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Is SACD worth it?


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#1 of 23 OFFLINE   John Lloyd

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Posted January 16 2004 - 04:59 AM

I posted this topic at another site, but I wanted to get some more coverage.

I recently started thinking about upgrading my old Parasound CD changer to something a little more state of the art. It seemed reasonable to research changers since that is what I would be replacing. After doing a little research and reading some reviews, I settled on the Sony DVP NC555ES. Since it also offered DVD and SACD playback, it seemed like a good candidate.

Last weekend I happened to walk through Best Buy and noticed that SACD disks were priced competitively against CDs so I picked up a few to help evaluate my choice: Dark Side of the Moon (which I surprisingly did not own on CD), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Come Away with Me. Of course Best Buy did not carry any SACD players, so I went down to the local audio boutique and ordered the 555ES.

The player arrived yesterday and I sat down last night to evaluate my purchases. My system is relatively high end, but targeted more towards home theater: Aerial Acoustics speakers, Theta Casablanca 2, Parasound 2205 amplifier, Pioneer CLD-99, and a Panasonic RP-91. I was forced to choose 2 channel SACD since the Casablanca does not have a 5.1 input. I used an analog direct passthrogh mode for the 555ES and started listening. I was listening primarily to "Come Away with Me" since I have played that many times on my system in the last year.

While the music sounded great, I was not blown away by any obvious improvements. Does anyone have suggestions for good ways to evaluate SACD against CD?

#2 of 23 OFFLINE   John Royster

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Posted January 16 2004 - 05:48 AM

dark side of the moon is just incredible. To me SACDs don't have that digital harshness of a CD. symbols and bass guitars sound more real, everything just has better tone.

i guess to evaluate use a hybrid disk and listen to the CD layer and then the SACD layer.

Also on your 555es make sure you are actually listening to SACD. There is a button on your remote to switch between the two and also to switch between stereo and 5.1.

Make sure you use the left and right of the 5.1 outputs on the 555es. I'm not sure if the 2-channel outpus are hi-rez or not.

#3 of 23 OFFLINE   John Garcia

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Posted January 16 2004 - 07:43 AM

While I do not like many mutli-channel SACDs, DSOTM is one that does actually sound better in MC. For me, the difference between CD and SACD is very noticable, though at the same time, it can be very subtle and definitely varies from recording to recording. It is most evident on very well mastered SACDs. I'm using a 222ES with Audioquest Vipers and between the CD and SACD layers with most discs, I can hear the differences. Try some more discs before you make a final opinion.
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#4 of 23 OFFLINE   ty_diaz

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Posted January 16 2004 - 09:36 AM

I have a SACD player and its great. You won't be dissapointed. Posted Image
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#5 of 23 OFFLINE   Dave Milne

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Posted January 16 2004 - 09:51 AM

I only have one title on both CD and SACD: Come Away With Me. The SACD sounds better but not overwhelmingly so --more "air" on the top end and deeper soundstage. Other SACDs in my library, including some Audioquest and Telarc, are breathtaking; I can't imagine the Redbook would sound anywhere near that good.

Incidentally John, CB2 and Aerials... hmmm, do you know Steve Bruzonsky? He used to moderate over on AVS. I had the chance to check out his theater a couple of days ago. Despite what seemed like unnaturally wide spacing of his front 10T's, the sonic imaging on movies was stunning. A very sweet setup indeed.

#6 of 23 OFFLINE   John Lloyd

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Posted January 16 2004 - 09:57 AM

Quote:
Also on your 555es make sure you are actually listening to SACD. There is a button on your remote to switch between the two and also to switch between stereo and 5.1.


I am definitely listening to the SACD track. There is a helpful (but annoying since you can't turn it off) logo on the display (most of which CAN be turned off).

