Philips SACD1000 SACD/DVD-Video player
Discussions of the relative merits of SACD and DVD-Audio, or of upsampling and various forms of filtering, must seem every bit as remote to the average audiophile. Still, as anyone who owns a personal computer can tell you, these days the trickle-down of sophisticated technologies into affordable functions and features occurs at an incredibly fast rate.
Now, as we hop, skip, and jump through the new digital decathlon, the much-ballyhooed race of high-resolution digital formats enters the bell lap with the rollout of value-enhanced consumer products targeted at those music-lovers who cherish audiophile performance but can't afford cost-no-object, no-compromise gear. The Philips SACD1000 is a challenge to the languidly beckoning DVD-Audio standard, offering a generous measure of high-end sonics in both two-channel and multichannel flavors, combined with home-theater flexibility in a multi-platform format for only $1999.
Prepare to be Surprised
Okay, $1999 isn't exactly a walk on the beach. But when you factor in the enhanced sound quality of the Super Audio Compact Disc, back-compatibility with the existing foundation of audio CDs and video DVDs, and the flexibility to integrate this unit into a variety of audio/video rigs, perhaps we should prepare to be impressed. As the first commercially available player offering six full-range channels of Super Audio CD sound, the Philips SACD1000 might bridge the gap between audiophile performance and mass-market expectations. It offers the home-theater crowd a full platform of video formats—DVD-Video, Video CD, and Super Video CD—while giving listeners the sonic benefits of Philips and Sony's new SACD digital standard, as well as high-quality playback of standard CDs and all those 24-bit/96kHz audiophile discs in the DVD-Video format. Hey, it also reads CD-Rs; many of the early DVD players couldn't.
What is doesn't do is play DVD-Audio discs, SACD's main competition for the hearts and minds of the postmodern digital marketplace. Philips and Sony feel that their proprietary SACD format and DSD technology are superior to the longstanding PCM technology even in its advanced 24/96 or 24/192 DVD-A guise.
However, I remain a devotee of the virtual proscenium arch, and have neither the physical space nor the money to set up a multichannel system—that old-time two-channel religion is still good enough for me. While I'm fascinated by the multichannel potential of the new digital formats, those possibilities and the home-theater capabilities of the SACD1000 will be taken up in the June 2001 issue by one of my more technologically evolved Stereophile colleagues, Kalman Rubinson.
For me, audio performance is paramount, and to that end the Philips SACD1000 features two discrete sets of circuits, each with its own power supply—one for audio, one for video. What you see on the back panel is basically a DVD section with (from left to right) a pair of digital outputs (optical and coaxial), left and right audio outputs, two video outputs (CVBS), a trio of component-video outputs (Yp-BP-Rs), two composite video outputs, and an S-video connection. Then, as mirrored on the top array of multichannel audio outputs (from the left: right front, left front, right surround, left surround, subwoofer, and center), is a specially designed DAC board that has been optimized for audio performance.
The hybrid SACD is a double-layered disc: a reflective CD layer (for back-compatibility with standard CD players) and a semi-transmissive high-density layer that can be read only by SACD players, that, in a "fully loaded" SACD carries separate two-channel and multichannel mixes of the music. Previous SACD players have been two-channel machines only. How does a player distinguish between two-channel and the just introduced multichannel SACDs?
As Philips marketing executive Marc Harmsen explains it, "The nice part about these new hybrid discs is that there are actually two separate tracks written on the high-density layer—a two-channel and a six-channel track, so you don't have to downmix to two channels or upmix to six channels. They are basically recorded at the same time, so there's no processing involved. [The player] just accesses which particular area of the disc has the appropriate information, and then, as you can see on the SACD1000's front panel, you have a Sound mode where you can basically switch between CD layers: six-channel or two-channel." (Two-channel players ignore the six-channel data on a fully loaded SACD.)
To the top right of the back panel is a power-supply socket with a recessed switch to each side: on the left, a voltage selector (for 100/120V or 220/240V); on the right, a three-position filter selector (and a ground). According to engineer Ben Zwaans, part of the Netherlands Philips team that designed the SACD1000, it has an output "of 2V RMS, but you can have peak levels 3dB above those. The filter on the back switches the cutoff frequency. The first position is that all filters are 40kHz third-order low-pass filters; the second position is that the front channels (left and right) are 50kHz second-order low-pass filters and the others stay at 40kHz; and the third position is that all channels are set to 50kHz low-pass filter. The purpose of that is the DSD signal has a very high noiseshaping signal, so the noise is very low up to 100kHz or up to 50kHz; then you get a steep shape of noise, so at a high frequency you have a lot of noise. If you don't have a preamp that can handle high-frequency noise, then you must add the 40kHz third-order low-pass filter."
"It's basically to protect your preamp and speakers, Chip," said Marc Harmsen. You mean some speakers don't have the power handling or the sensitivity? "Yes, from a tweeter standpoint, and also from an amp standpoint; just to be able to protect them if they don't have the ability to handle that frequency range."