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Mark Levinson: CD vs. SACD and LP

Most music lovers feel that there is something wrong with the CD. Many prefer the sound of their LP's, or have cut down or stopped listening to music without even realizing why. Classical CD's aren't selling, while LP's of the same repertoire fetch hundreds of dollars a copy. People used to have 20 or 30 LP's and enjoy them, while now, people have hundreds or thousands of CD's which they rarely listen to, and almost never hear all the way through. What's going on?

Research shows that the pulse code modulation (PCM), the operating system of the CD, has limitations that so far cannot be overcome. There is something about listening to sound that has been processed with PCM which is stressful - the opposite of what most people seek in listening to music.

Sony has introduced a new digital operating system called Direct Stream Digital (DSD) which doesn't seem to create this stress reaction. DSD sounds much better than PCM, but more importantly, it is like analogue in the sense that it is very relaxing and joyful to listen to. DSD is the operating system of the new Super Audio CD (SACD). With good SACD recordings, people find they want to listen to music again with excitement and satisfaction. Because of DSD, it is now possible to revitalize the music world. Combining SACD with RRM equipment brings out the full benefits of SACD.

For a number of reasons, it will take time to bring DSD to full development. This is a vast undertaking which requires new professional equipment, new residential equipment, SACD pressing lines, and software. It is a multi-billion dollar project which requires research and development, manufacturing, education and promotion, support from the hardware and software sectors, and many other factors to succeed.

At the RRM store in NY, we have played DSD recordings for thousands of people during the last four years. Virtually everyone is amazed and wants the technology in their home. RRM sells no conventional CD players, only SACD players (which also play CD's of course), because all our customers want to be able to listen to SACD's.

We have learned that no matter how much money is spent on CD players and CD-based systems, the results are never truly satisfying. But with SACD, even a modest system brings great musical enjoyment. Many people listen to CD's if there is something they really want to hear, but the trend is to go away from PCM to either SACD or LP.

LP's have the advantage because there is so much repertoire available. Old pressings and new releases offer unlimited choice of artists and repertoire, often for modest cost. As SACD's come out, there will be more attention given to the format, but it will take time for a substantial amount of software to appear. In 2001, Sony made 3,000 SACD players. In 2002, Sony is making 4,000,000. SACD players start at under $300, so there is no cost obstacle anymore. A number of companies are making SACD players now, with enthusiastic reception from the press and public, clearly indicating that SACD is without doubt the audio technlogy for the future of quality music reproduction.

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