Multichannel Super Audio CD (SACD) simply does not work properly in most home systems. And we are in the hands of Sony and Philips, it seems, until it does.
SACD is duking it out with DVD Audio as the high resolution music format of choice. I’ll post in the next few days on the pros and cons of the two of them. But here’s one major difference: DVD Audio simply extends the familiar PCM format from the compact disc. The world has thirty or more years experience dealing with PCM (Pulse Code Modulation). Computer sound cards use PCM. Processing to do just about anything is readily available. All it takes is a bit of will to do nearly anything you want to a PCM signal.
But SACD doesn’t use PCM. It uses ‘Direct Stream Digital’ which is a single bit, high data rate system. There is almost no equipment for doing stuff to a DSD signal. So processing of such signals will, for the forseeable future, remain restricted to what Sony and Philips (and anyone they license) deign to give us.
DSD has gained somewhat of a reputation for a ‘more natural sound’ than DVD Audio, although I think this is silly because there are no discs which can be compared. (And don’t say Telarc’s 1812 Overture because this was actually recorded in DSD; the DVD Audio version has been converted from the DSD recording.)
Be that as it may, proper surround playback demands that either all five speakers be the same distance from the listener, or that the system allows time alignment to adjust for the different speaker distances. Very few people have, or even can have, the surround speakers at the same distance as the front speakers without compromising the front stereo stage.
From the equipment-maker’s perspective, there are only two realistic ways to accomplish time alignment on DSD signals: get DSD decoders from Sony or Philips which provide this function, or convert the signal to PCM and do it yourself. It seems that there are no such chips yet. And to convert to PCM would attract derision from the audiophile crowd because that would cancel the alleged benefits of DSD.
So I guess we’ll just have wait until Sony and Philips come up with the goods.