The Secret Life Of Super Audio Compact Discs (SACDs)

Once lauded as a beacon of the future for physical music, Super Audio Compact Discs (SACDs) offer improved sound quality over their non-super counterparts. Officially announced in 1999, SACDs were a major upgrade to the revolutionary Compact Disc that hit stores and home consoles 16 years before.

SACDs offer tangible improvements over the original CD, including:

  • Up to 6 audio channels (compared to 2 for regular CDs) for a more comprehensive sound stage
  • Better audio encoding
  • Higher sampling frequency
  • Up to 30 minutes more play time on each disc

There are a lot of other upgrades that I encourage you to explore if you are interested in learning more about the technical aspects of the format before diving into its history and representation in the Discogs Database.

The Early Days of SACDs

Like all fledging formats, the first few years were awkward. The first SACD player, the Sony SCD-1, weighed 57 pounds and cost roughly $5,000 in 1999.

A still-expensive SCD-1

To add salt to the wound, Super Audio CDs could not be played on Mac or PC without special programs. Sure, there are now Hybrid SACDs that can be played in a wide variety of listening setups, albeit with less of the playback benefit of the format, but these were not common in the early days.

The Downsides of SACDs

Now, for the average listener, it can be argued that SACDs are probably not worth it. Indeed, a study found that many casual listeners could not discern a difference between CDs and SACDs in a blind test. The SACD was perhaps doomed to fail with less-attuned listeners, as the majority of consumers happily flocked toward the cheap, convenient and low-quality MP3 format.

SACD Releases by Year
SACDs by release year in the Discogs Database, with a noticeable decline as MP3’s gain popularity

SACDs are also read-only, so there was no making of mixtapes for a high-school crush with ripped MP3s off of Napster or Limewire (and, yes, I’m aware that this would be a travesty to the format.) They also had copy protection, making it harder to share music with friends.

In a sense, Sony and Philips misjudged common consumers’ priorities – it turns out many folks were not craving better-sounding playback. Instead, they desired convenience and affordability. This is a primary reason the format did not find lasting commercial success in the dawn of the digital music age.

Success in a Niche

Despite SACDs’ shortcomings, audiophiles and recording engineers clearly appreciated the technical upgrades. And the benefits of more audio channels, when done right, is clear to almost anyone. Because of these reasons, there are many highly-prized and sought after SACDS, even more than a decade after their short-lived peak. Indeed, the SACD format largely found success within a niche: Classical music.

SACDs by genre
SACDs by genre in the Discogs Database

Looking at the distribution of SACD releases in the Discogs Database, we can see their higher numbers in the Classical genre. This is also evident when looking at SACDs tagged with a style.

SACDs by sub-genre in the Discogs Database
SACDs by style in the Discogs Database

Most Expensive SACDs Sold on Discogs

Many SACDs are worth more than comparable CDs, especially the boxsets. Of the top 50 most expensive SACD sales on Discogs all were one of the following eight releases, six of which are boxsets. Lo and behold, a Classical release is the most expensive SACD ever sold on Discogs.


The Rolling Stones - Remastered Series SACD album cover

The Rolling Stones – Remastered Series

Highest Sale Price: $824.18

Dead Can Dance - SACD Box Set SACD album cover

Dead Can Dance – SACD Box Set

Highest Sale Price: $769.22

Al Di Meola - Elegant Gypsy SACD album cover

Al Di Meola – Elegant Gypsy

Highest Sale Price: $671.78

Yes - High Vibration - SACD Box SACD album cover

Yes – High Vibration – SACD Box

Highest Sale Price: $464.25

Genesis - 1970 - 1975 SACD album cover

Genesis – 1970 – 1975

Highest Sale Price: $454.53

Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road SACD album cover

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Highest Sale Price: $439.56

The Doors - Infinite SACD album cover

The Doors – Infinite

Highest Sale Price: $439.45

Most Collected SACDs on Discogs

The most collected is a different story. Dark Side of the Moon makes a not-so-surprising appearance (considering its collection numbers on other formats) near the top of the list. But then we find a considerable amount of Depeche Mode in the mix. There are fewer boxsets, probably because of their high prices.


Depeche Mode - Playing The Angel album cover

Depeche Mode – Playing The Angel

Released: 2005

Collected: 2,086


Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon album cover

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side Of The Moon

Released: 2003

Collected: 1,974


Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms album cover

Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms

Released: 2005

Collected: 1,799


Depeche Mode - Music For The Masses album cover

Depeche Mode – Music For The Masses

Released: 2006

Collected: 1,579


Depeche Mode - Violator album cover

Depeche Mode – Violator

Released: 2006

Collected: 1,534


Depeche Mode - Some Great Reward album cover

Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward

Released: 2006

Collected: 1,351


Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here album cover

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

Released: 2011

Collected: 1,281


Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral album cover

Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

Released: 2004

Collected: 1,271


Depeche Mode - Songs Of Faith And Devotion album cover

Depeche Mode – Songs Of Faith And Devotion

Released: 2006

Collected: 1,227


Depeche Mode - Speak & Spell album cover

Depeche Mode – Speak & Spell

Released: 2006

Collected: 1,219

The Most Desired SACDs on Discogs

For fun, here is a look at SACDs by my favorite sort, Most Desired. By dividing the Total Haves by the Total Wants (Haves / Wants), we can get a glimpse at some SACDs that are on many collectors’ radars. SACDs from countries outside the US seem to be more highly-sought-after.


Marvin Gaye - What

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Want/Have Index: 13.68

Japan


Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon album cover

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side Of The Moon

Want/Have Index: 12.80

Brazil


Herbie Hancock - Head Hunters album cover

Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters

Want/Have Index: 12.77

US


Michael Jackson - Thriller album cover

Michael Jackson – Thriller

Want/Have Index: 12.50

Japan


Herbie Hancock - Head Hunters album cover

Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters

Want/Have Index: 12.48

Europe


Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue album cover

Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue

Want/Have Index: 12.02

Japan


Queen - A Night At The Opera album cover

Queen – A Night At The Opera

Want/Have Index: 10.23

Japan


The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds album cover

The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

Want/Have Index: 10.06

Japan


Herbie Hancock - Head Hunters album cover

Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters

Want/Have Index: 9.85

Europe


Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue album cover

Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue

Want/Have Index: 8.72

US


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Steven Williams
Steven is a Discogs content strategist and indie radio host residing in Portland, OR. Formerly a member of P.H.C., a found-object free jazz collective, he now spends his spare time learning bluegrass tunes on the mandolin.
25 Comments
  • Feb 19,2020 at 15:12

    I’m a huge fan of SACDs. Sony continues to frustrate the hell out of me when they develop something only to forget about it. My listening format preferences are usually vinyl first, SACD second. Good 5.1 SACDs sound truly amazing. All of the Elton John releases are standouts, as are the San Francisco Symphony Mahler performances. With “Tapestry” Carole King is “ in the room with me.” Crazy good.

  • Feb 18,2020 at 18:28

    As I understand originally Sony and Philips were working on a superior way to archive music in the digital domain. Analogue tape will/would eventually degrade to the point of useless so while it was still viable transfer it to a high resolution format that was better than PCM, hence DSD (Direct Stream Digital) was the outcome of this. As disc technology was getting better with higher and higher capacity discs being available it was realised that the DSD stereo and multichannel could be transferred and played back from disc. The SACD was born.
    I have many and love the format. I still love vinyl as well.

  • Feb 14,2020 at 19:40

    I think most of us would agree that excellent mastering makes a bigger difference than more bits and a higher bitrate. Yes, I’d rather have a SACD than a CD (or LP) but first you have to have great masterering.

  • Feb 13,2020 at 00:33

    I listen mainly to vinyl and hi-res downloads on my streamer. But I still rely on my Oppo UDP-205 and BDP-105D disc players for SACD playback. The sound quality rivals any of my other sources.

    I haven’t finished cataloging my SACDs, but I’ve managed to collect some great ones. Mainly 1970s-80s classic rock, many of them MoFi hybrids. Also a dozen or more RCA Living Stereo classical favorites.

    My most prized discs are Japanese SHM-SACDs of the Stones’ Exile and Stick Fingers. Incredible!

  • Feb 13,2020 at 00:16

    I got into these for a couple of years and a few of them really are mind blowing good. But mostly I had to listen hard & studiously to be pleased with what they offered & in the end the payoff wasn’t worth it for me.

  • Feb 12,2020 at 23:29

    I do like the format, like someone above noted, it has the most beautiful calm tendency, compared to CD and even vinyl. That said, there are some awful SACDs out there. A harp player’s rendition of Philip Glass comes to mind…

    One of the best is an early Rod Stewart album. Each instrument is entirely present and Rod sounds like he’s having a great time. That’s music.

    I’ve got a Pioneer deck hooked up to the latest Marantz amp. Ditched true audiophile equipment a few years ago. Just to much work. Rather listen than tinker.

  • Feb 12,2020 at 22:17

    Fun fact – the Playstation 3 can recognize and play SACDs. So, if you have a PS3 hooked up to your sound system, you don’t necessarily have to get a dedicated SACD player.

  • Feb 4,2020 at 15:23

    I first got into SACD about 15 years ago, they opened my ears to better than CD quality sound, but I found the available catalogue very limited, so I invested in a high quality record player to get my “better than CD” fix. Recently I have become interested in classical music, and this has led me to rediscovering SACD, those old RCA and Mercury recordings sound fantastic, of the modern recordings, Pentatone are great. The London Symphony Orchestra record in DSD, live in the Barbican, allowing you to hear how awful that hall truly sounds.

  • Feb 4,2020 at 14:51

    The SACD format was a typical Sony adventure. Sony and Philips come up with some really great developments and then keep them sort of a secret. I remember reading an article back in the 1990’s and that was it. Last year, with the launch of the Marantz “Ruby” SACD player and partner amplifier released, I “re-discovered” the format and delved into it.

    The Classical SACD re-releases of the 1950’s RCA “Living Stereo” releases brought my wife to tears from emotion, that the CD track could not. It is an amazing format that can have a terrific market for those that appreciate great audio. And yes, the production and care at mixing plays a huge factor. I do now own a few “meh” discs now and wonder what they were thinking. I actually went to the front panel of the player to make sure I was in SACD mode.

