There’s also a wait of between 20 to 30 seconds when going between CD and SACD while the player sorts itself out. Fast search within a track is agonisingly slow. This ‘fault’ seems endemic to all Multi Format players – at least it has been on every machine I’ve experienced up till now. Finding a section in a long track is frustratingly slow. In the case of the NAD, this is made worse by the fact that it won’t let you go to the next track and scan back. Unlike all CD players (and some multi-format disc players) that simply jump over to the next track when you reach the end, the NAD only searches within a track. So if a track lasted 20 minutes and you wanted to sample (say) the last couple of minutes, you’d need to trawl though the first 18 minutes (this takes about 2m 15s on the NAD) to get to the point you want – you couldn’t go to the start of the next track, and wind back two-minutes to get to the section required.
I was also slightly annoyed that you couldn’t load a disc onto the NAD’s open tray, hit Play, and have the music (eventually) start. The Arcam and Denon let you do this (though you can’t choose a track), and would start to play after about 12 seconds. The NAD has to decide what sort of disc it’s being asked to play.
Only then will it accept commands. I also didn’t like the way the NAD switched into Standby when left for a few minutes. All rather frustrating… Or is it? If you’re the sort of listener who puts a disc on at the start and takes it off when it’s finished, none of this is of much consequence. What I did find annoying with all three players is not being able to put a disc in the drawer, hit a number on the remote, and have it go straight to the track in just a few seconds. Compared to the fast track access we take for granted with most CD players, Multi-format disc players are positively tortoise-like.
Speaking personally, I found the experience of listening to SACD very educational. For starters, it forced me to differentiate between a sound I liked – something that fits existing ideas of how things should sound – and a true, accurate high-fidelity sound, with nothing added or taken away. Despite some mixed feelings, there was no doubting SACD’s positive qualities and virtues. Compared to CD, SACD offers much more of an open window on the music. It allows you to hear the individual qualities of the original recording far more clearly. Its higher quality raises your listening expectations. It didn’t always deliver fully on those expectations. However, that’s not necessarily a fault with SACD as such – all it’s doing is faithfully passing on the original signal without adding or subtracting from it to any significant degree. So, if you’re not happy with what you hear, don’t shoot the messenger! SACD also made me very aware of how one grows to accept (and ultimately overlook) certain limitations with CD. For example, the way that CD generalises the sound, and irons out its subtle individuality. While the best discs and players reduce this to very low levels, it’s not entirely eliminated – as SACD demonstrates.
In visual terms, SACD is like a picture with lots of subtly-differentiated colours and textures that retain more of their independence and separation. In this respect, SACD is closer to good analogue. It has something of the subtlety and finesse you get from a good LP and a first-rate turntable front end. It’s got that full, solid, substantial quality that you get with good analogue, particularly in the middle and low registers.
There’s a sense of body and firmness which makes the music sound solid and centred. You can play things at a lower volume level, and still have the sound retain its presence, weight, and power.
What it hasn’t got is some of the nice ‘additives’ that make vinyl so pleasant and addictive! SACD is a real, squeaky-clean, high fidelity medium. More so than any previous medium it gets us a step closer to that impossible ideal – nothing added, nothing taken away – which can’t be bad.
Speaking as a punter with a massive investment in CD, I’m not sure I want CD to be blown away by SACD. If it was, I’d have several thousand CDs that would need replacing. Just the same, I can definitely hear where CD falls down compared to SACD, and the difference can often be quite a big one. Not so much a replacement for CD then, as an increasingly valid alternative, SACD easily justifies its presence alongside the other digital formats, while the performance of players such as these also makes a strong case for including it in your listening diet. I’m still at the novelty stage: because it only represents a small part of my listening time, SACD is a bit like an unexpected treat – you enjoy it greatly at the time, but everyday reality resides elsewhere. Nevertheless, I reckon I could get very hooked on the format, especially if adding it to my system is made as easy as this…