SHM Universal Japan SACDs

I have noticed the emerging catalogue of remastered SACD recordings from Universal of Japan on the Esoteric Discs web site. These discuss are quite expensive and I was wondering if any Forum member could advise me on how these discs compare with some of the other remastered recordings available from Esoteric, JVC XRCD, Analogue Productions, Mobile Fidelity etc. I mainly prefer classical and jazz recordings. Any recommendations or advice is gratefully received.
I bought one to try. Bill evans alone. Wow.
I was going to check them out but the bank would not give me another mortgage. All kidding aside, I did buy a couple dozen of the red book SHMs and there's no doubt they are better than the standard red book issues (of the same title and mastering, obviously). I'd love to hear the SHM-SACDs, if I could only play SACD these days...

I've purchased Beggar's Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Aja, Relaxin, Smokin, and several others and I echo Jfrech's response WOW! Yes they're expensive, probably more than they need to be, but you can't argue with the sound quality.

Hi Jfrech.
I just ordered Yellow Brick Road and Who's Next. Will let everyone know if they're worthwhile.
The best of these discs will test the limits of your system. I do not have first hand knowledge of “master tape” sound quality but I would venture to say that these discs come very close to capturing their fundamental nature. The focus of SHM-SACD discs is a very open and luxurious midrange but depending on source material, the extremes of the audio spectrum can be supremely reproduced as well. Rather than sounding edgy as many other audiophile CD’s do, these discs take you on an aural voyage of discovery as you finally experience the inner depths of the original recording.

I have collected quite a few of these now:

10cc – The Original Soundtrack
Beethoven – Symphony No. 9
Black Sabbath – Paranoid
Blind Faith – Blind Faith
Caravan – In the Land of the Grey & Pink
Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Boulevard
Cream – Wheels of Fire
Dire Straits – Dire Straits
Dire Straits – Love Over Gold
Elton John – Elton John
Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Fairport Convention – Liege & Lief
Gentle Giant – Octopus
Getz/Gilberto – Stan Gets & Joao Gilberto
Steely Dan – Aja
Steely Dan – Gaucho
Stevie Wonder – Innervisions
Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
The Moody Blues – Every Good Boy Deserves Favor
The Police – Synchronicity
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
The Who – Who’s Next
Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die
Wishbone Ash – Argus

Taken as a whole, these pricey discs are difficult to balance. They are as varied as musical expression is. How can one compare an incongruity such as Beethoven’s 9th to Black Sabbath – Paranoid? Source material is the key and if faithful reproduction is the ultimate goal,a majority of these discs get an A++++ in my book.

This is the first I have heard of these-would like to try the Aja-Steely Dan-does anyone know if these are surround or 2 channel and the best place to locate-I saw some on amazon---thanks
Source material is always key, isn't it? I've always assumed Cream's Wheels of Fire was recorded poorly in the studio and live so there will never be a good copy of it. (Judging by my cassette copy anyway - it's bad even for a cassette.)
So is Wheels of Fire on SACD good? I wouldn't expect it to sound any better than the CD if the source is compromised by age and lack of quality.
where is the best place and price to shop for them
I listened to the Who's Next SHM-SACD today. I wish I could say I was impressed, but I'd swear my CD version sounds better. It's too bad; I had high hopes for the SACD. I compared it with the CD on two different players and even with the Classic Records LP. There was no clear winner in terms of sound quality alone. The CD might have been the most enjoyable. Considering price and convenience then, the CD is the best bet.
Perhaps it's the source material.
Hopefully Yellow Brick Road will be better (it was backordered at musicdirect). If not, I'm through with SACD.
Hi Lenny, hope the car is doing great and the speeding tickets are elusive :)

I just bought 6 more SHM titles today. I was so impressed with Bill Evan's Alone, I just had a try a few more. I'll report back next weekend. One title Getz/Gilberto I have on SACD (verve), vinyl, and now SHM. So can compare formats some...
Hi, yes to both. When you get the discs and have some time, let's get together and listen.
Hi Achilles,

Your assessment of the Cream - Wheels of Fire SHM-SACD is valid, although far from poor I prefer the DCC Gold CD of this one. Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is an excellent SHM-SACD; I have the DVD-Audio of this as well and I much prefer the SHM-SACD. Regarding the Steely Dan - Aja SHM-SACD and Gaucho SHM-SACD, these are outstanding reproductions of meticulously produced recordings. I highly recommend these discs!

