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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
August 2002

Make Your Move

I don’t usually talk about equipment in this space, but this month such a discussion is warranted. In case you haven't noticed, SACD players have dropped considerably in price; a few will run you under $200. One such player is Sony's DVP-NS500V, which plays SACD and DVDs in two-channel or multichannel mode as well as CDs, CD-Rs and CD-RWs. I bought one at my local Best Buy for $179, and included with it was a rebate form for five free DVDs.

It's hard for me to believe that Sony can be making money on the DVP-NS500V at $179, but I suspect they have a more long-term strategy in mind, one not unlike Microsoft's for marketing the Xbox: grow the format by making the unit itself cheap enough so practically anyone can buy it (and in the case of the DVP-NS500V, include functionality that makes it broadly usable), knowing that once people have purchased the capability, they will want to make use of it. Hey, it worked with me. I immediately bought a couple of SACDs, which Best Buy had arranged right next to the player, not mixed in with the CDs. Smart.

I purchased the Sony player to use as a source for my second audio system, which currently includes  Magnepan MG1.6/QR speakers and an Audio Analogue Puccini SE Remote integrated amp, but I suspect it will see time in my reference rig too. Its sound with CDs is respectable -- it won't amaze or repulse you. It's a little opaque through its entire range and somewhat grainy on top, but I have enjoyed it with CDs nonetheless. I think some of this has to do with the Magnepan speakers and Audio Analogue integrated I'm using -- both just have a way of making music together.

With SACDs, however, the DVP-NS500V is transformed and would better some CD players costing ten times its price and playing the CD layer on the same disc. The difference is stunning, but the SACD sound is more noteworthy for its sophisticated treble, naturally rendered sense of space, dynamics, and overall weight. Yes, all of these vary with the software being played, but titles like James Taylor's Hourglass [Columbia CS 67912], Dave Brubeck's Time Out [Columbia/Legacy CS 65122] and Freddy Cole's Merry Go Round [Telarc CD-83493-SA] are uniformly great-sounding. Hourglass and Time Out are also multichannel SACDs, an avenue I haven't yet explored, but will.

The DVP-NS500V, as you may have deduced, does not support DVD-A, and while for some this will prevent a sale, I thought the unit's low price made it more of a right-now purchase than one for the future. What I mean by this is that the price of the player was certainly right and urged me to dip my toe into the SACD waters now. If an equally adept and inexpensive universal player comes along in the future (and I wouldn't bet against it), I will buy it and perhaps relegate the DVP-NS500V to DVD-only use on a second TV. I have enough DVD-Vs and CDs around that this Sony player will always get some use. I'll have more SACDs by then too.

If you've been sitting on the sidelines waiting for the right time to begin exploring SACD, Sony has just made it harder for you to remain a spectator. With multi-function players like the DVP-NS500V being available on the cheap and new SACDs being released constantly by many labels (and their prices being competitive with CDs, usually only a dollar or two more), the transition to higher-resolution and multichannel digital sound is in full swing, and will only grow from here. For the time being, I will still be buying many more CDs than SACDs, but the ratio will change as time marches on, which is just what Sony is betting on.

...Marc Mickelson

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