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Positive Feedback ISSUE 41
january/february 2009


I want my SACD! A Plan of action to make this happen
by Teresa Goodwin


From Sony's first brochure "Super Audio Compact Disc, Eliciting the full Performance of Music."

Super Audio Compact Disc is the realization of an audiophile's dream come true: all the precision of digital reproduction combined with all the warmth and ambiance of analog sound. The secret is Direct Stream Digital™ encoding. It's one bit, 2.8224 MHz (64 fs ) sampling produces nothing less than a quantum leap in music resolution."

Super Audio CD (SACD) is ten years old this year and it is time to introduce it to the masses. Audiophiles have had it to themselves long enough. SACD has become a comfortable niche format for classical music lovers, and audiophiles with occasional jazz and geezer rock releases. What needs to be released is current pop, rock, rap, and hip hop while they are hot with songs on the top 100 hit lists.

 used to sell audio equipment and I can tell you everyone wants the best sound they can afford even the teenager buying a $100 boom-box. It is arrogant of audiophiles to assume they are the only ones who care about sound.

Suggested SACD Upgrade Program

This is what I am proposing to the recording companies and equipment manufacturers:
1) All single-layer CDs be recalled and replaced with hybrid SACD/CDs for a nominal fee of say $5.00.
2) The end of single layer CDs, all CDs going forward will be hybrid SACD/CDs as this satisfies everyone.
3) CD manufacturers to offer upgrade programs to replace all CD players with a similar priced SACD or Universal player by the same manufacturer at the same price point with a sliding scale cost based on how long the owner has owned the equipment.

SACD hybrids offer a CD layer for compatibility with older equipment. CD is a low resolution crippled format released before most of the problems with PCM could be worked out. Many of these were solved by moving the sampling frequency further away from the audio frequencies by sampling at 96kHz or 192kHz instead of 44.1kHz. CD is stuck at 44.1kHz because of the Redbook standard, on the other hand masters are now mostly made at 96kHz PCM, 192kHz PCM, DSD or DXD.

SACD is CD's natural successor and finally Sony/Philips has gotten it right with a digital format that is actually musical and has the sonic qualities of high resolution digital and the highest quality analog master tapes. SACD is 10 years old and it is time we take action to ensure it gets a proper birth, it has been in embryonic form for way too long!

CDs are non-existent in my home and will remain so. It really is quite simple, I support record companies who release SACDs by buying their SACDs. The only way to force the other companies to follow their lead is to only buy SACDs! There are millions of SACD players out there and more and more sold everyday. We have the power to force every record label to produce only SACD/CD hybrids, if only every single SACD player owner quit buying single-layer CDs.

With SACDs copy protection that has never been broken in 10 years, SACD may be the music industry's last hope? I hope they market it better this time, with kiosks in all the department stores like they did with HDTV and BluRay. And just quit releasing single-layer CDs, they are no longer needed with SACD/CD hybrids! I always thought it was kind of silly to release both single-layer CDs and SACD/CD hybrids when the hybrids have a CD layer, it's unnecessary double inventory.

The music industry will have to do this all in concert as it does no good to have inexpensive universal players without the software support. That is why current pop, rock, rap and hip hop SACDs need to be stocked on the shelves at the same time as the universal players. Until the music of teenagers is on SACD, it has not been introduced to the public.

Hardcore CD Lovers

Hardcore CD lovers listen to music castrated to 44.1kHz, and then will try to regain the lost music CD throws away with fancy D/A converters in order to achieve pseudo high resolution sound! It is better NOT to throw the resolution away to begin with and not to support those who throw resolution away. If you ever want natural high resolution sound in every home don't buy their fancy CD hardware or castrated CDs.

This is the 21st century and we have Super Audio CD's and 24 Bit 96kHz high resolution downloads but these hardcore CD lovers are living in the last century like some kind of weird religion or cult. CD folks try to artificially emulate high resolution rather just listening to the real thing!

It is better for the entire industry to just dump low resolution CDs and make only high resolution SACDs or even high resolution downloads which are either direct copies of the high resolution digital masters or down-converted as little as possible! Remember once you throw resolution away it is gone forever! There is no getting it back, spend a lot of money and you imitate it a little, but isn't the real thing better? It makes my heart sick when I see a 192kHz PCM or DSD recording released ONLY as a 44.1kHz CD. This is a crime against music; all CDs should have an SACD layer!

There are people who will try to tell you that high-end megabuck CD players can make CDs sound almost as good as SACDs by up-sampling them to 192kHz PCM or DSD. I've heard some of these megabuck players and I can tell they do sound smoother but they still sound like CD. One cannot magically turn 44.1kHz into high resolution by simply using better components. To hear high resolution one actually needs a high resolution format.

Help get the word out

SACD needs lots of cheerleading and lots of proselytizing. Everyone you meet who loves music needs to know why SACD is of vital importance to them, and let as many people as possible experience the musical and sonic qualities of the SACD format.

And I am calling for an end to single-layer CDs, every CD no matter how poorly recorded NEEDS to have an SACD layer. NO MORE single-layer CDs! On the other hand single-layer "Ultra Extended Playing Time - 4 Hours + SACDs" should be encouraged!

Also we NEED portable SACD players, car SACD players, and yes even SACD boom boxes, It is time we audiophiles share SACD technology with the general public and quit hogging it all for ourselves! And once everyone has an SACD player we can then replace the CD layer with another DSD layer to either double playing time or offer Video content as originally outlined in the scarlet book specifications.

Finally everyone needs to know that they have been told two big lies: "CD is perfect sound forever" and "MP3 is CD quality". Once they recognize these lies for what they are, they will be ready to experience music like they never dreamed was possible.

