Monday, April 10, 2006

Audiophilia: Woe is SACD...

I ordered the Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks greatest hits collection from CD Universe last week. All of ABKCO's remastered releases from 2002 are Hybrid SACDs, meaning that they play in regular CD players but also contain a hidden high-resolution SACD layer for players that support the format.

However, rather than confuse the market, ABKCO simply released these remasters as if they were regular CDs and made no mention of them being Hybrid SACDs. They also charged no premium whatsoever for these Hybrid SACDs (which cost slightly more to manufacture). This move was applauded by audiophiles; consumers get better sounding remastered CDs and audiophiles get glorious SACDs at the same price.

Unfortunately, as of March 2006, ABKCO has officially decided to dump the Hybrid SACD approach and is now releasing all of their remasters as regular CDs (including another well-received remaster, Sam Cooke: Portrait of a Legend).

see: ABKCO Removes Hybrid SACD Stones Albums From Catalog

And, I suppose in keeping with their earlier approach, they're not telling anyone about the fact that these discs are now regular CDs. The original packaging had no indication that the discs were Hybrid SACDs and now the latest batch of pressings have no indication that they are regular CDs.

At least for the Rolling Stones remasters, it seems that you can tell the difference by the "Digipak" cardboard packaging of the Hybrid SACDs vs the standard plastic jewel case of the new regular CD pressings.

see: AVS Forum - Rolling Stones SACD confusion

What's confusing here is that it seems that this regular CD approach had already started by this time last year! The posts on the above thread discuss this problem back in April '05. Perhaps ABKCO began shipping regular CDs when they fell behind on demand (due to the Hybrid SACD output issues discussed in the first article), but continued producing limited quantities of the Hybrid version. But maybe they finally gave up entirely in March 2006. I don't know. Whatever the case may be, the whole thing is really confusing and frustrating.

CD Universe has partially updated its catalog to reflect the change. The discs are now listed as regular CDs, BUT they still appear in the SACD Bestsellers list and their descriptions still say "This is a HYBRID SACD".

My regular CD copies of both Hot Rocks and Portrait of a Legend will be shipped back to CD Universe today. I've placed a replacement order with which still lists them as Hybrid SACDs (and at least the Hot Rocks disc is still listed as the "Digipak" version). I'm somewhat optimistic also because both discs are listed as "limited quantities remaining".

If those come back as regular CDs, then I'll have to start trolling Best Buy and Circuit City stores for old pre-March inventory.


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