SACD and all that

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by Nic Rhodes, Mar 31, 2002.

  1. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Long Post

    Well this is not meant to be a crit of SACD but a potted history of my investigations over the last 2+ years. It is not meant to be a ‘buyers’ guide to SACD players as my particular needs were quite specific and quite different to most of you. I am ONLY interested in SACD performance, not DVD, not CD. I already have sterling performers on CD and DVD that I am perfectly happy with, however I might comment on DVD / CD performance to ‘help’ others.

    The first player I heard was a SONY 2 channel SCD 1. It cost the princely sum of £2700. It was lovely. It showed me the way forward. Sony I expect rushed this to the market ‘at a loss’. The internals are ‘a bit scruffy’ but the metal work is well done as are all Sony ES players. I loved the SACD sound but the show where I heard it the most (hogged it for almost 2 hrs!) I bought a Tag DVD player so the cash flow was ‘limited’. Two things worried me were that was it was 2 channel only (and Sony had announced SACD multi channel intentions already) and there was no digital out. I waited and closely watched the market ever since. It was interesting that in going to my local Sony centre recently they inform me that this player is now ‘down’ to £4000 from £5000. When I point out to them I originally auditioned it at £2700 they don’t believe me, hinting that I was a …….

    The SCD1 had a lovely top loading transport but was so slooooow to operate. CD performance was excellent and only bettered by the like of Marantz CD7s and their ilk. 25+kg of sheer metal work. Oooh er. I like it allot.

    Next up was a Sony SCD 777ES. Another top loader but a simpler case (still really heavy), simpler power supply and no balanced outputs. Sound is still top notch however, close to the 1 but not quite there. Priced at a reasonable £1700. Tempting but same drawbacks as before. CD performance very good as well.

    Disc at this stage very limited and I decide to start collecting ‘hybrid’ discs that my DVD and CD players can read (the CD layer). This will allow me to build a SACD disc collection for when I buy hardware. Jump 2 years into the future and Sony and co have different ideas. Most discs are not hybrids. Big downer in my book. Independents seem to be making SACD hybrids but not the Sony empire. This does NOT impress me. Yet again Sony is that 90% company.


    Next up is the DVP S9000ES DVD /SACD / CD player at about £900. Press love it but this one leave me cold. It does not excel at anything with better SACD players (SCD XB940 see below) and DVD players (long list).

    Next up as I have been reluctant to spend money on hardware, Sony release SCD XB940 at £550. Very tempting. Still only 2 channel but ‘cheapish’. CD performance was okay, with many commentators describing this as a CD player that also plays SACD discs. I extensively demo this beastie. I am unimpressed with CD performance but SACD bit shows a big jump in performance. However when I compare the SCD XB940 doing SACD with both my DVD payer and CD player doing the CD layer, they are both substantially better. Confused, I was. Still two channel. I leave the market for another year.

    Multi channel SACD hits the market. Horray. Philips launch it with the SACD 1000. Philips being a co developer of DSD / SACD. I demo this player at £1300. Very good performance and a Philips! DVD performance was not brilliant but as I explained earlier I am after SACD only. In fact multi channel and 2 channel SACD performance was VERY good. It turns out Marantz did the ‘audio bit’ for sister company (then) Philips. It shows. Marantz knock out their version at £3500 I think. It was better but not by much. Look at the internals in black and white and you will struggle to see any difference! Put the pictures in colour and you will see all that lovely copper plating on the Marantz. Now how do they do that, copper oxidises……….I know where my money will go.

    Marantz then go on to produce the SA 1, 2 channel but the best SACD player I have heard to date. Unfortunately £5k. This player (draw loader) does everything right and CD performance is great. Possibly better than the Marantz CD7 CD player (£3.5k) which I hold in high esteme.

    Sony fight back with a raft of new products.

    The DVP NS700 DVD / SACD / CD player. This leaves me cold. I won’t say anymore as it will upset someone. The DVP NS900 DVD / SACD / CD player is a little better and gets rave reviews. Quite frankly I don’t know why and it has design faults. I bite my lip again. Alvin Gold reviews it on HCC, says it all I think.

