AV Education on RHT
How To Impress Your Friends With SACD
Written by Jerry Del Colliano
AudioRevolution.com and RevolutionHomeTheater.com readers are the ambassadors of new AV technology to the non-enthusiast world. While you sometimes have to take a little friendly verbal abuse (ball-breaking, as it is called in Jersey) for investing $20,000 in a TV or $7,900 in a new preamp, your razzing comes more from jealousy and envy than anything else. Your mission (if you choose to accept it) is to show your neighbors, friends and technically savvy acquaintances why you are so gaga about audio and video.
One of the latest and greatest audio technologies to come along in recent years is SACD. By now, you likely know that SACD is one of two formats competing to replace the 20-year veteran known as the compact disc. Although it began as a primarily stereo format, SACD has blossomed into a high-resolution surround format capable of taking you places that a standard CD cannot. The goal of this article is highlight the way to best show off the new format to your friends. This includes explaining to them on a basic level how SACD works and why it is better than the CD that they might think is just fine. I find the best way is to talk a little computer talk. Everyone now knows what bits and bytes are. SACD discs have more space, which allows more room for storage of information than a CD has. SACD also uses a different encoding method called DSD, which allows even more music to fit on a standard-sized disc. If needed at the end of your demonstration, you can do an A-B test with one (or a few) of the titles you played, assuming your guests arent completely blown away on the first round.
You want to be sure to explain the differences between the standard SACD discs and the hybrid discs. Standard SACDs, which make up much of the current overall SACD catalog, can only be played in a special SACD player. These range in price from a few hundred dollars to many thousands. Some of these SACD players also play DVD-Video discs and all of them play your existing collection of CDs. Some SACD players can also play the competing DVD-Audio discs, but the vast majority of the players in the market do not. Another point you want to make is about surround sound. SACDs are generally marked if they are mixed for surround sound playback. You also need to have your player connected to a fairly up-to-date receiver or AV preamp with a 5.1 analog input, so that you can enjoy all of what SACD has to offer you in surround sound. Although it is not the best-sounding option, certainly the easiest and most cost-effective is an all-in-one system, such as Sonys Dream System, which is priced around $1,000.
Some things to think about before you start spinning the music include getting your rap down. If you have guests over, make sure they have a drink in hand and are seated in the hot spot in your system. It makes them feel special and shows to them that you have put special attention into setting up your system at a very high level. Dim the lights as best you can. If you have Lutron controls for your lights, then you will have presets that dont put you in the dark but still de-emphasizes the visual as part of the musical listening experience. If you dont have a fancy lighting situation no problem. An Ikea floor-standing lamp with dimmer and a few strategically placed candles works well. I keep a Tiffanys crystal tea light holder near my rack for night time listening sessions which illuminates beautifully. The crystal piece (even from Tiffanys) didnt cost more than $50, if my memory serves me right.
After you have explained all of the technology and have your guest(s) seated and ready for takeoff, you want to take a lesson from the worlds best DJs and manage the tempo and emotions through the music. You are in control of your system and you want to grab your guests attention. Of course, everyones taste in music is different and you want know if someone is more into jazz or pop before playing your demo. For the most part, I stick with mainstream music that people have heard elsewhere before. Rarely do non-audio-geeks do A-B comparisons between formats, so if their basis for judging songs from Thriller is the radio or their CD player, then your job of impressing them got a lot easier.
A critical detail I learned from doing demos while working for Mark Levinson at Cello Music and Film Los Angeles and Christopher Hansen at Christopher Hansen Ltd. in Beverly Hills was to never let a song go much longer than 1:30. Really, what I am listening for is a good spot in the first chorus where I gently roll down the volume and get my clients (or your guests) thoughts on what they just heard. While they are raving, I cue up the next disc. You might need a little Maglite flashlight to make this process go more smoothly if you are effectively dimming the lights. You dont want to make it too dark, but you do want to take the process of looking all over the room out of the music listening experience. The idea of playing a song to the first chorus is to give your guest a taste of the tune, but not the whole experience. They can get immersed in that at home if they invest in a system.
