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Appeared on: Friday, February 18, 2005
Sony SCD-XB790 SACD Player


1. Intorduction

Sony SCD-XB790 SACD Player - Page 1

In the early 80s, the arrival of the Compact Disc (CD) caused a revolution in our homes and day-to-day lives. Quality, portability and ease of use - all in one small silver disc. Now, some 20 years downstream, digital technology has progressed bringing with it a new revolution. In the search for perfect audio quality and answering the demands for surround sound, Sony and Philips have developed an exciting new format called Super Audio CD.

In turn, Sony now releases its affordable SACD solution, the SCD-XB790.

- Features


2. The Super Audio CD Format

Sony SCD-XB790 SACD Player - Page 2

The Super Audio CD Format

Super Audio CD is the most fundamental improvement in digital music reproduction since the CD itself. No surprise. It comes from the people who invented the CD: Sony and Philips.

Direct Stream Digital™ encoding
Other digital systems—including the very latest designs—use Pulse Code Modulation (PCM). Unfortunately, PCM record/playback systems require decimation and interpolation filters that can cause problems, including requantization noise, passband ripple and ringing. These degradations can smear musical overtones, muddy the soundstage and compromise overall transparency. Simply increasing the PCM word length to 24 bits or increasing the PCM sampling rate to 96 kHz does nothing to overcome these fundamental problems.


Compared to CD, Super Audio CD is far simpler. Super Audio CD
eliminates decimation and interpolation filters.


Direct Stream Digital™ process (bottom) is far simpler than
the PCM digital process (top).

DSD uses 1-bit delta-sigma modulation and a sampling frequency 64x higher than CD. Super Audio CD recordings don't have to subject the original sound waves to the decimation and interpolation stages associated with PCM. Hence DSD sound reproduction is much more natural and accurate in staging and is often favourably compared with the best analogue recordings, but without the hiss and other artifacts that are also associated with analogue recordings. Sony's 1-bit system encodes music at an astonishing 2,822,400 samples per second.

Super Audio CD data is stored on the same physical carrier as DVD-Video. Making use of this highly successful consumer product brings many advantages, such as the use of mass produced components and making combination players which play both SA-CD and DVD-V.

This silver disc can store more than seven times the information of the standard CD, providing up to 74 minutes of full resolution surround music – the same duration as a stereo CD. A Super Audio CD has two distinct mixes, one for stereo and one for multi-channel.

DSD: the recording technology behind SA-CD

Super Audio CD uses a new and radically different technology called Direct Stream Digital (DSD) to convert music into a digital signal that can be stored on a disc. Compared to the traditional PCM method (the technology used for CD), DSD offers a much higher resolution by following more closely the original wave form of the music. With a frequency response of over 100kHz and a dynamic range over 120dB across the audible frequency range – some 64 times higher resolution than CD - Super Audio CD offers music reproduction that reveals details you just can’t hear on a normal CD.

The Direct Stream Digital™ pulse train "looks" remarkably like the analog waveform it represents. More pulses point up as the wave goes positive and down as the wave goes negative.

Thanks to DSD encoding, the Super Audio CD format offers frequency response up to 100 kHz and a theoretical dynamic range of more than 120 dB. But specifications alone cannot express the advantages of DSD. DSD one-bit encoding strips away entire classes of distortion that have always characterized PCM. The DSD system provides nothing less than a quantum leap in music resolution.


The DSD pulse train "looks" remarkably like the analog waveform it
represents. More pulses point up as the wave goes positive and down
as the wave goes negative.

Multi-channel Super Audio CD
Producers also have the option of creating multi-channel Super Audio CDs that can transport you to the acoustic space of the original recording. You'll hear the most convincing soundstage ever presented at home. Super Audio CD multichannel sound is based on the international standard ITU-R speaker setup. So it's directly compatible with many of today's home theatre speaker systems.

