Reading Roy Harris’ review at Audiophilia.com this morning raised an interesting question in my head: Is SACD, as such, an anachronism?
Not DSD, obviously – that’s emerging, been given new life, precisely because it has been cleaved away from the clutches of the SACD format (and its proprietariness to SONY). The unit seems pretty flexible otherwise, being able to play CD and other optical disc formats, and allows access to its DAC via USB input, AND accepts your USB flash-drive on a port in the front. It’s another Swiss Army Knife digital player, of a sort, but it leads with its SACD capability much in the way a particularly masochistic boxer might lead with his jaw.
That said, it seems that there are new SACD releases from audiophile labels – some of which are mining old mainstream catalog for reissue gold – and that alone might be keeping the format on life support. Certainly, it seems that most high-resolution material is being purveyed virtually through various and sundry online sources, including labels themselves. But this seems to apply mostly to “audiophile” interests, which include both old catalog and new, but interestingly nothing from the indie rock scene (where the vinyl resurgence is most evident). For instance – AcousticSounds.com has over 1,600 SACDs for sale, presumably as new, and you’ll find no shortage of titles from the likes of Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan, Dusty Springfield … as I look at the list of genres covered, the old-fogeyness is apparent: the Lion’s Share of SACD titles, by far, belongs to the classical genre with jazz as second (a little more than half the titles available in classical), and “pop/rock” a seriously distant third.
Even if you discount all of the classical titles in the list and focus on everything else … it barely adds up to much more than the number of classical titles alone. Where is Arcade Fire’s “Reflector,” or Arctic Monkeys “AM,” or Lily and Madeleine, Deer Tick, Avett Brothers, Head & The Heart, heck – where is Bon Iver or Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy? I’ll tell you where they are: Making vinyl records, CDs, and MP3 downloads … but NOT making SACDs.
If you have to ask who these people are, then you might be out of touch with what is driving music sales among the younger set. No – not teeny-boppers picking chewing gum out of their braces as they swoon over Justin Bieber – but rather those college age and post-grad people that will probably be driving the next wave of audio sales. As the older audiophiles seek comfort in the music of their youth – the Bob Dylan, Dire Straits, Rush, Warren Zevon, The Kinks, The Who, freakin’ ELVIS … so will these 18-30 year olds be seeking the music that reminds them of THEIR youth. And, in case you haven’t noticed, the new “post-teenage years” apparently last into your 40′s … which means that they’re already buying gear (mostly headphones) and buying music (mostly none of what is on that SACD list).
So, sure – SACD has become a niche product and players playing SACD will have very limited appeal, mostly among older audiophiles collecting recordings that are either audiophile-specialties (Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Holly Cole, Jacintha, Patricia Barber, etc.) or golden oldies that bring them back to the comfy climes of their youth. This machine is for them, and it makes a case for itself by offering some very nice flexibility features such as the USB Flash Drive input and the USB connectivity to the computer. This machine has a definite home out here in audiophile-land, and a verifiable (albeit very limited) reason for being.
But it’s at least just a little bit ironic that a digital format that was initially intended to overtake CD, developed by one of the biggest consumer electronics companies known to mankind (SONY), and introduced at the dawn of the 21st Century, is more of an anachronism than vinyl record players. Last I looked at Amazon.com the list of vinyl records that are New and In Stock number nearly 300,000 titles, and the overall supply of vinyl records (new, used, and otherwise) number over 1.3 million. On Amazon.
By contrast, Amazon is offering barely more than 9,000 SACDs – over 5,000 of which are classical. (insert sad trombone sound here)
Meanwhile – the high-resolution download market, including DSD downloads, is beginning to catch some wind in its sails. Sites such as HD Tracks and Blue Coast Records are gaining momentum and attention. The question is both begged and answered: what is the future of high-resolution digital? Downloads. Not physical media. The only remaining physical disc ever to grace a spinning platter will be the vinyl record. And so that begs yet another question, yet unanswered:
Hey Marantz! Why bother?
Perhaps Roy Harris will answer that question for us in his review for Audiophilia …