Sony SCD-777ES SACD Player

Sony has been shipping the SCD-1 for several months now and the reaction from users and the press has been consistently positive. Shortly after the release of the SCD-1, a lower-cost SCD-777ES player hit the streets. The basic differences are that the 777ES is black instead of silver, does not have balanced outputs and costs $3,500 ($1,500 less than the SCD-1).
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Sony has been shipping the SCD-1 for several months now and the reaction from users and the press has been consistently positive. Shortly after the release of the SCD-1, a lower-cost SCD-777ES player hit the streets. The basic differences are that the 777ES is black instead of silver, does not have balanced outputs and costs $3,500 ($1,500 less than the SCD-1).
Product PointsApplications: Studio; audiophile; listening environments

Key Features: Plays single or dual layer DSD or dual layer hybrid discs; unbalanced outputs

Price: $3,500

Contact: Sony at 800-635-7669.

Plus

+ Great sound (SACD playback)

+ Rock-solid transport and construction

Minus

- Slow CD loading

The Score: The SACD-777ES offers an incredible listening experience.
Supporters of the other format have been quick to criticize the cost of the $5,000 SCD-1 player, not realizing that high-end CD players, or even transports, can cost much more. Sony decided to introduce SACD with the best player it could build, which I believe was a good call.

Ed Foster does a great in-depth technical analyses of the SCD-777 and finds it measures the same as the SCD-1 (see bench test, beginning on page 54). Both players rank as probably the best CD machines built to date and come with the additional benefit of being able to play SACD.

I have been writing a fair amount about DSD in these pages over the past couple of years, and it is actually possible to listen to pure DSD recordings with these new SACD players. Sony decided to start with stereo units, hoping to appeal to the audiophile community ('philes are not into surround). This was also a good call because the introduction of a new digital format along with multichannel could only add to the confusion, and both SACD and surround have the ability to add space, realism and a much-improved listening experience over the current stereo CD.

Features

The SACD Scarlet Book spec has three disc options: single-layer DSD, dual-layer DSD or dual-layer hybrid with a Red Book layer (16 bit/44.1 kHz) that Sony claims can be played on any of the 700 million players out there as well as the high-density layer that can deliver eight channels of pure DSD. Philips developed a lossless coding system called Direct Stream Transfer (DST) that makes it possible to author six full-range channels (for surround) in addition to a dedicated stereo mix of the same program (not to be confused with the automatic fold-down mix from the other guys), all on the same high-density layer. To do this the data is packed (not to be confused with lossy compression like Dolby Digital or DTS) so that bit-for-bit recovery can be achieved during playback. Both of the new Sony players are DST-equipped so future DST-authored software can be played without any problems. At this point, it is not necessary to implement DST for stereo since the 4.7 GB high-density layer has plenty of space for any two-channel program.

In use

The setup consisted of the unbalanced outputs of each player connected to an Ayre Acoustics K-1 high-end preamplifier with Meitner solid conductor RCA-to-RCA interconnect cables. The K-1 balanced outputs were connected to a pair of JBL LSR28P powered monitors this time with XLR to XLR balanced Meitner cable.

Last year I did a DSD recording of the Stockholm JazzOrchestra, which is a big band playing Tango music with very meticulous orchestrations. This music will more often than not bring a playback system to its knees, with the complex interaction between brass and woodwinds. I placed a hybrid SACD of this project in each machine and set it first to play the CD layer with the variable coefficient digital filter set to the standard position on each machine (see Ed Foster's description of the filter settings in his bench test).

The SCD-1 sounded more focused, more transparent but with slightly more edge. The SCD-777 sounded smoother and fuller but lacked the detail of the SCD-1. Brass is very telling because of the upper harmonics. The added detail of the SCD-1 almost made the trumpets sound harsh while the 777 sort of rounded off the rough edges at the expense of losing transparency and detail - no free lunch here, this is PCM warts and all.

Switching over to the SACD mode is just what the doctor ordered, especially with this type of music. The first thing you notice is how much more enjoyable it is to listen to music without any glare or harshness. My wife says it's more ear-friendly and Karma and I agree.

The next thing you hear is an added dimension of depth, front to back, almost like two-channel surround if you will. The same characteristics hold true in the SACD mode as in the CD mode. The SCD-1 is more focused but this time it does not get edgy or harsh. My take on this is, in the CD mode, the complex harmonics I've mentioned earlier are corrupted due to phase shift and group delay caused by the brick-wall filter. With SACD there is approximately four times more data representing the music and no brick-wall filter.

Summary

Before I get carried away here I have to say that for CD playback either player does a great job, better, in fact, than most CD players out there. But when you switch over to SACD the sound is so compelling it makes you want to just listen to the music - the technology disappears.

This is not the first time I have experienced two pieces of equipment measuring the same and sounding different. The human ear is a very complex instrument in itself. It has the ability to find differences that even the finest test equipment can fail to spot. When you add the bonus of SACD to the overall quality of these players, even at these price-points it spells good value.