While I haven't had any modifications done to my SACD player, I can understand why someone else might want to. Almost all consumer electronics come to market with a varying number of compromises which allow them to be sold at the prices we see. The Mod industry exists to correct as many of these compromises as they deem appropriate. Most offer tiered modifications so that they have something to offer at a variety of price points.
By replacing parts with similar items of a higher quality they can often improve a product so that its performance exceeds its cost relative to other items available in the market.
I am perfectly happy with my current CD/DVD/SACD player (a budget Sony model), but it's nice to know that if I ever stop being satisfied with it that I have the option of turning it over to someone that can improve it for me.
There is an element of faith and trust involved in the process and proper research can help you decide if it is the right thing for you.
OEM aren't interested in getting the ultimate best possible sound possible from their equipment besides there's not a big market for the ultimate sound quality so that's why there are several companies offering modifications.
I liken an audiophile buying an SACD player, which is not TOTL, and then contemplating modifications ... to an avid bicyclist buying a name brand bicycle, which is not TOTL. If you are really into riding and buy an inexpensive name brand bike ... you wind up upgrading just about all the components (derailleurs, shifters, pedals, saddle, etc.). anyway. And with many bicycle manufacturers, the frame does not necessarily change as you go up the line. After 20 years of buying mid-line Univega and Giant bicycles and then modding the hell out of them, I bought a Cannondale ... it came with most of the mods that I wanted anyway.
In general, I believe that it pays to buy the most expensive component that you and/or your plastic can afford and then, not getting too hung up about all the mods. My take on mods is that the changes are subtle, when performed on more expensive components.
As for putting your money into maxing redbook CD performance, that makes sense too. A great source can make a great system. I got into SACDs and purchased a SONY SCD555 ES, because I needed a new CD player. At the time, it was SONY's third most expensive CD and/or SACD player. It was the most that I spent on a component (paid $1100, its list was $1700). The only upgrade that I would like to do is replace the power cord, but since the power cord is not detachable ... it is one less thing to obsess about.
one way of getting good music for less money.
With any piece of equipment, unless it is an all out assault on reference performance, with a cost no object design, some compromises must be made in design. On most high-end gear, these compromises are made on components that the designer feels will have the least negative impact on the sound. Also, as Rich hints to above, the mods on already good gear can be somewhat subjective.
I don't think very many people will argue that SACD is not a solid improvement over redbook CD's, and many of the new SACD players are also a huge improvement on redbook playback, so you get the best of both worlds.
FWIW, I have a stock Sony SCD-XA777ES, and I think it is excellent on both formats.
Count me as one a the few that would argue that SACD is NOT a solid improvement over CD.
I do believe SACD is much better than standard CD all things being equal. The depth and width of the soundstage are the areas where I have heard substantial improvement. I have also heard improvement in the same areas with the redbook layer of the SACD over conventional CD. Though not to the extent of the improvements garnered with SACD
I have a stock Sony SCD-1 and enjoy it immensly. Will I have it modded maybe in the future. But I feel you do not need to modify the player to hear the improvement of SACD over CD.
I have two moded sacd machines. Neither is just a parts upgrading. One the Allen Wright Sony 9000 has a new board in it, and the other an Exemplar (Tucker) Denon 2900 has a tube analog stage in it. Both are greatly superior to stock units both for sacd and cd. The Wright unit costs $1000 plus a Sony 9000 for a total of about $1600. The Exemplar/Denon cost $3000 including a new Denon. For these prices they rival or exceed units costing $10,000-$20,000.
On both good sacd is clearly superior to good cd, but good cd is superior to poor sacd. On the Denon good sacd is superior to good dvda.
Robert, as I read your question, I think you are wondering if SACD is a bust without modification ("If the format has to be modded to sound good maybe I should just stick with cds.") Not true. First, any mods you have done will improve the redbook CD performance of your player as much as (perhaps more than) its SACD performance.
People have been modding stock CD players from the beginning. The reason there is so much mod activity around SACD players is that (1) the new format is so promising. People are hungry to extract the best they can from it. And (2), there weren't too many players out there at first, so not many all-out assaults to choose from.
You should consider modification an opportunity--an option if you want it--but not a requirement for SACD.
I see the parallel to the earlier years of CD players, until the high-end companies got into the arena. There was a very large market for mods/kludges of the stock Philips/Magnavox players until the late 80s--Scott Nixon got his start then--because the available CD players were generally mass-market machines from Sony, Denon, Philips/Magnavox and the like, hardly high-end machines for the most part. Eventually companies like Mission, Meitner, Krell, Madrigal, Theta, Wadia and others felt that the technology was going to take hold and it would be worth putting their R&D dollars into the area. We're sort of at that stage now, as some of the high end companies are starting to develop their own players, but still there are a lot of mass-market players out there at cheap prices which can be brought up to a very good level of performance, comparable with much higher-priced players on redbook, for a bargain price, with SACD as a throw-in, as you will. SACD is not a bust without the modifications, but it, just as redbook, benefits enormously from better power supplies and analog stages.
Virtually every CDP released in the late 80's was a mod of either the Sony stuff or the Philips/Magnavox CDB 650. Many people realized that there were improvements to be made, and that they would sound good.
Sony and Philips built to a price point. They knew that people would only pay up to $XXX, and that building more into their gear would not be cost effective.
That reason is a lot of what is happening today with SACD. People have found that significant improvements can be made without spending a ton of money. SACD is in it's infancy and as time passes improvements will continue to be made. I'm sure many of the mods available now will be standard soon.