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Sacd

Discussion in 'Arcam Owners' Forum' started by spl23, Mar 17, 2005.

  1. spl23

    spl23
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    Hi All,

    I first bought Arcam components in 1994, and upgraded numerous times to further bits of Arcam kit up until then end of last year, at which point I replaced my Alpha 9 amp, Alpha 8SE CD player and Alpha 8 tuner with a Denon 3910 and 2805. I would have loved to have stayed with Arcam kit - the DV79 and AVR300 would have been perfect for my requirements, but for one show-stopper - Arcam's refusal to implement SACD on these players.

    I have several SACDs, and several DVD-Audio discs, and the sound on the SACDs wipes the floor with the sound on the DVD-As - far more natural sounding. If I were to pick one format out of the two to use, I'd go for SACD. Leaving aside the sound quality issues, it seems to me to be a far more appropriate *audio* format than DVD-A, which generally requires you to turn the TV on to navigate the menus - as opposed to SACD, where you stick the disc in and hit play.

    I've read John Dawson's PDF article about Arcam's choice to support DVD-A and not SACD, but several of his points are tenuous, to say the least;
    for example, he argues that DVD-A is supported by 4 of the major record companies - but all of the majors are also releasing SACDs as well. He also claims that DVD-A is backward compatible with all DVD-V players - but every SACD is backward compatible with all CD players.

    He also makes the claim that an Arcam DVD/CD player will sound as good playing back the CD layer on a hybrid SACD as a dedicated SACD player playing back the SACD stereo layer - something that I would strongly dispute.

    The whole article has the feeling of someone who has chosen a position and is now looking to justify it, rather than being an open-minded view of the situation.

    I've got no axe to grind here - very few UK companies seem to be supporting SACD, and as a result, I've been tempted away from the UK-manufactured hi-fi I've been using for 15-odd years. Arcam's refusal to implement SACD has lost them one very loyal customer - I'm just wondering how many others have fallen by the wayside for the same reason.

    And just for the record - the day Arcam launch a DVD-A/DVD-V/SACD/HDCD/CD player will be the day my 3910 goes on eBay and I return to the fold.

    Simon
     
  2. Jim_R

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    The Absolute Sound has sponsored several forums over the past few years discussing this very subject. On their panels, they have included leaders from both the manufacturing and recording sectors. It seems that the majority of that group feel that SACD is the superior format. I was in Mark Levinson's NYC store a few years ago. He is a very big proponent of the SACD format. Arcam appears to be in the minority on this issue.
     
  3. NAA

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    I have hear original CD and same SACD Hibrid (as 2 channel). Through CD player and amp from "Ayre" and "Odeon" speakers. Both discs was perfect, and i can say, that they are sound different. But i can`t say what disc is better :confused:
     
  4. scott brown

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    DSD sounds phenomenal, and I, too, would LOVE it if Arcam made an SACD player.

    I'm definitely a big proponent of DVD-A and higher bitrate/sample rate PCM, but DSD is just incredible...
     
  5. NicolasB

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    I don't think the choice of DVD-A over SACD has anything to do with the inherent superiority of either system, or with the state of the market. The reason Arcam went that way is because it was easier and cheaper.

    To add SACD capability to an Arcam player they would have had to have abandoned the existing disc transport, switched to a different processor/MPEG2-decoder, and added in a whole bunch of new circuitry whose sole function was to decode SACD: basically, they would have to have redesigned the player from the ground up. If they had done that then the resulting device would have been severely delayed, would have been much more expensive (to cover all the additional R&D effort) and also probably wouldn't have looked as good or sounded as good because they would have had to have chosen the comonents for reasons other than high quality video and audio performance.

    Arcam players are high quality DVD players. They also, as an added bonus, play CD and DVD-A discs very nicely. But they're not designed to be the definitive universal player at that price point.
     
  6. scott brown

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    you can't say it wouldn't sound as good. it might sound better

    you can keep the same analog circuitry with a different transport and a dsd d/a stage.
     
  7. NicolasB

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    Sure. But, if it did, it would be a lot more expensive, and would have taken a lot longer to bring to market, during which time Arcam would have been losing money. That's my point: the decision was economic, not aesthetic.
     