    Now Pioneer entered the UK market with the 747 players. As well as doing it better than Sony they have realised that a substantial part of the market (not me) wants an all in integrated player. It still doesn’t do many of the flavours of DTS or HDCD but it puts DVD, DVD A, SACD and CD all in one player for UK market for the first time. I have a play with it. CD performance is the equivalent of a £200 model. DVD A is easily matched by current £400 DVD A models. DVD performance is good but SACD is not good, or not as good as it could be. However I recognise that this is not what it was all about and just accept that. Others however make great claims for this player that are not justified by it’s performance. At the end of the day it is not about performance with the 747 but about everything all in one box. Unfortunately this is not what I want so I move on from this diversion.
     
  2. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    YOU KNEW THERE WOULD BE A PART 2!:D

    Hybrid discs are still rare, especially in HMV and Virgin (who have never heard of SACD in the Carlisle branch) despite Virgin producing SACD discs! This doesn’t bode well and increases my reluctance to buy hardware.

    I take a small diversion into DVD A, to check on progress there. I have been collecting DVD A discs as well despite the fact my two DVD players can’t do DVD A. They do DTS and my beloved Tag DVD 32R will do DVD A (with DVI digital link) sometime in the future. I am not impressed by what I find (Tosh 900 best). My Tag system does DTS better than mid priced DVD A players! As I know my DVD A player will be an upgraded Tag, I move on and question what I should do about SACD.

    I currently already enjoy high resolution discs. Chesky Super Audio CDs for several years now. Not to be confused with SACD, they are actually DVDs at 24bit/96KHz. These sound drop dead gorgeous through my Tag stuff and I do wonder about DVD A / SACD in general. Unfortunately there are so few discs but there is an odd good music disc and even films (Seven) with 24bit/96KHz PCM sound tracks. Lovely stuff with low Jitter kit.

    I also learn that my CD manufacturer is ‘experimenting’ with SACD compatible drives for an update to my transport. There would be a matching digital interface (?) and updates to the DAC as well. This bodes well. A digital interface is sorely needed. Sharp have used one but I have limited details. Accuphase also have one but have faked it and is not a good technical solution. Recently DCS has done a SACD transport and digital interface. I am not sure how they do it. Linn are working on their own player as well. I feel that IEE 1394 would be a good digital interface for SACD and many ‘hint’ as this being the way forward but nothing from Sony. Sony already use it and call it fire-wire or similar on other priducts. MAC computer also use a variant as well, as loads of camcorders. However this field in unknown to me. IEEE 1394 makes allot of sense for SACD (just like DVI does for DVD and high resolution video formats). All this is encouraging but still support is not exactly stellar, either on hardware or software. We need a universal standard for digital interface, not proprietary solutions. Currently there seems to be nothing appearing.

    I turn my attention to the latest multi channel SACD players. The new SCD XA777ES. Again beautifully built, good sound on SACD (2 and 5.1 variants) and CD. £2300. Ouch but nice quality. I like it. The SCD 555ES is a two channel variant and I have now decided that multi channel is the way to go so don’t demo. I can’t find anyone with the player on demo anyway! The cut-price (£1300) SCD XA333ES I also struggle to find on demo. I eventually find it but I think I prefer the Philips (with DVD). This sounds odd as I hate the integrated DVD / SACD players on demo normally. The demo was too rigorous so don’t put too much emphasis on this.

    The budget basement SCD XE670 is Sony ‘cheapo’ SACD player. I have seen I for as little as £170. Do people realise that SACD can be had for this little money? CD performance but pretty poor and SACD better. I then hear the SCD XB770. This player sounds much better than the 670 on both CD and SACD in general. Both are multi channel. Again the CD performance is adequate at best (I am not interested don’t forget). Claims that these players match good players from the like of Arcam on CD are fanciful. A good £200 player will better either of these on CD. The cheapest Arcam will wipe the floor on them. SACD shows a significant jump in quality and seem impressive on first audition. On closer auditioning at home my DVD player and CD player both make a better overall sound than the 770 on SACD. They won’t obviously do multi channel SACD however.

