For years people have been predicting the demise of SACD. 8 Years ago Steve Guttenberg said on CNet under the title ‘Are SACD and DVD-Audio dead yet?’: “the record labels' half-hearted release schedules doomed the formats from the get-go. They never got their rosters of big-name artists to release 5.1 versions of their new titles. Surround releases were for the most part restricted to reissues of back-catalog titles. Most 5.1 mixes were pretty lame and failed to exploit surround's ability to create a more believable three-dimensional soundstage’. I won’t quarrel with that; it was, indeed, self-defeating, the Philips re-issue of Scheherazade-Gergiev, being a case in point. (“I can't believe professional musicians and recording executives would allow this junk to be put on the market” commented Tom Ernst on this site). One company after the other bowed out. But that was not the end of Super Audio. Many gurus failed to see that smaller companies picked up this niche market.
Last month the same author said: “Both formats (SACD and DVD/A) sounded better than CD, there's no doubt about that, but not better enough to woo huge numbers of music lovers (or mainstream record companies) to commit long term. The SACD is still around, serving the niche classical music market; music-only Blu-ray discs are rarer still”, thus admitting -half-heartedly- that, 8 years since, SACD is still alive, with Blu-Ray Audio joining in the advent of High Resolution.
And, lo and behold, what did happen, too? The big boys are back, re-issuing back catalogue on SACD, albeit in stereo only, as well as with a growing number in multi on Blu-Ray.
SACD doomsday prophets have, however, another trump upon their sleeves. This one is called: Vinyl. “… well recorded LPs still sound great today, even when compared with SACD, DVD-A, Blu-ray, or for that matter, with high-res FLAC files.” Comparing Hi-Res with Vinyl they hold the view that “Music's naturally occurring soft-to-loud dynamics are better preserved on LP than most standard or high-res digital formats” irrespective of the “clicks, pops, warps and speed irregularities like wow and flutter.”
With some kinds of music, like jazz, this may be so, but I certainly do not agree on the dynamics. Limiters were generally used to avoid groove jumping, like I experienced almost half a century ago (!) with an excellent Mercury recording of Strauss’ ‘Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks’ (Antal Doráti / Minneapolis Symphony). Probably in an attempt to attain the promised ‘Living Presence’; the stylus could not hold its track, jumping to the previous or the next one.
Reading about vinyl production one wonders, indeed, how Hi-Res this process is: “The source material, ideally at the original resolution, is processed using equalization, compression, limiting, noise reduction and other processes. More tasks, such as editing, pre-gapping, leveling, fading in and out, noise reduction and other signal restoration and enhancement processes can be applied as part of the mastering stage.” “If the material is destined for vinyl release, additional processing, such as dynamic range reduction or frequency dependent stereo–to–mono fold-down and equalization, may be applied to compensate for the limitations of that medium.”
I think that much of the vinyl hype has more to do with nostalgia than Hi-Res.
In view of the now abundantly available standard and more ‘daring’ repertoire on SACD, the only credible discussion focusses on ‘stereo’ or ‘multi’ Hi-Res. I am a confirmed multi-man, but it is clear that others, also given room sizes, are quite happy with stereo only. It’s a choice, but Super Audio it is in both cases.
And what about future development? As long as (multi-channel) FLAC file downloads are big & expensive and are, as far as I am concerned (and have been able to establish), not quite up to the quality of DSD SACD’s, the latter remains my prime choice for at least some time to come. But I will refrain from any predictions. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.