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💿 What are Super Audio CDs?

Super Audio CD (SACD) is a proprietary read-only optical disc for audio storage, introduced in 1999, was developed jointly by Sony and Philips Electronics. It was intended to be the successor to the Compact disc format. 

The Sound

Unlike CDs, the SACD doesn't use PCM sound but a proprietary sound format from Sony called  Direct Stream Digital (DSD), it differs from PCM audio.

DSD is 1-bit, has a sampling rate of 2.8224 MHz, and makes use of noise shaping quantization techniques in order to push 1-bit quantization noise up to inaudible ultrasonic frequencies. This gives the format a greater dynamic range and wider frequency response than the CD. The SACD format is capable of delivering a dynamic range of 120 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz and an extended frequency response up to 100 kHz, although most currently available players list an upper limit of 70–90 kHz, and practical limits reduce this to 50 kHz. Because of the nature of sigma-delta converters, one cannot make a direct technical comparison between DSD and PCM. DSD's frequency response can be as high as 100 kHz, but frequencies that high compete with high levels of ultrasonic quantization noise. With appropriate low-pass filtering, a frequency response of 20 kHz can be achieved along with a dynamic range of nearly 120 dB, which is about the same dynamic range as PCM audio with a resolution of 16 bits.

The SACD format can offer more channels (e.g. surround sound), and a longer playing time than CD, research published in 2007 found no significant difference in audio quality between SACD and standard CD at ordinary volume levels.

The max playtime of a CD is 80  minutes with 800 MB storage while SACD's playtime is 256 minutes with 4.5 GB of storage (single layer).

Digital eXtreme Definition (DXD) is an digital audio format that originally was developed for editing high-resolution recordings recorded in DSD, the audio standard used on Super Audio CD (SACD). As the 1-bit DSD format used on SACD is not suitable for editing, alternative formats such as DXD or DSD-Wide must be used during the mastering stage. In contrast with DSD-Wide or DSD Pure which offers level, EQ, and crossfade edits at the DSD sample rate (64fs, 2.822 MHz), DXD is a PCM signal with 24-bit resolution (8 bits more than the 16 bits used for Red Book CD) sampled at 352.8 kHz – eight times 44.1 kHz, the sampling frequency of normal CD. The data rate is 8.4672 Mbit/s per channel – three times that of DSD64. DXD also utilizes the vast array of plugins also available to PCM based digital audio workstations, such as Cubase, Logic, Digital Performer, etc.

Almost all SACD releases have to remastered or mastered in DXD then covert it to DSD.

DXD is also used as a mastering format for Blu-ray audio titles with Dolby, PCM, DTS and Auro sound, such a 2L

To reduce the space and bandwidth requirements of Direct Stream Digital (DSD), a lossless data compression method called Direct Stream Transfer (DST) is used. DST compression is compulsory for multi-channel regions and optional for stereo regions. This typically compresses by a factor of between two and three, allowing a disc to contain 80 minutes of both 2-channel and 5.1-channel sound.

There has been much controversy between proponents of DSD and PCM over which encoding system is superior. Some say DSD is better, some say PCM is better, and some say they both sound the same.

The Format

When it was first released, most SACD titles can only play on SACD players and not normal CD players.

The Super Audio CD format was introduced in 1999. Royal Philips and Crest Digital partnered in May 2002 to develop and install the first SACD hybrid disc production line in the USA, with a production capacity of 3 million discs per year. 

Many popular artists have released some or all of their back catalog on SACD, including Genesis and Pink Floyd.

By August 2009 443 labels had released one or more SACDs. Instead of depending on major label support, some orchestras and artists have released SACDs on their own. For instance, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra started the Chicago Resound label to provide full support for high-resolution SACD hybrid discs, and the London Symphony Orchestra established their own 'LSO Live' label.

Many of the SACD discs that were released from 2000-2005 are now out of print and are available only on the used market. By 2009, the major record companies were no longer regularly releasing discs in the format, with new releases confined to the smaller labels.

SACD did not achieve the same level of growth that Compact discs enjoyed in the 1980s, and was not accepted by the mainstream market. 

At first, most SACDs were exclusive in 4.5 GB single-layer or 8.5 GB single-layer, and they can only play on SACD players, not normal CD players. 

