Beware of SACD Transports -- they probably will not work with your favorite DAC

Hello, I just learned a painful lesson. I'm guessing that not many people will know this so I'm going to put it in here.

The audio on a SACD is encrypted.
If I were to purchase a SACD / CD player I have nothing to worry about. The Audio is un-encrypted inside the player.
However if I were to purchase a SACD / CD Transport made my brand Z, I would have to purchase a brand Z DAC???
Apparently Sony who owns the SACD format mandated that the audio on the SACD itself is encrypted and
the digital output from a SACD transport is ALSO encrypted. It looks like the actual un-encryption is done in the DAC.
There is no standard for doing the un-encryption so every manufacturer has their own proprietary way of doing this.
So I cant use a Esoteric SACD transport and an Auralic DAC which is what I tried to do?
Can someone who knows more about this than I do confirm that this is correct?


My understanding was in order to playback SACD content using a transport you’ll need a DSD capable DAC. A PCM capable DAC can only process Redbook CD content.
I think you are essentially corrrect - a digital out on an SACD player is rarer than hen's teeth. There are a few, though, including - I'm 99 percent sure - some early Sony Playstations.
I've done a bit of research on this and everything I've read indicates that you can't output SACD via optical (toslink or coax) but can via HDMI, so you'd need something like an Oppo with an HDMI output and a DAC with an HDMI input (not many out there).

Which transport and DAC do you have?  I'm not familiar with the Esoteric SACD players, but aren't they thousands of dollars?  The DAC in your transport may be as good or better than your Auralic, depending on which one you have.

I have a Marantz KI-Pearl SACD player and it sounds better through it's analog outputs than any digital source I'm passing through my Auralic Vega.
It has always been my understanding that sacd can not be output over digital like toslink or spdif.
I use analog rca out to my DAC for SACD.
I think you can output over HDMI but how many dacs accept HDMI?
A home theater processor possibly.
I have my sacd player hooked up by both spdif and RCA so can play CD over digital if I want to but SACD goes over RCA.
Sure there is better solution but has worked for me so far.
Might have to try my daughter's PS3 on toslink see if it does SACD!
Big Greg.
If the OP has JUST a transport then that has NO DAC.
Which I feel is the crux of his question.
... everything I've read indicates that you can't output SACD via optical (toslink or coax) but can via HDMI, so you'd need something like an Oppo with an HDMI output and a DAC with an HDMI input ...
There are a few players that will allow this through their HDMI output, but they are the rare exception. I do believe that one of the Oppo models permit this. On the other hand, I know that my McIntosh spinner doesn't.
The new McIntosh SACD Transports use a Mac proprietary output to their dac with the same input to decode SACD.  Not positive but I believe you can output SACD from the Oppo using the HDMI out to a Wyred4Sound Dac with an I2 squared HDMI input.  I sometimes play my Esoteric through the dac in my preamp but always have to play SACD via the analog inputs.  You can play the newer Esoteric SACD players via the iLink output to their dac that has the iLink input for SACD decoding.

It's clear as mud.
PS Audio DirectStream transport to the DS Dac only sends DSD data over the I2S connection (which is NOT an HDMI connection, even though the cables are the same)
I have a Bryston DAC3 which has 4 HDMI inputs.  I play the DSD layer of SACD from an Oppo 105 and a Sony 5400 ES..
If the OP truly has an SACD Transport (no DAC) then it must send the DSD via I2S or HDMI
OP is correct. The only way to "free" an SACD for playback on any third-party DSD-capable DAC to is to rip it to a DSF file on an early Playstation or Oppo. Search the web for Ted’s SACD Ripping Guide.
No DSD can be sent uncompressed over digital cable. Get an SACD player by Sony ES series or Oppo Blueray SACD combo.
Even with the OPPO the best you will get is 24/88.2 from hdmi or coax out    The OPPO does DSD to PCM conversion at the lower sample rate of 88.2k. Instead of 176.4   There’s was an explanation of why somewhere in OPPO faq.   

It it still sounds pretty good.  Let’s face it some SACD s sucked.  I’ve heard a few where I thought the red book version sounded better. 

Big Greg.
If the OP has JUST a transport then that has NO DAC.
Which I feel is the crux of his question.

