HDCD vs the Newer SHM-CD, BluSpec, UHQCD, etc

Has anyone directly compared the early 1990s 20 bit HDCD format to todays 16 bit SHM, BluSpec, UHQCD, etc, improvements of Redbook?

I’ve been very happy with the audio quality improvements I’ve heard on the recent generations of CD improvements, via improved surface materials, internal materials and cutting/forming of the reflective mirrors which the laser reads. I’ve tried them all (I think? lol), but have been particularly disappointed with HDCD, an early ’90s format. Theoretically HDCD should be better, despite lacking the improved materials and manufacturing techniques of today’s SHM and similar CDs. Then I realized my Oppo 205 doesn’t decode HDCD, and I’ve only been listening to the standard Redbook 16 bit signal of the HDCDs I’ve bought (5 over the past few years).

Looking around I’ve noticed that there is a vast array of music titles available on the used HDCD market. So I’m wondering if I should get a second disc spinner from the used market just for HDCD’s, with the intent of dipping into the array of music in that format.

I’d greatly appreciate anyone’s thoughts, who has compared these source materials, before I just go out and spring for an HDCD player to find out if it’s worth it to buy more HDCD discs, rather than just stick with the improved 16 Bit formulas available today. With that, yes, I also have a decent library of DVD-A, SACD & Hybrid SACD... but that field is limited, and generally pricy. Thanks!


I bought the top ARCAM FMJ 23-T cdp specifically for its HDCD playback capabilities, It was a top player in its time ( emphasis added);in brief, it’s novel HDCD audio performance uptick from ordinary red book CD’s  ranged from very minimal (if any) , to nominal ( kinda a vert small bit ,,,,. at best ). It’s a failed experiment for good reasons IMO.

Now, contrast it with my current REGA ISIS VALVE cdp / DAC playing any and all  CD discs including ordinary redbook and U name-it ….. it simply smokes every HDCD option  ….. not even close.

All the other CD permutations with their hopeful audio improvements played on a top shelf player are also an audio improvement mirage ranging from minimal to nil ,,,,and entirely dependent on the mastering or remastering skills of the recording engineer. I’ve purchased SHM discs from Japan that are a wide range of quality, with more than a few that suck.

if you want good Japanese discs,,,,,think XRCD instead.


TAKEAWAY: Choose wisely.

IMO HDCD is a legacy product that should remain in the past. 

I bought several Blu Spec CDs, thought they were revelatory but realized that remasterings were involved in the familiar recordings and when I heard the same remastering on subsequently released Red Book CD the difference between them and the Blu Spec seemed to vanish 

I hear better audio with most of my Japanese SHM, blue spec, hqcd, etc

  now that I’m older , I try to get Japanese CDs if released. 

most u.s. made CDs and records are tripe. 

I have the Anthem S/T from I think mid late 80’s, has lasted me 30+ years, 

still has more depth and sounds better then subsequent lps, and remastered cd versions. 


My Oppo 103 plays HDCDs. None of them sound any better than my red-book CDs. I wouldn't suggest buying another player just to be able to play HDCDs.

I wish I had a 205. I know it sounds better than my 103.


Keep in mind that a lot of CD's that may trigger the HDCD flag were not intentionally HDCD. 

Personally I used software to identify and decode all of my HDCD disks to 24 bit FLAC.

Honestly I think that modern DAC's are so much better at decoding 44.1/16 bit Redbook files that HDCD and even MQA become non-issues.

I have a Sonic Frontiers SFCD1 player that has the HDCD chip. The HDCDs sound fantastic. I bought an Oppo 105D player and that had the HDCD chip. The HDCDs sounded good and then I purchased an Oppo 205 ( I was on the list and they notified me that I could purchase one ) . I sold the 105 because I wanted one of the latest, last ones made and didn't want to keep both. Well, as you know, no HDCD chip and no HDCD decoding. The 205 does sound slightly better than the 105, but has less features ( no chip, no Gracenote, and no streaming apps ). I still have my SF player, which sounded the best with HDCDs, so I can still listen to HDCDs on that.

I never cared for JVC XRCDs. I found them too bright and I never play them because of that. Of course, I guess it depends on your system.

