Suppose the release of new SACDs dries up; what’s the point of investing in a player if you can’t buy much software? However, after a slow start, there seemed to be a steady release of classical titles from the majors, including re-issues from the Mercury Living Presence and RCA Living Stereo back catalogues. Of course, SACD provides record companies with a perfect opportunity to sell us what we’ve already got! Hence the number of Audiophile orientated titles re-issued. But, new releases from Universal (who include key labels like Decca, Philips, and Deutsche Grammophon), seem to have slowed down. Meanwhile, smaller labels with a greater reliance on sound quality rather than artist profile seem to be issuing discs at an ever greater rate, with the likes of Pentatone, Harmonia Mundi and even Linn regularly releasing SACDs.
Back in June 2003, I went to an SACD launch hosted by Decca/Philips/DG, and all the technical and production staff in attendance that day were very excited by the possibilities of the new format. So, if there is a lack of enthusiasm for SACD, it’s from the bean counters rather than the engineers and producers. And although the smaller more specialised labels have a stronger commitment to SACD, for the medium to really succeed it needs commitment from everyone. CD succeeded because record buyers could see that the record companies were taking it seriously. Despite a slow and uncertain start, CD gradually established itself. It’s an urban myth that CD was a huge and immediate commercial success when launched. Actually, it was all a bit touch and go for the first couple of years. In the field of classical music, we reached a turning point when Polygram (Decca/Philips/DG – now owned by Universal) released the first wave of complete operas. Once that happened, collectors could see that the record companies were in it for the long haul and everything changed. It’s about confidence and having the belief that the product will establish itself given enough time and the right promotion. But first you have to believe… To evaluate these SACD players, I listened to CD and SACD material, taking ASTINtrew’s At3500 as my CD reference point. On a financial note, all three SACD players retail for under £1000, whereas the At-3500 costs around £1150. So in value terms these multi-format players offer a lot for the money.