For full compatibility with pure stereo Super Audio CD players, every multichannel
Super Audio CD includes a complete stereo rendition from the hand of the producer. You're never at the mercy of a computerized "fold-down" of the multi-channel mix. You'll always hear the producer's original intent.


Super Audio CD multi-channel sound is based on the international ITUR
standard.

- Hybrid Disc

Furthermore, there is an option to add a separate CD layer to the DVD disc: the so called ‘Hybrid Super Audio CD'. Hybrid SA-CD’s can be played back on virtually all CD drives and players as well as all standard DVD-Video systems. This makes Super Audio CD’s compatible with all the 11 billion CD and DVD players used around the world.


Every multi-channel Super Audio CD includes a separate 2-channel
stereo mix, done by the hand of the producer—not by a computer.

4 types of Discs

There are four different SA-CD configurations commercially available to record companies:

The vast majority of SA-CD’s introduced on the market today are hybrid type, containing the CD layer. This disc plays on a CD and DVD player, at CD quality.

 

There are also SA-CDs without the CD layer, so-called single layer discs. These cannot be played on a standard CD player. The advantage is that this is an entirely secure digital carrier.

 

Both the hybrid and single layer SA-CD can be released as a stereo-only album, or as a stereo plus surround album.


Content Protection

Super Audio CD offers the world’s most secure digital carrier, utilising a combination of physical and electronic protection barriers. These are layered around the audio content in five independent layers, including a combination of mechanical and encryption-based protection systems that cannot be broken using any current hacking technique.

The end result is that when you buy a Super Audio CD in a music store, you can be confident that it’s the genuine article and not an illegal, inferior quality copy.

The CD layer on the hybrid disc is similar to a conventional CD in that it’s open to copying onto other carriers for home use.


3. Unpacking

Sony SCD-XB790 SACD Player - Page 3

Unpacking

The retail package includes the following:
- Audio Stereo connection cable
- Remote commander RM-SX700
- R06 ( size AA) batteries ( x2)
- Multi language manual
- Warranty
- Coupon for a free SACD disc

A coaxial cable for digital sound reproduction would be welcomed.

On the right hand side of the front panel, there are buttons for eject, play, pause, stop, skip (AMS) and fast forward.

On the left there are the power button, headphones jack with volume level adjust. The four remaining buttons include the unit's menu button, read text from the disc, change between SACD and CD and from Multichannel to Stereo 2CH.

On the rear panel there are the stereo 2CH output as well as the Multichannel 5.1CH outputs, which means that the unit has a built-in 5.1CH decoder. Both coaxial and optical digital outputs are a plus on the unit.

The included RM-SX700 remote control, is easy to use and includes everything for controlling the player, apart from an eject button. Click on the image for an enlarged view.

Below you can see Sony's well known chipset, which is also installed in many other devices, the CXD2753 DSD decoder, responsible for the SACD reproduction:


DSD decoder LSI


The Super Audio CD’s 1-bit signal is processed and decoded by Sony's CXD2753 DSD decoder LSI. This integrated circuit makes intelligent decisions regarding the incoming data to form the 1-bit audio signal. The LSI first reads the Watermark—a feature protecting Super Audio Compact Discs from piracy—and then decodes the incoming data. The LSI uses internal memory to take data that's output intermittently from the disc, rearrange it and order it into continuous 1-bit audio streams. This LSI also reads sub code data such as the Table of Contents, track number, track time and text data.


Inside of the SCD-XB790 SACD Player
Click to enlarge

Apart from the external appearance which is more than impressive, when we remove the player's cover, something we don't recommend you to do (for this reason we have supplied the photo above), we saw the immaculate work Sony has done on this model. Solid aluminium, with minimum use of plastic and a very impressive power supply which is not normally found on ordinary players, but more closely matches those found on hi-end, professional equipment.