@uberwaltz good point.  The original post was a little hard to read, but after re-reading it, I understand the point being made with transport (no DAC) vs player (DAC included). 

There's a long thread about CD transports in the Steve Hoffman forums about it.  Google "SACD Transport".
I should clarify that I play my Oppo 105 and Sony SACD Player over HDMI into the Bryston DAC3
Equipped with the software extensions outlined in Ted's guide, an early Playstation will convert an SACD into an ISO file on a USB stick.  Transferred a PC, this file may then be converted by Sonore's ISO2DSF freeware to the native rate of SACD as a DSF file.  The Sonore software captures all metadata and track sequencing.      
You can convert SACD to *.iso file. Then using Foobar2000 together with Oppo105  USB DAC in to play SACD. Uncomprssed and super HiFi.
I had a similar issue with my Cambridge CXU disk player. The explanation from the tech support folks at Cambridge was that the Sony license prevents them from outputing the digital signal from the SACD on anything but an HDMI cable. Their approach to playing a SACD disk is to send the digital stream to their digital signal processor, which converts it to PCM. They then send the converted PCM signal to their internal DAC, which outputs to the Analog Output ports. Seems very klugey. They said:
"If you want to bypass the internal DAC, you’ll need to use the HDMI output and select DSD as the SACD Output. However, DSD can only be selected as the SACD output providing your HDMI cable is connected to a DSD compatible device, so you would need to be sure that whatever DAC you have has a HDMI input and can process DSD."  My DAC does not have an HDMI input, but even if it did, I’m not sure their solution would work. The .iso solutions posted by others sound interesting -- good luck, and if you try it, please let us know how it turns out.
mahler123very interesting topic here guys. Do you like the Sony ES/ Bryston DAC3 combination better than the stand alone player?
Happy Listening!
I have a DirectStream DAC and Player. I'm very happy withe the results I get. SACDs sound great decoded by the DS DAC, as do Redbook CDs.
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO DO THIS??? You are only degrading the source, converting and interpolating. You spent many thousands on you Esoteric which makes the concept even nuttier. Have your player modded if you want.  Of course SACD is encrypted, that’s the whole idea, just like HDCP for video. The SACD is made from the DSD. Exact same source unless a different mastering. The idea that some other DAC will improve your SACD sound (all dependent on the quality of the recording and mastering) is sadly a complete misunderstanding of the technology.  Use your external DAC for streaming and in place of an inferior internal DAC.
I’m wondering if the OP bought the Grandioso.  It’s a two chassis transport that feeds a two chassis separate DAC via HDMI cables.  The transport is 33K Euros and the two DACs together are the same.  It’s reviewed in the January issue of Hi Fi News.
  If so the OP perhaps thought he didn’t need the DAC and wasn’t prepared to be shelling out 66K Euros.  If this is the case, two observations:
1) His Esoteric dealer did him a major disservice, and
2) consider getting the Bryston DAC3 that I referenced earlier.  It’s a heck of a DAC, will accept the HDMI from the Esoteric, and only cost him about 3K Euros
SACD is a proprietary format. It must be played using an SACD player or a transport with SACD outputs. Not many player/transports have that, if they do they are $$$$$.

I have a Oppo 105, which I can use as a transport(bypassing the internal dacs) BUT it will NOT output SACD signal UNLESS the signal receiving dac has a SACD input, and even then not always will they sink up. And while the 105 has a volume control to play SACDs, it is average at best, meaning the resultant SACD signal is highly compromised

OK, i have not researched this specifically.  but here is my logic and belief.  If your transport outputs S/PDIF as the digital signal to the DCA, that is a standard. I know of no encryption on S/PDIF since it must be backwards compatible.

