Audiophiles often choose to eschew more modern audio technology in favor of something more classical and old-fashioned, all in the name of superior audio quality. Although most people nowadays listen to music via streaming services, there are still a lot of audiophiles who would testify to the unmatched quality of music from physical media.
Super Audio CDs or SACDs are examples of an older technology that has retained a following despite the popularity of more convenient ways of listening to music. What is it with SACDs, and why are they still so popular? Read on to find out, and to see the best brands of SACD players that we have found in the market today.
What are Super Audio CDs?
Super Audio CDs or SACDs were developed in 1999 by Sony and Philips as an upgrade to the Audio CD. Where the original CD format had audio encoded using the Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) format, SACDs used the Direct Stream Digital (DSD) file format. At the time, the DSD format provided the highest resolution audio available to casual music listeners, with a sampling rate of 2.8224 MHz compared to the Audio CD’s sampling rate of 44.1 kHz. Having a larger storage capacity of 4.7 gigabytes, SACDs can store separate stereo and six-channel mixes, proving a better “surround sound.”
On top of delivering more accurate audio over a wider dynamic range, SACD players were also designed to be backward compatible. SACD players can play standard audio CDs, although standard CD players usually cannot play SACDs. As a compromise, dual-format SACDs were released that had both the CD version and separate PCM content that can be played by an SACD player.
Is it worth it to buy a Super Audio CD Player?
In spite of its superior sound quality, why did the SACD format never gain mainstream popularity? The answer lies in three characters: MP3. The MP3 format tapped into what most mainstream music listeners really wanted – convenience and portability. MP3 files are highly compressed, allowing thousands of songs to be stored in very small storage media. The iTunes store also made buying music ridiculously easy and convenient. The music industry never looked back. Nowadays, new music releases are mostly done via streaming services, where new content can be discovered with just a few clicks.
This long-winded account brings us to the next question. Why, despite the popularity of MP3s and streaming services, do SACDs maintain a loyal following of audiophiles? Here’s the thing: if you are a music lover who cares about things such as dynamic range, tight bass, high resolution, and channel separation, then compressed MP3s will just not do it for you.
There is nothing quite like the richness of sound that you can get from an SACD. Sure, you can’t take SACD music with you while you’re out on a run, and your car speakers probably will not do it justice. However, listening to SACD audio with a proper sound system is a whole different experience in itself.
So, is it worth it to buy an SACD player? Chances are, if you have made it this far into the article, then you already know the answer. If you prioritize audio quality over convenience, then we are glad to let you know that SACDs are overwhelmingly the choice of media for audiophiles. Luckily for you, we are here to help you decide on the best SACD player for your budget.
How do you choose the best Super Audio CD Player?
The SACD players in the market today have a huge price range, so choosing the right one for you can be a little overwhelming. The first thing to look out for is compatibility. Modern SACD players should be able to play most of the common file formats (including CD, DVD, DVD-Audio, VCD, MKV, AVI) as well as the lossless file formats (such as FLAC, ALAC, and WAV).
You will also want to look for an SACD player with multiple input and output options. Most models combine connectivity options for HDMI, USB, RS232, DLNA, IR, and Wireless N. Wireless connections are especially nifty, as they allow you to download high-quality audio files over a network.
Finally, most big brands have their own proprietary digital-to-analog conversion technology which sets them apart from each other. How clean and nuanced the sound that an SACD player produces is primarily determined by this factor. Naturally, the more expensive models have more sophisticated digital-to-analog conversion techniques.
The Top 4 Best SACD Players
1. OPPO BDP-103 Universal Disc Player
If it is your first foray into the SACD world, then we suggest getting the OPPO BDP-103 Universal Disc Player. For less than $500, you can get a player that supports not just SACD, but also a wide variety of formats including Blu-ray, DVD, CD, VCD, MP4, AVI, and MKV. Although you might be buying it for its audio quality that, this player also boasts an updated Qdeo Video Processor and upgrades the display of most DVDs to 1080p.