Many of the SACD discs that were released from 2000-2005 are now out of print and are available only on the used market. By 2009, the major record companies were no longer regularly releasing discs in the format, with new releases confined to the smaller labels.

It is now a niche market for audiophiles. Today's new releases are often bundle with hybrid discs, a 4.5 GB layer (HD layer) for SACDs and a 800 MB layer for CDs, so they can be backwards compatible with normal CD players, increasing the value. 

What else is it used for?

Nothing else, but audio. It does offer texts and album/song names. I'm surprised the BBC or other audio labels haven't used this format for radio dramas and take advantage of its capabilities. 

Why did it fail?

  • It failed to pick up with the mainstream because many normies that it sounded the sound as normal CDs. And many at first did not include a CD layer, thus cannot be played in a normal CD player and have to buy an expensive Super Audio CD player. SACDs only serve the niche audiophile market.
  • DRM: SACD has several copy protection features at the physical level, which made the digital content of SACD discs difficult to copy (until the jailbreak of the PlayStation 3). The content may be copyable without SACD quality by resorting to the analog hole, or ripping the conventional 700 MB layer on hybrid discs. Copy protection schemes include physical pit modulation and 80-bit encryption of the audio data, with a key encoded on a special area of the disc that is only readable by a licensed SACD device. The HD layer of an SACD disc cannot be played back on computer CD/DVD drives, and SACDs can only be manufactured at the disc replication facilities in Shizuoka and Salzburg.
  • DVDs was making significant progress in homes, helped by low-cost but low-quality “home theater in a box” surround systems. SACDs were the same size as a DVD, and the DVD Audio format, headed by Toshiba, were on the market at the same time. DVD Audio had PCM 24-bit audio around 5 mbps with surround sound. Warner Bros. chose DVD-Audio and Sony & Universal chose SACD. Double-blind listening tests in 2004 between DSD and 24-bit, 176.4 kHz PCM recordings reported that among test subjects no significant differences could be heard.
  • Expensive players, The Sony SCD-1 player was introduced concurrently with the SACD format in 1999, at a price of approximately US$5,000. It weighed over 26 kilograms (57 lb) and played two-channel SACDs and Red Book CDs only. Electronics manufacturers, including Onkyo, Denon, Marantz, Pioneer and Yamaha offer or offered SACD players. Sony has made in-car Super Audio CD players. Most people had no idea, the first two generations of Sony's PlayStation 3 game console were capable of reading SACD discs. Starting with the third generation (introduced October 2007), SACD playback was removed.[54] All PS3 models however will play DSD Disc format. PS3 was capable of converting multi-channel DSD to lossy 1.5 Mbit/s DTS for playback over S/PDIF using the 2.00 system software. The subsequent revision removed the feature. Unofficial playback of SACD disc images on a PC is possible through freeware audio player foobar2000 for Windows using an open source plug-in extension called SACDDecoder. Several brands have introduced (mostly high-end) Blu-ray Disc players that can play SACD discs, especially from Oppo. Unofficial playback of SACD disc images on a PC is possible through freeware audio player foobar2000 for Windows using an open source plug-in extension called SACDDecoder.[
  • SACD players are not permitted to offer an output carrying an unencrypted stream of Direct Stream Digital (DSD). That's including optical cables. 

Is it worth it?

Buying a stand alone SACD player and only buy SACD only discs. No. 

Buying an all-in-one disc player and buy hybrid SACD discs. Yes. 

The sound is just as good as normal CDs, but offers 6 channel surround sound and longer run time as a nice addition. It's a nice disc format but I recommend buying an BD player like Oppo that plays all sorts of discs instead of SACD only players, you get more out of money.

It also depends on the mastering of the album if done correctly, some surround sound albums were poorly converted and some some fantastic with good surround sound mastering like Nine Inch Nails. 

By 2007, DVD-Audio was a dead format and audiophile labels continued to release SACDs for the niche audiophile market. 2L and a few other labels have been releasing high resolution recordings on Blu-ray discs, (Hybrid SACDs are often included) but with the wide availability of high-speed internet connections and relatively low-cost, high-capacity digital storage, the market for music on disc is vanishing...

Futher reading:

Ana(dial)log's video:

Modern Classic's video:

Read on SACD player:

Guide to make SACD:



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