Toshiba SD-9200 DVD-Audio/Video player

From the vantage point of a devout music lover, two-channel audio is more satisfying and more inclusive than ever these days. In terms of resolution, clarity, linearity, transparency, soundstaging, frequency extension, and sheer performance value, aspiring audiophiles have never had it so good.

Still, in the context of all the new emerging technologies, old-fashioned stereo is sometimes a lonely place to be. For all the enthusiasm with which many of us anticipated the rollout of advanced new hi-rez digital technologies, the initial push seems aimed primarily at the home-theater market, at least as far as DVD-Audio is concerned. With each succeeding generation of hardware and software formats, the commercial waters grow muddier. How many times can you go to the consumer well and ask them to accept yet another version of new and improved—another wave of the future—before they finally turn off completely?

This leads me to wonder if the expected battle between the SACD and DVD-Audio formats will rise to the level of even a small skirmish as far as stereophiles are concerned. The issue is not whether the new formats sound better than our old friend, the 16-bit/44.1kHz compact disc—as I've documented in my "Quarter Notes" columns of the past year, the few available SACD and DVD-Video/DAD 24/96 discs most certainly do. And yet, as Jonathan Scull has suggested—and as some of us heard at a fascinating Nagra demo at Stereophile's HI-FI '98 in Los Angeles—there is tantalizing evidence that, through the process of upsampling ordinary CDs to 192kHz, music-lovers can indeed enjoy many of the sonic benefits trumpeted by the new DSD and PCM technologies without having to ditch 20 years of software purchases.

What's In It for Us?
The question is begged: In a rollout of new technologies more or less driven by the expectations of the home-theater crowd, what's in it for us music-lovers? With the introduction of no-compromise audio gear aimed at two-channel enthusiasts such as you and I, proponents of SACD made the case for their new digital format by first enticing music-lovers with a respectable rollout of two-channel software before introducing their multichannel hardware—such as the cost-effective Philips SACD1000 I auditioned in April, which plays CDs and CD-Rs as well as the huge existing inventory of DVD-V video discs.

Now, the first generation of DVD-A players gets to make a case for their technology as the one-size-fits-all solution for video enthusiasts and audiophiles alike. Still, there is a decided paucity of software compared even to the modest number of SACD releases, while critical audio issues such as watermarking remain unresolved and threaten to undermine the capabilities of DVD-A as a dedicated music-reproduction medium.

For the past few years, listeners who have been using DVD-V mainly as an audio format have been enjoying the potential for 24/96 resolution in the two-channel mode provided by Chesky and Classic Records—so long as the information is there on the disc and their hardware is capable of reproducing that output—while enjoying 24/48 resolution in the surround mode. The big difference with discrete DVD-A is that there is no loss of information from data compression. So while you could experience surround sound from DVD-V players encoded in DTS or Dolby Digital, with DVD-A you have the potential for 24/192 resolution in two-channel mode or 24/96 in six channels, both with no lossy data compression whatsoever.

So I was fascinated by the opportunity to check out the SD-9200, a state-of-the-art DVD-Audio/Video player from Toshiba. But given the quality of this sleek, sexy, straightforward performer, the attention Toshiba has devoted to details under the hood, and the SD-9200's DVD-A capability, there exists a palpable appeal for audiophiles. My review examines its potential as a purveyor of two-channel pleasure; I'll leaving it to my Stereophile colleague Kalman Rubinson to comment on its surround-sound potential.

Toshiba has been one of the leading lights in the development of DVD technology. On the video side of the SD-9200's ledger are such new features as: Super ColorStream PRO Progressive Output, 3D-DNR Video Noise Reduction (designed to improve the realism and resolution of color images), and a 10-bit/54MHz video D/A converter. On the audio side, users will find the SD-9200's high-mass, copper-shielded, well-damped chassis significantly more rugged and less resonant than those of many DVD-V machines. The SD-9200 also boasts "performance-matched components" and "audiophile-grade polypropylene film capacitors" in the audio signal path, which features an Advanced Multi-Bit Delta Sigma DAC (from Analog Devices) as well as an Adaptive Multi-Port Parallel DAC System to "parallel-process" the L/R audio signals three times for ultra-low distortion during two-channel operation. In addition, the SD-9200 has built-in Dolby Digital Decoding and HDCD processing.

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