|Philips SACD1000 SACD/DVD-Video Player|
|Home Theater Video Players DVD Players|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Monday, 01 October 2001|
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The Audio Experience
So, enough beating around the bush. What did it sound like? I was given a selection of mainly multi-channel SACDs with the player, but regrettably only a couple of them were by people whose work I know at all well. One was Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, which includes both the 1975 quad mix (HD layer, surround section) and the 1998 remastered stereo mix (HD layer, stereo section and Red Book layer). Another is supplied free with the player, and that was Jerry Goldsmith conducting the LSO in Abbey Road Studios, playing medleys of movie and TV themes.
Both discs sounded stunning in their audio quality. The high end in particular was clear and crisp, and very clean. You definitely got the feeling that it could go way up there. In the case of the Mike Oldfield masters (which I know fairly well as I was at Island Records at the time and Island was then distributing Virgin) I definitely got the most intense impression I have ever had outside the studio of listening to the original analog masters. The combination of pristine audio quality and surround is a heady brew.
The Goldsmith recording, produced by Hein Dekker and recorded by Bruce Botnick, was presumably recorded on DSD equipment from start to finish, and is an astounding piece of work. The bass end sounded impressive, too, even though it was relying solely on my front left and right front speakers and wasn’t using the sub. It’s a great demonstration disc for the format and a good choice for bundled software. The common factors in all my SACD listening experiences with this machine can be summed up as: great transient handling, excellent frequency range and dynamics, and overall a very clear, transparent sound.
I have not had the opportunity of comparing DVD-A and SACD directly with the same material – we will need to check out the forthcoming Telarc material that will be issued in both formats for that, and I hope to do so in a future article. I was immediately extremely impressed by the performance of the player, but as time has gone by and I have become more used to listening, I find that while I prefer the sound of surround SACDs on this player to DVD-As at 24/.96 on the Kenwood, I really can’t tell whether it is the format that is better or the player. What I really need is a Meridian DVD-A player to compare it to. "Dear Mr. Stuart, please…"
This is a superb player all round, especially sound-wise. Regular CDs sound excellent too, compared to my existing CD player (also a Philips) and slightly better in quality than the Kenwood DVD-A player, suggesting that the PCM converters are more than adequate. The stunning stereo mixes on the CD version of my favorite rock demo album, Toy Matinee came across loud and clear, with excellent handling of transients in particular, superb dynamic range and good stereo imaging. There is exceptional clarity to the a cappella female vocals that characterize the Mediaeval Babes’ third CD, "Undrentide", and the vocals and arrangements on Jennifer Warnes’ latest, "The Well", sound more present and "in the room" than on other systems I have heard outside the studio.
While I found the Philips SACD1000 an excellent player, it does have its shortcomings. First of all, it is rather expensive, although arguably that is why it sounds so good. But, given the price, it is a surprise not to find the ability to play DTS CDs, something that many surround freaks are going to want. In fact, it is unfortunate that there is no DTS decoder internal to the player as there is for Dolby Digital.
More serious from the point of view of audio replay is the lack of bass management. This is provided on Sony players costing $350 on the street, so a $2000 player should have it – especially when it’s provided for DVD replay. When you play back an SACD it only comes out of the 6-channel analog outputs, because of copy-protection issues and because you don’t have a DSD D/A converter yet. But as the analog 5.1 input on your receiver or preamp may or may not have bass management, it should be in the player.
To all this I suppose we could add that the Philips SACD1000 really ought to play DVD-A discs too, but that’s wishful thinking at this point, isn’t it…?
So regrettably, the answer to the question, "Would I buy an SACD1000 if I had the money?" must be "No", for the reasons outlined above.
Another reason: Philips has already announced a next-generation SACD/DVD-V player that will list for less than half the cost of the SACD1000, and will contain Faroudja line-doubling video enhancement. The DVD962SA will carry an MSRP of $699.
What do I think of SACD sound-wise? I like it a lot. Remember that my system is not an audiophile-quality setup. It uses fairly average components and as a result, I hope I am in a good position to judge how something will sound to the average buyer who is concerned about quality but does not have $50,000 to spend on home theater. On my system, I find that surround SACD has a slight, but appreciable edge over surround DVD-A. But how much of that edge is due to the player and its superior DACs? Most likely all of it.
Will I be looking out for SACD titles? Well… it depends on my ability to a) find a player I can afford, and b) plug it in. It also depends on the availability of titles. There are more SACD titles out that DVD-A at the time of writing, but there are more DVD-A surround titles (i.e. all of them) than SACD surround discs which there only 6 of to date. Surround is critically important to me. Surround is the future – actually, it’s the present. DTS CDs are fantastic, for example. I wouldn’t say I prefer good surround to excellent stereo, but I really want the best of all worlds. I certainly prefer excellent surround (DVD-A) to excellent stereo (SACD). It’s apples and oranges: the two systems have different strong and weak points, whether you’re considering sound quality, technology or marketing. This does not make for an easier "this is better than that" comparison. And for this, and other reasons, 75 percent of potential buyers are sitting on the fence. They may sit there until both systems atrophy from lack of support.
The simple answer is that the two sides have to co-operate. I have said this before and I will say it again: we must have universal players that’ll play both multichannel SACD and DVD-A. That in turn means that the producer can choose the best recording system for the job and the consumer can play it irrespective of whether it is one or the other. NPC has a chipset that will handle both without compromising the different requirements of the two systems (the only existing universal player, from Pioneer, turns DSD into PCM and thereby completely misses the point) so that is no longer an excuse. The user interface is little more than a few bells and whistles over a machine like the Philips that already handles the two major differences in DVD-V and SACD. It may be that the more standards a player handles the less effective it will be at any one of them. But the audiophiles will probably back one or the other and be able to afford a top-end player for each if need be. This is not a viable answer for the average buyer. According to a British newspaper report recently, it is possible that such universal players will emerge next year.