    The 770 is an odd player. CD performance isn’t brilliant (in fact it is quite poor) but SACD performance is better. The midrange and to a lesser extent treble show lovely characteristics. Sweet, lucious mids. In fact they ‘hint’ of some real class. Bass isn’t to hot IMH and is the sort of thing I associate with poor power supply design and jitter issues. In fact the cheaper 670 seems to do much of this better than the 770 though most prefer the 770 (me included). On the test bench I think the 670 will measure better. I do feel that the 120dB potential of these players is often not being achieve and feel the 770 may well be strangled down to nearer 100dB (17 bit). This is not good engineering IMHO. I do wonder whether the CD performance is deliberately being ‘held back’ in order to show SACD in a very good light given its impact into the market place to date. I also wonder about the SACD bit as well…….

    Frankly with the exception of the Philips (all work was done by Marantz) I do wonder at the sound quality/£ ratio currently on offer here. The top players produce a great sound but with such ‘limited’ software support I find the expenditure difficult to justify. Now Marantz had been bought by Denon, will they continue in SACD market?

    Frankly I am frustrated. At last there are silver discs hinting at what high end vinyl has done for years but it is soo slow to get going and so expensive (especially considering 24BIT/96KHz already exists as part of the DVD standard with digital SPDIF interface!).

    My plans to get hybrid disc to tide me over have been thwarted. I am none too impressed with what is one offer.

    SACD has been engineered for a 100KHZ bandwidth at approximately 20 bit. With DSD it could have been a higher bit rate at a lower bandwidth. This compromise was picked. This is equivalent to 120dB S/N ratio (ultimate). CD is 16 bit (96dB). DVD A is 24 bit at 100KHz bandwidth (144 dB). Currently the best of any of these player achieves is about 115dB. A long way to go me thinks.

    So what have I done?

    Well I have ordered (another story) a 770 knowing all it’s faults. I recognise it will tide me over and I hope I can hot rod the machine to get some approaching the 120dB S/N ratio out of it with low Jitter mods (given some of my time in future). For now I will just have to accept that my current players better it on sound for 2 channel stuff. It will allow me to collect a few more discs. Now I bet you all though I would buy the most expensive player hey?

    Odd isn’t it CD player bettering SACD, hell even DVD betting SACD but this is the reality of the current situation for me. Frankly it is an ‘odd’ purchase for me and may be one that ‘backfires’. Time will tell.

    Anyone else fed up with Tubular bells?
     
  3. Guest

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    Well said Nic.

    It's good to see some of the hype surrounding these struggling formats stripped away. I like you was seriously tempted by the Sony SCD 1 about twelve months ago, it is fabulous as a CD transport. The loading times were unfortunately unacceptable.

    The truth of the matter is that CD done properly on a high end player will sound better than SACD or DVD-A on some of these mid priced combi players.But what about hte cost of superior cd players I here you cry? Well factor in the expense of replacing your favorite CDs on the new format( if you could ever get them!) and the difference is not that substantial.

    Let's be frank SACD and DVD-A HAVE FAILED. Both commercially and IMHO musically. By all means buy one of the new Sony combi's or the 747, but buy it for it's DVD V capabilities.

    What both formats need to impact on the marketplace is support from the music industry. Unfortunately most refuse to back a format from one of their competitors (SACD) and DVD-A has been subjected to such copyright paranoia from publishers that it recently received it's official funeral at CES in Vegas. I found just two relatively low key dems of the technology during my whole trip and neither exactly impressed the gathered throngs.

    To be fair to the technology of both formats, I feel that the poor results are down to poor construction and cheap components neccessarily found on these inexpensive combi players. Proper powere supplies,earthing and clocking are all essential to good digital replay. These cannot be incorporated into £500 combi players.

    High quality digital replay will always cost substantial sums because its not the technology but the engineering which defines the end result. More Bits simply means more bits for the inadequately designed digital circuitry to pluck up!

    It has taken 20 years for CD to be accepted by many audiofiles. The reason for CD's success was not it's questionable quality but it's convenience and supposed longevity. The buying public are happy with it, they see no reason to change.

    Can you imagine a world where the record companies release the new Massive Attack album on CD and record and produce a seperate 5.1 high resolution mix, and then release it on a separate format which they know will sell in miniscule numbers globally? Does it make commercial sense?

    So how will we get high resolution audio in the house? IMHO the advent of blue laser technology could well represent our only option for true high resolution audio in years to come. I suspect we will see a future where blue laser recorders will be able download our music from the net direct from the music companies.

    As the studios will record in a very high resolution format, it will cost the publishers nothing extra to offer these premium files alongside the standard ones on their site. The only obstacle to overcome is copy protection. And the fact that properly designed and engineered recorders will cost thousands! Oh hell...here we go again!
     
  4. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    The long and short of it is if you want performance, you have to pay for it. There are no short cuts, no fudges. Hand over the green ones to get quality. Unfortunately.:(
     
  5. uncle eric

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    Nic,
    I've always liked the saying, "The most expensive objects are the cheap things"

    Just a few words from me.
    I think at this early stage of the game of Higher Fi, spending thousands and commiting oneself to only one of these formats is very foolish.
    I also looked at and liked the Sony 777. For DVD-A playback, I just loved the Pioneer AX10 (which I heard long ago). Will either format kill off the other? Will DTS 96/24 kill off both?

    One thing is for sure, both formats are doing damage to each other as was expected. Who knows, maybe DTS 96/24 discs that are compatable with most players will come in and pull the rug out from under the feet of the two fighting formats.

    The 700 pounds that I paid for my 747 was more of a sitting on the fence decision. (Probably the same could be said of Nics Sony 770 buy) My player is nowhere near the best on any format, but its Swiss Army knife skills allow me to experiment widely re disc choice which I'm currently enjoying a great deal.

    Eric
     
  6. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    sitting on the fence sums it up well for me. I now have my 770. Although it is fine at what it does I don't think this purchase will go down in history as one of my best decisions. :( Best of a bad bunch?
     
  7. gwbailey

    gwbailey
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    Some might say it's not what you play it on, but what you play in it!!!
     
  8. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    If you want to 'play' with SACD, as I do, you have to have a player. There is no way around this, only once you have this can start exploiting the very limited range of software. Chicken and egg?
     
  9. neilneil

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    Ah, yes that would be good wouldn't it. ;)
    Question is, even if it costs the publishers nothing extra, will they be able to resist charging nothing extra!
    I doubt it, and so another great oppertunity will be killed off through lack of sales and stimulated interest.
    Or am I being to pessimistic.

    -Neil
     
  10. uncle eric

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    Neil,
    I dont think you are far off. Dont forget, most of these guys operate a 'greed is good' policy.

    Eric
     
  11. Guest

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    Neil

    That's exactly my point. SACD and DVD A require substantial investment with very little return due to their specialist nature and tiny projected sales compared to CD.

    Offering high resolution downloads would require no additional investment and provide the music companies with an extra revenue stream for which they would of course charge a premium.

    The problem is that the record companies don't want to invest in these unprofitable new formats but they love somthing for nothing (just look at Pop Idol!)
     
  12. Stereo Steve

    Stereo Steve
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    Interesting thread. I have wrestled with the multi channel debate for a while now and have not got very far. It's a long time since I owned a good CD player as I have been attempting to follow the universal route. I've gone through the Pioneers and thought I had found a bit of daylight with the Denon 2900 which apparently has great CD playback. On first listening I agreed, very good indeed.

    However, last night I hooked up a Toshiba 9500 and stuck on a CD. Doh, that's how it's supposed to sound. It was like sticking your head out from under a blanket. I thought 'I have to keep this player' but then realised it would be £60 to MR it and it has no bass management for DVD-A.

    I had it hooked up through a Denon A10SE which sounded fantastic, the equal of my Rotel 1066/1075 combo. How depressing.

