ONLINE - ISSUE 25
and Steve says…
SACD is a failure!
I remember back in the 80s when CD was first taking over as the dominant medium for general commercial music releases. I was then, like most of us in this hobby, an avid record collector and loved listening to my records. I had upgraded tables a few times, first to a Rega 2 with a Grace 707 arm, then to the Linn LP-12/Ittok that I still use. Records were king. Records were all about quality, sound, and a lifetime of musical choices that seemed unending and timeless. Then CDs came out and everyone except for those of us that took listening to music seriously bought into it and CD took over. Records all but went away. Now, the true hard-core audiophile will tell you that records never went away, and that with all the specialty label 200-gram super high quality reissues, records are better than ever. But, I have to say, replacing the ability to buy all my music on vinyl for reasonable prices with buying a select and limited number of audiophile favorites at outrageously high prices doesn't cut it for me. Don't get me wrong, I love Classic's reissues and have bought many, and have many of the Sundazed reissues too. But, vinyl as a limited availability high priced specialty item instead of the mainstream source left me feeling thoroughly disheartened.
The more I realized that CDs had won out and that most music would be bought in that format, I kind of bailed on the hobby and the industry, and went into a self imposed music/audio exile for about nine years.
Well, CD has improved to where it is listenable, though I still feel CD at its best will never compete with vinyl at its best. The net result for me was major change in my music buying habits. In the days of everyday vinyl, I used to buy about 150 to 200 records per year (constrained only by my budget). Double that number if you include all the budget $2 records I used to buy at Aron's Records and Record Surplus. However, in all the years that CD has been available, I still only own about 350 disks.
Now, with the launch of SACD a few years ago, I was struck with a greatly renewed level of enthusiasm. SACD sounds great. Simple as that, SACD sounds great. If everything I wanted to buy was available on SACD I would be back buying new disks every week. I would be back on a first name basis with the managers at all the record shops and would once again spend hours looking through the racks for all the new music I wanted to buy. But we all know that isn't happening, and it now appears, won't happen.
SACD has been available for many years now, but it still no more than a small, little known (outside of our small group of enthusiasts) niche product. If becoming the new mainstream medium for music was the goal for SACD, it was doomed to failure right from the start. Due to a series of bad marketing decisions and misguided attempts to milk a small number of audiophiles instead of going after the mainstream market, SACD has become nothing more than a competitor to vinyl in the small audiophile market, rather than the new mainstream digital format.
Checking www.SA-CD.net, they list only 3773 SACD titles, and many of those are duplicate releases with slight differences between US, European and Japanese issues. Also, a large number (the majority, actually) of those are reissues of older music. Do I need another copy of Time Out or Kind of Blue, even if it is remixed for multi-channel sound?
At CES some years ago I interviewed the Vice President of Sony in charge of SACD David Kawakami. In our discussion, he asked me what I thought was needed to ensure the success of the format. I spelled out a few things that I felt were absolutely essential for SACD to succeed. None of these were done, of course, and that has lead to the marketplace failure of the medium.
SACDs failure can be traced to a few very specific things.
I laugh a little (though sadly) when I read audiophile publications and web sites talk about the success of SACD. I don't see how a handful of reissues, and modern versions of the old audiophile record industry (i.e., great sounding releases of performers that are otherwise forgettable) can be viewed as success. How much of the music that you have bought on SACD would you have bought if it was only available on regular CD? Did you really buy it for the music, or is it all just another Jazz at the Pawnshop.
From a technical standpoint, SACD is a smashing success. It is eminently musical and listenable. I just wish it would see the type of market success that it deserves. I just don't see that happening anytime soon.