I'm totally confused about Hi Rez formats

I was hoping that somebody out there could help this two-channel audiophile make some sense out of the DVD-A and SACD formats. I was interested in exploring these hi resolutiuon formats, but was told by a salesman that the benefits of these formats are only achieved when used in multichannel setups. I went to the dealer under the impression that if one wished to, he or she could simply use such players as two channel digital front ends, and still obtain the benefit of the higher sampling rate and bit rate. I know of one high end player like the Marantz SA-11 that only has two channel analog outputs.

I was interested in testing the waters with a universal player, but I don't want to go nuts and spend thousands of dollars until I have a chance to experiment with the possibilities. Certainly, I have no use for the so-called high resolution formats unless I can truly obtain higher resolution in a two channel system. I am not interested in multichannel audio at the moment. Can somebody please explain things to me.

I can't speak directly about DVD-A but I *think* it is designed to be played in multi-channel. There may be a stereo only option but I'm not sure if all DVDA's have a stereo layer. SACD, on the other hand, has a stereo layer (always) with many discs also containing an optional multi-channel layer. These are two distict layers where the 2-channel and multi-channel are separate and mixed differently as opposed to the stereo simply being a "fold down" of the multi-channel mix. If you are primarily interested in 2-channel, you may want to be looking at SACD.
Rumor has it that Sony is about to stop or at least cut back on issuing new SACD software. There are other threads here discussing that aspect in detail.
The biggest problem vs. CD is that there isn't enough good 2 channel sacd software. As already mentioned, there may never be much good DVD-A 2 channel software.
The highest resolution format available today is vinyl, plain and simple. My suggestion for you is to sit on the sidelines of the digital battle, and upgrade your tt if you want the best 2 channel sound available today.
Even most of the SACD reviews alude to the fact that the vinyl versions are superior, and we know that the reviewers are under pressure to help encourage support of the new formats. At CES I saw little "hi-rez" being demoed. Either vinyl on top notch setups, or plain 'ole redbook CD. That should tell you something, too. Cheers,
Sbank is right. I would not bother getting into either sacd or dvd-a. The software, especially for dvd-a is limited and it is questionable whether either format will survive. But to answer your question, there are several universal players that will play both formats and cd. Denon for one, makes 2 or 3 models. Mstram is also correct on the 2 channel layer on sacd. Fewer dvda discs have a two channel format. With the dvda disc you are required to choose the format through the standard dvd setup when the disc is inserted. Denon, and probably most other universal player, allow you to set a preference format, 2 or multi-channel, for sacd discs. As for the salesman, personally I prefer 2 channel. For me it is more realistic. I also have a vinyl set-up and it is the most hi-rez as it is simply analog. No conversion back and forth. Hope this helps.
Thanks to all for the input. I am already using a reasonably decent vinyl rig (VPI HWmk4/SME309/Shelter 901), and Red Book CD (Levinson 37/360S) for my main system. My hope was to see what Hi Rez had to offer for a second system in my home. It seems that perhaps I ought to stick with Red Book for now and see what shakes out with the other formats.
Jan 26, 2005
I thoroughly disagree with the above. Dvdaudio and SACD in either two channel or multichannel are great. Dvdaudio is designed to be listened to in 5 channel only.
A player like the Denon 2910 for about $650 will give you outstanding video (with DVI output available)and ability to play regular cds and DVD-a and SACDs.
The clarity and dynamic range and ambience are a quantum leap above standard CD and vinyl in my opinion. I have a hi end Denon receiver (3805) and all vonSchweikert speakers.
Listen to Estaban's "Enter the Heart" or Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" in DVD audio and you will hear (and see) what I mean (dvdaudio also has visual material.) I don't buy regular CDs anymore. I have a nice turntable (MMF5) but hardly use it. I collect LPs mostly for their nostalgic value and album covers. I realize there are very devoted two channel fans out there but I don't share their view or auditory perception.
A well mixed Dvdaudio or 5.1 recording gives me goosebumps and that is waht this audio hobby is all about--the music and its excitement. Happy listening.
Hybrid discs are available and have both a redbook layer and SACD layer and in some instances a multichannel layer. The majority of hi-rez CD's I buy today are hybrids. They are playable on a standard redbook player as well as an SACD player. As you mention there are a few good quality universal players out there. Sony is far from the only label who produces SACD software. Simply go to Elusive Disc or Tower records and peruse ther sites. Also peruse past threads on AG concerning this subject there is alot of information out there. I can appreciate you folks who are into vinyl but I am staying in the digital domain.
Nothing to be confused about, 2 channel SACD is great and no cleaning nor snap, crackles and pops. However, like any format, the better the hardware, the better the end result.
Your dealers info.is incorrect also.
I could be wrong,but it sounds to me he is pulling you towards this area.
I was an early SACD adopter, bought more than 100 discs, haven't bought one in 6 months. 'Nuff said? I listen more to vinyl every day. Dave
I've been doing some reading up on the subject, but still have questions.

