article last updated on 6.5.2002
is Super Audio Compact Disc?
Super Audio Compact Disc (Super Audio CD or SACD
for short) is a new, revolutionary audio format that promises
high-resolution audio in either two-channel stereo or multi-channel
audio. Multi-channel audio means up to six full-frequency,
discrete channels of
music are supported.
The audio quality is suppose to far surpass that of the audio
Compact Disc (CD) format, with unsurpassed frequency response, sonic
transparency, and more analog-like in terms music reproduction.
As much promise as the SACD format holds, the technology is still
very new and has not gained "mainstream" status yet.
As of June 2002, there are about 650 SACD music titles
available worldwide (including 450 titles in the United States).
An Entirely New Approach to Digital
Invented by Sony and
Super Audio CD is based on an entirely new digital audio technology called
Direct Stream Digital (DSD). Completely unlike
code modulation (PCM) technology used for audio CD, DVD-Video, and
DVD-Audio, DSD technology is based on a 1-bit sample at very high
sampling rates of up to 2,822,400 samples per second. That's 64
faster than the audio CD standard of 44,100 times per second! The
resulting digital bitstream more closely resembles the analog source
signal that is being encoded. The implication of this claim is that DSD will be
able to better reproduce the original analog audio signal.
Stream Digital (DSD) example
(picture courtesy of Sony)
Audio CD disc itself looks like an audio CD or DVD disc. But the
basic SACD disc closer resembles a DVD in terms of physical
characteristics and data capacity. The single layer SACD disc has a
single high density layer for the high resolution stereo and/or
multi-channel DSD recording. A dual layer SACD disc has two high
density layers for longer play times of either stereo or multi-channel DSD
recording. Finally, there is a hybrid SACD disc that features a high
density layer for the stereo and/or multi-channel DSD recording, and a CD
layer that makes the disc looks like a regular audio CD disc to a CD
player or CD-ROM drive. This hybrid SACD disc allows the disc to be
played back on any of the one billion CD playback equipment worldwide. Of
course, the CD layer would only reproduce CD-quality stereo sound and not
the high resolution multi-channel capable DSD track of the high density
types of Super Audio CD discs
(picture courtesy of Telarc)
When present, the hybrid CD layer allows playback in any CD
player. This means if you buy your favorite album as a hybrid SACD
title (assuming that it's available), you would be able to play it back in your car's CD player, your office's CD player,
your stereo system's CD player, or your computer/laptop's CD-ROM
drive. Realize though that not all SACD titles are produced with
the hybrid CD layer option, since they're significantly more expensive
to make. Those that feature the hybrid CD
layer construction are clearly marked as "Hybrid SACD" or
"compatible with all CD players".
As far as the Super Audio CD players are concerned, all SACD players are
able to play back regular audio CDs, so when you buy a SACD player,
you'll be able to play your current CD collection as well.
SACD Music Titles
are currently over 650 SACD
music titles, including nearly over multi-channel SACD music titles, available worldwide as of
2002. This number will continue to grow exponentially
especially with Universal Music Group's
plan to begin releasing some music to the SACD format starting
summer of 2002. Universal joins Sony
Music, and a number of other smaller audiophile labels such
as Telarc, DMP, and Chesky.
release SACD music titles as hybrid
SACD discs so even conventional CD players can playback the CD
hybrid layer, while SACD players can playback the high resolution
DSD recording on the SACD layer. This allows you to buy one
disc and play it in any CD or SACD player, allowing you to take your
music with you wherever you go... in your car, in the office, to the
The first SACD
players and SACD discs were stereo-only and made their debut in 1999.
SACD technology were marketed exclusively to audiophiles since the prices
of the first SACD players were very expensive. The cheapest unit was
well over $1,500 and most players were in the $3,500-$5,000 price
range. In the spring of 2000, Sony and Philips introduced
multi-channel audio as an enhancement to the SACD format.
Multi-channel SACD recordings were released, along with the first
multi-channel SACD players. Now (in March 2002), you can buy an entry-level multi-channel SACD player
SCD-CE775) for about $200 (and even lower with this
discount from Crutchfield).