The CD medium is the only alternative when considering "bang for the buck,” but if one possesses equipment that can realistically reproduce the sound of a live performance, an investment in high-end recordings can be a new frontier!

Give me your impression of Yellow Brick Road.

All the best,

Thanks for the tips, MikeC. I look forward to listening to Yellow Brick Road. I'm not optimistic though. As I've mentioned in other posts, SACD just never seems to work well in my system. DVD-A works wonderfully. (You mentioned Gaucho, that's probably the best DVD-A I have.)
I wonder if it's possible, as it seems to me, that your system somehow favors SACD more than mine? I have a pretty good setup I think, but SACD usually disappoints. Maybe it's my player. The NAD M5 is a great CD player, but maybe its SACD circuit is subpar. The mitigating factor is I also have a Denon 2910 in the same system that displays the same bias. So a common factor is my cables and amp. But surely my cables and integrated amp don't favor one high rez format over another!
Which leads me to believe it's just my ears. Maybe they respond better to something in DVD-A than whatever they hear in SACD.
Anyway I'll give Yellow Brick a fair shot when it gets here.
I wanted to try the SHM Aja cd-sorry I was not impressed-I think the comments on source material are true.My SACD of Gaucho sounds much better.
Hi Achilles,

I am a fan of DVD-A discs as well and I agree with your opinion of the Goucho DVD-A disc, it is certainly an exact reproduction of a methodically produced (digital?) recording; actually, I am not certain it was recorded digitally.

Like you, my format of choice was and still is to a degree DVD-A. Given the choice, I would opt for the DVD-A version of a title, although it is rare to find competing high-resolution formats of the same release. While certainly not true of all SACD discs, it seems many are a bit rolled-off on the top and lack the visceral, impactful bass response found in many of the DVD-A titles. I passed on the SACD version of GYBR and purchased the DVD-A version a few years back and in retrospect, I enjoyed the disc very much, taking into account the limitations of my audio system at the time.

Since then my system has changed considerably. The addition of an Ayre Acoustics amplifier, a Krell pre-amp, and a speaker upgrade (from Vandersteen Model 3 to Model 3a Signature) has proven to be a revelation. I was inspired to get serious about the power supplied to my components so I purchased a high quality power conditioner and quality AC cables in addition to well matched interconnects and speaker cables. Someday I would love to get into tubes, at least a tube preamp but that will need to wait for a while.

Knowing so little about your audio set-up, I should not try to give advice but it sounds like you have quality CD players. Could your integrated amplifier and cables be a week link? My Ayre Acoustics amplifier matches well with the Vandersteen speakers and the Krell preamp / Ayre amp combination may accentuate the capabilities of the SACD format, as you speculated.

SHM-SACD discs should be considered in a different category to all other high-resolution formats. The first time I listened to one I initially thought something was wrong with my (new) system; what happened to the high-end shimmer I had come to expect from all digital recordings? The high-end was eerily open and ready to respond when called on by the source material, all without a hint of grain at volume levels that would be painful for the vast majority of formats. Little or no equalization is utilized when mastering these discs! I doubt that there is anything wrong with your hearing; you are just experiencing the lack of high-end sparkle you have come to expect. It is obvious the focus is to reproduce as faithfully as possible the source recording weather it be first second or third generation master, and attention to the midrange is paramount. It is a very “analogue” sound, like that from dare I say a low generation copy of a master tape or only the highest quality turntables playing MFSL UHQR LP's, and of course, there is no surface noise.

The first disc I heard was Gentle Giant – Octopus; that is very unusual music with dynamics to the extreme and vocal or instrumental syncopation at every opportunity. Without the artificial high-end energy found on other digital medium, I was able to increase the volume while maintaining a comfortable listening level; I was even able to communicate verbally with others in the room while hearing deeper into the music than ever before.

Octopus is not one of the better SHM-SACD’s but I have heard it in various formats many times through the years but never had I approached the fringes of the recording session and peered over the shoulder of the audio engineer at the mixing desk as I did when listening to this SHM-SACD.

