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What is an SACD?

As an audio lover, it is very important for you to know all the best ways to get your audio addiction satisfied. Many people think that they know all the best ways to listen to music. There’s vinyl, there’s digital, and for some, there is CD, and that is about it. But there’s one format that few people know about. That is SACD. What is it, you may ask? Well, this article is here to tell you.

SACD stands for Super Audio CD. Just from looking at the name, it is clear that this is intended to be a level above regular CDs. The real question is whether it actually delivers in that regard. This site is all about giving you the information you need on audio equipment and hardware. I want you to find the best things to reproduce your music, but I also want you to know the best formats.

Without further ado, let’s move straight into the article.

Table Of Contents

The History of SACD

The Super Audio CD format was first developed all the way back in 1999. It was the result of a collaboration by Philips and Sony as a way to succeed the regular compact disc. The Super Audio CD was meant to bring not only better quality than a normal CD, but to provide longer playback time.

SACD Logo
SACD Logo

It did exactly that. Most people when listening to Super Audio CD audio were able to tell the clear difference in the quality. It could also hold more music than a compact disc could despite sharing the same dimensions. So, if it so good, why are we still asking “what is an SACD”? You would expect such a format to have rocketed in popularity, yet it is not as well-known as the regular CD.

There’s a lot in the history of the Super Audio CD that prevented it from becoming mainstream. It looked just like a CD, and certain SACDs could still be played by regular CD players. You wouldn’t get the higher quality music that they gave that way. You’d need a dedicated SACD player. Buying extra hardware always slows down the adoption of a format.

The presence of a competitor did not help either. DVD-Audio was going straight against SACD. Certain record labels took the side of SACD, while others went with DVD-Audio. This split made it even harder for the technology to find mainstream success.

Finally, the advent of digital media players such as the iPod brought in the factor of convenience. You could store thousands of songs and carry them around with the convenience of a single disc. Even though the audio quality was far from the height of SACD, the conveniences of digital kept Super Audio CD permanently away from the mainstream.

SACD laser
SACD layers
Source: Wikimedia

The Technology of SACD

When it comes to the technology behind how an SACD works, it is the same basic mechanism as a CD. A laser reads a disc. They are both the same shape and size and will fit into any disc reader.

An SACD can have a layer for playing regular CD audio in addition to its SACD layer. This is known as a hybrid SACD. If you put it into a regular CD player, it will play audio, but in regular CD quality. Not with the perks of SACD. This means it is versatile, however, as you do not specifically need an SACD player. There are also single-layer and dual-layer SACDs. These do not play on CD players and only on SACD players. A dual-layer disc can store nearly twice as much music.

SACD has a sampling frequency that is 64 times that of a CD. It can also hold nearly 7 times the data that a CD can, at 4.7GB. Super Audio CD also provides a great means to store surround sound audio on a physical medium. It can store up to 6 audio channels as opposed to the max of two stereo channels for a regular CD.

The way an SACD works compared to a regular CD is straightforward. Like a camera trying to focus on a surface or subject, lasers have the same. In a regular CD player, the laser is a certain distance away from the data layer. The distance is the same in all CD players, so the audio is read off the disc properly in any player. The SACD layer is just a few millimeters above the regular layer. This prevents a regular player from being able to read its audio.

The Sound Quality of SACD

Sound quality is the most important measure to compare Super Audio CD with CDs. When it comes to the technical specifications of audio quality, SACD is superior. It gets a better dynamic range, with a maximum of 105dB. It has a much wider frequency response, at 20-50kHz.

To the average listener, the sonic advantages of SACD may not be the clearest to discern. However, it’s been seen that audiophiles and other trained listeners can tell the difference much easier. In general, though, SACD is clearly the winner once you turn up the volume. Audio gets distorted much easier for CD than SACD.

So, what does this mean? If you’re reading this, you’re likely always on the search for the best ways to improve your audio experience. If sound quality is that important to you, you’ll likely be able to tell the difference between Super Audio CD and regular CD.

Despite the fact it is not mainstream, there is still a lot of music you can get in Super Audio CD format. This is the best way to enjoy digital audio if you’re not going to be listening to lossless audio formats.

Get the right equipment and attune your ear to listening to hi-res music. Once you have all this set, the difference in quality is clear. It’s just a shame that there are so few pieces of music to enjoy off of SACD.

FAQs

Are SACDs still made?

Yes, they are! In the way that vinyl is a niche to those who listen off streaming platforms, Super Audio CD music is even more small-scale. There are some labels that are patriotic to the format, and a lot of classical music can be gotten as SACD. However, mainstream music is difficult to get in this format. They are still being made, but it is on a small-scale.

Is SACD better than CD?

In essentially every objective measurement, SACD is superior. It can store 4.7GB on a single-layer disc as opposed to 700MB on a CD. It has a better dynamic range, better frequency response, and can play music over six channels. The sampling rate is also much greater than a CD. All this comes together to give audio that is noticeably superior.

Can you play an SACD on a regular CD player?

The answer to this depends on the type of SACD. For a hybrid SACD, yes, it can be played on a regular CD player. However, it is essentially like playing a regular CD. The device will just be reading off the CD layer instead of the SACD layer. This is versatile, but you won’t get the best audio. If it is a single or double-layer SACD though, you won’t be able to play it on a CD player. Those discs have no CD layer for the player to read.

Why did SACD fail?

There is a reason why many people will ask “what is an SACD?”. It never managed to achieve full mainstream success and became relegated as a more niche medium for music. The main two reasons for this are the market being split by DVD-Audio and the popularization of digital MP3 players.
DVD-Audio was a similar enough format, but you needed a DVD player. That was the same way SACD needed an SACD player. With major labels split on one instead of the other, both formats suffered.
The iPod launched in 2001, just a few years after Super Audio CD came out. Because of this, it did not have much time to solidify its position, and the convenience of digital music soon made it lose out.

It takes quite a bit of money to get everything you need to enjoy SACD. But if you’re on the lookout for a digital audio medium to enjoy hi-res music from, this might be the one for you.

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