Though it has been big news in the Rolling Stones fan and high end audio circles the release of remastered Rolling Stones discs by ABKCO seems to be very quiet for a potential revolution. One of the few "main stream" media sources to cover the story was Slate (see why I put main stream in those ""?). And even that article by Fred Kaplan opens with:
The next hi-fi revolution begins a week from today, with a whimper.
So what is the big deal? Simple- ABKCO has put out 22 Stones discs from 1964-1971 not on CD but on hybrid SACD. And unlike most SACD products to date it is not charging a premium- in fact they are in most cases less expensive than CDs. Amazon for example is offering the single disc albums for $13.99.
SACD? ABKCO? Too many consonants, not enough vowels? I think some explanation is in order. What many folks are blissfully unaware of is that a high resolution format war has been going on between two new music formats. Sony developed SACD or Super Audio CD based on their DSD (Direct Stream Digital) recording process. An opposing group of manufacturers released DVD-A or DVD Audio discs. In both cases the discs offer superior resolution and sound quality over standard 16 bit CD audio and support multi-channel sound. Where the formats part company is in the backwards compatibility department.
DVD-A discs are only playable in DVD-A players. They will not play in standard DVD movie players (though if you bought your DVD player recently it might actually be a DVD-A player as well). Thus if you buy a DVD-A disc you will be unable to play it in your car or with your portable CD player.
Sony's potential trump card is that SACD's come in two flavors. SACD only and hybrid. SACD only discs will only play in SACD players. All of the SACD discs issued by Sony's record label Columbia are SACD only, something that obviously limits their appeal. But Sony also developed the hybrid disc. This uses a dual layer technology allowing the disc to contain both a normal CD layer and a SACD high resolution layer. A SACD player's laser can read through the CD layer to the SACD layer, but a normal CD player only sees the CD information and plays the disc like a normal CD. Sony wisely used the limited hybrid pressing capacity to produce SACD's for other labels to encourage them to produce SACD discs.