  8. spl23

    spl23
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    In that case, John Dawson's published arguments for the superiority of DVD-A over SACD would seem to be largely nebulous! I'd actually have been happier with him saying "yes, SACD is just as good as DVD-A (or better), but we can't afford to support it at the moment", which would leave the way open for a future Arcam SACD player. As it stands, the message is very much that "we aren't doing SACD because DVD-A is better", a position from which it would be difficult to execute a successful U-turn.

    The argument that the sound quality of the player would be compromised by adding SACD support also seems somewhat far-fetched. As an earlier poster pointed out, Arcam can stick whatever analog tweakery they want on the outputs of the DSD converter - it's not as if they design their own DAC chips for DVD-A or CD. Fundamentally, like most hi-fi companies, Arcam buy in an awful lot of the technology ready-assembled - transports, DACs, Dolby / DTS decoders etc. Buying in SACD isn't inherently more difficult or expensive - it's a transport (which you can also use for DVD and CD playback) and a set of decoder chips, which many people (myself included) believe sound *better* than the alternative DVD-A offerings.
     
  9. NicolasB

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    Well, yeah. :) He's got to say something like that, though, otherwise he'd end up like Gerald Ratner.

    Well, that's a rather simplistic way of looking at it. You cannot simply take one particular component out of a player, replace it with another, and expect everything to work properly. Designing a satisfactory AV player requires components to be selected not just because they're individually good, but because they work well together. It also requires the entire system to be designed in a way which allows the individual components to work as well as they can. If you change one significant element of the design, everything else also has to change around it.

    One example of this is that you can't use the Zoran Vadis 5 processor to handle SACD. So, to support SACD, they would have to have switched to using a different MPEG2 video decoder - one that, in their opinion, doesn't produce video output as good as the Zoran does. (Arcam worked very closely with Zoran during the development of the Vadis 5, incidentally - it's not just a case of "buying off the shelf").

    People are also repeatedly missing the point about research and development costs. It may be the case that any given component, in isolation, is "as good" as another, and costs the same amount of money when bought separately. But that doesn't mean that it's just as cheap to switch to using that component! Switching that one component may require you to change the whole of the rest of the player, with resulting increased R&D costs which have to be recouped by making the player itself more expensive.

    The selection of components had (I am sure) a lot to do with the fact that they already had a good player design that worked well, and they didn't want to mess with it too much.
     
  10. sticker

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    I don't agree that SACD is better than DVD-A, the biggest factors concerning sound quality have nothing to do with the technical specs in this case but much more to do with what happens in the recording studio. I have both formats in dedicated players and some recording in both SACD & DVD-A are absolutely stupedous, but others are rubbish and worse in a lot of cases than red book CD's.
    Its rather simplistic to say that SACD should be in a universal Arcam product, I can tell you FACT that the universal players do not sound as good as the dedicated players. I've compared SACD between my dedicated Sony SACD player and a Denon 3910 and they are not in the same league. I was under the impression a while ago that they would sound the same, until I tested. Most universal players don't output DSD but convert to PCM, they therefore have already diluted the format.
    To my mind the inclusion of SACD in say the DV27A/DV29 would have compromised an outstanding player.
    As an aside there are very few disks out there where you can do a back to back comparison of DVD-A vs SACD, on of the few is Dr Cheskys recording of 5.1 surrond show. Playinng both back to back you would have to say that neither format is the clear winner. I would agree that DVD-A isn't as conveinient to use but don't forget that there is the addition of video and stills on DVD-A

    On the issue of costs don't forget that there is probably a licencing fee due to Sony et al for the use of DSD. SACD is very good when implemented well, the same as DVD-A is, but there are too many bad re-issues of old recordings out there in both formats and the limited availablity of both at the mo is killing any chance of teh format taking off

    Now if Arcam made a dedicated SACD player that would be a different matter

    My 2p worth
    John
     
  11. spl23

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    OK, for a start, there is no way that anyone can make as sweeping a generalisation as to say that "universal players don't sound as good as dedicated players" and call it an absolute fact, and they certainly can't do so based on a single comparison! What's more, the Denon 3910 *doesn't* convert DSD to PCM - it is one of the few universal players which has independent DSD and PCM digital paths up until the analogue stages.

