The Case For High-End Audio: The Super Audio CD

I’d say it’s a safe bet to say that most of us listen to music. We all enjoy our favorite artists and like to listen to music in the car, at work, or while just relaxing at home. But some of us are complete snobs and are picky about our music and audio. For those of you who share this trait, there’s the ostracized SACD and DVD-Audio formats. Exceptional quality and clarity, limited availability, and an inflated price are all a part of these two formats. Is it worth buying or investing in one of the two formats? It depends.

This past weekend I was rocking out for a good hour or two. I have plenty of audio equipment that I’m not even going to talk about aside from the basics. I use an iMac G5 (last edition) with M-Audio Studiophile AV40 monitors through an M-Audio FastTrack Pro digital I/O interface. This is used mostly for movies on the computer and digital audio like MP3s and FLAC. For the rest of my stuff, I use a Sony receiver that’s pretty decent and a Sony equalizer along with some Sony bookshelf speakers that have both subs and tweeters built-in.

Playstation 3 owners should take note that their PS3 will play SACDs. Just make sure you use a great sound setup with your unit.

So during this rocked-out weekend, I decided it’d be a worthy investment to buy a Sony SCD-CE595 SACD (Super Audio CD) Player. It was only $150 at Best Buy, I needed a new component CD player for my system, it has a 5-disc changed, and of course, it plays SACDs. I snatched it up and had to drive to two other Best Buys before I was able to find a few SACDs to purchase. The price of an SACD I’ve found to average around $15 both online and in stores. I decided to go with Peter Gabriel’s “Shaking The Tree” and Ryan Adams’ “Rock N Roll” — both excellent CDs with great production and two of my favorite artists. I also took the liberty to order two more SACDs off CDUniverse as well: Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon: 30th Anniversary Edition” and The Police’s “Synchronicity”.

I got home, set it all up, positioned myself, and threw in the Peter Gabriel SACD I bought. Literally, right off the bat, you can tell the difference in quality. The highs sound clearer, the bass resonates deeper, and so much more. Ryan Adams’ “Rock N Roll” sounds like the band is right in front of me practicing studio sessions. Guitars sound so unreal, you’ll be blown away. Truth be told, the only way to experience it properly is to give it a listen yourself.

When the day was done, I had spent about $200 total for a SACD player and 4 CDs. Not too bad at all. But should you give a damn and try it out for yourself? It depends. If you’re someone who is passionate about music and has a decent, $400+ component audio system already (not a home theater in a box!), then it might be worth a shot. Just make sure you browse over sites like CD Universe and Sony Music to see what artists have SACDs available.

Like I said, catalogs are limited and you might not find everything you’re looking for. Because the format is so niche, not many artists are putting their music out on SACD. Genesis just announced that 14 of their albums will be re-mastered and re-released on SACD, so there are some exceptions.

Personally, I’d say if you need to buy a new CD player for your component system or if you appreciate the quality and production of certain artists, SACD is the way to go. I’ve heard DVD-Audio before and it’s pretty similar, but I haven’t spent enough time with it yet to pass judgment. Before buying an SACD player, you should look for the following:

  • Music – Do the bands or artists you listen to have SACDs available? How much will they cost you? Are they readily available or will you have to wait a month or two to receive it?
  • Cost – Do you really want to shell out $150 – $500 for a player? The choice is yours of course and everyone has a different budget range. The $150 Sony I got sounds fine and looks great, but the titles will start killing me after awhile.
  • Equipment – Are you going to integrate the SACD player into your existing setup or are you buying all new equipment? To take full advantage of the clarity of SACDs, you need the right gadgets. A receiver, equalizer, and decent pair of speakers or 5.1 setup will get you going in the right direction.

    Though not everyone is going to rush out an buy SACDs after this, I hope a few of you readers will consider it. High-quality audio is truly an amazing sound to hear through one’s ears and once you start, you don’t want to regress back to lossy formats. Playstation 3 owners should seriously consider buying a SACD or two to check the sound out for themselves. Just know that although the format has only a small fan-base and virtually no popularity, it’s far from dying. SACD is not going to become the next Betamax, it’s just a niche format for picky people when you break it down… I hope.