113th AES: SACD Industry Update

At today’s 113th Audio Engineering Society Convention in Los Angeles, Sony and Philips held the day’s first press conference with an SACD Industry Update. Delivering the presentation was David Kawakami, Sony’s Director of the SACD Project.

SACD Is Starting to Tip
According to Kawakami, the SACD format is «starting to tip» which he said was both a good thing and a bit scary at the same time. A key catalyst of the increased interest in SACD is not surprisngly the recent release of the 22 Rolling Stones Remastered SACDs on ABKCO Records. It along with other SACD releases «in the pipeline» that are awaiting release have strained the industry’s available Hybrid SACD pressing capacity.

As evidence of the growing interest in the SACD format, Kawakami cited these statistics:

  • Over 1 Million SACD players have been sold
  • By year’s end, there will be over 1,000 SACD titles available worldwide
  • Both high end and consumer firms are making SACD players
  • We’re starting to see more DSD production equipment for the pro audio market

    Colin Cigarran, Gus Skinas and Dr. Andrew Demery from the Sony SACD Project

    SACD Player Update
    The availability of SACD players started with statement players from Sony and Philips, followed by the entry of several high end, audiophile SACD players from well known firms including Accuphase, dCS, Luxman and Marantz. By year’s end, these players will be joined by SACD players from 4 key consumer audio firms — Onkyo, Kenwood, Denon and Yamaha.

    In terms of driving the numbers of SACD players in the market, Kawakami talked about plans to release SACD players in the near future at a list price of under $200. He also cited Sony’s success in selling the so-called «Home Theater In A Box» systems which have «taken off like a rocket» and feature Multichannel SACD, Stereo CD and DVD Video playback all in one package.

    New and Improved DSD Equipment in the Pro Market
    Progress is also being made in the professional market. Several firms are now selling DSD equipment in the pro market including EMM Labs, Genex, dCS, Mytek, Tascam, Sonic Studio, Sadie and Merging Technologies.

    Kawakami said that the new 4th Generation Meitner DSD Converters have been a very hot product. As evidence of this he said that almost every new SACD disc in production that the SACD team has seen in recent weeks was made using the Meitner DSD converters.

    Pro firms are starting to use the Oxford «D-Map» DSD modules introduced earlier this year at the 112th AES Show to speed the development of new DSD based products. An example of a new product using the Oxford D-Map modules is the new Sadie 8 Channel DSD Editing station that is being introduced at the AES Convention this week.

    It was also announced that Sonic Studios, the Sonic Solutions spin off firm that is marketing the Sonic HD Platform, is working on a DSD for Sonic HD product.

    Update on SACD Record Labels and Releases
    Show attendees received copies of the new September 2002 SACD Disc catalog (see our earlier story on the 09.02 SACD catalog).

    The catalog lists over 500 SACD releases that are either now available or scheduled for release in the US market in the near future.

    Kawakami noted that the catalog contains US releases from every major record label except for BMG and Warner Music which are only issuing SACD product overseas to date. He said that the Universal Music Group has «a lot of SACD product in the pipeline» for the US market and that the first few Universal Classical SACD releases are just now being released in Europe.

    Sony Music remains the largest producer of SACD titles, with over 185 titles in the US market. He also noted that Sony Music’s new SACD titles are heavily focused on Multichannel/Stereo SACD titles to help «flesh out» that part of the SACD catalog.

    Another recent area of success for SACD is being found in bluegrass music being produced in Nashville. As a result of the well-received SACD releases on Rounder Records by Alison Krauss, additional bluegrass labels are now working on upcoming SACD discs including the Sugar Hill label.

    While most of EMI’s SACD activity has been in the European market, later this year their Blue Note jazz label will be issuing 6 SACDs. Included in that group will be the best selling album by Norah Jones.

    Sony Begins Hybrid SACD Production
    Turning to the issue of Hybrid SACD production capacity, Kawakami conceded that «we’re struggling to make enough Hybrid SACD discs to meet the demand.»

    At the present time, Sony has 3 pressing plants in the US, Europe and Japan that produce Single Layer SACD discs. During his presentation, Kawakami confirmed what many in the industry had speculated on since August — Sony’s Japanese SACD plant is now producing Hybrid SACDs as well. The first Hybrid SACD production line at Sony Japan went on line in July and a second line at Sony Japan went live on September 30th. Each of these lines will produce 12,000 — 15,000 Hybrid SACD discs per day.

    As evidence of Hybrid SACD production demand, Kawakami announced that work on the 3rd Sony Japan Hybrid SACD production line is already underway and it will be available «soon». He also said that the work on the Sony Hybrid SACD lines in Japan had enabled Sony to «develop a template» for rapidly adding Hybrid SACD production lines. The template is based on the fact that a Hybrid SACD production line is «basically a modified DVD-9 production line.»