    I would not dispute for a second that the Sony may well sound *different* from the Denon, and I would also be happy to accept that you *prefer* the sound of the Sony - but that isn't the same as the Sony sounding "better" than the Denon. For all you know, the Denon is more accurate in its portrayal of the recorded signal, and the Sony introduces euphonic distortions of which you happen to prefer the sound. Objectivist rant over... ;-)

    Based on what? There is no engineering reason why the inclusion of SACD has to compromise anything in terms of the performance of a player. There is nothing to stop a manufacturer using completely separate signal paths for video, PCM and DSD if they really want to - the only possible limitation with SACD is if an SACD-compatible transport is less good in some way than the alternatives, and I would find it extremely hard to believe that that could be the case. (Bear in mind that Meridian's flagship 800 series DVD player uses a bog-standard ATAPI PC DVD-ROM drive as its transport which can't cost more than 50 quid or so!) The idea that there is something magical about one transport mechanism over another has no basis in actual engineering.

    I wouldn't necessarily view that as a compelling selling point. If I want to view stills, I'd rather they were in the booklet... ;-)

    It might be. On the other hand, it might not. Without them actually doing so, that remark is pure speculation. With an SACD player, all they could really influence would be the analogue stages that occur after the DSD conversion. (And the power supply, I suppose.) While these can undoubtedly have a major effect on the sound, there is no reason to suppose that Arcam would suddenly reveal hitherto-unheard of depths from SACD playback.

    You do have to wonder why the only specialist UK-based manufacturer to make an SACD player is Linn. Arcam, Naim, Cyrus, Meridian, Roksan - all do DVD-Video and/or DVD-Audio players, and yet none of them seem to want to know about SACD. I suspect the licensing fees may have more to do with it than any argument about sound quality or what consumers want!
     
  12. scarty16

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    The reason Linn supports SACD in their Unidisks is due to the (lack of correct techology phrase alert) drive being made by Sony.

    Sony being of course one of th emain supporters of SACD.
     
  13. Jeff

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    I've read many accounts that the 3910 sounds horrid. So it may well have independent DSD and PCM digital paths, but it's still falls way short of any of the Arcam players.
     
  14. mjn

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    Wrong, Aerosmith 2-Disc SACD will NOT play on a CD player! :lesson:
     
  15. spl23

    spl23
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    So you haven't actually listened to one, but you are prepared to state that it sounds "horrid" and fall short of Arcam gear? I've got one, and I can assure you that "horrid" is the last term I'd use to describe it. I upgraded from an Alpha 8SE to a Denon 2910, which was something of a disappointment - as soon as I exchanged the 2910 for a 3910, the disappointment vanished. While I haven't compared the 3910 with the 8SE back-to-back, I lived with the 8SE for 5 years, so I have a pretty good idea how it sounds - the 3910 sounds just as good to me.

    In fact, since I've been living with the 3910, there have been several occasions when I've had it on in the background while reading/whatever and have suddenly realised just how good a particular CD sounds through it, stopped reading and started actively listening - that hadn't happened for a while with the 8SE.

    I suspect that there may be a teeny bit of audio snobbery involved in people who dismiss the 3910 as "horrid" - after all, it's mass produced in China by a large firm, not lovingly crafted by a tiny UK company who have dozens of "golden ears" testers hand tuning their products - so how could it possibly sound any good?
     
  16. Jeff

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    Hifi News Had this to say about the 3910

     
  17. Nic Rhodes

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    and they liked it more HiFi World or me for that matter! 3910 is hardly top draw re performance in any department except convenience and features, at which it excels at.

    I would take Arcam any day here and I think their decision to stick with DVD / DVD A the correct one.

    Re technical reasons why there are other thread that have covered this already on this site.
     
  18. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    oh and yes I have listened to 3910 on many occasions and even seen the less than stellar SDI mods.

    Re SACD / DVD A quality. I think SACD is more often than not done badly, very badly with Philips dominating the cheap end (better than Sony). The rest a 'lacking' and well behind a quality CD player playing the CD layer! At the top end it sounds VERY good. DVD A is muc more consistent because of the common heritage (Arcams reasons for sticking with DVD A). Basic players being better and a decent number of pemium players.