All the best,

MJC, did you listen to the Repertoire (3,000 copies made sticker) version of Octopus (redbook format)? That recording was one of the high water marks for me in redbook. I'm curious how you feel it does, or would, compare to the SHM-SACD of the same title.
Mr. Fripp1,

Thanks to your reply I decided to purchase the last remaining Repertoire Octopus CD at my local Amazon dealer. I have reason to suspect that Repertoire has given Octopus the deluxe treatment due partly to your assessment and the fact that I enjoy Repertoires version of Renaissance-Scheherazade. Although it exhibits much of what we have come to love and hate about the Redbook format I think it is the best digital version available, at least until someone decides to master a proper high-resolution rendering. I will post my comparisons of the two Octopus discs soon… I hope.

On a different but related subject, I question the “Limited Edition” assertions found on some recordings; you mentioned that the Repertoire disc has a “3,000 copies made sticker.” I doubt it would still be available on Amazon close to 3 years after its release, and the SHM-SACD discs remain available.

Perhaps I am wrong and or cynical.

All the best,

MJC, PLEASE do a comparison and report back. It would be hugely appreciated. Thanks.
Hi Fripp1,

Regarding the comparison of the two Gentle Giant-Octopus discs, the sound is quite different. On reflection, I am amazed at how an identical performance can be depicted in such a dissimilar way.

The Repertoire disc is much louder so on first assessment the SHM-SACD disc sounded lifeless but compensating for the disparity in volume revealed an amazing transformation. The SHM-SACD disc exhibited three-dimensional information and warmth not revealed by the Repertoire CD and the bass was greatly improved on the SHM-SACD as well. On the top, it seemed the sky was the limit. A very free and open audio spectrum remained for the artists to reproduce their aural images. In contrast, the CD sounded compressed, as if an attempt was made to control the wildly fluctuating dynamics of the original recording.

At realistic volume levels, the SHM-SACD produced scarcely a trace of listening fatigue but the same cannot be said of the Repertoire CD; after just a few songs I grew tired of listening to it at such high volumes.

I remember purchasing a 45-rpm single of a John Lennon song, it was either “Instant Karma” or “Cold Turkey” and stamped on the label were the words, “Play Loud”. This is good advice in the world of SHM-SACD.

All the best,

Interesting. In addition to my own reaction to the Repertoire Octopus, I've heard several of my music friends rave about the same redbook edition both when I played it and when they purchased it. That your own reaction could be so emphatic upon hearing the differences suggests not so much that the redbook version is poor, but rather that the SHM SACD is so outstanding.

Clearly a good news/bad news thing! It calls for purchasing a few SHM SACD versions of my favorite titles. Oh good. %^U

Thanks for your commitment and your report.
Would like to try 2 of those.
Which ones do show the superiority of this format best?
It is a pity that the cost of these discs continues to escalate; perhaps due to the currency exchange rate, Dollar verses Yen, but I am sure there is a greed component as well.

Perhaps I am not being completely objective in an attempt to rationalize the expenditure but generally, my experiences with SHM-SACD discs have lead to a greater appreciation of music in my home, which is a completely subjective assessment but nevertheless a step in the right direction in the never-ending quest of the absolute sound. "I CALL IT A BARGAIN, THE BEST I EVER HAD", not really … but many people myself included spend crazy amounts of money on hi-fi equipment and accordingly, with these ridiculously expensive discs there is a return on investment.

I remember spending $50.00 each on Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs UHQR LP's - Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Listening to these LP's easily elevated my systems sonic potential. A quantum leap of audio fidelity resulted causing my equipment to sound vastly improved.

It is ironic that the quality of these analogue recordings remains my point of reference. SHM-SACD is not comparable to the UHQR LP's but it offers a sound that is non-digital with an almost analogue essence in a disc that retains all of the advantages of a digital playback medium.

Steely Dan - Gaucho [SHM-SACD]
Dire Straits - Love over Gold [SHM-SACD]
These two titles come to mind as good examples of the format, but musical taste should be considered.