As I mentioned earlier, I can't listen to 5.1 since the Casablanca doesn't have a 5.1 input. I am listening to the analog 2 channel output feed through the preamp without any additional processing or bass management. Since the front speakers are almost full range (rated to 29Hz) that seems alright to me. I configured a second input for the CLD-99 to skip the subwoofer as well but use the DAC in the Casablanca. The Sony documentation indicates that both the 2 channel and 5.1 channel outputs are full resolution if the correct mode for playback is selected.

Switching playback modes on the Sony is a bit cumbersome, you can't do it without hitting stop in between each mode change. I was making comparisons between the standard redbook CD in the CLD-99 and the SACD 2 channel track in the 555.

#7 of 23 OFFLINE   LanceJ

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Posted January 16 2004 - 10:04 AM

If it makes you feel any better John L., as a fan of dvd-audio I feel that even my chosen hi-res format only offers subtle improvements over CD. As mentioned, it usually has little to no high-frequency grain, and midrange is smoother.

These improvements alone to me are worth a few extra dollars per disc, but to be honest if I only had the CD version to listen to, I wouldn't be depressed about it.

And even on an ultra-high end system I listened to last year there was no "blows you away" improvement....and this system cost @$36K (Nautilus Signatures ($20K all by themselves) & all McIntosh electronics >>> dvd-audio player, preamp and power amp). And I have had similar experiences with the sacd format.

But I DID notice something that made a very large sonic improvement, one that has little to do with any higher resolution format. On my Yes Fragile dvd-audio, the source tape used for the stereo tracks was the original stereo master tape from 1973. But the 5.1 surround tracks were made from the original multitrack master tapes. This meant the sound on them was the "pure" version of what was recorded in the studio, with no reverb or EQ, or any compensation for a specific format's limitations (i.e. vinyl), added.* When I first played "Roundabout" in surround, holy smokes I immediately thought what have we been missing all these years?! And this had nothing to do with the surround aspect (though surround playback does allow one to hear more low-level detail); it was the actual sound itself that was soooo much better. And the kicker is that this was all before I bought my dvd-audio player, so this meant I was listening to the DTS and Dolby Digital tracks, both lossy compressed formats! And according to what I've been told, these formats on dvd-audio usually use their highest available bit rates, compared to their usage on dvd-video where disc space is usually at a premium so this isn't possible most of the time.

The point of all this? It is a recording's mixing and mastering that makes the biggest difference by far, not whether it is on CD, dvd-audio or sacd. To me, the hi-res aspect is just icing on the cake.

I have too many CDs that plain sound excellent, and newer ones that have practically no graininess to them, and I have to be consciously listening for this to hear even that.

The biggest reason I'm into dvd-audio is really for the surround mixes--for me this is a huge jump in listening enjoyment over CD, or any stereo format. And if the sacd format starts to offer more surround music I like, I will invest in a player for that format, but right now there are only seven sacd titles I would buy, & that's just not enough. And I assume you know your RP-91 plays dvd-audio discs--it has received great reviews for this capability.

* When reassembling the tracks into the final surround mix, EQ, reverb or other special effects are still done but this time they are implemented with the capabilities of modern playback formats in mind. An extremely obvious example: on that Yes dvd-audio, on the track "Cans and Brahms", there is a very low church organ note used. On the stereo track you hear it but it sounds rather vague. But on the new surround mix, this same note can now literally shake the couch. It is much more visceral and emotional ("South Side Of The Sky" also has a similar bass difference). And I don't even own a subwoofer. Sometimes similar, or the original, recording and/or effects equipment is found and used for sonic authenticity--read more about this in this article on how the classic Pet Sounds album was remixed into surround form here.

LJ

#8 of 23 OFFLINE   Stephen M

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Posted January 16 2004 - 11:07 AM

I tend to agree with the above-posts which are lukewarm to the format. I have a Elite 47ai and SACD sounds somewhat better. However, it is not that much better than CD. I know the Elite is not the best at SACD, but I have listened to good Sony players and my experience has not appreciably better. Don't get me wrong. It sounds very good but not the paradigm change promised by the technology cheerleaders in the magazines and industry. I think that straight CD is still the way to go until the dummies at the record companies allow a STANDARD digital interlink to our processors. I have seen reviews of the Meridian gear which allows a proprietary link to the processor for DVD-A, and by all accounts, the improvement in sound is extraordinary. Way beyond my budget.Posted Image

#9 of 23 OFFLINE   EdNichols

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Posted January 16 2004 - 02:10 PM

How about HDCD? Is that noticeably different than a regular CD?

#10 of 23 OFFLINE   Stephen M

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Posted January 16 2004 - 11:43 PM

Ed, I think it is better but it is hard to say for sure since I have been unable to find a cd of the same recording, one in HDCD, one not. It is probably a worthwhile improvement but not earthshaking in nature.

#11 of 23 OFFLINE   Doug_B

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Posted January 17 2004 - 02:25 AM

John,

The Sony SCD C555ES that you now own (I assume that's what you meant, as its suffix is the same as the DVD player you own) is a very good SACD player and holds up well against most of the players (esp DVD) that have come out with SACD in the last year or so. I suspect it is noticeably better than your DVD player in SACD and even moreso in redbook.

I tend to agree with LanceJ's views, with some qualifications. For material that was remastered from good sources (e.g., original analog tapes), I do believe that a redbook version is fairly close to the SACD version when both are taken from this same remaster process. I do generally hear subtle differences in favor of the SACD version, and with your setup, I suspect that you will too. I would guess that most of us who have very good setups for audio will appreciate these differences, even if the quality-to-cost ratio of such improvements is small (i.e., incremental perceived improvement, lots of money spent to get there). OTOH, such differences might not be perceivable unless you actually AB'ed the two in the same listening session.

Consistent with LanceJ's views, I think that the existence of the hi-rez formats leads to this improvement in remastering, and thus leads to the improved audio quality. Without these formats, there would not be this volume of quality remastering going on.

BTW, the 2ch analog outs on the 'C555ES fully support the hi-rez SACD output, just as the 5.1 outs do. Also, I am a believer in break in, even for electronics; I have heard it repeatedly. Give your player some time. If you're game, put the player on repeat mode for a few days (I would say try upwards of 150 hours). Also try not to listen to the material during this process, if you're interested in trying to best distinguish between pre and post break in.

Enjoy.

Doug

#12 of 23 OFFLINE   Erik.Ha

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Posted January 17 2004 - 03:00 AM

I have a Sony SACD player and I think the difference is NIGHT AND DAY. I love it. My one complaint is the lack of software available.
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#13 of 23 OFFLINE   Rachael B

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Posted January 17 2004 - 05:19 AM

John, I have some software suggestions for you. These are discs so good that they should expose the limits of the format or atleast the limits of your player.


Numero uno is Will & Rainbow's HARMONY on the Eighty Eight's label. The 88's are the best of the best of the best in DSD recording IMO.
They're a jazz label and this proably is their most acessible title in terms of mass appeal. It has Phoebe Snow as a vocalist on 3 tracks and the other tracks are very fusion oriented.

Joe Satriani STRANGE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC
Jorma Kaukonen BLUE COUNTRY HEART
Doc Powell 97th & COLUMBUS
Spyro Gyra both MODERN TIMES & ORIGINAL CINEMA
The Zombies GREATEST HITS is amazing for an older recording, all hail Hoffman!
Alison Krauss NEW FAVORITE

If I was comparing SA-CD to CD I'd compare the bass lines. The bass line on many CD's is a just a bit fuzzy and less defined compared to SA-CD. Listen for the decay of piano or horn notes and you should see an improvement. I think horns really excel in DSD.

www.acousticsounds.com :has the DSD recorded discs subsetted out. These are the discs with the most potential. You need a few of them to see the format's potential, me thinks. Discs that come from PCM masters can be darn near as good but not quite. Best wishes!
Rachael, the big disc cat is in real life Dot Mongur, Champion of the International Pacman Federation. You better be ready to rumble if you play Jr. Pacman with me. This is full contact Pacman and I don't just play the game, I operate it!