This makes me believe that there is no problem so long as your transport decrypts the SACD. SACD is basically DSD.
... there is no problem so long as your transport decrypts the SACD.
But that’s the problem - very, very few transports "decrypt" SACD . SACD is a proprietary format, as others have noted here.
Right. If the SACD encryption scheme is anything like that used for DVD, or Blu-Ray, the concept was a closed system that did not permit users to access the raw digital stream at hi-rez, to avoid piracy issues. The only way to decode the encrypted material was to use a licensed device and that did not afford a digital output that was ’in the clear.’ This was done through a patent pool as I recall, with licensing arrangements among CE manufacturers of hardware and "software" content owners, who did not relish the idea of putting out hi-rez copies of their content on an ’open’ format.
I don’t really do much with SACD- in fact, i only installed digital audio in my main system in the past 6 months, but have an Oppo that I use in the home theatre system. As I recall, one can use the analog outputs from the Oppo to play back SACD by letting the internal DAC and decryption function occur entirely within the Oppo box; I also recall that the hdmi output on the Oppo, which goes into an AV pre-pro (used mainly for AV, not for music listening), should be able to decode the SACD. But, the quality of the AV pre-pro, while sufficient for my purposes for movies/TV shows, isn’t something that I would normally use for serious music listening. As to transports and DACs that are within this protocol, I have no idea. I suspect that the huge uptick in stand-alone DACs has occurred after SACD already dwindled in the marketplace. I also suspect that the cost of the license to permit SACD decryption on a DAC otherwise intended for two channel audio would have only added to the retail cost of the DAC and was probably viewed as a limited market, but i’m speculating.

yes, I prefer the Sony/Bryston combination to the stand alone Sony SACD
The transport and the DAC have to do a handshake to output the DSD off a SACD. I believe DCS can do it using a pair of AES/EBU XLR cables. PS Audio does it by using a highly modified Oppo transport that paid for the license. The DSD is only available through the I2S output using an HDMI cable.So you would need a Directstream Memory Player and one of their two Directstream DACs. The fact that they use a HDMI cable, does not mean it is outputting HDMI.

As said, some HT Receiver, like Denon could play DSD through an HDMI cable, because they bought the licensing from Sony, and you still usually have to use their universal Blu-ray, DVD, SACD player.

If you go over to the Computer Audio forum, there is a script that you can use with some Oppo players, I believe the 103 105, and a few others. You load it on to a flash drive, and it will give you the data off a SACD disc, which would then be loaded to a PC or a dedicated player like an Aurender, using it through the USB output to a DAC that will decode DSD.
Usually you need both the transport and DAC from the same company. Mix and match seldom works.
If a company makes a SACD transport with no DAC, they will have a DAC that can play the SACD.
I've been griping about this for years. All of these so called high resolution DACSs are nearly worthless because you can't get high resolution audio into them without HDMI. Bryston has the right idea. PS Audio uses their proprietary HDMI input that only works with their transport. Bluray audio fixes most of the problems with SACD if you have a good processor.
Usually you need both the transport and DAC from the same company. Mix and match seldom works.
Would agree for the most part but it has been proved by Mahler here and Stereophile that you can output the sacd dsd via hdmi from Oppo 103/105 (possibly 93/95 too ) into a Bryston BDA3 quite successfully.

And by all accounts it sounds pretty darn good.
PS Audio has delivered an INCREDIBLE solution to resolve this issue. The company uses a proprietary protocol with their new DMP Player and the amazing DS DAC. Use of an HDMI cable delivers a digital handshake using a high speed data transfer between transport and the DAC. Based on what I understand the manufacturer of the DAC must pay licensing fees to Sony in order to be granted permission to decode and play music.  Some chose to pay others did not.  I2S is the technology innovated by PS Audio but any maker can use it, from what I understand. I’m pasting some information I copied directly from the website below, and let me tell you, the overall experience of this player is simply unbelievable for both CD and SACD. See below: 

“Now, with the introduction of PS Audio’s revolutionary new memory player, DMP, owners of our DirectStream series of DACs can uncover all that they have been missing. Based on a proprietary handshake protocol between DMP and PS Audio DACs, through our advanced I²S interface, pure DSD is streamed to, and processed in, the same reference quality DAC used by mastering engineers.”

So much misinformation out there:

PS Audio did not invent/innovate I2S. That has existed all along in the Sony Philips Digital Interface (SPDIF). PS Audio simply chose to walk upstream and access the multiple data streams coming out of the transport before it was combined into a single data stream for the DAC. I2S is the standard protocol, PS Audio chose to use it with their players and DACs.