I think it is very possible that many people will prefer the sound of a quality re-mastered audiophile "Redbook" CD to SHM-SACD, especially for Rock and Popular titles and I sense that due to the oppressive expense of these avant-garde discs, Universal Japan is perilously close to pricing the format out of existence. The vast majority of consumers are content listening to MP3's anyway and I would wager most in this group have never heard an analogue LP.

With SHM-SACD discs, I have discovered and greatly enjoyed new modes of musical expression while experiencing a compelling musical reproduction.
Dear MikeC,
thank you for your explanations and recommendations.
Very helpful.
Just received Goats Head Soup by the Rolling Stones on SHM SACD from Japan. Excellent remaster! Best version of this great album to date.
On some songs I can hear (I think its Keith) singing along in the background.
Not so unusual except on those songs I never heard him singing before on those songs on other CD versions.
I also got the SHM CD of Humble Pie's 'Smokin' it also sounds pretty good.
Does anyone know if liner note translations are available for these?
Elton John's Yellow Brick Road SHM SACD finally arrived. I don't have another format to compare it with, but it does sound good. I should be able to compare it with the his Greatest Hits CD this weekend; some of the songs are common to both discs.
Find an old Polydor or MCA of GBYBR to compare.Cheap and they sound very good. The greatest hits is not known for its sq.
Just MHO
Hello Everyone, Seasons Greetings!

I am considering giving myself a gift for Christmas this year: Queen-Bohemian Rhapsody and or Mike Oldfield-Tubular Bells. Any input on either of these SHM-SACD's would be helpful.


Queen never released an album called Bohemian Rhapsody.
Hi Audiofeil,

Ha-ha, you're bloody well right, you know you got a right to say!

I received Queen "A Night At The Opera" a few days ago but I've not had a chance to sit down and thoroughly review it.

Just a thought, but wouldn't it be nice if Supertramp classics were released on SHM SACD!

I will include my review of "A Night At The Opera" and other new items.

Nothing but the best,

This was my first exposure to “A Night at the Opera”, or any album by Queen for that matter. I know it must be hard to believe that anyone in the world is just now delving into Queen’s considerable catalog but I just wanted anyone reading this to know that I’m a bit of a clean slate when it comes to Queen; I have heard their hits of course.

While I won’t be able to provide comparisons to other versions of this album on different formats, I will say that I enjoyed this collection of songs very much and I now appreciate this album’s reputation as one of the all time classics of the Rock genre. I would not however rate this SHM-SACD as one of Universal Japan's stellar achievements and certainly, it was not worth the money I paid. In fact although I have not personally auditioned them, many of the SHM-SACD’s released by this band have garnered a less than desirable status among the audio engineering and remastering enthusiasts that I encountered on the web. I would like to audition more of these releases though.

I am curious to know how the multichannel DVD-A of this title fared because I feel that this album could be set free given a proper multichannel mix! Perhaps I am wrong. The sound of the stereo SHM-SACD seems congested at times at least on my system and the numerous special effects and embellishments employed during the original studio recordings no doubt necessitated the use of compensatory production techniques, this is my theory anyway. I have heard many exaggerated and over embellished recordings that contain a greater sense of space and dimension than this recording does; I suspect George Martin would have made this one of his masterpieces! Much of the album seems overly busy by design so perhaps I am not being completely fair, but I do feel that this album did not utilize the fullest potential of the SHM-SACD format. Perhaps this is rendering of "A Night at the Opera" will grow on me.

Generally speaking the open feel of live or live in studio jazz recordings with their wide dynamics and holographic imaging lend themselves more perfectly to the SACD format in my opinion, but I am not as interested at least at this point in my life in listening to Jazz music although I am mellowing to a degree as I age. Among many other musical inspirations, I still seek the exhilaration of complex and somewhat histrionic musical passages. The awe-inspiring intense hard rock soundscapes of electric guitar, flamboyant synthesizer crescendos, and highly nimble, thunderous, go for broke percussion statements always start my spine tingling and I was optimistic that "A Night at the Opera" on SHM-SACD would thoroughly satisfy my desire for audio exaltation of the pop variety. I am satisfied but not thoroughly. Maybe I should try classical music or give a real “night at the opera” a listen. I like some classical but thus far real opera has escaped me.