Sony SCD-CE775 Super Audio CD 5-disc changer ($200)
(click on image to enlarge,
picture courtesy of Crutchfield)
Serious audio enthusiasts and audiophiles
may want to consider the more expensive and higher performance SACD
players in order to reap more of the
improved sonic performance that SACD has to offer. High performance
SACD players can now be had for as little as $800. State-of-the-art
SACD players still sell in the thousands of dollars, like the reference
Sony SCD-XA777ES SACD player ($3000).
Sony SCD-XA777ES reference Super Audio CD player ($3,000)
(click on image to enlarge,
picture courtesy of Crutchfield)
If you do decide to buy a SACD player now, be sure
to look for multi-channel capable SACD player. The multi-channel SACD players will playback both stereo and multi-channel SACDs. The older
stereo-only models will not reproduce the multi-channel DSD
recordings as found on some of the newer multi-channel SACD music titles.
Even if you don't have a home theater or a multi-channel home audio system
now, a multi-channel SACD player will allow you make the upgrade to the awesome
experience of multi-channel audio later when you're ready.
One way to buy into the SACD format now is
to buy one of the combination SACD/DVD-Video players. These units
play both DVD-Video and multi-channel/stereo SACDs. Even if the SACD
format were to lose in favor of the DVD-Audio
format, you would still at least have a solid DVD-Video player. Sony
makes the DVP-NS500V
single-disc SACD/DVD-Video player and the DVP-NC650V
5-disc SACD/DVD-Video changer, and they currently sell for a mere $40 to
$70 premium over a comparably-equipped DVD-Video only player.
There are a few "universal" players promising
DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, CD, CD-R, and CD-RW playback. Among them
is the Apex AD-7701 that goes for only
Pioneer Elite recently introduced (in March 2002) its upscale
DV-47A universal player with progressive scan DVD-Video for $1000.
Elite DV-47A "universal" DVD-Video/Audio
and multi-channel/stereo SACD player ($1,000)
(click on image to enlarge,
picture courtesy of Pioneer)
What Else Do You Need for SACD Playback?
For stereo DSD playback, all you need is your stereo-capable audio
system (stereo receiver and a pair of loudspeakers) with a pair of
analog stereo inputs.
multi-channel DSD playback, it gets a little tricky. First, you'll
need a multi-channel capable SACD player. (Remember that a
SACD player cannot playback the multi-channel DSD recording of
multi-channel SACD discs.) Second, you will need a
5.1-channel receiver or pre-amplifier with 5.1-channel analog audio inputs
and an "analog direct" mode. The 5.1-channel
analog audio inputs are required to pass the multi-channel audio signals
from the SACD player to the receiver/pre-amplifier. Due to
copyright protection issues, there is currently no digital audio connection
implemented like that for movie soundtracks. The "analog
direct" mode allows the analog audio signals to pass without any
additional analog-to-digital (A/D) and digital-to-analog (D/A)
conversions in the receiver or pre-amplifier. Any A/D and D/A conversions
in the receiver or pre-amplifier only degrade the pristine high
signal coming out of the SACD player.
SACD Player Right For You Now?
With competition (if you want to call it that) from
the DVD-Audio camp, does it make sense for you to buy into the
Super Audio CD format now? Well, that's a tough question, and only you can
answer. Everyone's desires, budget, timetable, and expectations are
different, so it's hard to generalize. Understandably, most
people would want to keep on the sidelines until a clear winner of the
SACD vs. DVD-Audio format war emerges. That perspective assumes
that only one format will survive. Even if it were the case, it
could take years before we see signs of a clear winner.
In all honesty, we would like to see both formats co-exist, very much
like the support for both Dolby Digital
surround sound formats in virtually every DVD-Video player. If you
share this perspective, or if you want to hedge your bets, then you
should consider one of the few "universal"
players like the Apex AD-7701
and the Pioneer
DV-47A that we mentioned above.
These "universal" players promise multi-channel/stereo SACD,
DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, CD, CD-R, and CD-RW compatibility and is a safe
"buy forward" investment.
you find this SACD Overview helpful? Let us know your
thoughts, send an e-mail to us at Staff@TimeForDVD.com.
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