Fly in the SACD Ointment?

Yesterday, I almost got tears in my eyes going through the new audiophile format bin at Tower Records in New York. Spotting some old favourites in the SACD section, I was blissfully imagining throwing my CD player out my 17th story window and sitting down at a new system enjoying the best of analog AND digital. Then, it hit me -- even in the good old days, when I when I wouldn't dream of listening until I had Nitty Grittied my records, carefully cleaned the stylus, adjusted VTA, switched off the phone and dimmed the lights -- A LOT OF RECORDS STILL SOUNDED PRETTY BAD. Not nearly as bad (or as often) as a bad CD, but still pretty bad and ultimately unsatisfying which is what lead to my neurosis with this hobby and a never ending quest for great recordings in addition to great gear. So I am wondering -- maybe a $5000 SACD player and a new collection of software at $25 each is just going to take me back to bad analogue?!?!? Or is Sheffield Labs going to painstakingly remaster every title in the SACD catalogue? Has anyone thought about this or is there some magic to SACD that makes it all worthwhile, nonetheless. Maybe bad "analogue" without background noise and with greater dynamic range is still pretty special, but I really don't want to listen to Mannheim Steamroller in any format. Thanks for your thoughts.
Yhank you, yes I agree.
Maybe when some NEW stuff that I want to listen to!!! is out on SACD, then I'll start thinking about a player...
CW, splendid thoughts as usual. They make my hair stand on end but you may well be right and hence we will never get out of this rut. Being steamrolled by Mannheim again, no matter in what format, is hardly a pleasant prospective. So I suggest we take it all philosophically and hope for pleasant surprises all the same.
There's plenty to complain about Sony's roll out of SACD software, but the above comments (particularly Cwlondon's) are overstated. I too recently came across the SACD/DVD display at the Chicago Tower Records. The display had nearly the entire non-classical Sony catalog as well as the Chesky discs. Rather than see the Tower display as a problem, I see it as an advance in the public visibility and, hopefully, acceptance of hi-resolution audio formats. For the most part, Sony is re-releasing the old "warhorses" in SACD. I truly understand why many would think this is a problem, but then again, that's exactly how Red Book CDs and later, DVDs were initially marketed.

BTW, I purchased my SACD player for less than $1k (new) and the price of SACD disc is no different than what I was paying for new vinyl releases. Obviously, I see the glass as half-full.
I agree with Onhwy61 about being encouraged by the appearance of SACD in a more prominent place at Tower. A few months ago, it was with the minidiscs in the pop section at Tower here in NY, virtually out of sight. As far as Cwlondon's point, I've said it before, SACD (and 24/96, for that matter) gets you closer to the master tape, but be careful what you wish for, because some of those master tapes don't sound so great. As new recordings get made in these formats, this will be less of a concern, but you should be cautious about some of the re-releases. For example, I didn't realize that Billy Joel's "The Stranger", an album I've always liked, was cut at as hot a level as the SACD revealed. Now part of the difference is in the resolving power of my system now vs. then, but it's still clear that SACD has revealed more than I want to hear. But it has also revealed to me just how good the Bruno Walter series of recordings for Columbia are. So for now, a mixed blessing, but I prefer to look at it as the start of something which will be significantly better in the future.
CW, you are on to something here. Take Carole King's Tapestry as an example. Her voice was not recorded too well to begin with. On the album and CD that was audible. On the SACD, well, it becomes sort of the new characteristic of the record I wish I'd never heard. Take New World Symphony (Dvorzak) by New York Philharmonic, conducted by Bernstein... There IS more detail I can hear in the SACD version, but the tape hissssssssssssssss never seems to end througout the disc. Somehow, it is more engaging musically but the hisssssssssssss puts a damper on it. This seems to be the case with many of the re-releases Sony has done. I bought Meatloaf's Bat out of Hell... I never liked it sonically on vinyl or CD, cause I always felt it was missing something. Well let me tell you, it misses something on SACD too. Still a cool album, but still misses something sonically.

