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February 03, 2007 07:24PM
Do any of you have an SACD player? I'm interested in opions on the sound quality of the SACD format.

February 03, 2007 10:35PM
The cost means you're up in the area of diminishing returns. However, if you feel you have a golden ear and you have the extra cash and you feel there are enough titles to sate you, it's likely worth it.

Regular CDs are still based on the Red Book standard released by Phillips in 1980. This standard means that almost all CDs with the "Compact Disc Digital Audio" logo use Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) and have these specs:
16-bit audio (each binary set consists of a string of 16 1s and 0s) at
44,100 samples per second
This is commonly referred to as the "16/44 standard".
44,100hz sampling allows for a frequency response of 1-22,050hz, well beyond the range of human hearing.*
Although the standard is 27 years old now, huge improvements in the D/A converters as well as error detection have been made in just the past 10 years - D/A (digital to analog) converters take the digital information and convert it to analog to be used by the amplifier; this is the technology you pay for when you purchase a new CD deck.

The point of SACD ("super" audio CD, also developed by Phillips/Sony) was to give the format a 20-year update and expand on the Red Book limitations. Consumers, however, balked; mainly due to the instant cheapness of the Digital Versatile Disc.

The specs on SACD speak for themselves with a sampling rate of 2.8224 MHz (64 times as many samples as CD!). The dynamic range of SACD is at 104 db (compared to a sensitivity of 96db for CD, 80db for vinyl and 60db for cassette). Because it deals with the high frequencies differently, it does not need to use a brick-wall filter to eliminate the ultra-high end (like both CD and DVD) leaving more accuracy beyond about 15k, depending on the D/A converter in the deck. SACD also achieves a signal-to-noise ratio of 120db. Though this is an excellent spec, we can't physically hear the difference in most specs (nobody complains about the SNR in any digital technology). You can talk all day about technology and easily forget the chief factor: biological limitations.

Because they do not use PCM technology (the format uses DSM; delta/sigma) it only needs 1 bit to transfer the information with the other bits being used for other purposes such as extra channels, 5.1 surround sound, error detection, etc. The capability of SACD, therefore, is obvious. However, not all titles sound that much better on this 7-year-old format, due in part to lack of consumer support (just like CDs mastered in the 80s - engineers have to learn to take advantage of the format and think in SACD terms, as it's not the dominant format). Those with good ears and $1000 speakers (built and tested for audiophile situations connected to a low-distortion amp) will hear the difference. Most people will simply claim they hear a difference to justify their expenditure, just like they claim re:MP3s. I find I can hear a difference on certain titles but this is juxtaposed with the experience of hearing a stereo that it is not one I am accustomed to with a color experience that is therefore not a base standard.

Probably doesn't help you, but, it's really a question of "toy money", innit? I.E., the technology is pretty cool. For me, I'd have to listen to nothing but Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead to justify the expense; probably a bad idea.

What I tell everybody:
If you spend more than 1 hour per day online, your next investment is a pro sound card. Almost no computers come with a sound card that doesn't sound like absolute shite. Most expensive ones are designed for gaming. Get a good one designed for music and hook an amp and speakers to it. Voila. You now own a digital music workstation that sounds better than your stereo.

*In theory. Some of that range is used for the placement of filters. Nonetheless, nobody past the age of 35 tests with hearing beyond the 18k range anyway. It's worth noting that self-styled "audiophiles" who complain the loudest about compression or this/that spec are the first to fail a double-blind test in a sound lab.

Post Edited (02-04-07 08:53)
February 04, 2007 12:08AM
Thank you for your thorough explanation of the technical standards of the SACD, Paganizer. I appreciate it. I bought a few of the hybrid CD's a few years ago because they sound good on a standard Redbook CD player. I was considering buying an SACD player about three or four years ago, when there was still a buzz about them in the electronics industry, but I noticed that most current CD's weren't then, and aren't now, being released in the SACD format. The SACD's that I bought were remasters of old albums by Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. One of the things that would make it interesting, as a format, would be to hear the music in 5.1 surround sound. I don't know if the titles I own have multi-track mixes on them or not. Some of the early Stones CD's are actually in mono under the standard format. If the SACD mix is different, I won't know until I listen to them on an SACD player. It seems that it would be a waste of time and money to remaster a mono album and market it as a hybrid.
February 04, 2007 12:40AM
Not just a waste of time; a complete scam. To fully utilize SACD technology, you have to start with the actual source recording. This means the title had to be released 2001 or later. The only reason the Dylan and Stones titles are on SACD is to please the market profile of the deck buyers. It's not like Andrew Loog Oldham or Stan Tonkel were sitting there saying, "Now let's make sure everything we do is forward compatibile!". Titles such as these have to be remastered for SACD from existing source tapes. With processing and memory storage so cheap now, newer/retrofitted studios can sample at bit streams up to 32 with super high frequency responses and dynamic ranges (and sample rates a thousand times beyond what's audible). Though this gets mastered at 16/44, there are absolutely no discernible (or scientific, even) limitations at that level. That's what you want for SACD but it butts heads with market realities. It's not like everybody buying the new Justin Timberlake or Ghost Dog Killah is using the format and it's not like I can step out and get Meat Puppets II on SACD.

edit::re:what you said about 5.1 - Interesting, agreed. With music, it strikes me as a construct premise, since it's, to some extent, a retrofit of a pre-existing stereo imaging, but, yeah it's a fun toy for an evening and some listeners would really like it. It's best for movies.