SACD is high resolution digital perfected

I have found quality recordings on SACD, DVD-Audio, 24 Bit 96kHz DVD-Video, 24 Bit 96kHz downloads, Reel to Reel, LPs, and even pre-recorded cassettes. I have tried nearly every "so-called" audiophile label and recording type on Redbook CD and find them totally lacking. CD is the only format in the entire history of formats than cannot get music right!

Talk to anyone about SACD and you usually get blank stares, or if it finally clicks they say something like "You mean that surround sound format?" I don't think people get it! SACD is not just a surround sound format it's a high resolution format! When I explain that the superior sound quality of an SACD is what makes it special, I usually hear the comeback "Why? Isn't CD perfect sound forever? How can something be better than perfect?" Then of course I explain that it was all a lie told by Sony/Philips to get you to ditch your LPs and replace them with CDs. More importantly I let them hear 2 channel stereo SACD in my system.

Yes, SACD does offer multi-channel but the most important thing it offers is high resolution in both stereo and multi-channel. Most SACDs have dedicated 2 channel stereo and multi-channel programs on the DSD layer.

SACDs may be around long after CDs are dead because the high resolution content CANNOT be copied. This I believe is the saving grace of SACD; secure copy protection.

DSD is now available as a consumer computer music file format—but this is very important, music DSD files cannot be used to create consumer SACD discs as home recordable SACD is impossible. The ability to press SACD is heavily controlled and this will not change. DSD files are also huge and use a lot of memory. The way to experience DSD is playing an SACD disc.

I prefer DSD and analog over PCM no matter how high PCM's resolution. However I do listen to high resolution PCM via SACDs from high resolution PCM masters and DVD-Audio not available on SACD as well as 24 Bit 96kHz downloads.

The goal of "high fidelity" is to reproduce the live acoustic event as accurately as possible, this is not possible with low resolution CD. Most masters are now from 96kHz PCM, 192kHz PCM, DSD, DXD and other high-resolution sources, so it is only a matter of time before 44.1kHz is in the dustbin of history. And then ALL components will be designed for accurate reproduction instead of attempting to smooth out CD playback.

What are the major record companies thinking?

First I want to thank all the audiophile and smaller labels for making SACD/CD hybrids with both Multichannel and Stereo high resolution DSD programs. I don't see the logic of the major record companies spending the time and money to make a multichannel high resolution recording and then releasing it only on low resolution 2-channel CD. I think it is time we demand ALL CDs have an SACD layer, no more single-layer CDs. Pure logic says there is no way CD can even sound close to SACD and this is actually proven by listening to musical recordings through a wide range of equipment in all price ranges.

Why boycott CDs?

It's quite simple really, CDs are cheaper to produce and if you willingly accept the CD version by laying down your money to purchase it, that leaves no motivation for the record company to release the SACD version!

Audiophile companies release SACDs because they have pride in their work and want it to sound the best it possibly can. But major record labels must follow the almighty dollar. Have you ever thought why major labels are not releasing SACDs in a big way? I've thought a lot about it and the only reason is they are counting on everyone buying the CD version if they don't release the SACD version. The major record labels will only commit to SACD if you show them that enough people are withholding their purchase until the SACD version becomes available. By purchasing the CD version it's the bean counters who win, saving 50 cents per disc by leaving off the SACD layer. We have to hit them so hard in their bottom line that they have no other choice than to issue all CDs as SACD/CD hybrids.

Why release everything on SACD? Surely the low-resolution 44.1kHz recordings would not benefit.

Most Analog masters and the Soundstream 50kHz digital masters of the late 1970s are quite good. But the decade of the 1980s is problematic as most companies dummied down to 44.1kHz PCM. By the late 1990s most companies where recording in high resolution and later DSD and DXD.

However there is a way to save those 44.1kHz masters to make them listenable. Albany Records has successfully done it using the services of Zarex HD. And here is how: "Zarex HD's up-sampling process uses intelligent interpolation to fix 24 intermediate samples between every pair of samples in the original waveform, with contours chosen and adjusted by Dr Hohman in response to the unique musical attributes of each source program."

The results to my ears are much better than CD but don't really quite approach high resolution. However unlike CDs they are totally listenable and can be fully enjoyed. This is an effective way get music out of low resolution 44.1kHz masters. 

What about the loudness wars? Surely those recordings would have no benefit on SACD.

These may actually have the biggest benefit off all. The CD layer can carry the super loud heavily compressed zero dynamic range distorted version while the SACD layer has the unadulterated pre-compressed high resolution version. This again will make everyone happy.

SACDs real war was NOT with DVD-Audio but low resolution CD which it is supposed to replace.

Buying CDs at this point in time is giving money in the support of low resolution. Adding an SACD layer to every CD is the ONLY thing that will save CD, otherwise it will die. Major department stores full of SACD/CD hybrid software, and tons of inexpensive SACD players including mini-systems, boom-boxes, and portables is the ONLY thing that will save CD and SACD.

What can I do?

When a recording you want is not released on SACD write to the record company and tell them you are interested in this recording but only when it is released on SACD, and ask that they give you a date it will be on SACD. Also tell them that you will have to pass on this recording if they choose not to release it on SACD as you only purchase SACDs and stress that SACDs have a CD layer so why not please everyone? Also include a link to this article.  It's going to take a lot of emails as the major labels will likely ignore a few hundred. We need to flood them with hundreds of thousands to millions of emails before they realize they are throwing away money by not including an SACD layer. This is perhaps the most important point they must see, it is in their own best interest to release single inventory SACD/CD hybrids.

The musical revolution has begun we our work cut out for us!