I just read the chapter in Robert Harley's "The Complete Guide to High End Audio" which describes the specifications of the two formats. He explains that SACD discs can be played in either two-channel OR six-channel modes. The SACD can (but is not required to) contain a second layer that can be read by standard Red Book CD players (so called, "hybrid" SACDs). Harley then goes on to describe the specifications for DVD-A. The DVD-A spec. calls for a disc that can contain 6-channel music along with a 2-channel mix on the same disc. Sampling rates can be as high as 192kHz with word lengths up to 24 bits. "DVD-A can support sampling rates of 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, and 192kHz, with word lengths between 16 and 24 bits, in one-bit increments." The highest sampling frequencies of 176.4kHz and 192kHz can only come in the two-channel discs. The record producer chooses the sampling rate and whether or not the disc contains multi-channel or two-channel (or both) mixes. Some DVD-A discs contain code ("Smart Content") that tells the player to downmix to two channel on the fly.

So what should I do? Do all players on the market, be they DVD-A, SACD, or universal allow you to hook 'em up with just two channels? Is there a lot of decent DVD-A software available with two-channel mixes? Do all DVD-A players and universal players allow "downmixing" to 2-channel if the DVD-A contains "Smart Content" coding? How does one know if a DVD-A disc contains a 2-channel mix or downmixing capability? Does the disc packaging tell you?

It sounds like all SACDs will work for me on a 2-channel system, whereas the DVD-A format is still up in the air. I would still like to consider a universal player if there is plenty of 2-channel software available.
Admittedly I'm a classical listener and that seems to be the area where the most SACD release activity is taking place, but I have around 400 SACDs and add 4-5 most months. In general I have been thoroughly delighted with the sound, and that's 2 channel only (I have a 4 channel ambiance/delay system from the late '80s which I love, and use in all formats). As a general rule SACD is far superior to CD sound, even with PCM to DSD conversion of redbook (of course there are exceptions) and I have no doubt SACD is here to stay, with or without SONY. DVD-A is another story: sonically it's fine, but it isn't really an audio-only format, different players have trouble with particular discs, Dual Disc is an absolute disaster, and the software release schedule is at best just a trickle. (In my wandering around to non-classical areas of the stores, it doesn't seem much different there.) Sure analogue at its best still delivers the most in many respects, but that still means that you're limited to what was available in 1980, or reissues of it, and there were a whole lot of sonic stinkers in the LP period too, which everybody conveniently forgets. The old "redbook is here to stay, and if you want good sound go listen to used LPs" story is just sticking your head in the sand. Or somewhere else.
Mstram: I believe all DVD-As can be played in 2-channel mode. Some will have a separate 2-channel track on the disk; others will require your player to downmix 2-channel from the multichannel track.

Both SACD and DVD-A are just about dead, however. New releases will continue to trickle out (possibly for a long time, if the audiophile labels decide it's still worth their effort), but trickle is the operative word. If you want to explore a "dead" format, try vinyl. There's just a lot more to explore.
I tend to agree for the most part with Mgottlieb, as I too am a classical listener and have found plenty of good new material coming out on SACD. I find myself preferring to listen to SACD over CDs, and generally don't buy many CDs anymore--while I don't find the differences to be as earthshaking as some, there's an openness and relaxed quality to the sound (very much similar to analog in that regard) that makes most (not all) CDs sound artificial or "boxed in" in comparison, and that makes a huge difference to me subjectively in my listening. The posts above about two-channel and multichannel are good descriptions; I think right now SACD is the better hi-rez format for two-channel playback. I listen to two-channel stereo, but my speakers are quasi-omnis so I get much of the same effect from my two-channel rig as I've heard with good multi-channel rigs (that surprised me). If you don't listen to classical, the pop SACD catalog is pretty sparse, you might not want to make the investment, but if you do like the available SACDs, an inexpensive SACD player, or (better yet) a used Sony SCD-1 or 777ES or higher end Marantz might be a good addition to a second system, and might even find its way into your main system.
Pabelson, are you saying these formats are "dead" because of lack of acceptance from the public, and therefore, a paucity of new releases?
Well, three of the posters on this thread are sounding pretty gloom and doom for the Hi Rez formats. Maybe I'll just pick up another CD player and continue the wait and see approach. Right now I'm using an iPod w/ AAC files for the front end of my second system (Levinson 383 and Thiel CS2.4). That simply won't do for the long haul.
I have to disagree with Pabelson. Not all DVD-As can be played in 2ch. Many do not have 2ch tracks; they only have multichannel tracks. Some can be "downmixed" by the DVD-A player from MC to 2ch, but many have a software flag set that disallows downmixing. Downmixing usually sounds awful anyway. DVD-A is a music format that was developed to appeal to the Home Theater crowd, not the 2ch music-only crowd. There are cross-overs, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

As to the formats being dead - the original incarnation of DVD-Audio is dead. It was mostly a product of the major labels, and when they stopped supporting it, it pretty much disappeared. DVD-Audio tracks may occasionally surface on DualDisc, but DualDisc is a seriously compromised format.

