Sony SCD-C555ES SACD changer Page 5

Sometimes the effect was startling. In "Anana," from James Taylor's Hourglass, just before the music starts, someone says "E-Rock-it" or "Erotic." In two-channel, the voice came from just behind the front speakers. In multichannel, however, the word jumped out from the right surround speaker in a flat, hollow voice startlingly different from Taylor's. The overall effect surprised me, and added lots of kick to the song's reproduction. For the rest of that track, the center channel conveyed almost all of the lead vocals, while the surrounds carried small amounts of backup vocals mixed with the snare drum. Kick drum and bass guitar were assigned to the subwoofer.

Another Taylor track, "Up from Your Life," gave me a clear notion of how important bass management is for a successful multichannel setup. The recording sends low drum notes and the bass-guitar line to both sub and surrounds. The full-range multichannel mode ("5 Large plus subwoofer") filled my room with waves of bloated bass notes that overwhelmed the rest of the music. Switching to a more traditional bass-management pattern that sends all bass below 120Hz to the subwoofer ("5 Small plus subwoofer") focused the bass notes into a massive, growling, shuddering force that complemented the rest of the music. Notes: "I feel I'm in the Martha's Vineyard cottage where the vocal, guitar, rhythm, and keyboard tracks for Hourglass were taped. The bass and midbass are tighter than I've heard before, while the music swells around me and seems to lift me with its energy."

Listening to multichannel SACD was so intensely pleasurable that my audio vocabulary failed to convey what I felt. Taylor's lyrics for "Gaia" say it best:

We reached the tree line and I dropped my pack
Sat down on my haunches and I looked back
Over the Mountain
Helpless and speechless and breathless.

"...Made glorious summer by this son of York" (footnote 3)
I, too, now believe that multichannel SACD is audio's new, new thing. I was bowled over by the Sony SCD-C555ES's natural, liquid midrange, tight midrange-bass, and effortless, wide-open dynamic range. The pure pleasure of this new medium makes the industry's refusal to provide digital multichannel signal outputs on its multichannel SACD players all the more vexing. I found that I had to use two boxy audio products—the SCD-C555ES player and Sony's TA-P9000ES multichannel analog preamplifier—to get multichannel SACD to work properly in my listening room.

Unfortunately, the industry isn't likely to make the digital multichannel signal available at the rear panel of an SACD player anytime soon. So you and I will need to buy analog multichannel preamps with our SACD players, fiddle with rotary level controls, buy myriad interconnects, and race back and forth between the preamp controls and our listening chairs during setup.

But the inconvenience is worth it. The musical values I heard over the SCD-C555ES were not just good, but breathtaking. Multichannel SACD inspires reviewers of every persuasion, from John Atkinson to Ken Pohlman, to trot out their superlatives. It's having the same effect on producers and engineers, who have found that multichannel SACD "retains the warmth and sonic cohesiveness of analog tape" (Doug Newcomb, Sound & Vision, July/August 2001, p.79).

For these reasons, I now understand why the surround SACD demonstration at HE2001 sold out so fast. You, too, will understand if you visit your audio retailer and listen to the Sony CSD-C555ES playing James Taylor's Hourglass SACD in a surround setup. I bet you'll agree with me and the HE2001 attendees about the new audio magic in multichannel SACD sound. If so, we may be able to avoid the Nuclear Winter in the music business that so worries us all.

Footnote 3: Shakespeare, Richard III, Act I,i.