powered by a 133-MHz Pentium processor and equipped with Altec Lansing speakers. He now plays music as he works with Quicken, the popular personal finance software.

This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by recording companies, which are hoping computers will help reverse a recent drop in music sales. Unit sales of recorded music fell 1 percent last year, the first year in a decade to see a decline.

Music CDs had enjoyed an annual growth rate of more than 20 percent since their introduction in the early 1980s. The Recording Industry Association of America blamed competition from computer games and on-line entertainment - the Internet and commercial on-line services - for last year's decline.

But Heller of Capitol Records said the music industry is now looking to the computer to be the instrument of its salvation.

``It is a new boon for the music business,'' she said. ``That's the theory, that's the hope.''

The recording business is hoping to capitalize on the new multimedia computers with the sale of enhanced CDs. These are compact discs that play music in a conventional stereo system, but will also run videos, display text and play music when popped into the CD-ROM drive of a computer.

Capitol's first major entry in the new marketplace is an enhanced CD of the song ``Burning Down the House,'' featuring singer Bonnie Raitt. The CD features lyrics of Raitt's songs, interviews, plus videos of a live concert.

More traditional software companies, such as Graphix Zone, have been producing CD-ROMs that rely heavily on the music of well-known artists and the sound capabilities of computers.

For example, the company has an interactive CD-ROM featuring Bob Dylan's ``Highway 61 Revisited'' album. It promises ``an interactive experience in the virtual world of the legendary singer.'' Naturally, the music makes it work, though these discs can be played only in a computer. The company says it is going to start producing enhanced CDs that will run in either the computer or a regular music CD player.

On a new multimedia computer system, the Raitt enhanced CD delivers sound equal to that of a decent home stereo system, while the video quality is good but still below the quality of television or a VCR, an indication that the sound component of multimedia has advanced ahead of the video.

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Photo

Photo: Bonnie Raitt belts out ``Burning Down the House'' th rough surround sound speakers via CD-ROM. The disc also includes interviews.

Knight-Ridder Tribune Photo Service
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 6, 1996
Words:651
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