For comparison, recall when CDs were young (1980s) and many titles sounded like shite. People were quick to blame the format and point out limitations (many unfounded). Turns out the limitations existed at the engineers desk. There was a learning curve involving what worked great in an AAA setting and what sounded clipped, compressed, or distorted in an ADD or AAD setting (over-use of compression being what makes things "sound 80s" in many cases). SACD is in a similar infancy but unfortunately it does not have the economic setting that CDs had in 1987. (Betamax was a much better format than VCR...)

Probably sounds like I'm heavy-handed on SACD. For all I know, you wife said, here's a grand, honey, go buy some toys. If that's the case...!

Reminds me of:
Yesterday I was in a TV shop and got into a tech discussion with the guy about digital vs. analog. It was enjoyable because it was a conversation from 1991. He was convinced that digital audio can never sound as good as analog. Even sillier, he was talking about consumer vinyl versus current 16/44 CDA technology. I pointed out that all current vinyl has entered a digital stream at some point but he was adamant that he could tell the difference between an LP on vinyl and the same LP as released on consumer CD. I said "I would hope so!" The convo then turned toward a double-blind test. Now, this guy was in his 60s. Somebody with perfect hearing can not hear the difference between a vinyl record and a copy of that record on DAT. It was the same old argument from 80s mythology: digital music is unnatural because it is only a series of samples of what's really there (this argument uses only a rudimentary understanding of digital technology and always assumes that Red Book represents all existing digital audio applications). It's perfectly fine to prefer analog on vinyl (I do!) but what you're preferring is analog artifacts, distortion throughout the spectrum particularly mid-range distortion ("warmth"), and a low-end masked by rumble. In no way does it prove format superiority and it argues against accuracy. It's a comfort level thang: you don't see people under the age of 30 arguing for analog because their ears have a different comfort level than those raised on analog>analog>vinyl.
People listen to music for different reasons but would we all agree that "enjoyment" is prime? Cassette tape is enjoyable and can comfortably reproduce music on my Nakamichi...

Post Edited (02-04-07 10:29)
Re: SACD, PC Sound
February 04, 2007 01:10AM
Just a few examples of great audio technology for the PC:

Turtle Beach Products
On looking into it, I see that Turtle Beach doesn't offer the level of product they once did (2 low-end soundcards?). Looks like they are going into laptop stuff (a good fix for that) and their soundcards will still beat the crap out of the SoundBlaster shite made for gaming.

Best Stuff:
Echo Labs Products (the Mia is great for home PC applications).
The Digital Audio brand

I use and have great results with M-Audio stuff. In particular, their cards. This one, I recommend. I've used it with excellent results and the price of this technology has fallen to $129!. It's well worth it and virtually everyone capable of reading this already has the drives that surpass these specs yet are not utilizing them due to crappy sound card/speakers. This one likely cost less than some of your stereo components yet can support the production of studio-quality demos, let alone home playback. These units are cost-efficient because they have no rack mounts or break-out boxes making them no less convenient for connection to a home-use receiver/amp.

Hard to believe, I know, but quality sound is not a large market anymore. The vast public care about gaming and portability. I-pods sell because they're a new-tech gadget, not because these people are flocking to TP. There's simply no incentive for a PC manufacturer to supply an audio card capable of rendering quality (or even passable) digital audio. With where we're at right now, with audio and music, the end-user has to add the additional component, just as you would with your regular stereo, which shouldn't be separate from your computer anyway, cuz, how would you rip vinyl?

NP:confused smileypoonfed Hybrid

Post Edited (02-04-07 02:00)
Re: SACD, PC Sound
March 05, 2007 04:51PM
and yet you wonder why there are no wimmin here....................
February 05, 2007 07:53PM
When you say a recording has to have been made after 2001, are you saying that a true SACD mix cannot be made from a multi-track tape recorded before 2001? I get the feeling that the format is dead because I see very few titles in SACD, as well as zero public interest in it.
February 05, 2007 09:44PM
I have a couple disc in the DVD-A format, it does produce a clearer sound and also as noted above a 5.1 surround format. Mind you i have a very good audio system for home and my car can play the format. Neither format is really popular and the selection is limited expecially in alternative music..

February 06, 2007 12:20AM
I wonder if the reason either format hasn't taken off is due to lack of promotion in the electronis industry or something else.
March 03, 2007 01:39AM
Speaking as a non-techie, my take on SACD is that it's a mixed bag. Some SACD's are really well done, some are not. With a good SACD, you get a really warm vinyl-type sound with really crisp low end. A good SACD sounds great no matter how loud you play it. A bad SACD gets really trebly at high volume. I would only recommend SACD if you live in a home where you can play music really loud, otherwise you can't hear much difference at a low volume.

The good:
The Rolling Stones reissues
Elton John - Madman Across The Water
Derek & The Dominos - Layla

The bad:
The Byrds - Greatest Hits
Bob Dylan - Highway 61 (basically all the Sony
Big Star - #1 record
March 04, 2007 05:38PM
Tom, do any of the SACD's you have playback in multi-channel mixes, or are they still two-track stereo? I have some of the SACD's you have but play them back on a normal stereo CD player. They sound fine in that format. I have never heard SACD on a proper SACD player. I read on an audio website that some of the SACD players have been withdrawn from the market. I also see few new SACD titles coming available. Those that are being released are mostly classical discs. Most other music formats are only being released in the redbook stereo CD format. I suspect that SACD might be stillborn.
March 06, 2007 04:49PM
I only have a stereo setup, so I haven't heard it in multi format. And you're right, SACD might be going the way of the dodo.
March 06, 2007 06:33PM

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