    Now what? Well, the 2900 is up for sale, the 747 is up for sale, the 9500 I may keep for somewhere else and I'm considering getting rid of the 1066 and keeping the A10SE. I lose PL2 but gain an extra set of 5.1 inputs and a spare amp for my centre back channel. COuld also biamp my fronts with the 1075 and use the A10SE for the rest.

    What I'm after now is a good multi channel SACD player that does CD as well as the 9500. Sony's 777 looks the ticket until the 9000 falls in price a bit. For the mo, I'll use the Sony 705 with dodgy scarts I have in the loft

    For DVD-A, with my second set of inputs I'll wait until a good DVD Recorder comes out that can play the format and replace my E50 with it. Until then I'll listen to the DTS/DD tracks. Thereby keeping DVD and CD/SACD seperate as it should be.

    In conclusion, after much expense, listening, setting up a deep, deep thought I have decided that there is not yet a good enough universal player that I can afford (Linn) so I'll split them up and have 2 players.
     
  13. dynamic turtle

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    "It has taken 20 years for CD to be accepted by many audiofiles. The reason for CD's success was not it's questionable quality but it's convenience and supposed longevity. The buying public are happy with it, they see no reason to change."

    I certainly agree with you on this point, for the following reasons;

    1) Replace the CD player in joe public's mini hi-fi with an sacd player - A) He won't be able to tell the difference in sound quality and B) The existing mini hi-fi hardware itself is incapable of reproducing the medium adequately in the first place. Also, JP doesn't have space for 5 speakers & a sub on his shelf!

    2) The difference between Analogue Tape/Phono and CD was easily discernable to the casual listener (wow - no noise!). Another recent example of this was the VHS-to-DVD revolution of the past 5 years. Even a monkey could tell that DVD images were vastly superior to VHS. This is not neccesarily the case with SACD/DVDA (especially 48 & 96 Khz recordings).

    3)Record companies will only invest in a new medium when they are sure their customers (mainly 14 year-old girls?) can appreciate the difference in recording quality, which in the case of SACD/DVDA will probably be never. (they love MP3's, don't they? Compressed digital at its worst IMO).

    4)Real Hi-Fi has always been an expensive, hobbyist pursuit. With record company profits & IP more endangered than ever, I doubt we'll see heavy investment in higher resolution formats.

    Unfortunately, SACD & DVDA are slightly too little, too late. Had DVDA been co-marketed at the same time as DVDV, things might have been different.

    Terrible shame, really. HDCD also seems to have been stillborn.

    Just POV from a non-epxert!

    DT
     
  14. Stereo Steve

    Stereo Steve
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    But if they can make hybrid SACDs for the same price as CD's then your average punter won't know they are buying them. A lot of people will be looking to replace all or part of their collections and alse Sony will get a huge whack from holding the patents as hardware sales increase.

    I've gone back to my Sony 705 DVD/SACD and I reckon it's nearly as good as the 747 and 2900 as a SACD and CD player.

    DVD-A has a harder job in persuading people that they need to buy it. They can't rip it down to their MP3 players, can't put it in their walman, can't play it in the car etc. etc.

    I'm falling back intot he SACD camp having tried to get the best of both. If a DVDR comes out that can play mult DVD-A then it'll be a bonus, assuming I have a spare set of 5.1's.
     
  15. Stereo Steve

    Stereo Steve
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    Oh by the way, anyone got Goucho by Steely Dan on SACD? That's a good indicator of what the format can do and sounds everybit as good as the DVD-A disks from that band.
     
  16. per-Sony-fied

    per-Sony-fied
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    Ressurecting this old but rather interesting thread found via google while researching SACD players.

    I was rather wondering and hoping an update on Nic Rhodes findings, whether one is further down the line and done anymore extensive demo's.... caught my eye after the mention of the Sony XB770 and XA777ES.
     
  17. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    What sort of update do you want?
     
  18. per-Sony-fied

    per-Sony-fied
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    Well it was some years ago Nic that you spoke of the virtues of SACD and decided to settle for the rather basic Sony XB770 over more expensive brethren for your own reasons. Did you ever get round to hot rodding it and if so were the results worth while?

    I have particular interest here as owning the same item myself.