  • Feb 4,2020 at 10:23

    SACD was and remains the best sounding format, not because it has less resolution than Pure Audio BluRay och DVD-A:s, but probably because the DSD technology is superior to PCM for music. But doing blind tests may not be fruitful, since the sound quality more often lies with the production and mastering. SACD producers seem to take great care in the mastering process, though. Most of my discs sound absolutely wonderful, and this includes the Deutsche Grammophon ones, although they were mixed on 16-18 bit pcm consoles, why format is far from everything. I also have a small number of awful-sounding ones. It’s sad the format is dying, though. Now with advancing age, I personally need superior sound less and less, although poor sound sounds even poorer when your ears grow old. For example, to me, ordinary CD:s sounded superior to mp3, but today I hear no difference. This is not solely due to mp3 algorithms having improved, the same goes for old files and discs in my collection. SACD, however, has a calm atmosphere to its sound that goes far beyond mere resolution or frequency range. Like hi-speed reel-to-reel tapes, with less hiss, and in multichannel. Even old recordings have this perfect calmness of sound envioronment, like Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon which came out in 2001. Wish you were here is another case in point. It’s sad to see SACD dying. I would like to be able to play my discs until I die.

  • Feb 4,2020 at 10:08

    It’s fairly obvious from the (otherwise good) article that many SACD releases of the recent years are under-represented in Discogs, in particular releases from Japan and in classical / opera / baroque where Discogs is not as big as in pop-rock.

    Another element to highlight is that SACDs can be ripped, thanks to the work of a small group of people on tech forums around the world. So SACDs have become much more user-friendly and the musical content can be ripped to high resolution FLAC or WAV files fairly easily nowadays, which was not the case in the early 00s. This contributes to creating a small but active collectors’ market for the existing catalogue.

  • Feb 3,2020 at 19:04

    I think SACD really is the finest audio format. I buy mostly Classical. Labels like BIS, Pentatone, Chandos and Reference Recordings are probably making the finest Multi-Channel recordings in the world. Amazing sound! Even now, they are releasing all of the Guess Who albums in Multi-Channel on Vocalion. Truly wonderful too see so many great quad albums available and for the first time!

  • Feb 3,2020 at 16:35

    Mobile Fidelity continues to successfully release hybrid SACDs. Even on average equipment the SACD is clearly better (if an SACD player is the gear).

    As for Discogs, we’re selling one or two every day- even some without any of the original packaging.

  • Feb 3,2020 at 13:12

    SACD is pretty alive after 20 years in the market. And surely will be in the nest 20 years on…

  • Feb 2,2020 at 23:22

    Argh! The infamous Meyer-Moran study was *NOT* specifically about SACD; it was about whether people could detect high resolution recordings downconverted to 16/44.1 SACD and DVD-A just happened to be the only widely-adopted consumer formats for high resolution audio at the time.

  • Feb 2,2020 at 19:53

    The front page of the site says this article is about Super Audio Cassette Discs…

  • Feb 2,2020 at 18:14

    The format has nothing to do with the sound quality. If it is mastered bad, then it will sound bad. There are plenty of bad sounding SACD’s.

  • Feb 2,2020 at 14:45

    I owned a Sony SACD player once. The dumb thing that drove me away from it was the copy protection. It also played regular cd’s and it had both analogue and digital outputs. And… you could only use the digital outputs when playing regular cd’s. If you put in an sacd, only the analogue outputs would work.

    That immediately ruled out the audiophile audience, at least the part that is somewhat on a budget, because you were stuck with the builtin digital to analogue conversion and you could not use your own DAC. This lead to the ironic result that regular cd’s sounded better than their sacd counterparts.

  • Feb 2,2020 at 14:36

    I enjoy the multi-channel SACD format – Dark Side Of The Moon is fantastic in 5.1 as are the Genesis albums – great format ( if a little expensive )

  • Feb 2,2020 at 14:11

    The numbers of new SACD releases are misrepresented. The Discogs.com database doesn’t represent every SACD released worldwide. Using the most comprehensive online databases for new SACD releases at sa-cd.net and hraudio.net, plus the ones that I have but not listed at either databases, leads to these numbers:

    2015 – 795 new SACD released worldwide
    2016 – 879 new SACD released worldwide
    2017 – 848 new SACD released worldwide
    2018 – 772 new SACD released worldwide
    2019 – 693 new SACD released worldwide

    No bad for a niche format which just celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2019. By the way, over 14,000 titles have been released on SACD.

  • Feb 2,2020 at 12:40

    SACD sounds great, but sometimes it depends on the recording and remastering too.

  • Feb 2,2020 at 09:14

    Surprised no mention of the Al Kooper Super Sessions SACD and the nightmare he had getting released on the format.

    Still SACD’s sound fantastic….even the mono editions

  • Feb 2,2020 at 06:12

    Me too! Long live the SACD!

  • Feb 1,2020 at 14:10

    Love my SACD’s.

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