    Re comparisons I find the ONLY way to do this effectively (db of course) is to use the discs that were recorded simultaneously in PCM and DSD. Ths really shows what is what, especially when next to a good 'reference'.
     
  19. scott brown

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    people saying "sacd sucks, dvd-a is the way to go" are missing the point of this thread

    i like sacd. i want to buy a sacd player. i can't buy an arcam one, so i'll end up getting another brand.

    that's too bad

    that's the point of this thread
     
  20. Nic Rhodes

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    I don't think anyone argues with the point dedicated SACD player from ARCAM would be great, what many don't want is yet another flawed universal player from ARCAM. Universals need serious engineering to get right, that means money. For the mass market DVD is king, if DVD A can be added for small amounts of money, why not, but SACD is a whole new ball game. It is largely a fresh sheet of paper.

    I am also a SACD fan with 2 players, what I don't want is for ARCAM to throw all their hard work on DVD players away on another poor universal. We have enough of these already. Quality not quantity please.
     
  21. spl23

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    People keep stating this as if it is gospel - that including SACD is somehow indescribably complex and will adversely affect the performance of the player when playing DVDs or CDs. This simply isn't true - I speak as a professional electronic engineer with 15 years experience.

    Yes, retro-fitting SACD to an existing design would be complicated - but bear in mind that Arcam's designs originally made DVD-A a modular upgrade for DVD-V players - given this modular approach, it should be substantially easier for them to add SACD to their designs than for many manufacturers. But to include an SACD processing chain in the design should have no impact whatsoever on the sound or video performance of other parts of the player - it's just an alternative decoding path between the bitstream from the transport and the analogue 2/6 channel outputs, and it's a path you turn off when you aren't using it. Any engineer worthy of the name should be able to design this such that it doesn't adversely affect the quality of other sources. It's not rocket science.

    Even if people feel that universal players sound poor, that isn't because they *are* universal. The Arcam "sound" (if there is such a thing) is fundamentally a result of the analogue output stages they design - most of the stuff in the digital domain is bought-in black boxes over which they have little or no control. I personally believe that if Arcam did make a universal player, it would sound (and look) stunning - and they certainly have the expertise to do this. I'm just frustrated that they don't *want* to, for reasons that I suspect are largely political and are subsequently justified by engineering claims that don't hold a great deal of water.
     
  22. Nic Rhodes

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    yes many of us here are professional Engineers. No one desputes it isn't possible, we all know it is, but currently few have demonstrated this is possible at affordable amounts of money (none to my knowledge at under £1k). Sure Linn have got it right but look at the cost.

    The 3910 can't even do some of the basics right like MLP (see reviews from HFNRR / HiFi World, both with a good technical analysis). NowI doubt this is the fault of SACD but it is far easier to get the basics right first (Arcam DVDs now), then reduce the cost with little performance loss (the new Arcam 75? looks likely to show this) and finally add things like SACD if it is possible, with little compromise.

    Arcam have made their reasons quite clear, putting the competiting 'universals' on any test bench and compare with Arcam easily reveals why (yes I have done this). I hope this changes soon, and we have sub £1k universals that aren't screwed up by silly things but currently.........

    Yes we would all love this but as it stands at the moment it hasn't happened at a reasonable cost. If SACD quality performance is required, the best advice to customers is to look for a dedicated SACD player or accept that £1k on a universal does not compete with 'dedicated' players. A buyer should know all the srengths and weaknesses of what he is buying.
     
  23. spl23

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    Nonsense! It is much easier to design SACD in from the start than it is to try and retrofit it. It involves additional components which would be far better placed on the same PCB as all the rest of the digital decoding chips - knowing you are going to include those components at design time is far easier than trying to find somewhere to fit them on a board which has already been laid out.

    Given that Pioneer can sell you a perfectly acceptable universal DVD-A / SACD player (with component output, PAL progressive scan etc) for under £100, do you honestly think that it would be such a struggle for Arcam to produce a better product at 10 times the price? Admittedly Pioneer have economies of scale on their side, but even so...