On a brighter note, Mozart's Piano Concierto No. 20, also on Sony, in my opinion just is plain great. It has also got it's issues, but the performance on SACD is just so much more engaging! De piano IS THERE!! My favorite disc right this minute is Dave Bruebeck's 40th Anniversary Tour of the UK, a Telarc live recording in DSD. It is open, dynamic, full and has one of the lowest noise floors I have heard yet on SACD. The dynamics, IMO a trademark of Telarc discs, the nice balanced soundstage and the musicality are amazing. As this is a disc that will play in normal and SACD machines, it makes for a good test and comparison disc when checking out new stuff.

Look, stuff that was poorly recorded will always sound bad. I am just hoping that telarc and co will push SACD to the limit and make the best of it. It has potential.

I remember searching for good vinyl and CD recordings, and today I search for good SACD recordings.

In almost every case the Sony SACDs sound better than their CD counterparts.

However, to truly experience the benefit of SACD, the master should be in DSD. Telarc, FIM, GrooveNote, Red Rose, and a handful of record labels are selling DSD/SACD recordings and sonically are superior to the Sony releases. However, some of the performances fall short. For example, Jacintha's Autumn Leaves is great sonically, but I listen to Carole King or the Bangles Greatest Hits more.

Sony is beginning to release new DSD/SACD material. I'm not sure if the master is DSD, but this week I understand that Sony is released CD and SACD versions of Train's Drops of Jupiter. Soon to follow is something new from Offspring and Aerosmith's most recent recording.

Like the move from 78 to 33, 33 to CD, VHS to DVD, etc. it takes time to build a library.

I've had my SACD player for 3 months. Today, I listened one of my favorate DVD-videos, Fleetwood Mac's The Dance. It was the first time I listened to it since I bought my SACD player. It sounded flat, fuzzy and grainy. SACD has spoiled me.
Perhaps we need to rethink where a new technology might go and (maybe opening a can of worms) how to measure it..(from a music lover point of view)..
If we expect to have current music we love that was recorded quite a while ago to sound way better just to a new technology that was not available when the music was recorded, it might be our wish but the source material puts a cap on what could be achieved....
On the other hand if the material is taken with new technology all the way, thereĀ“s the chance that we might get the best performance achievable by present day technologies.....
the issue might be that we might be looking for something that is not already there and we do praise and like better reproduction of our favorite music time and consumers judgment will eventually define the long term fate..
So it's a tricky situation how to make a new thing being favoured by us the customers based on old source material?
This is not a statement but an opening of thought that has wandered in my mind for quite a time...
What do you think?
Makes sense to me Sol: I have been listening to some recordings tonight on CD "The Tiny Powell Gospel Collection" that were originaly recorded in 1949 and 1950 and had to take it to the mini system to make it listenable.
Guessing the future of SACD has about the same positive predictive value as picking the Stanley Cup winner in the first round of the playoffs. Too many variables and entropy to make anything but an educated guess. In real estate, it's location, location, location. In audiophilia, it seems to be source, source,source. High level, highly resolving systems and front ends are a double edged sword, bringing out the best in a good source and revealing a poor source for what it is.We spend a lot of money and effort to essentially put together a system that stays out of the way as much as possible, and let the recording through as unencumbered as possible. This has proven rewarding and painful. Some 50 y/o recordings on vinyl sound spectacular, some brand new CD's sound like crap. SACD is an attempt to get the listener a step closer to the source, and it stands to reason that, well, garbage in/garbage out. I hope, as noted above, that Sony, Telarc et al put out DSD recorded SACD's, they do indeed seem to sound better than many of the PCM based recordings. But some of the older recordings, obviously done right, re-released on SACD, such as the Walter Columbia recordings mentioned by Rcprince, are astounding sonically, as are many others. Much better than CD (IMOP), and arguably as good/better than vinyl. The fly in the ointment is real, and appears to have been hatched from the original source, and to somehow blame and discount the technology is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If the goal is to get closer to the live recording, SACD is perhaps a step in the right direction of building a better fly trap.
All very interesting comments and makes me enjoy my vinyl that much more.
Remember when CDs first came out? They were only analog recordings "AAD". Then a while later the big hype was All digital "DDD". Well the same has to happen to SACD and it might even take less time than before.
Jkoestner, I think you're right, although I'm certainly hoping that DSD doesn't sound as bad as those early DDD recordings did! Actually, there are a lot of great analog recordings out there which could sound equally great on SACD, there just aren't that many of them, at least for classical, in the Sony/Columbia/CBS catalog. Mes, excellent post; actually, there is at least one pcm based (I think) SACD that sounds stunning, the Delos recording of the Mahler 2, which seems from the literature to be a 20-bit recording but is clearly better than the good sounding CD version, and the Sony Goldberg Variations (the Perihia version) is a 24-bit pcm master that sounds very good on SACD as well. Seems to me the higher bit pcm recordings can translate well to SACD, although the all-DSD recordings I've heard from Telarc and Lyrinx make me hope that more DSD machines will become available and utilized.
I've been an audiophile for about 30 years and have tried
basically all the major specialty record labels. I've come
to the conclusion that most of the music I really don't care
for too much and the recordings are unnatural at best. Along the way I've also collected a lot of Christian Contempory music much of which is incredibly well recorded. In fact, over the last 18 months I've hosted a number of club type events and no one can believe it. I've never seen any of my CD(s) ever reviewed in Absolute Sound or Stereophile and yet in direct comparisons the Christian CD(s) consistently blows the Popular CD(s) away. Better yet, if you have kids, positive material is flowing into their minds instead of this steady stream of remorse and regret. Check it out in all the major music clubs.
steady stream of
i've already replicated in redbook cd format most of my favorite lp's. for the nonce, i've no plans to do the same with sacd, should the choice ever become real.