See Paul McGowan’s explanation:

Most high-end audiophile brands, including dCS, EMM Labs, MSB Technologies and Esoteric, provide a proprietary, brand-specific optical link from their own transports (and their CD players which can serve as a transport as well, providing a direct optical link bypassing any built-in DAC or upsampler) to their own DACs, just like PS Audio. The real question should be - is it possible to re-engineer this optical link, allowing transports from one brand to link to the DAC from another brand. The answer is yes, but I am not going to explain how to do it. 
Here's an inexpensive way to get DSD playback through a DAC.
FAQ: What is DoP (DSD over PCM)?

The original idea for DoP was invented by dCS in 2011. It involves taking groups of 16 adjacent 1-bit samples from a DSD stream and packing them into the lower 16 bits of a 24/176.4 data stream. Data from the other channel of the stereo pair is packed the same way. A specific marker code in the top 8 bits identifies the data stream as DoP, rather than PCM. The resulting DoP stream can be transmitted through existing 24/192-capable USB, AES, Dual AES or SPDIF interfaces to a DoP-compatible DAC, which reassembles the original stereo DSD data stream COMPLETELY UNCHANGED.

If something goes wrong and the data stream is decoded as PCM, the output will be low-level noise with faint music in the back ground, so it fails safely. This can happen if the computer erases the marker code by applying a volume adjustment.

Maybe a bit of a sidetrack but this isn't surprising - the transports + DACs I've tried can't even do pre-emphasis correctly, so expecting DSD to work is a real long shot. Some really good info and solutions in here though. I would like to be able to try i2s again at some point but what I'm getting out of just 75 ohm BNC is more than satisfactory for the moment. 
I have a Sony BD/SACD player. I feed the digital stream via HDMI cable into a recent model Onkyo receiver which specifies "DSD" decoding compatibility (in addition to Dolby, DTS, etc.) basically making the DAC external to the transport making my system a "mix-and-match" between two different manufacturers. AFAIK the bitstream signal coming out from the transport either by HDMI is not encrypted. It’s not 44.1kHz Linear Pulse Code Modulation (LPCM) like your standard CD audio stream, but rather a Direct Stream Digital (DSD) signal sampled at 2.8MHz - entirely different method of encoding which you may be regarding as encrypted. My receiver recognizes the signal and "DSD" lights up on the display as well as on my TV screen when I’m listening to SACD discs. An SACD disc is basically a data DVD carrying DSD encoded audio data instead of PCM audio data.
rwwear2 I own a Singxer SU-1 and pair it to my PS Audio Directstream DAC. If you have a Directstream DAC the SU-1 can send raw DSD. While it is supported, you don't need to use DoP with this DAC if you're using the I2S port.
Copy the disc if not compatible.Done hundreds of dvd with dvd descriptor and dvd shrink.CD with total video convertor.If its a copy of your original its legal.
In general SACD players do not allow digital output as a DSD bitstream, they only allow 16/44 through Coax on back.

There are a small number of exceptions with proprietary interfaces.

The Sony SCD xA9000ES has a FireWire link, Sony branded as ‘I-Link’ but it is proprietary to Sony and can only be used with their own surround amps. (which aren’t great)

DCS also use FireWire to enable transfer to their own DACs these are in the £20k plus price bracket

However this route is a technological dead end.

Oppo players and similar universal players can transfer DSD over HDMI to a home cinema amp, some enable DSD but will typically convert down to 16/44 for processing so a waste of time in many cases, and you are limited to use a home cinema amp for music :-(

Good news though
We are in 2019 now it’s been possible to rip the Hi-Rez DSD layer from SACD for many years now. (Just google it - ask for Ted Brady)

Do this and you can play DSD directly to a stereo or surround DAC from a computer or streamer. There are many DACs that now support DSD stereo, only a couple that support surround e.g. Exasound e28/38.

Of course you can then also buy new DSD downloads online from various places to add to your collection.
Thanks seegs. I've never tried the Singxer. How well does it work and sound?
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Please use analog outputs to play any SACD disks. Digital output cannot be used it is encrypted you will need a matching DAC or special (matching) connection. As far as i know  I2S (looks like HDMI) is a standard connection.  XLR should work the same like RCA  which are analog outputs. 
GeerFab Audio offers a $1000 solution that allow you to play SACD's with it's D.BOB (Digital breakout Box) sitting between your SACD player and your DSD capable DAC of choice.

HDMI out from SACD player to D.BOB and then Coax or Toslink into the DAC.

See here: