Naxos abandons SACD?

After learning from John Sunier, publisher of Audiophile Audition, that Naxos, the largest classical label in the world, was expected to cease producing SACDs and DVD-As, I checked with their national publicist, Mark A. Berry. He in turn sought confirmation from Naxos' founder and chairman, Klaus Heymann.

"Naxos has a number of recordings already available in DVD-A and SACD formats," wrote Berry after conferring with his visionary chief. "Naxos continues to record all important orchestral and choral/orchestral productions in surround. While Naxos has no plans to release more recordings in the SACD and DVD-A formats in the immediate future, we will be watching the market closely to determine which of the new formats will become the industry standard."

Needless to say, such a response generated far more questions than it answered. In my reply to Mark, I noted that the debate over which was the superior sonic format, SACD or DVD-A, seems to have been replaced by laments that both formats have become relegated to niche markets. The focus instead seems to have shifted to Blu-ray, iPods, and the downloading phenomenon.

"The degree of education necessary to make SACD and DVD-A a success in the mass market seems to have been abandoned," I wrote. "Nonetheless, the reality is that Telarc sells far more SACDs than Red Book CDs. A probable reason for this is that all of their multichannel hybrid SACDs are DSD-native, which results in superior sound.

"The questions must thus be asked:
1. Have you discovered that sales of SACDs and DVD-As are very slow and do not justify the expense of production?
2. Are your SACDs DSD-native?
3. If not, might this be at least part of the cause for the slow sales?"

After forwarding my questions to Klaus Heymann and Jim Sturgeon, president of Naxos of America, Mark Berry told me by phone that Klaus Heymann's statement had been sincere.

"Naxos is the kind of company that doesn't like to close doors," he said. "This is our chance to gauge what's happening next, especially in the light of online music distribution in lossless formats. We're stepping back and taking stock so that we do it right for Naxos and the consumer.

"We need to know who the people are who still believe in SACD. Is there still interest in DVD-A? And who are the people who don't care? Meanwhile, we continue to record in surround sound, and we still distribute Pentatone's SACDs."

Neither Klaus Heymann nor Jim Sturgeon has chosen to comment further on the matter.