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January 05, 2009
Discovering SACD with the Denon 1940 DVD
The key point however is that aside from the attractions of otherwise of multichannel audio reproduction, a really fine SACD, of which I have many in my personal collection, has a quality that can be profoundly, moving, that can truly cause the hairs on the back of the neck to rise. For anyone who loves the sound of music, rather than being interested only in the rate at which cash registers ring, this is an absolutely peerless attribute, and the day they lay SACD to rest - if it happens - will be a black one for music lovers, and for the recorded music industry, whose priorities in recent years have become increasingly muddled. (Alvin Gold AV Review)
My old Denon DVD player finally broke down just before Xmas. As I only use it for playing back films on a Sony CRT set I was after something which had some basic build quality but I wasn't after anything special. CD replay is through a TEAC VDRS 10 driving a TAG McLaren DAC both of which I had got ex-demo for under £1,000 for both. The combination gives fine quality replay.
For a DVD I quickly decided upon another Denon the 1940 which had received some good reviews. I hadn't realised it was half-price. This is clearly because of the onset of BluRay. Not only does it have component video output - which matched my Ixos cable - but it plays SACDs. I did have a couple of hybrids to test out and quickly ordered some more. I was amazed at how good the reproduction was. The sound was fresh and lively as well as revealing plenty of detail. I haven't carried out a comparison between the SACD and CD layers but I have heard enough to recognise just how good SACD can be.At £126-00 this has turned out to be a revelatory bargain. This Wikipedia entry on SACD is very informative on the more technical issues.
Why SACD didn't take off
The key problem for SACD seems to have been the format war with DVD-Audio. With CD there came into existence a universal replay system which worked anywhere in the world. Consumers were assured that their investments in both hardware and software would be protcted for a considerable length of time. Few people wanted a replay of the VHS / Betamax fiasco where the inferior system gained the market. Certainly I was one of those people. With a relativly large investment in CD replay equipment a low risk strategy seemed sensible especially as very few discs were coming out on SACD. A sceptical comment in a 2006 review of a high end Marantz player said a lot:
A $6,000 2006 Marantz SACD Player
Has Surround Sound Capability Confused the Marketplace?
I held off from the new format for years, until recently I realised that I should just go for a stereo only SACD player (a Sony XB940 off eBay fitted the bill) and not worry about surround. I don
't doubt that having the extra channels may be a nice-to-have, but since classical recordings are always "in front of the players" all you 're going to get from the back is mainly ambience, something you will also have from the front. (From the Gramophone Forum)
I think this is a good point. For those struggling to gradually upgrade expensive stereo systems were often horrified by the potential extra costs which would be to go multi-channel whilst keping the required quality, plus the issue that one's CDS wouldn't benefit from all this potential spending. Certainly I have no intrst in going multi-channel at present.
Who is Producing SACDs?
As far as I can tell the companies which decided to make a long-term investment in the necssary recording equipment have been small dedicated recording companies like the Swedish based BIS. The Wikipedia article comments that the vast majority of SACD releases have been classical, followed by Jazz and acoustic music.Companies like Linn are producing replay equipment as well as its own record label. Tghhere is problem that many music lovers are very sceptical about th high cost of entry into the realm of SACD as this article from the online Musical Pointers shows.
One big advantage of SACDs which are not Hybrids is the normous amount of musical data which can be stored. BIS, for example, has the Complete Organ Works of Bach on a 5 SACD set.
Now is a Good Time to Enter the Market
With the onset of Bluray which can playback SACD there are some good bargains coming up as manufacturers are licensing the Blueray system. The format war has been won and the market will be driven by films. My Denon DVD-1940 at £126-00 is a bargain with the SACD being a fortuitous accident:
The Denon DVD 1940 with SACD Playback
Rearview of the Denon 1940. The component video outputs can clearly be seen
Currently the machine is available from Hi-Fix mail order part of Frank Harvey Hi-Fi
I won't be buying a straight CD player again once the TEAC VDRS 10 gives up the ghost - mind you its built like a tank!
Here is a recent discussion thread from Gramophone Magazine on whether there is a Fading Future for SACD
An enthusiastic Gramophone forum on SACD reissues from RCA
A technical explanation on the SACD recording process from Sound on Sound