Sony hit the ultimate consumer electronics home run in 1982 with the Compact Disc. Paired with European consumer electronics giant, Philips, the two companies basically reinvented the way that the world listens to music. Gone was vinyl and its high signal to noise ratio and limited dynamic range. In was digital audio that was the "perfect format forever".
Beyond the ridiculous hype from the Sony machine about a perfect format - a 16 bit 44.1 kHz sampling rate Compact Disc wasn't perfect at all although it was far better than vinyl. In comparison to master tape - the Compact Disc simply didn't have enough bits or high enough of a sampling rate. Sony knew that they could possibly corner the market on silver audio discs again with something called SACD which was a disc that looked just like a Compact Disc but had lossless audio and could perform both higher resolution stereo and or 5.1 audio.
SACD's rise to fame was marketed with missteps. Some of the format's issues included:
• SACD had no video output in an era when DVD-Video players had 75 percent market share.
• SACD had a strong competitor in DVD-Audio which could playback video.
• Because of fear from the record labels, SACD only output analog outputs thus for home theater enthusiasts you needed a new disc player (around $1000 at the time), upwards of 8 cables (easily $300) and a new AV Preamp or receiver complete with 7.1 analog inputs ($700 to $7,000 at the time)
• SACD had the support of Sony Music but never had critical mass in terms of titles. For example Sony paid to get Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon mastered for 5.1 hybrid SACD which sold over 1,000,000 discs but it took nearly 10 years for the next title from Pink Floyd to be released on SACD. Consumers we left wanting for more content.
• Audiophile record labels supported SACD but top selling audiophile titles on HD formats like SACD almost always fail to sell 10,000 units.
• Many of the groundbreaking titles for SACD like Miles Davis Kind of Blue, Michael Jackson's Thriller and the entire Peter Gabriel catalog sounded only incrementally better mainly based on the fact that they were recorded using non-DSD methods. The best sounding SACDs were recorded using DSD from start to finish.
The death of SACD as a mainstream format was paired with the death of DVD-Audio thus leaving consumers to buy downloads of music from the likes of Apple and their iTunes platform at one forth the resolution of the Compact Disc. It was a dark day for high resolution audio.
Today, fears of copy protection issues are gone with the advent of HDMI (HDCP copy protected) Blu-ray players in over 50 percent of U.S. homes. Despite under $100 players packing one-cable, copy protected digital connections and many times the storage capability on Blu-ray - the music industry basically reserves the format for concert videos. Audiophiles in typical fashion have gone back their retro-technology movement and sing the praise of vinyl despite its well publicized technical flaws.
Hope abounds with the rise in HD downloads but players like Apple don't support HD downloads thus the mainstream pipeline to sell HD music are still cut off from master tape quality audio. Blu-ray can offer the best stereo and 7.1 HD audio known to man but without label support - hopes for real meaningful music in HD are dim.
For those looking for more music in SACD - here's a good list of some of the best titles.
For a more comprehensive list of SACDs check out SA-CD.net.