i waited almost 3 years after the introduction of the cd format to buy my first player (a mission dad-?). the novelty of a more-or-less silent background enticed me just enough to purchase a handful of cd's at the "salons" that first had them available. none of those discs, none, sounded as good as its vinyl counterpart. i abandoned the cd format altogether for roughly seven years, clinging to the magic of analogue as more and more "record shops" emptied their display cases of 12 inch platters and replaced em' with those silly long boxes that would fit the abandoned bins.

in 1995, i grew tired of chasing down the elusive new releases on vinyl and bought my first true highend cd player, an accuphase dp-65. while that player was several orders of magnitude better than anything else i'd heard before, it still couldn't beat the sound from my turntable. but, now i could actually buy every new release available, just like in the days when lp's were the medium of choice. i've gone through another 3 cd setups since owning the dp-65 and now possess what i feel is one of the best combo's available. my cd collection has grown like jack's beanstalk. and i'm content....... well, perhaps not entirely.

i've been listening to the 2 box accuphase sacd combo (dp-100/dc-101) for nearly 2 years now in my good friend's sound room and elsewhere. i like it, but i've not been swept off my feet. certainly not to the extent of $28k. lately, tho, i've heard some of the handful of dsd recordings available. now i begin to understand how reviewers of the system, as in the latest tas, pronounce it BETTER than the best vinyl.

still, after reading all the posts to my thread on "the age of uncertainty" and continuing the contemplation of my navel, i'm not ready to hop on the sacd bandwagon. i will when i can no longer get the new releases on redbook or when the prices of the cd/sacd formats reach congruence. the only thing that might push me to move more quickly to the side of sacd would be american gramophone's realease of a dsd box set by the label's most famous "artistes." 'course, this is just my opinion, FWIW. -kelly
I have more LPs than CDs and about 30 SACDs. I only have 3 CDs that I also have in LP. Right now, have have no SACD duplication. However, I'm thinking about buying the SACD Abraxas album. That ironically is one I have in LP and CD.

Getting a SACD player doesn't mean you need to get rid of your old software.

That said since I bought my 9000ES in December, about 75% of my music listening is SACD. In my car and PC, close to 33% of my listening is the CD layer of SACD discs. I've only bought one DVD since December--Fantasia.
IMO, we have yet to exhaust the sound quality available in the current format...check out Mighty Sam McClain or Ernie Watts on JVC's most excellent xrcd format! There is no subsitute for top-notch recording, mastering & manufacturing, regardless of format!
Oh, I forgot to add the best part...NO new/special gear required to take advantage of xrcd!
Hedgehog, When do you upgrade. CD will not last forever. No format ever does.

Why continue to build a library that's nearing the end of its popularity? Do you have any 8-tracks?