SACD is somewhat of a different story at this point. If your taste in music is Britney Spears, 50cent, Garth Brooks, or yet-another-reissue-of-Baby-Boomer-rock back catalog stuff, then SACD is dead. For people who favor those genres, SACD was never really alive to begin with. The short story is that if your musical tastes are served solely by the major record companies, SACD probably won't appeal to you.

If your musical tastes tend toward classical, jazz, and high-quality material put out by smaller labels, then SACD is very much alive.

Yes, pretty much anything that is available on SACD is available on CD, but if you buy the CD version instead of the SACD version (when there is one), you will often miss out on a much more musically-rewarding experience.
By now you have gathered that you are not the only one totally confused. Most consumers are confused, myself included. Sony appears to be not supporting SACD by not issuing them as hybrids, and of course DVD-A discs (unless they are the new dual discs) will not play on a CD player.
Most DVD-As list if they have a stereo hi-rez layer as well as multi-channel layers, but on many players it is nearly impossible to tell if you are accessing the front channels of the multi-channel layer or the stereo layer unless you go through 2 set up screens, one for the player and another for the disc-which of course is absurd for anyone interested in 2 high quality 2 channel stereo.
The picture is fruther confused by many universal players not actually capable of hi-rez (see the review of the McCormick player in a recent Sterophile), and the fact that many discs don't really contain any higher rez than a good red book CD.
Overall a ridiculous situation for the consumer.
I have about 125 SACD's, 4 DVD-A'a and about 400 redbook cd's. I love the Hi-Rez stuff. Only about 10-12 of my SACD's are not hybrids. Even though I am selling my Exemplar Denon 2900, easily the best sounding CD player I have ever owned (and that is on redbook alone - Hi Rez discs are awesome!) I will by another modified universal player in the not too distant future. I only listen in 2 channels.

You are going to have to decide how curious you are.
Rex: Thanks for the correction. I had understood that downmixing was a standard option on DVD-As. I'm a bit surprised that it's not.

Mstram: The last numbers I saw suggested that new vinyl was outselling both SACD and DVD-A (and possibly both combined, though I'd have to check that). That's after 3-4 years on the market. Public acceptance has been non-existent outside the audiophile community, which is sadly very small. The music labels are responding rationally to that fact.
From what I've read, more LPs are being sold than SACDs. If you think that vinyl is limited to "what was available in 1980, or reissues of it" then perhaps you the one "is just sticking your head in the sand. Or somewhere else." Plenty of new titles are available on vinyl. Granted, they aren't stocked at the local Target, but they are available. There are more high quality reissues(including some amazing 45rpm versions, such as the Fantasy 45s) then ever before, and LP hardware continues to develop to a level of quality and price/performance few who gave up on it years ago, would believe.
While I don't dispute that a good SACD on a good SACD player will sound better than redbook on most redbook players, there's still a large gap from a hi-rez format that will survive, let alone flourish. Most SACD reviews imply that the better vinyl versions are superior. That about says it all. Cheers,
I have bought tons of LPs that were of new music made in the last couple years. That stuff is out there. I think my peer Dirtyragamuffin can attest to that as well. For example, I doubt punk music has EVER abondoned the vinyl format. There's a ton of that available. Same for a lot of rock on indie labels. Unfortunately I cannot find new classical recordings on vinyl. That is a pity. Esp. since vinyl is still more or less the standard in consumer fidelity.
Yes, there is lots of new vinyl. If you're into hip-hop, techno, and indie punk/alternative, or are a DJ or scratcher, there's lots and lots of new vinyl. That's the bulk of it. There's also a steady, but statistically insignificant, re-issue market for those focused on middle-age nostalgia music.

