To Doug Schneider,
Computer-based audio playback is an ever-growing trend in both the mass-market and audiophile segments. Downloads are here to stay and offer great opportunities for everyone who makes and listens to music. It's important for SoundStage! Hi-Fi to stay on top of what's going on now and where we think audio reproduction is going in the future.
However . . .
Your most recent and continued comments about the demise of SACDs and the rise of high-resolution downloads speak to your particular preferences and priorities, not the state of the market.
There are more SACD releases each month than high-resolution download releases -- even including re-releases of the same albums for download that have been available on SACD and DVD-Audio for more than a decade. The majority of new high-resolution downloads are also released on SACDs -- usually first. Analog Productions is releasing a few jazz remasters every month, which are excellent pure-DSD transfers, and stuff that lots of audiophiles buy. SACDs are not only for remasters and little audiophile labels. There are a surprising number of new recordings on fairly well-known labels. Many of them are available from mainline retailers -- like Amazon -- not just audiophile boutiques. While most of the remasters are jazz and popular music from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s -- before the dark days of low-bit-rate digital recording -- the majority of the new recordings are classical. The fact that you don't care about classical music doesn't change the number of titles that are released.
You correctly point out that many of these SACDs eventually do become available as downloads, but most of the DSD transfers to download are not properly filtered, so there is lots of unnecessary high-frequency noise without the superior impulse response of true DSD playback. Even worse, many titles that were originally recorded in PCM are transcoded to DSD for SACD release then ripped by the download site and converted back to PCM. That certainly doesn't improve their sound quality.
On the equipment side, most manufacturers have abandoned trying to come out with new SACD players, but arguably the two highest-end names in digital audio -- Esoteric and dCS -- continue to include SACD playback in their top-of-the-line offerings. Esoteric has SACD players at all of the relevant high-end price points, so it would make it nearly impossible for any other company to really compete -- maybe Ayre. Blu-ray players from Oppo Digital and Sony include SACD playback, and even allow on-the-fly conversion from DSD to 88.2kHz or 176.4kHz PCM through their HDMI outputs for use with home-theater receivers and preamp/processors for both stereo and multichannel.
I don't know how much of the SACD market is driven by multichannel music, but it is still the format of choice for that type of program material. There are very few, but increasing, numbers of audio-only Blu-ray releases. Multichannel downloads are similarly scarce even though the potential for a computer-based multichannel music setup is definitely there.
I am pleasantly surprised by the continued viability of SACD. I don't know how long that will last, but it is where things stand today.
S. Andrea Sundaram
Contributor, The SoundStage! Network