    The only additional component cost to add SACD to a DVD-A player (assuming an SACD-compatible transport was used initially) is a set of DSD decoding chips - and I would be amazed if they cost OEMs more than $25 or so.

    Leaving aside any other considerations, £300 would buy you a decent CD player, £300 would buy a decent DVD player and £300 would buy a decent SACD player - by putting them all in the same box, you save significant sums by having one transport rather than 3, one power supply rather than 3, one set of casework rather than 3 etc. £1000 should be *plenty* to produce a universal player that does all 3 formats well, and anyone claiming otherwise is making excuses for poor engineering practice.
     
  24. Jeff

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    Lets accept for a moment that Arcam could implement SACD in their DVD players without compromising quality (although there is some doubt), lets also accept for a moment that it would be economical to do so. We shouldn't discount the possibility that Arcam simply doesn't want to support SACD. It's ultimately bad for the consumer and the industry to have multiple formats for essentially the same thing. So having decided to support DVD-A a few years ago, they are doing the right thing by sticking to their guns. Both formats are doomed anyway.
     
  25. NicolasB

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    I'm not convinced. If it were both easy and cheap for Arcam to add SACD capability to their players then they would be stupid not to do it - they're alienating a significant section of the audience and giving other manfacturers bragging rights. Arcam are not complete idiots, and the simple fact that they haven't done it is evidence enough for me that it's either difficult or expensive or both.
     
  26. Hifi addict

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    sure, as any new technology and format, it means buying licenses, buying technology and/or developing it yourself and after that hours and hours of listening to get the most out of it. Let's not forget that Arcam is a top of class audio brand that will not satisfy with an average sound.

    Their DVD players fi have top CD replay as well. Knowing that, including SACD would mean many hours of development, testing, listening, adjusting etc etc. Not to many top CD players are moving into the SACD direction.

    why settle for average when top CD replay is what their mission statement is. Also knowing that SACD will disappear in a few years. That R&D money could be invested more wisely
     
  27. Nic Rhodes

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    You are missing my point totally. No one doubts a fresh design is easier to do. I don't think anyone questions this at all. This is not what I was talking about at all. I am talking about adding it to existing CD / DVD player through their quoted modular design (despite the fact these were never designed to accomodate SACD and have been superceeded totally by a non modular design). Arcam have now perfected DVD design, getting the most out them. Doing anything with SACD is a whole new learning game for them and a whole new design for their current DVD / CD players if viewed as an upgrade. Adding to a DVD player would be a nightmare upgrade and I would doubt it would use much more than the case! This is exactly what Tag even said about even adding DVD A to their ‘modular' DVD player. The only bit they would re use was the case! SACD…….I suspect they could also use the case  This is a player that is now almost 5 years old and still shows just about everyone what good engineering practice is (was in their case). Certainly now, modern component would allow it to be done very differently and cheaper but it does show us an interesting example of quality engineering.

    I am sure they could do it. No doubt about that but why? Pioneer does an excellent player (your perfectly acceptable one?) at £100 (see my supportive posts on their efforts on this site). Can Arcam compete? Do they want to compete? Do they want to promote yet another format? What is the point honestly?. They can however give a premium DVD player at £400 in the form of the new 75 that does the basics REALLY well (ie better than the competition?) without trying to throw every bell and whistle facility at the player that most people never use.

    Even as an adopter of early technology I am disappointed by 6 years of SACD. A new Arcam player I could understand as everyone I know who uses SACD around me does so in 2 channel and not multi channel. It will therefore be viewed in a different market (Arcam Hifi market not it's AV market). Arcam may or may not decide to go this route. Frankly I don't think there is market. Philips and Sony have tried it and it didn't sell too well for them. The future is fully integrated. Arcam will enter that market when they can produce a high quality but affordable player (which seems to be their hallmark) if there is money to be made. The days of Arcam doing cassette decks and NICAM decoders I think are long gone.

    I am glad it so simple, that is why everyone does it then? Pioneer do it at £100… oh and Denon and most of the other have pulled out of this cheap market preferring to deliver a better performing but simpler machine to the bottom end. I.e dedicated DVD players. The majority of the current universal players are not designed from the ground up but are OEM Pioneer variants. Arcam designs from the ground up. Currently this is even a market where cheap manufacture in say China has avoided, if it is all so easy to do……THE FUTURE MAYBE BUT NOW?