So, a show of hands - how many of you aging Baby Boomers are buying the new vinyl as opposed to re-issues? ;-)

I picked up the Jayhawks' "Rainy Day Music"; Ryan Adams' "Gold", and "Demolition" on vinyl last year, but that's the extent of my purchaces of new vinyl for the last two years.
Multi channel music will be a niche player like LaserDisc. The problem is outside of audiophiles no one just sits and listens to music. It is background filler or listening is done while doing other things not sitting in the sweet spot of multiple speakers. Multi channel works great for movies because you're sitting still. Can't rip SACD/DVD-A to your ipod or burn a copy for the car. Can't be played on a computer server based system. You have to buy all the extra interconnects. That leaves audiophiles as the only viable market for multi channel music.
That's an interesting point, Newbie!
I would add "music-philes" to audiophiles, but that still remains a relatively small market.
The initial mktg idea was that people would replace their two channel for multi & use that system for whatever purpose it served before + HT.
It doesn't seem to work out that way.
The dangerous part is that HT needs a dedicated room (or takes over a room). If it replaces music in the home, people could resort to using a boomblaster for b/ground music -- rather than have yet another system just for sound...
Hands up for buying new vinyl. I recently bought new stuff from Elvis Costello, Jayhawks, Elliot Smith, Tift Merritt, and hope to soon get the New Allison Krauss and Patricia Barber. If funds weren't limited, I'd get the new Joss Stone, U2, all the White Stripes LPs, Diana Krall and Mark Knopfler. Are all those even available in a digital hi-rez format? Cheers,

Let me see on Hybrid SACD Diana Krall is as is Elvis Costello yup to Allison Krauss and Patricia Barber. Don't know about the others you mention. However I am primarily a classical listener with some female jazz vocals thrown-in for good measure. I am finding plenty (and in some cases more than) of Hybrid SACD's available for my taste. I will admitt that I do not buy alot of software and I do find myself listening to the same discs over and over. I am finding more and more of the smaller labels such as channel clasics and fidelis or perhaps mo-fi marketing sacd's. To me vinyl is simply to much hassle to bother with. As I said earlier I can appreciate those of you who love vinyl. I think that there is a certain amount of romance that goes along with a great looking tt; similar to tube amps. One of my friends is into vinyl and buys it all the time. He has a Michel Gyro Deck and I love the way it looks.

Pabelson writes:

"Both SACD and DVD-A are just about dead, however. New releases will continue to trickle out (possibly for a long time, if the audiophile labels decide it's still worth their effort), but trickle is the operative word. If you want to explore a "dead" format, try vinyl. There's just a lot more to explore."

Rex writes:

"SACD is somewhat of a different story at this point. If your taste in music is Britney Spears, 50cent, Garth Brooks, or yet-another-reissue-of-Baby-Boomer-rock back catalog stuff, then SACD is dead. For people who favor those genres, SACD was never really alive to begin with. The short story is that if your musical tastes are served solely by the major record companies, SACD probably won't appeal to you."

...momentarily savoring....

Anyway, if you don't like Classical, stop here. If you don't like buying world-wide on the 'net, stop here. If the two statements are true, certainly you can't pull together the pennies and by a $250 Sony SACD player for starters. With regards to liquidity, warmth in the strings, and soundstage; it runs circles around $3000 CD players, tho no one will admit that; and it only lacks a little in the bass dept when compared to Sony's more expensive models.

Go to www.sa-cd.net and you will find around 20 new releases a month *world-wide* to choose from. If you like Classical you're already used to bending over backwards to find what you're looking for.

On a side note, I have a VPI Scoutmaster turntable coming which beats out SACD in matters of string warmth and liquidity, but not bass--tho it can come close. The bottom line, while vinyl is the best in some respects, (ground loop hum anyone?), SACD closes the gap enough for me to live comfortably with both. My CDs are up for sale.
Last week I bought Miles' Kind of Blue on 200g vinyl, Free Live and Fire and Water on 180g, Simon and Garfunkel on 180g, the Allman Brothers on 180g, and Zep 2 on 200g. Every 4 months or so I will go out and buy a bunch of new vinyl. With the exception of one dud (Who's Next, which is horribly noisy no matter how many times I clean it), I've been really happy with all the new vinyl I've gotten. In several cases, the vinyl is the only medium I have the relase on. And it always sounds better on my Scoutmaster than it does on either my McInstosh 205 or Denon 2900, even when I've compared it to SACD (as I did with the Stones and Miles).
If SACD were dead, whay all the multi format high end machines being released. In fact Sony just released a new 11k Flagship 2 Channel SACD player. BTW All of my 36 DVD-A are recorded in 2 channel and multi channel. I believe we will see these formats for a long long time. With the right machines, these formats are WONDERUL.JMO
There is really no reason why one format has to win out over the other. After all look at vinyl it is still around long after it was supposed to be dead. If albeit on a substantially smaller scale. And one may miss out on some truly beautiful music waiting for this format thing to shake out if, as I mentioned above, it ever does.

So I would say to mstram if you feel the need/desire to experiment try it you may be suprised. Leting other people make your decisions for you is not in your best interest.