HomeHifiCD Junkies (SACD Edition): Collector Mike Vieira

CD Junkies (SACD Edition): Collector Mike Vieira

This is a special edition of our long-running CD Junkies series. Our spotlight is on YouTuber and surround-sound enthusiast Mike Vieira. The 44-year-old U.S. Army veteran is a huge fan of the Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD) format. Developed by Sony and Phillips and introduced in 1999, SACD offers higher-resolution audio than CD. Many SACD titles also include a multi-channel (5.1) surround mix.

Since 2018, Vieira, who lives in the Oakland, California area, has been running the YouTube channel Life in Surround, which features reviews and discussion of music mixed in surround.

“Listening to music can be and feel inherently lonely unless you share it,” Vieria told 360°Sound. “Sharing my love of surround music has changed my life for the better and has touched others. It’s the coolest thing to be a part of.”

In this interview, Vieira talks about the best-sounding SACDs in his collection and shares his thoughts on the current state (and future) of the format. Be sure to check out Vieira’s companion YouTube video below the Q&A!

360°Sound: How long have you been collecting CDs? And how long have you been collecting SACD, Blu-Ray Audio, DVD-Audio and other high-res disc formats?

I’ve been collecting CDs since I was a kid. I inherited (stole?) Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA from my mom. First one I bought was Metallica’s Ride the Lightning. I replaced Moving Pictures by Rush with a CD when my cassette wore out.

My love affair with hi-res/surround formats began in late 2012. I returned home from a military deployment in need of a hobby. Surround sound for movies had caught my interest, so I poured myself into setting up a media room. Somewhere along the way, I realized I had some music albums in surround – audio DVDs.

Getting a kick out of those (Queen’s Night at the Opera, Rush’s Snakes & Arrows, and Genesis’s Invisible Touch), I began to look for more albums. Discovering that SACD was a format offering a lot of titles I was interested in, I began to research how to find them, how to play them, etc.

Approximately how many SACDs and related discs do you have?

I have entered approximately 217 SACDs into my Discogs. I have 2,798 total discs, which includes vinyl (mono, stereo and Quad), CD, Dolby CD, DTS CD, Audio DVD, DVD-Audio, and Blu-ray.

What are some of the best-sounding SACDs you’ve heard?

I’m gonna go off the top of my head for this one, so we’ll know these albums really made an impression:

The Police – Outlandos d’Amour (A&M) – stereo So crankable. So dynamic and powerful. You can blast it and it sounds pleasant, no matter what. First time I ever really heard, dramatically, the difference between a CD and SACD. Now, there can be lots of reasons for the difference, not just the format.

Rush – Hemispheres (Audio Fidelity) – stereo – Just seeking the clearest and most dynamic version of this super-special (to me) album. Rush are a favorite band and I consider this album to be near the heart of their absolute apex.

Joe Cocker – With a Little Help from My Friends (Audio Fidelity) – stereo – Super crankable, ’til the windows shake and rattle. A little bit of hiss once you have the volume up that high, but the definition you hear is well worth the experience. Organic and natural sounding.

Billy Paul – 360 Degrees of Billy Paul and War of the Gods (Dutton Vocalion) – Quad 4.0 – What a voice. Superb recordings, lovingly mastered, from the original mixdowns to SACD in stereo and Quad by Michael Dutton. This is an artist I discovered because of my surround obsession. I love that kind of thing.

Toto – Toto IV (Sony) – 5.1 Surround – This is among those legendary, holy grail, out-of-print and expensive multichannel SACDs. The band was legendary. Expert studio musicians writing memorable songs. Elliot Scheiner is a master surround mixing engineer. The album was superbly recorded. The surround mix and master are demonstration quality. And the album cuts are mostly great. Everybody knows “Rosanna” and “Africa,” the opening and closing tracks, but the heart of the album contains some gems. “Lovers in the Night” is among my favorites. Fortunately, this SACD is being released by Sony Japan so you can get it for a fraction of the average secondhand price.

What do you love about the SACD format?

Screenless playback is a wonderful feature. Multiple layers on hybrid SACDs is awesome, too. Adds a lot of value when you have a stereo CD, stereo SACD, and surround SACD mix all on the same disc. You just have to prioritize which you want to hear in your player.

Is SACD still worth it if you don’t have a surround setup? Can you tell a significant difference between the SACD and “red book” (CD standard) layers when listening in two-channel stereo?

The short answer is yes. There is often a difference. Whether this is really due to the DSD [direct stream digital] format of SACD or maybe the specific mastering used to produce the disc, I just don’t know. I have SACDs that I can absolutely crank, and they don’t sound harsh or give me ear fatigue. You’ll need a player that is compatible with SACD, plus a processor that can handle DSD to get the full benefit from the format. But, even when I convert DSD to PCM [pulse-code modulation], for the sake of some of my systems, they still sound great.

SACD never really took off among the general public. However, the format has a following among some audiophiles. Tell me about the current state of SACD. Where do you buy SACDs? What are some of your favorite labels that still put out SACDs?

I think most physical media formats are at niche-market status, dormant, or extinct. The current exception is vinyl. The SACD labels that are often parting me from my cash these days are Analogue Productions, Sony Japan, and Dutton-Vocalion. I particularly love Sony Japan’s 7” artwork that exquisitely replicates original album artwork and even promotional materials from the time period.

I understand that Pink Floyd’s Animals is one of the most anticipated SACD releases in years. Do you have high hopes for this release?

I have high hopes that it will sound great and reveal some aspects of the original recording for the first time. James Guthrie is not among my favorite surround mixing engineers – at least not yet. Hopefully, this album will change my mind. Alan Parsons’ original Quad mix of Dark Side of the Moon is a more satisfying surround experience than Guthrie’s later 5.1 mix. But Guthrie’s 5.1 mix of Wish You Were Here is better, to my ears, than the original Quad. So, we shall see!

With no vintage Quad for Animals to compare to, Guthrie’s mix can be judged more on its own merits. I bet it will be a cool listen. The SACD will have a stereo layer too. I’m going with the Blu-ray version of Animals, by the way. A bit less expensive. Possibly some video content (though probably minimal, e.g., menu graphics). And most of my systems work best with PCM.

There’s been talk about CD revival. Some think CDs will see a resurgence similar to what we’ve seen with vinyl. Are you optimistic about the future of the SACD?

I think SACD will remain niche. You need a special player. To listen in DSD, you need a special processor. To hear multichannel, you need additional amps, additional speakers, patience to sit in the sweet spot, room for all that stuff, peace treaties with your cohabitants, and so on. The experience is a tremendous payoff though!

CDs, on the other hand, I still obtain at a fair clip, mostly older stuff that I’m replacing or want to own, instead of stream. But I have some new stuff, too, like Hozier, Halsey, Judas Priest, and Anthrax. If I think I’ll want to listen in the car, I often pick up a CD. I don’t think they’ll overtake vinyl, for which you get large artwork as well as an unmatched tactile experience. I think sound quality is subjective. I have some amazing sounding examples from every format I own and listen to.

Thanks for this. I want to remind our readers to check out your excellent YouTube channel, Life in SurroundAnd thanks for putting together a special episode to coincide with this interview.

Now stick & stay to share more “perfect sound forever”

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