4. Control Menu

Sony SCD-XB790 SACD Player - Page 4

Control Menu

Some screenshots from the player's menu can be seen below:


CD reproduction


SACD 2CH reproduction


SACD MCH reproduction

CD-Text


90min Test Disc


99min Test Disc


Shuffle

Program function with A-B repeat feature

- Menu

From "MCH SPK MODE" in the Menu, with SACD enabled, you can select your preference from among 7 settings. These are:

Playback Mode Front Speakers Center Speaker Surround Speakers Sub woofer
MCH Direct Each signal outputs directly from each speaker
5-Large + SW Large Large Large Yes
5-Large Large Large Large No
5-Small + SW Small Small Small Yes
FRT-Large + SW Large Small Small Yes
FRT-Large Large Small Small No
No-CNTR + SW Large No Large Yes
No-CNTR Large No Large No

For example:

When MCH is enabled, a light located at top center turns blue to indicate this condition.

The balance is fully adjustable: (e.g. between the front and rear, the Sub woofer, etc). Some screenshots below:

If the unit is set to "2CH SPK MODE", there are two available settings:

Playback Mode Front Speakers Sub woofer
2CH Direct Each signal outputs directly from front speakers. No signal outputs from the Sub woofer.
2CH + SW Yes Yes

Navigating through the menus is simple. Of course you'll need to spend some time to learn how to use it but the included manual will help you at every step.


5. Reading Tests

Sony SCD-XB790 SACD Player - Page 5

Reading Tests

The Sony SCD-XB790 supports SACD/CD playback. The *.cda files on any audioCD are recognized flawlessly, regardless of whether the disc is factory pressed or a CD-R/RW while CD-Text is also supported.

In addition, no problems were noticed when we played 8cm CD-R/-RW (185MB) or 99min CD-R discs. In the case of our 90min test CD, the SCD-XB790 managed to play 18 out of 20 tracks. On the last two tracks, there was some freezing during playback.

 

For anyone that has purchased any protected audio discs from their music store, the Sony SCD-XB790 will not let you down. We tested "Natalie Impruglia - White Lilies island" disc, protected with Macrovision's Key2Audio protection system, and "Celine Dion - A New Day Has Come", protected with Cactus Data Shield 200. Both titles were recognized and played flawlessly. In truth, these protection schemes are designed to discourage PC users from copying them and as such present problems with drives designed for PCs only.

Although the specifications for this player don't mention MP3 playback, we decided to test it anyway. None of the following compressed audio formats could be played with the player.

Compression type
Compression settings
Recognize / Play
MP3
CBR 20kBit 11025Hz Mono
No
CBR 20kBit 11025Hz Stereo
CBR 32kBit 11025Hz Stereo
CBR 32kBit 22050Hz Mono
CBR 40kBit 22050Hz Stereo
CBR 48kBit 22050Hz Stereo
CBR 48kBit 44100Hz Mono
CBR 56kBit 22050Hz Mono
CBR 56kBit 44100Hz Mono
CBR 64kBit 22050Hz Stereo
CBR 96kBit 22050Hz Stereo
CBR 96kBit 44100Hz Mono
CBR 96kBit 44100Hz Stereo
CBR 112kBit 44100Hz Stereo
CBR 128kBit 44100Hz Mono
CBR 128kBit 44100Hz Stereo
CBR 160kBit 44100Hz Stereo
CBR 192kBit 44100Hz Stereo
CBR 224kBit 44100Hz Stereo
CBR 256kBit 44100Hz Stereo
CBR 320kBit 44100Hz Stereo
VBR - High compression
VBR - Highest compression
VBR - Low compression
VBR - Lowest compression
VBR - Medium compression

Windows Media Audio

(WMA)

WMA 48kbps
WMA 64kbps
WMA 96kbps
WMA 128kbps
WMA 160kbps
WMA 192kbps
WAV
WAV

The Sony SCD-XB790 supports Super AudioCDs, which is its main feature and the reason for its existence. You don't need to be an expert to notice the difference during playback between a normal CD and a SACD. We played several SACDs, some of which could be played on both SACD and CD devices with both multichannel and 2CH support. Simply by listening with the bare ear, we were able to confirm the tremendous difference in sound reproduction. With SACD, the sound is more detailed with excellent bass and volume. Sony SCD-XB790 has done a very good job in this department.


