A Deeper Look into SACD Discs

The Super Audio Compact Disc, commonly known as SACD or SA-CD, is a physical audio data carrier which is a specialized form of the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD). It was developed by Philips and Sony to surpass the audio quality of traditional CDs. In doing so, it promises higher resolution audio signals and can store multichannel sound without data reduction. However, its adoption in the market, much like its competitor, DVD-Audio, has been limited when compared to the standard CD.

History and Market Situation

The SACD format was introduced in 1999 with its specification, named the Scarlet Book, originating from Philips. Initially marketed as an elite product, SACD and its players were priced at a premium, preventing its widespread adoption. Even with the eventual introduction of more affordable devices, the SACD failed to capture a significant market share.

Its strongest foothold was in typically audiophile music genres, primarily classical, but also jazz and vocals. While popular music was largely released on SACD in its early years post-launch, its share in the market decreased over time.

Devices that played SACD were manufactured by notable brands like Sony, Marantz, Pioneer, Yamaha, and Denon. However, despite its peak popularity in 2005, its sales never surpassed 0.3% of the physical data carriers market. As of 2013, its sales were on a decline, albeit at a slower rate than the overall shrinking market for physical data carriers.

Denon DVD-1400, a DVD Audio Video/SACD Player (in production 2003-2004).
Image by Vogler, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 license

Properties of the SACD

Format and Capacities

The SACD format distinguishes itself from other data carriers like CD-Audio, DVD, and Blu-Ray due to its denser track layout and capability to support up to two layers, thus allowing for data storage ranging from 4.7 to 8.5 gigabytes. The SACD comes in three primary versions:

  • Single Layer: Contains only a high-density (HD) layer and is playable exclusively on SACD players.
  • Dual Layer: Features an additional HD layer for extended recording time but is still limited to SACD players.
  • Hybrid Layer: This unique version combines both an HD and a standard CD layer. Its standout attribute is the layering of the CD and DVD components.

Encoding of Audio Data

SACD utilizes the Direct-Stream-Digital (DSD) format, a departure from the Pulse-Code-Modulation (PCM) technique used by traditional Audio-CDs and DVD-Audios. DSD’s Delta-Sigma-Modulation technique encodes audio at a mere 1 Bit word width but compensates with a substantial 2.8224 MHz sampling rate, compared to a CD’s PCM encoding at 16 Bit resolution and a 44.1 kHz rate.

While some argue DSD’s audio quality supremacy, similar results can be achieved in PCM by enhancing the dynamic resolution and sampling frequency, such as 24 bit at 176.4 kHz. The core distinction between PCM and the Delta-Sigma-Modulator lies in the latter’s lack of a sampling rate converter (Downsampling) in DSD, resulting in audio storage with minimal word width and heightened sampling rate.

Multichannel Sound

Contrary to the Audio-CD which supports a maximum of two audio tracks (Stereo), the SACD supports multichannel sound with up to six channels. This ability allows the SACD to store high-resolution multichannel sound losslessly. While many SACDs provide only a high-resolution stereo track, not utilizing the multichannel option, there are SACD players that can only play Stereo-SACDs and not multichannel ones.

Copy Protection

Apart from the CD layer present in Hybrid SACDs, which can be played and copied effortlessly, the high-resolution content on SACDs is protected by copy protection to prevent unwanted distribution. This copy protection system consists of several layers: The “Pit Signal Processing” (PSP) is a digital, invisible watermark that verifies the authenticity of the SACD. Moreover, the lead-in area of an SACD is encrypted and can only be decoded by specific hardware in SACD players. Both measures prevent SACDs from being read by standard DVD-ROM drives.

Listening Tests

According to promotional statements by Sony/Philips, due to significantly improved technical parameters, SACDs are purported to provide superior audio quality in stereo playback compared to traditional CDs. However, this superiority has not been objectively confirmed.

While the SACD and its hybrid variant offer unique technical advances and high-quality audio playback, its adoption and market presence have remained niche, making it an interesting yet limited chapter in the annals of audio technology.

Notable SACD Releases

Since its introduction the Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD) has been embraced especially by audiophile enthusiasts and has seen several notable releases. Although the format didn’t conquer the mass market, its superior sound quality attributes garnered significant attention in the audiophile community. Here are some notable SACD releases:

  1. Pink Floyd – “Dark Side of the Moon”: This iconic 1973 album received an SACD release, providing listeners with a rich multi-channel surround sound experience. The SACD release allows fans to experience this classic in an unprecedented sound quality.
  2. Dire Straits – “Brothers in Arms”: This groundbreaking album was not only famous for its musical content but was also one of the early recordings fully utilizing digital recording techniques. The SACD release heightened its clarity and details.
  3. Bob Dylan – “Blood on the Tracks”: Bob Dylan’s seminal 1975 release saw a remastered version on SACD, further amplifying the raw emotion and lyrical genius of the album.
  4. Miles Davis – “Kind of Blue”: Heralded by many as one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, its SACD release allowed listeners to experience the nuances and intricacies of Davis’s trumpet play and the accompanying instruments with incredible clarity.
  5. The Rolling Stones Remastered Series: Abkco Records released most of The Stones’ early albums (from 1964’s “England’s Newest Hit Makers” to 1970’s “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out”) in SACD format. These releases provided fans with a fresh and more profound insight into the band’s classic hits.
  6. Roxy Music – “Avalon”: This 1982 album, known for its meticulous production, was given the SACD treatment, intensifying its lush, atmospheric soundscapes.
  7. Norah Jones – “Come Away with Me”: The debut album of Norah Jones, which won her five Grammy Awards, was another contemporary classic that received an SACD release. The format accentuated the album’s intimacy and Jones’s soulful vocals.
  8. Mahler: Symphony No. 2 – Iván Fischer & Budapest Festival Orchestra: A testament to the format’s popularity in classical music circles, this release showcased the grandeur of Mahler’s composition in vivid detail.
  9. Beck – “Sea Change”: A significant release in the realm of alternative rock, the SACD format highlighted the album’s moody, cinematic soundscapes.
  10. Elton John – “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”: This classic from Elton John was re-released on SACD, breathing new life into hits like “Bennie and the Jets” and “Candle in the Wind.”

It’s essential to remember that while these SACD releases are notable for their enhanced sound quality, their impact and relevance also lie in their ability to breathe new life into classic recordings, providing both long-time fans and new listeners with a superior listening experience.


SACDs brought a fresh twist to audio technology, offering high-resolution audio combined with innovative tech features. Although they may not have taken center stage in the mainstream market, they found a cherished spot among audio enthusiasts. Notable releases such as Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms”, and Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” gave listeners a revamped experience of iconic tracks. SACDs are a testament that sometimes innovation, even if not universally adopted, plays a pivotal role in the evolution of an industry. They underscore a unique chapter in the audio world’s narrative, marking the journey of our ever-evolving music listening experience.

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