Although the BDP-103 is a budget option, the audio quality it delivers is nothing to sneeze at. It provides smooth and warm audio with a quality that is quite noticeable even when using modest audio equipment. For its diversity of applications and audio quality, the BDP-103 is a great bargain at its current selling price
However, the BDP-103 does look exactly like a product in its price range. Its build and finish are not very impressive, and the buttons feel a little flimsy. User friendliness could also use a bit of work as the menus can feel clunky at times. If durability and longevity are concerns for you, then you might have to consider a higher end model.
2. Yamaha CD-S1000 CD Player
For the budding audiophile, the Yamaha CD-S1000 is a very good upgrade from the sub-$500 SACD players. The Yamaha CD-S1000 is compatible with both standard CDs and SACDs and comes with a high precision digital to analog converter with independent left and right channels. This channel separation contributes to producing a sound that is clean and rich with a deep bass.
The player itself looks very sophisticated. It has a good heft to it (about 33 lbs), with a brushed aluminum exterior and wood panel highlights. The design is very minimalist, with the controls blending smoothly into its overall design. Giving this player a little more sophisticated feel are the smooth and very quiet loading and exit operations.
In terms of audio quality, the Yamaha CD-S1000 definitely does not disappoint. The sound of the CD-S1000 is a huge upgrade even from its fellow Yamaha predecessors, such as the CD-S300. Coupled with the Yamaha S-2000 amp, the listening experience with the CD-S1000 is a whole new level. The “Natural Sound” branding of this speaker is spot on, as you might even hear the acoustics of the room where the audio was recorded.
If you are looking for an audiophile-level SACD player near the $1000 range, the Yamaha CD-S1000 is an excellent option.
3. OPPO BDP-105D Universal Audiophile 3D Blu-Ray Player Darbee Edition
Now we’re talking. The BDP-105D from OPPO belongs in a group of its own, not only because of its price but because it features an analog audio stage powered by ESS Sabre32 analog to digital converters. It has a dedicated stereo output which can be connected to an amp for the maximum audio experience. It can play a variety of media formats including SACD, Blu-ray, DVD, VCD, DVD-Audio, MP4, AVI, and MKV. The BDP-105D has an extensive selection of choices for inputs and outputs and an audio level control for music, basically making it a pre-amp.
The BDP-105D is heavy and seems well built, with a sleek and smooth finish and a design that screams “we mean business”. It is DLNA-compatible, allowing you to bypass USB connection and use DLNA to download high-quality audio files.
Another neat feature of the BDP-105D is the ‘Darbee’ picture engine that can be applied to videos. This is basically a filter that makes videos sharper and with more crisp colors. If you like watching old movies, then a touch of Darbee Vision might just help make that movie look new again.
4. Marantz SA10S1 SA-10 Super Audio CD Player
At its price tag, you would think that purchasing a Marantz SA10S1 SA-10 might be too expensive for the sake of audio quality. You would be right, but you would also be overlooking the fact that the sound of the Marantz SA10S1 might be superior to any other SACD player in the market.
With the SA10S1, Marantz has come up with a completely new way of converting digital data to analog signals, a result of their extensive research and development process. Equipped with the Marantz Musical Mastering-Stream Conversion processing, the digital-to-analog conversion of the SA10S1 reformats the PCM data to pure 1-bit DSD bitstream. This feature allows the SA10S1 to extract all of the finest details of high-resolution audio file formats, producing music that is as detailed and nuanced as possible.
The SA101 is compatible with all high resolution and lossless music file formats including FLAC, ALAC, WAV, and AIFF. For best results, the SA10S1 can be paired with the Marantz PM-10 integrated amplifier. With its balanced audio connection and high-power output, the PM-10 brings out the best in the audio output of the SA10S1.
SACD technology may not have gained mainstream popularity, but it still maintains a loyal following among the audiophile technology. SACD audio has advantages such as having a more dynamic range and higher resolution that MP3s and streaming music simply cannot simulate. They are not convenient or portable, but these are not factors that matter to an audio purist.
The SACD players available in the market today have a wide range in terms of price, mostly based on their digital-to-analog conversion technology. If you are just starting your journey into the SACD world, you can get one of the more affordable models to dip your toes into the experience. For the more seasoned connoisseur, one of the higher-end models may be just what you need to get the music listening experience you are looking for.
Whichever model you get, you will find out how much better music is when listening to SACDs. Streamed music will pale in comparison.