You want to be flexible with your demo material to a certain extent, based on the tastes of your guests. Here is my basic SACD demo repertoire that I make changes to, depending on who will be listening. You want to start slowly with stereo music and get into more and more intense tunes and then surround sound. You want to have your closer already picked out and then another cool disc to put on after you are done with your demo for background music while you discuss your system, the new formats, music and more.
Jerrys Suggested SACD Demo Repertoire
1. I like to start with something like The Girl From Ipanema from Getz-Gilberto (Universal Verve) which is handily the first track on the disc. It is an open and acoustic recording with a melody that people know around the world. The recording is beautiful on any format but it really shines on SACD. You can do a little bit on how the record literally defined Brazilian Jazz. You want to roll the volume down a few measures into Getzs first solo.
2. If your guests are golfers, you might spin a track from Notes From a Hebridean Island from Linn Records. Also an acoustic recording, this record has stellar sonics and makes you feel like you should be taking a few warm-up swings before teeing it up at Carnoustie or Old Head. You dont want to get too deep into this disc for demo purposes, but it sets a nice mood. I specifically like this disc for background listening while I read. It is way out of my stereotypical musical tastes, but it sounds incredibly liquid and periodically sneaks my attention away from my book and back into the music.
3. Next I build some suspense with All Blues from the all-time classic Kind of Blue. You can pre-sell the fact that this record has been mixed into surround sound, but it has been done very subtly. Suggest that your guests listen for the specific detail of the brushes on the cymbals start. You can let this track roll a little longer than normal. I find the best spot to bring it down is about halfway through the first Miles solo.
4. Youve set a jazzy and low-key mood with your first three tracks and now you want to pick up the pace a little. I therefore suggest you make the transition with something fun like Legalize It from reggae legend Peter Tosh. This SACD is mixed in surround and, unlike the previously-mentioned recordings, is not acoustic. It is also more upbeat. Be sure to point out how the wa-wa guitars are in the rear speakers and how Toshs vocals beam from right in the middle of the two speakers.
5. If you are showing off your system for Baby Boomers, especially women, try Piece of My Heart from Cheap Thrills, featuring Big Brother and the Holding Company. If the Peter Tosh record you just played didnt make your guests want to fire up the bong and relive forgotten moments of 1967, this cut will. You want to manage this demo carefully, because it isnt a pristine live recording, but it is swiftly mixed for surround sound. Be sure to point out the backup singers mixed in the rear channels and give this track a little more volume than the earlier acoustic tracks.
6. En route to bringing your demo to a close, I recommend that you move towards Earth Wind and Fires Thats The Way of the World: Alive in 1975 and the track Shining Star. Also a live recording, this cut shows vast improvements in live recordings over a relatively short period of time. I often muse about the anti-disco movement sometimes caused us to forget how incredible a band Earth Wind and Fire was (and still is). They can really play and this surround sound mix allows you to hear a large-scale pop-funk act blasting out their big hits with big sound. Roll the track down at the part where they start to rap, which is right before the tune modulates to another key.
7. To wrap things up, you will want to play something like Money from Pink Floyds Dark Side of The Moon. Everyone knows the tune and the surround sound mix is more deliberate than some of the earlier tracks I suggested. The cash register sounds really bounce from speaker to speaker, driving home the potential of listening to music in surround sound. Spin the track down somewhere in the sax solo.
By no means is this the definitive soundtrack to highlight SACD for every listener, but it is a good place to start. You can plug in new discs as they are released, which will expand your own chops as a SACD DJ.
Remember to have fun with the entire event. Invite guests for a summer barbeque or a more formal dinner party. Make the music as much a part of the fun as the food, the wine and the company. Being the ambassador to the world of high-end AV for your friends is an important role. Your research and learning from publications like AudioRevolution.com and RevolutionHomeTheater.com are an essential element to the success and growth of the industry. If you can show your friends the value that great-sounding music can bring to their lives, you are doing more than your part to help make these new formats become part of the mainstream culture.
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Read AudioRevolution.com reviews of Getz-Gilberto SACD, Miles Davis - Kind of Blue SACD, Earth Wind and Fire - Alive in 1975 SACD and Pink Floyd - Dark Side of The Moon SACD.
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