Updated: March 5, 2016

DVD-Audio Disc and Super Audio CD

Guide to High Definition Audio Formats

DVD-A logoThe DVD-Audio disc (DVD-A) and its Super Audio CD (SACD) counterpart, are both capable of delivering higher quality multi-channel sound for 'audio-only' music listening, than that possible with an Audio CD.

SACD LogoBoth of these high definition formats use lossless encoding techniques, yet DVD-Audio and SACD are fundamentally different.  More in this guide...


A 3D Blu-ray disc player capable of excellent AV performance. It comes with an impressive feature list - including SACD/DVD-A playback, 4K upscaling, 2D-3D conversion, DLNA networking, and wireless Internet streaming.

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High Definition Audio for Music Listening

You may think that audio CDs (CD-DA) provide the perfect sound but...

Many audiophiles would soon tell you that in comparison to high quality analog audio recordings on LPs, CD sound is relatively cold and harsh especially when handling the upper most frequencies.

Partly, the popularity of the CD-DA format arises out of its ease of use. This explains the incredible large market that this 20-year old medium still holds today despite the availability of alternative storage media capable of better quality sound.

Yet CD-DA has substantial limitations, with the most important being the occasional frequency clipping, a limited dynamic range, and its spectrum limitations.

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But things are changing fast...

CD audio is definitely not the name of the game for music lovers. But the development of new storage media, playback devices, and digital interconnects capable of supporting the transfer of high definition multi-channel audio and video in digital form among devices in the playback chain, is leading to a shift among music lovers towards DVD-Audio discs and SACDs.

At the same time, one has to acknowledge the fact that though the Super Audio CD and the DVD-Audio disc have been around since 1999 and 2000 respectively, yet the shift towards these two high definition audio formats has been slow - especially in the first few years of their existence.

The reason was that universal players capable of playing both formats were initially selling at around $1,000 - too expensive for these formats to gain popularity. In fact, it was not before 2003 that we started to see the first combined DVD-Audio disc / SACD players at under the $200 price tag. It was also at around this same time that DVD-Audio discs and SACDs were being priced at CD levels.

Today, you can get a good quality universal DVD player capable of handling DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, and CD, for around $100.

A case in point is the Pioneer DV 610AV-K (featured here); this is an up-converting region-free universal DVD player that supports both SACD and DVD-A playback.

Pioneer DV 610AV-K universal region-free disc player with sacd and DVD-a supportPioneer DV 610AV-K
Region-free Universal DVD-player
with SACD and DVD-A playback

Despite its low price tag, this Pioneer universal DVD player is capable of very good image and audio performance. It is also one of the best-rated DVD players on the amazon.com site - with an average user rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars in more than 20 reviews. OK, you would not get Blu-ray support, network and 3D compatibility or internet streaming at this lower price bracket. But for the price, the Pioneer DV 610AV-K region-free universal disc player offers a lot in terms of performance, features and supported audio formats.

Unfortunately, if you are after a quality universal Blu-ray disc player with the latest network and 3D features, you have to spend a lot more. The latest OPPO player featured above costs close to $500; but you will get everything, from the latest Internet streaming, to support for high definition Dolby and DTS audio formats, 4K upscaling,  3D conversion, and SACD/DVD-Audio support.

DVD-Audio, SACD and other High Definition Formats

DVD-Audio discs and SACDs are capable of delivering up to six full-range channels of high resolution audio. These are not the only high definition audio formats; both Dolby and DTS have a full lineup of high definition formats that are capable of delivering high resolution multi-channel sound using either lossy or lossless encoding techniques.

But these Dolby and DTS formats are mainly audio-for-video formats, thus supporting full motion video in addition to the high quality audio on the same optical disc. In contrast, DVD-Audio and SACD are music-delivery formats, and though both support 'limited' visual content, neither is intended for movie viewing.

DVD-Audio Discs and SACD - a format war?

It is an undeniable fact that the main players behind DVD-Audio discs and SACD have been in a 'cold' war with each other since the very beginning. Yet it is our opinion that the availability of inexpensive universal media players like the Pioneer referred to above, and with optical media selling at rock bottom prices, will not only guarantee the co-existence of both formats, it will even render this format dispute between these two major players, more transparent than ever to the end user.

This is being stated as DVD-Audio discs and Super Audio CDs are both capable of delivering practically the same level of high fidelity audio, where the end quality is mainly dependent on the playback setup rather than the audio format. And this despite the fact that as we will soon see in this series of articles, DVD-Audio and SACD use fundamentally different processes to achieve the same end result.

High Definition Audio formats for Music Listening

Detailed section Index
Blue bullet

The DVD-Audio Disc

This is a rather lengthy but easy-to-follow article that takes a look at the various aspects from DVD-Audio disc specs to sound quality, backward compatibility, content protection, playback setup, and even DVD-Audio discs and DualDisc releases.

Part 1: The DVD-Audio Disc - an Overview
DVD-Audio disc specs, backward compatibility with DVD-Video, MLP lossless encoding, and sound quality with respect to CD-DA

Part 2: DVD-Audio Player Connectivity Requirements
Covering also Content Protection issues and audio playback setup for DVD-Audio listening

Part 3: DVD-Audio Releases, CD/DVD packages and the DualDisc
Discussing the availability of DVD-Audio disc releases, and the present trend in shift towards CD/DVD packages and DualDisc releases

Blue bullet

The Super Audio CD

Another detailed article - this time covering the Super Audio CD and the Hybrid SACD. Issues discussed include format specs, Direct Stream Digital, playback requirements and SACD Music releases.

Part 1: The Super Audio CD - An Introduction
Covering disc specifications, format variations and the Hybrid SACD

Part 2: Direct Stream Digital - the Technology behind SACD
Direct Stream Digital (or DSD), is fundamentally different than the PCM encoding used in DVD-Audio. It has its pros and cons but is it better?

Part 3: SACD Playback Requirements
Covering also Content Protection issues and audio playback setup for SACD music listening

Part 4: SACD Music Releases
Discussing current trends in SACD music titles and available SACD/Hybrid SACD content

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Home Theater Sound Section Index

Articles covered under this section:

Surround Sound Formats

Dolby Sound Formats

Covering also:
 - Dolby Pro Logic systems,
 - HD Audio and
 - Dolby Virtual Surround

DTS Sound formats
Including DTS HD Audio

High Definition Audio formats covering DVD-Audio and SACD - incl. DualDisc and Hybrid-SACD

AV Receiver & Amplifiers

AV Receivers Guide

5.1 vs. 7.1 Home Theater Systems

Understanding Amplifier Specs

Determining Amplifier Power

Delay Setting in Surround Sound

Best AV Receivers Review

SUBMIT a Home Theater Receiver Review

Additional Articles

Tips for Better Sound

Dolby vs. DTS: Which is better?

THX Home Cinema Guide

Universal Disc Players

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