6. Error Correction Tests

Sony SCD-XB790 SACD Player - Page 6

Error Correction Tests

This is an AudioCD disc used for measuring the error correction capabilities and adjustment of the tracking/focusing servo characteristics of a player against defects included on a typical CD. Three kinds of defects are included on this disc: interruption in information layer, black dots and fingerprints. The interruptions are fabricated by intentionally varying the lengths of pits on the disc fabrication area. Their size varies from 0.5mm to 1.0mm. The diameter of the black dots are sized from 0.4mm to 1.0mm. Lastly, the simulated fingerprints are small gathered dots, of diameters sized from 65 micrometers to 75 micrometers 160 black dots in total, construct the artificial fingerprint.

The interruptions on the information layer were not a problem, as was also the case with 65 to 75 micrometer fingerprints. Black dots larger than 1.0mm in size, produced a couple of audible clicks. This is supposed to be an easy test disc and we expected better performance.

The test concept with the Philips SBC 44A is the same as in the previous test disc. Interruptions on the information layer vary from 400 micrometers to 1000 micrometers, while the black dots have a size of 300 micrometers to 800 micrometers No audible clicks or skipping occurred during playback indicating very good performance.

Same contents as with the Abex TCD-726 but different defects. A scratch sized from 0.4mm to 3.0mm on the disc's surface. Error symptoms expected when playing this disc are noise, skipping, same sector repeatedly played, start of tune cannot be detected etc. This test disc is more difficult than the Abex TCD-726.

The performance of the Sony player was poor. The first five tracks, with scratches up to 1.0mm, were played without problems while the remaining ten track were a problem. Scratches over 2.0mm forced the player to freeze.

We finish this test cycle with the CD-Check disc from Digital Recordings. Five audio signals (5 tracks) in combination with disc error patterns are used to rate the player's ability to read music and reproduce it completely. The five tracks contain a sequence of progressively more difficult tests.

Check level 1 (track 1): Standard manufacturing errors

Check level 2 (track 2): 0.375mm scratch

Check level 3 (track 3): 0.750mm scratch

Check level 4 (track 2): 1.125mm scratch

Check level 5 (track 2): 1.500mm scratch

Any clicks, interruptions or looping during audio reproduction indicate failure of a Check level (audio track). Below you can see the test results:

Check level
1
2
3
4
5
Result
OK
OK
OK
Audible clicks
Audible clicks

The truth is that since this review is about a CD player, we expected much better error correction capabilities. Discs, in not the best condition, should probably be avoided with this player.


7. Conclusion

Sony SCD-XB790 SACD Player - Page 7

Conclusion

We will begin our conclusion for the Sony SCD-XB790 SACD Player, with the price tag for this player on the market. Close to €350, which is a very reasonable price for this device. Especially if we consider the construction, power supply, chassis etc, the player reminds us of more expensive, hi-end equipment. However, this amount could also be spent on a universal device, that also supports SACD reproduction along with a whole array of other formats which would be more easily appreciated by most enthusiasts.

The CD error correction capabilities, we have to admit, were disappointing and we expected much better performance from such a device, especially when we consider that SACD/CD are the only supported formats. Defects and scratches up to 1.0mm and over, created audible clicks. However, since this is not a common player, I am sure that most candidate buyers would be the type who take care of their discs :-).

According to our reading tests, the player confirmed the manufacturer's specifications. It also proved to be very simple in operation. However, one feature missing, always keeping in mind that this is a CD player, is MP3 support. We listened to this player in both multi-channel and stereo mode, playing a variety of material including CD, SACD, CD-R and CD-RW discs. In my opinion and with my limited experience, I can say that the player offers better than good, if not not very good sound quality.

Design & Body
Reading
Media Compatibility
Ease of use
Features
Connectivity
Value for money


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