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Percy Faith in Quadraphonic

Quadraphonic was a four channel surround format available during the 1970s. For various reasons, the format was short-lived and deemed a commercial failure. Percy Faith had 8 quadraphonic releases in the USA plus two released exclusively in Japan.

SACD (Super Audio CD) was a format developed in the late 1990s that provided both stereo and 5.1 surround. Due to marketing missteps and competing technologies, it too was a commercial failure in the USA. However, the format has survived in Europe and Japan.

In recent years, Dutton Vocalion has been mining the vaults of Sony Music and other labels to release many of the quadraphonic mixes from the 1970s on SACD. Their hybrid SACDs feature both a CD layer (playable with conventional CD equipment, in stereo) as well as an SACD layer featuring both stereo and multichannel mixes.

Please note that Dutton Vocalion has indicated they are experiencing licensing difficulties so additional Percy Faith releases seem unlikely. If you have a home theater setup and can play SACDs, it is advisable that you buy these while they are still available. Meanwhile, please enjoy a few samples and hear what you are missing. These videos will be removed at the end of the pandemic so check them out while you can.

1. Chinatown (featuring The Entertainer) & Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet (Purchase from Dutton Vocalion)
I Got Rhythm - rear channels (brass) I Got Rhythm -  front channels (strings)
Good Morning Starshine (rear channels) Good Morning Starshine (front channels)
2. Clair & Joy (Purchase from Dutton Vocalion)
Dueling Banjos - rear channels Dueling Banjos - front channels
3. New Thing & Black Magic Woman (Purchase from Dutton Vocalion)
The Way We Were - rear channels The Way We Were - front channels
Wave - rear channels Wave - front channels

SACD-compatible players

When the SACD format was first introduced in 1999, the single-layer discs could only be played on SACD players. The original SACD players were very expensive and included a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC). They typically provided 6 RCA jacks: front left, front right, center, surround left, surround right and LFE (subwoofer).

Today, several manufacturers (e.g. Sony, Pioneer, Oppo) include SACD capabilities in their Blu-ray players. It's best to download the instruction manual to ensure compatibility before purchasing. One inexpensive player is the Sony BDP-S6700 (less than $100 at Amazon). Please note that modern players no longer include a DAC; they only output a digital signal. My understanding is that multichannel SACDs will only play over HDMI due to copy protection.

Dutton Vocalion’s SACDs are hybrids; they contain both the CD layer (Red Book standard, stereo only) and SACD layer (stereo and multichannel). A standard CD player or CD-ROM can only play the CD layer.

Digital Receivers & Speakers

To decode multichannel SACDs, you'll need a 5.1 (or greater) digital receiver. I'm currently using a 7.2 channel Yamaha RX-A770BL that I purchased in 2018. My particular model has been replaced by the RX-A780BL (about $650 at Best Buy). Mine is a mid-priced receiver; Yamaha has many models for both budget conscious and high end-buyers.

If you have an older receiver that does not include HDMI inputs, you will not likely be able to use modern Blu-ray players.

You’ll also want at least 6 speakers for 5.1 surround (front left, front right, center, surround left, surround right, and subwoofer). Most of Dutton Vocalion's SACDs are quadraphonic mixes (4.0 discrete channels, no center or subwoofer) but there are still many 5.1 SACDs available.

Copy protection

SACDs are copy protected. Ripping them is difficult but not impossible.

Back when SACDs were introduced, record companies were concerned about Napster and music piracy. They tried various schemes (i.e. hacks) to copy protect CDs. Their attempts backfired and finally ended in a lawsuit against Sony BMG when one of their hacks proved harmful.

Copy protection was a built-in feature on SACDs and contributed to the failure of the format. It's a bit ironic that it was Sony that introduced the SACD and a Sony product (PlayStation 3) that had a vulnerability that ultimately allowed SACDs to be copied.

If you wish to rip SACDs yourself, it’s a bit tedious and requires some rudimentary computer skills. I purchased a Pioneer BDP-80FD specifically for this purpose because, like the old Sony PlayStation, it has a vulnerability that allows it to be hacked. Contact me if you would like more details about ripping SACD ISO images or extracting tracks from the images.

The Demise of SACD

SACDs were launched in 1999 and deemed a failure less than a decade later. They are no longer manufactured in the USA but still have a following in Europe and Japan. There were many reasons for their failure:

  • They exaggerated the improvement in sound quality. If the same stereo master were used to produce both CD and SACD, most listeners could not discern any difference. At a time when compressed formats such as mp3 were becoming popular, most listeners were satisfied with "CD quality" sound.
  • SACDs didn’t replace CDs - but they should have! Some SACDs could only be played on SACD players; others were hybrids, capable of being played on CD or SACD players. Stores such as Best Buy had a special section for SACDs, which also created the dual inventory problem. Why not simply replace all CDs with hybrid SACDs?
  • There were competing formats. The industry couldn’t seem to agree on DVD-Audio or SACD. My Percy Faith titles are only available on SACD; my 5.1 remix of Sgt. Pepper's is only on DVD. Both are recent releases - the format war continues!
  • SACD players were way overpriced! You could buy a 25-disc CD player for less than $100 but an SACD player cost more than $1000.
  • They didn’t reissue Percy Faith on SACD! Seriously. The record companies had a huge back catalog of multi-channel mixes. Many of those titles are becoming available now, when the format is dead, so why didn't they release them back then when they were trying to push the format?
  • iPods. Around the same time that SACD titles were introduced, Apple released the first iPod. Convenience, portability and cost motivated consumers. Discs that could only be played on a large home theater system were destined for failure.