#14 of 23 OFFLINE   John Lloyd

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Posted January 17 2004 - 07:00 AM

Rachael,

Thanks for the suggestions. I will look around and see if I can find those. One of the problems I am having with comparisons is the lack of bass management currently available in the Theta Casablanca. I normally listen with my speakers crossed over at 40Hz; unfortunately I can't do that with analog direct connections. Although my speakers are almost full range (down to about 30Hz) it does take time to get used to listening to CDs again in the same configuration.

John

#15 of 23 OFFLINE   John Lloyd

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Posted January 24 2004 - 04:30 AM

Quote:
The Sony SCD C555ES that you now own (I assume that's what you meant, as its suffix is the same as the DVD player you own) is a very good SACD player and holds up well against most of the players (esp DVD) that have come out with SACD in the last year or so. I suspect it is noticeably better than your DVD player in SACD and even moreso in redbook.


The SCD is a different animal, it does not play DVDs. I think a lot of people prefer players that only do a few things instead of trying to do everything. On the other hand, I am trying to keep my component rack to a manageable size. I did some more evaluations of the DVP-NC555ES and decided it was NOT the perfect choice for DVDs. I found a few layer changes that were twice as long as those from my RP-91. So I ended up returning the player and will continue my search for a changer that supports DVD/SACD and even DVD-A. If only Denon made a changer based on the 2200...

Quote:
Incidentally John, CB2 and Aerials... hmmm, do you know Steve Bruzonsky? He used to moderate over on AVS. I had the chance to check out his theater a couple of days ago. Despite what seemed like unnaturally wide spacing of his front 10T's, the sonic imaging on movies was stunning. A very sweet setup indeed.

Steve is pretty famous (especially over on AVSForum) and although I have exchanged a few emails with him, we have never met. I think we both made our decisions about equipment independently, but he has upgraded his components a few more times than me. It sounds like our speakers our configured in a similar fashion too. I only have a single pair of the 10Ts though. I also have had to live with the original design of my room; it is a dedicated home theater but I am sure there are a lot more compromises in mine.

#16 of 23 OFFLINE   HienD

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Posted January 24 2004 - 09:06 PM

I have lots of HDCDs. The difference is very subtle. HDCD is slight smoother with less harshness in the upper frequencies. With that being said, I also agree with people who say mastering and mixing makes the most difference.

#17 of 23 OFFLINE   Mauro Colella

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Posted January 25 2004 - 02:13 PM

John L.

You said
"I did some more evaluations of the DVP-NC555ES and decided it was NOT the perfect choice for DVDs. I found a few layer changes that were twice as long as those from my RP-91."

Was this the only reason you returned the unit? Were there are annoying issues for you? Btw, how did you find the video playback quality (aside from layer change)?

Thank you for your input about this unit.

MC

#18 of 23 OFFLINE   John Lloyd

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Posted January 25 2004 - 04:36 PM

I watched 4 or 5 different movies on the player and thought the video playback was quite good. I detailed my other concerns in a thread about too many lights on components, so take a look at that for all the details. But all in all, the Sony was alright.

I was initially hoping to replace my CD player with something for SACD as well. When I decided that SACD was nice but not the great leap forward I was hoping for, I started looking for other reasons to keep the 555. Once I saw the layer changes could be long I decided that it was unlikely I would want to watch a lot of movies with it. After seeing what Denon's latest players can do (invisible layer changes), I keep expecting the competition to keep up.

#19 of 23 OFFLINE   Stephen M

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Posted February 07 2004 - 08:44 AM

John, other than the layer change (How long anyway), how did the 555ES do for movies in terms of picture quality? Did you compare it with any other players?

#20 of 23 OFFLINE   Mike_Skeway

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Posted February 07 2004 - 03:49 PM

There are differences in the sounds of SACD/DVD-a vs. CD, depending on your components they may be very subtle or not noticeable. I do like the hi-res formats. Not a fan of all the multi-channel mixes though, at least you can always play the 2 channel tracks. Posted Image
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