Sony’s plan for SACD aiming for audiophiles

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by rich tozzoli

David Kawakami is passionate about music. As a director in the Corporate Strategy Group at Sony Corporation of America, he has been in charge of the company’s SACD project for the past five years. Speaking with him recently in his busy office at 550 Madison Ave. in New York City, his deep caring about this advancing technology and what it brings to the art of music was more than evident. Here, he helps shed some light to Surround Professional on the past, present, and future of the Super Audio Compact Disc.

What makes the SACD format special?

Initially, we made two basic assumptions. The first was that, to be successful and to gain market acceptance — which is the goal if you want to establish a business — we felt we had to offer the consumer a very large step forward in terms of what the format delivers from a sonic listening experience standpoint.

One of the things that makes SACD so special is the sonic performance that it provides to one of the most ardent support groups that we have — that most passionate of music enthusiast, the so-called “audiophile.”

The second assumption we made is based upon a large business model called CD. The format had to offer a logical migration path for consumers who already have a large music collection and major investment in equipment. We didn’t want to render that investment obsolete, so we built into the format some provisions for keeping a bridge to the CD world.

What have audio professionals found in this format?

If anything has been pulling this train along, it has been the acceptance of SACD and its DSD encoding system by people who make records for a living — people like Tom Jung, Alan Sides, Michael Bishop, and Bruce Botnick, among others. They’ve discovered, in the same way that the audiophiles found, something unique about SACD.

As Alan Sides has said, when you’re making a record — building it piece by piece — some of the pieces may be analog and some may be digital. It doesn’t matter because once you have the mix you want, you need a technology that’s so transparent that it records exactly what comes off the bus. You don’t want it to add anything, you don’t want it to subtract anything. You want it to capture exactly what you worked on in the studio.

Can you expand upon multichannel SACD?

In preparation for this, we started two years ago to record as much original music as we could using our first prototype DSD multitrack recorder. Now we probably have about 80 to 100 pieces already recorded that are not yet edited, which is what we need the new Sonoma for. There’s also much ongoing activity in remastering and remixing from original analog multitracks, which has begun at several labels, including Sony Music.

However, as the market expands beyond audiophile components to more affordable products in different configurations, like changers and combination DVD-Video players, we still want to give the most demanding music enthusiasts what they want. So to have the format shine its brightest, we need original DSD recordings, and that’s why we have been working with all the audiophile labels to compile as many titles as possible.

What about the marketing of multichannel?

Our approach to multichannel SACD is the same as our approach to 2-channel music — we’re doing it very carefully. If it doesn’t enhance the overall music listening experience, why bother? Two-channel SACD is very good, and multichannel SACD is mind-boggling. Multichannel music shouldn’t be about making sound come from five speakers, but using those extra channels to create a different, equally compelling experience. DSD does an incredible job of that.

How will Sony take SACD to the next level?

Sony Electronics has a very aggressive plan for moving ahead. They currently enjoy a leading market share in three categories that are critical to the industry. In CD players, they have about a 30 percent worldwide share, including portables and car players. They also enjoy the top market share in DVD-Video, which is a very fast growing category. And the third area that they have a major share in is home theater systems.

Our plan is to simply add SACD to those three categories — in a very orderly fashion. If you add up all of the potential sales of these products, you should have a fast ramp up of SACD players. Hopefully, this will put SACD on the radar screen of all the major record labels.

Surround Professional Magazine