Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD Player
Consumer-electronics writers are a curious group. We'll look at a product on paper and decide whether it's going to be any good long before we actually get our hands on the gear. That's not a very shocking admission. Think about it: You see Kevin Costner is making another baseball movie, and you have to figure it will be decent. It's sort of the same process for writers. Being cynical, most of us writer types looked at Sony's SACD format on paper and agreed it would probably sound good, as long as it's surrounded by good-enough gear to bring out the difference over traditional CDs and maybe even the long-awaited DVD-Audio. Some even argued that the product is of questionable value, since it's only aimed at the high-end, tube-amp crowd. Why muddy the water? Why mess things up for the upcoming (and more-mainstream) DVD-Audio? Isn't Sony just being arrogant?
After spending some quality time with Sony's second SACD player, the SCD-777ES ($3,500), I've come to the conclusion that every argument made by writers before the launch of SACD is completely moot. Throw out every preconception you have. Throw out every issue you have with the target audience. Just listen. If you do, you'll find yourself on the cusp of an audio revolution. Hey, I admit it. I was one of those willing to dismiss SACD as a nice niche product for serious audiophiles. But I promised myself I'd be fair, give the product the appropriate test drive, and see if it could live up to the hype. For those of you who missed the background, here goes: Sony considers SACD an extension of CD technology, albeit using a much larger storage medium. Like DVD-Audio discs, single-layer SACD discs can hold 4.7 gigabytes of data. While DVD-Audio uses PCM technology similar to a traditional CD (but less compressed), Sony uses their one-bit Direct Stream Digital encoding system, which is taken at a massive sampling rate. Right now, it's only two-channel, although future versions will accommodate multichannel audio. Another interesting fact: DVD-Audio/SACD combo players should only be months away by the time you read this, eliminating any fears you may have that one or the other will become obsolete.
When the box showed up at my test lab, one thought immediately struck me: "Man, is this thing heavy!"After wrestling it out of the box and placing it on my gear rack, it was hard not admire it. Dark, brushed metal everywhere. A flat front, with only an LCD display. The control buttons are all located discreetly on top. The top-mounted drive looks very substantial, and the heavy, powered door slides smoothly to the right. A balanced weight, in polished brass, is used inside to keep the disc in place. Without a doubt, its look will fit in with almost any high-end gear. The back has a pair of analog outs and coaxial and optical digital outs, although you'd be silly to use them unless you have a better D/A converter than the one in the Sony, which isn't likely. The unit comes with a nice brushed-silver remote that has a good feel.