    The result of this work is that Sony is now planning to add Hybrid SACD production lines at its US plant in Terre Haute, Indiana and their plant in Austria. Apparently, work on Sony’s US Hybrid SACD production facility has already begun and the plan is to have its first production line up and running shortly after January 1st.

    Added Hybrid SACD Production by Sonopress and Crest National
    There was also an update on the Hybrid SACD pressing capabilities at Sonopress and Crest National. Readers of High Fidelity Review know from our recent story that Sonopress launched their 2nd Hybrid SACD production line last month. At the SACD Industry Update, it was revealed that Sonopress is now starting to look at a 3rd Hybrid SACD production line at their plant in Germany.

    Kawakami also expressed pleasure that Crest National is finalizing their new Hybrid SACD production line at their plant in Hollywood. He said that the availability of this facility will be a big plus to US based record labels that are issuing Hybrid SACD discs. At the update we were told that the first Crest National SACD production line could be on line as soon as later this month.

    An Update on the Rolling Stones SACDs
    Kawakami also presented an update on the status of the Rolling Stones Remastered SACD project. The project was originally announced in May at the HE 2002 show when Jody Klein at ABKCO Records announced that 22 of the early Stones albums would be released as single inventory Hybrid Stereo SACDs.

    The project involved spending 6 months to search for and transfer all of the Rolling Stones analog master tapes. ABKCO set up a transfer room at The Magic Shop in New York that featured custom equipment from Mike Spitz and Ed Meitner. The tapes were then transferred to DSD through a Meitner DSD Converter, saved to hard disk and then the hard disks were shipped to Bob Ludwig for mastering.

    The US release of the Rolling Stones SACDs occurred on August 27th with a release in Europe and Canada scheduled for October 21st. We were told that ABKCO is trying to assemble enough Hybrid SACD discs for the October 21st release date at this point.

    According to the SACD team, the Rolling Stones SACD project has resulted in:

  • Lots of press about the SACD format
  • Tie-ins, giveways and radio ads during the Rolling Stones Concert Tour
  • Providing the industry a big incentive to quickly expand Hybrid SACD pressing capacity
  • SACD discs are now being carried in Musicland stores as well as the Stones SACDs appearing at Borders and Barnes and Noble
  • There is now interest by others in reissuing classic albums on Hybrid SACD.

    The equipment rack used for the SACD demo at AES (from top to bottom the equipment features Sony SCD-XA777ES Multichannel SACD Player, Philips SACD-1000 Multichannel SACD/DVD Video player, Meitner Switchman II Multichannel preamp/switcher and Meitner Mk IV DSD DAC)

    An SACD Demo for the Press
    After the SACD Industry Update was complete, the press was treated to a demo of some upcoming SACD discs. Equipment for the demo included ATC Speakers, the Philips SACD-1000 and Sony SCD-XA777ES SACD players and the EMM Labs Switchman II preamp/switcher.

    On hand for the demo along with David Kawakami was Dr. Andrew Demery, Colin Cigarran and Gus Skinas from the SACD Project.

    Dr. Demery was originally part of the Philips SACD Authoring Team in Europe but he is now working with the Sony SACD team in the US. Colin Cigarran is responsible for liaison between the SACD record labels and the SACD pressing plants while Gus Skinas coordinates the use of the Sony Sonoma DSD stations out of his office at Sony’s DSD facility in Boulder, Colorado.

    The first two tracks played during the demo were «Waiting for a Factory Girl» and «Sympathy for the Devil» from the Rolling Stones Remastered Stereo SACDs.

    Next we heard tracks from several upcoming Multichannel SACDs including:

  • «The Storm is Passing» from «Grace» by Broadway Inspirational Voices (DMP)
  • «New York, New York» by Ryan Adams (Universal/Lost Highway)
  • «Better Than Anything » from «Ask A Woman Who Knows» by Natalie Cole and Diana Krall (Universal/Verve)
  • «October Road» title track by James Taylor (Columbia)
  • «Walk This Way» from «Toys In The Attic» by Aerosmith (Columbia)

    All but the Aerosmith track were played from SACD discs or test pressings. The Aerosmith was played from a Sonoma Workstation hard disk recording via a Meitner DSD converter. In each case, it sounds like we have some very nice SACDs to look forward to in the months ahead. Sony SACD Project Director David Kawakami (Right) with Cheap Thrills Co-Producer and 5.1 Remix Engineer Eliot Mazer (Left)