    As years have past more SACD machines and (in particular) media have come to market to make it worthwhile to dig deeper into those pockets so I was wondering if you stuck to the XB770 or found another journey into SACD players out of which moved you on to a newer player.
     
  19. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    The quick summary of several years!

    Well I tried modding the 770 but the raw quality wasn't really good enough to warrant it. It was a product built down to price.

    I next tried a series of cheap universals, you know the £100 upscalers. Well they make the 770 look classy.

    I finally settled on the Onkyo 1000 universal as a decent SACD spinner and came to the view that more than most products you get from SACD what you pay for from a player.

    The 'lonely' exception to all this was a Philips 963 SACD / DVD layer which was a good modder. It was brilliantly designed but then filled with cheap parts to keep the costs down. With a hot soldering iron, this could sping 'into life' for both DVD and SACD where it could compete with the big boys.

    But in general, if you want top quality, you will have to buy a big heavy SACD player!!
     
  20. CJROSS

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    Nic, ever had any dealings with the Sony 900V ? I bought one for main use CD wise, but with SACD in the second system (currently running the Diapasons off the Sony 30-ES), I am pleasantly surprised with what the £100 second hand spinner can do.

    FWIW always good readin one of your threads from a few years back :D
     
  21. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    It was a bit of shock, this thread comng back!! Re 900 I was looking at one today in Tysons! I had tried video a while ago and was quite impressed but not CD / SACD. I would have bought the one today if it hadn't had a scratch on the front :(
     
  22. per-Sony-fied

    per-Sony-fied
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    Have I missed something re the 900?

    Yea after all these years the post still here. WOW somethings just don't go away.

    Re: The XB770 was there anything that you thought was a a worthwhile step forward during modification or just to costly (and difficult) for people to contemplate.

    The Onkyo to me seems an interesting choice given it's lesser regards/fame in the Hi-Fi industry in general.
     
  23. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    The 770 I wouldn't recommend as a modder, the 963 yes.

    The Onkyo has quite a following, with non UK markets much more in favour of it's serious qualities. On this forum few if any have heard it unfortunately. It is good competition to the top Denon in everything other than deinterlacing but mine is SDI modded anyway ;)
     
  24. Cable Monkey

    Cable Monkey
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    To support what Nic has said, Onkyo is one of those brands that has plenty of Kudos in markets outside the UK. To be brutally honest we are a nation that know what we like and like what we know! In our relatively small market there is not too much room and subsequently the Pioneers, Sonys and Denons flourish while many others are ignored despite their qualities.
     
  25. per-Sony-fied

    per-Sony-fied
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    Having done some research on it last night it does sound like a very promising and versatile beast. The down side to it all is the price! :( Given the competition tho' in that area it does seem to have a few features that others lack.

    I remember them being renowned back in time for a few cassette decks they made.
     
  26. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Onkyo is a very interesting company, producing mass market cheap stuff but have an enviable reputation for high end 'Esoteric' stuff as well.
     
  27. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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    There are some astonishing deals that go on their Integra range of kit in the UK (ie their high end branch) akin to the Sony ES range albeit even more lofty IMHO. I recall Oxford Audio, selling their Integra Universal, 5.1 Pre-amp & 5Ch PA for a very nice £2995. Anyone with an idea of the design of this kit, would know what a bargain that was. I also recall a review of the JVC 30 Watter Class A, and a £2000 Onkyo Universal, into Eclipse speakers, dare I say it a hifi mag actually pushing a DVD based player as good enough for CD !!!

    Onkyo, not to be ignored IMHO.
     
  28. ollie501

    ollie501
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    Resurrecting this bit of the post, just for clarification. When you discuss the Pioneer 747 players, you say they don't do HDCD or DTS.. Isn't the 747 a DVD player, with DTS processing capability, much like any other, or did you mean a variant of DTS that is doesn't do?

    Excellent article incidentally, from a big SACD enthusiast :thumbsup:
     
  29. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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  30. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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    http://www.badaweb.co.uk/show.php?site=oxfordaudioconsultants&vehicleid=407

    Ooooooooohhhh !!!
     

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