Most important here, does SACD still sound as good as before? If so, you are fortunate to have a truly excellent Red Book player in your universal player. There is a large difference in quality of playback systems in universals. Sounds like you really traded up. The balanced configuration only makes all the formats sound better, so just enjoy it, sounds like you got what you paid for!
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Islandmandan -- thanks. SACD sounds better. So I guess the title of the thread is misleading. Everything sounds better for sure. It's just that the difference between SACDs and CDs has diminished. And the source is the same. I forgot to mention I also upgraded power cords and interconnects at the source, so that could be a factor as well, in addition to switching to balanced outputs. But I'm still struggling with why the delta between SACD and CD would shrink. Maybe the old system was not allowing the CD playback in the player to reach its full potential, but why would it result in SACD and CD sounding so much closer than they did previously.
I can't explain why the delta between CD and SACD changed, but when I owned PL-1A I had similar feeling. SACD through PL-1A didn't sound much better than CD. On a side note, I'm pretty convinced that no universal player truly excels in all formats. It's all about trade off, or picking your own poison so to speak. My Linn Unidisk sounded noticeably better than PL-1A in SACD, but the other way around in redbook CD. At that time SACD was more important to me, and I chose Unidisk. I'm not sure whether I would make the same choice today.
Jylee -- yes, I think that's quite right. I had tried several other UDPs before I settled on the Bel Canto. Very substantial differences among and across formats and players. And SACD used to be more important to ME too until so many labels abandonded it. It complicates the next choice though, as I have quite a few SACDs...
Dgaylin, like you, I have a UDP as well, though not in the same league as the Bel Canto on the face of it, but due to excellent modification work on my old warhorse Marantz DVD8300, outboard DAC, and Genesis Digital Time Lens, my Red Book is near the equal of the hi-res formats. I can't concieve of being without a UDP, it's invaluable to those of us with large collections of c/d's and SACD's as well.
Maybe some mods might in order for the Bel Canto? Many, however, feel that is a bad thing to do for resale value considerations, but I tend to hang onto equipment longer than most. To each his own.
Islandmandan -- you make an interesting point that provokes a thought (probably part of what Jylee was getting at)....different DACs for different formats in the UDPs mean different capabilities. Your outboard DAC for redbook improves its performance in your system So, as per your initial point, going to different outputs and cables could indeed raise the level of one DAC more than the other, hence redbook CD performance could improve more than SACD performance, even though both improved....plausible anyway.
Danlib1 and Czbbcl, thanks for your thoughts. Yes I think the consensus is that depending upon the gear and recording SACD and CD can sound very similar. But there's still what I believe is the interesting question about when the source doesn't change and it's the analog output of a UDP, why upgrading other components would cause the percieved difference in quality between SACD and CD to shrink, even as the quality of both increases. Or put another way (and this may be key to the answer) why does CD playback increase MORE thans SACD playback when other parts of a system are upgraded?
Did the upgrade involve preamp? I just remembered that when I got a tubed preamp the CD sound from Unidisk improved quite a bit. Digital glare and digititis almost disappeared. SACD still sounded good, but there was no digititis on SACD to begin with. So yeah, it's possible that an upgrade could improve CD playback more than SACD.
Without discussing specific players I don't think you can talk about Redbook or SACD formats sounding better or worse. Playing the same dual-layer SACD on the Ayre C-5xe (DSD) and ARC CD-5 (PCM) I found those two players were near sonic twins.
Wrt balanced inputs, I've consistently found less distortion of one degree or another from balanced digital front ends when they connect via balanced cables to a balanced linestage.
I think it boils down to the balanced connection+new pre-amp coupled with different DACS for the two formats. But ironically, Islandmandan really had it right in his first post -- with Redbook CD now sounding so good, it's nice to no longer feel like I only get great sound with my SACDs!
Thanks all for the insights!
"SACD stomps cd when the original performance was recorded (or mastered?) in DSD. "
same for Master Tape and 24/96 sourced SACDs
here's a short summary of different audio formats (CD, hi-rez PCM and SACD)