BTW, you can buy two Sam McClain SACDs which also play on CD. I own one. I would like to compare the quality of the CD layer against an xrcd.

In my opinion, it's better to move to the new format early rather than continue to buy CDs that you will not be pleased with after you move to hi-rez--be it SACD or DVD-A.
Won't it all come down to the recording label and how meticulous they are in recording the music? I'm willing to trash (or trade-in) all of my 80's CDs except three: Michael Hedges Aerial Boundaries (Windham Hill), Genesis Trick of the Tail, and Dire Straits Brothers in Arms (one of the first DDD discs). Those still give me goose bumps. when I listen to them.
Some labels will be like Telarc or the old Windham Hill catalog and just have great sound, no matter what the format.
You are correct, will still boil down to the artists' and/or labels' commitment to the whole process, from recording to manufacture...regardless of the format. Very few labels have even taken advantage of the HDCD possibilities, so I wonder when/if any serious commitment will be made to SACD and/or DVD-A.

Tommart, you propose an interesting experiment...xrcd vs. SACD vs. well-recorded/mastered digital (Telarc). Sam McClain is available in all 3 "formats". Since you have a SACD player, how about you conduct the experiment and let us know the results. Check out Ernie Watts' "Classic Moods" on xrcd!
I own the Audioquest Sam McClain SACD, not the Telarc. I also hate duplication. I own more LPs than CDs and have only about 3 CDs that I also own the LP. I own about 30 SACDs, and none are duplicates with my CD or LP collection. However, I'm thinking about buying the Abraxas SACD, and I own both the LP and CD. I still have about 10 more SACDs on my "to buy" list, before I buy Abraxas.

Therefore I would not be interested in buying a $20+ xrcd and $20+ SACD of the same recording--just to see. I've already made my choice--high resolution, extended frequency SACD. I'll buy CDs when the price is right (under $6) and 96/24. Someday, I plan to have a Universal SACD/DVD-A player, and will buy some DVD-a's. I own 3 DVD-As already to test two DVD-A players. I returned both players. I think DVD-A can be good, but not on some of the mid-fi DVD players that it's now on.
Tommart, was the Denon DVD-3300 one of the units you tried? I was thinking of getting one just for DVD-A in the short term. Also, have you heard of any universal DVD-A,SACD,and CD machines in development or on the market?
I borrowed the Sony 777es and a stack of SACD's and found that the SACD's varied from barely better than the original cd to absolutely extraordinary. The Red Rose demo cd and Telarc demo cd demonstrate the potential for the medium when combined with DSD recording techniques and the liquidity, continuousness, detail, life were all staggering. But as I have discovered painfully upon returning from a great day of purchasing old used LP's, some old stereo LP's are recorded wonderfully and some are real stinkers too.

For me the biggest format question is no longer whether SACD will take off, nor whether it has the potential to be a huge improvement, but whether the recording engineers will bother to optimize the sound quality.
I have an LP frontend, which manages very well to separate the music from the noise. Much of my LP playback, inspite of excellent highs, is practically silent. That said, you can perhaps understand that I was never really taken in, even by the better recorded CD's, though I utilised a rather ambitious playback gear. I borrowed a well broken in Sony 777 this weekend and used the special high frequency output setting with good effect on my stators. For ic, I used a MIT Spectral 350. I was amazed at the resolving powers of the Sony and SACD. Even with bad recordings, it resolved the inner melodious and rythmic web of music down to fairly tiny details, in a way I had never heard from CD's, but was accustomed to from the better vinyl recordings. Also depth and with of the soundstage, the delineation of individual instruments was excellent, though here my CD playback isn't a slouch either. And yes, as Rcprince has pointed out, finally I could enjoy the Bruno Walter recordings, where SACD definitely betters the old LP's, which partially were plain awful. So from my very first experience, I would spontaneously say, that SACD is better then the rb cd, but hardly better than vinyl. I shall have to do direct comparisons to find out more. What I somehow did not like in many SACD recordings was the hiss, which more often than not in LP playback is just not there, also the blackness between notes, though obviously much liked by some, though not as bad as with CD's, is something which I find unnatural and disturbing. So I suppose, I will remain a LP freak, but I'm thinking of buying the 777. Cheers,