    The recently retired Arcams DVD players (great performers) had a lovely modular structure. This was being designed in 99 / 2000 for delivery to the market place in 2000/01. This was in the infancy of SACD and long before the universal concept. The latest Arcams are not modular, preferring the benefits of a highly integrated approach. Now in FMJ, DIVA variants and soon to be launched cheaper chinese build variant. The new players are simply NOT designed to be upgradable but to be built cheaper with as good as or a bit better performance. A universal from Arcam would need to be a totally new design if they wanted to go this route, which they may well do in the future with future products.

    Higher up the market Denon are happy to openly compete with the decent Pioneers but many of these are marketed on facilities rather than out and out performance. This probably explains why the in depth technical reviews have not always been as ‘flattering' (see the above quoted HFN and HiFi World reviews). They are wonderful to look at, loaded with toys and gadgets. They do some things really well but unfortunately others, much less well.

    It is not a trivial matter adding SACD to DVD players at all. DSD is a completely different language to PCM. New SACD players require new skills to design and build effectively and have different issues. Most DACs don't speak natural DSD and therefore may require changes and a whole new learning process (new DAC new manufacturer, new tools, new suppliers etc etc). Bass management is undertaken in a different manner in DSD to PCM. DSD chipsets often don't cover all the functions that say a Vadis V does (MPEG, PS, DD, DTS etc). The frequency of operation I think is my biggest issue. It is in a totally different area and needs different design skills. This is why we recruited ex Sony engineers to develop SDI / HD SDI boards. They understood the frequencies involved. Drives need to be different, the controlling software needs re writing, hell even the software used to program DACs will need to be changed. All in all yes it is possible but many of people favourite components, which they understand well and have been chosen for their superior performance have to be ignored just to get these things working.

    Universal players encompassing all these can and have been done (Linn etc), what has not been done to date is Universals that compete equally across all formats at the affordable bracket. I think it will be done, and in the not too distant future but as it stands I feel the best bet is for those interested in the best audio and video performance is to buy separate players optimised for what ever format you are interested in. This is why I have always recommended to those interested in quality should look at your £300 CD, £300 DVD and £300 SACD. As the universal can not currently do it as well, I agree it is totally down to poor engineering practice. If you look back through all my posts on these subjects you will see this is what I have always argued, probably going back almost 5 years on these forums and others. It is all about engineering done well. It is not about numbers and specs, it is about how you do your engineering. Currently the 3910 is not the player I would use as an example of engineering practice. The Denon 3805 receiver, yes, the Arcam 79, yes but the 3910 is a only formidable player if you priorities are elsewhere. There is no current universal which I think is an example of good engineering practice sub £1k. There should be and is the reason why I have been openly critical of the genre. When I spoke to ‘significant persons' in Arcam on this, yes they have the capability to do it all, but the cost is likely to be very different to what people will want to spend with the then current UK production. I am reminded of the Max Townshend Universal Player TA 565 Evo2 player. Max modded the £100 Pioneer to sort out all the engineering issues and sells it quite effectively it appears at £3k now. Certainly not ground up engineering (which is the cheapest) but an interesting example of engineering.

    It is a lovely idea but the idea has not yet caught up with real products at affordable kit. I don't think this will be long though and I look forward to first class AA universal, sub £1k. Currently we have a few ‘interesting' examples but we are not there yet. My current pick would be 565, and 868 from Pioneer and 963 from Philips (DVD / SACD only). The last being a quirky product that bucks many of the normal trends but with some significant strengths.

    For me the biggest issue is a universal should do everything otherwise it is not universal, otherwise we will have a senario like the original universal laserdisc player that reads DVDs. It should read all formats, be able to transmit everything digitally. This means SPDIF for CD, IEE1394 for SACD and HDMI for DVD. As soon as we get these things reading DVD RAM then we need to look at MPEG4, Microsoft formats……..then the next targets appear. As soon as Blue ray and HD DVD appear, these players will be out of date. We will have forgotten SACD then and be asking why they can't make all players capable of HD DVD and Blue Ray rather than one. Ah progress…..;)
     

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