My SFCD1 has a tube output stage and the HDCDs sound excellent. I bought Joni Mitchell's Hit list cd and because of the HDCD format it sounds amazing. Playing the same CD on my OPPO 205 without the HDCD chip doesn't compare.

Thank you all for your input. After reading through the myriad of experiences you’ve taken the time to share with me, this is the direction I’ve decided to go...

Since I know I can sell a used Oppo without much difficulty or loss of funds beyond website seller fees and shipping costs, I’ve decided to go ahead and buy an older Oppo to try out the HDCDs I already have in my inventory. I’ll be looking for appreciable SQ benefit over and above Redbook CD.  I do have a few duplicate albums in Redbook, SACD, DVD-A, or improved Redbook of SHM quality, to compare the HDCDs too.  If I find the SQ benefit worthy of keeping the extra disc-spinner, then I’ve opened the door to an entire market of more affordable hi-res albums not necessarily available on SACD, DVD-A, etc.  They seem to run mostly in the price range of todays SHM, blu-spec, etc.

I will come back to this thread, and likely post another thread, with my personal observations & comparisons. 

Thanks again!  ~Rich

System I'll be conducting the comparison on:

Oppo UDP-205 + Furutech DPS4.1 w/ NCF-50/52 Power Cable + Silnote M1 Orion XLR output

The new disc-spinner, probably an Oppo BDP-83 or 93

Classe SSP-800 Preamp + Furutech TCS-31 w/ NCF-50/52 Pwr Cbl + Silnote Poseidon II XLR output

Carver 350 Raven Monoblock Tube Amps + DH Labs Red Wave w/ Furutech NCF-50/52 Pwr Cbl + Silnote Anniversary II Speaker Wire Output

Paradigm Tribute 25th Anniversary Speakers 

Velodyne Optima-12 Subwoofer w/ Pangea 9 XL power cable

Furutech GTX Receptacles (Rhodium & Gold mix)

2 x 20 Amp independent power lines direct to panel



@akg_ca Thanks,,,I hadn’t previously read on the XRCD, to see exactly what it is. From what I’ve now read, it seems XRCD, in its endstate anyway, is direct rival of HDCD born just after the failure of HDCD, brought about by Microsoft’s purchase of HDCD and mismanagement of it, along with the birth of the SACD/DVD-A war, which basically took everything hi-res down with it. Though XRCD seems to be the next logical generation of HDCD, using improved methods.

On the downside, I don’t see much of an available library with XRCD, yet that doesn’t matter much since any player will reproduce it. So... one more hi-res format with titles available to buy into. Definitely a good thing. Thanks for your time to share!


Get a high quality purpose built Redbook player like Jay's Audio and load up on Redbook CDs. Or go the "jack of all trades and master of none" route and waste a bunch of money buying bright sounding proprietary disc formats.

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I do already have hundreds of Redbook CDs collected through the 80s, 90s and on. I can point blank state that the majority of other disc formats are audibly superior. A lot of it comes down to simple laws of physics. You can’t squeeze water from a rock, because it just isn’t there. Regardless of how great a CD player may be, the Redbook CD format is extremely limited in its dynamic range, materials, amount of data that can be recorded directly impacting resolution, and the frequency range which is recorded onto standard Redbook.  Yet physics aside, these Redbook shortcomings are easily validated via side by side comparisons of the same album on two different formats, from the same master, with the same disc player.

"Bright" primarily depends on studio mastering/remastering or a person’s sound system, though can be exacerbated by a format. If anything, relatively speaking, the average Redbook has very harsh edged sounds in comparison to most of the other formats, and Redbook is ’thin’ sounding on average compared to the others. This can be addressed to the listeners comfort by getting quality speakers with a silk dome tweeter such as Dynaudio, or trickery of electronics inside a player, as was done by Bob Carver’s dedicated players of the 1980s and 1990s. In both of those fixes, you’re not hearing the exact material on the disc. You’re hearing the more pleasing version of it created by the equipment to not offend your ears. If that’s what an individual wants for their $, that is what matters. But taking that preference and saying it = standard Redbook superiority is factually false.

Not sure where you’re coming from on this. Perhaps Jays Audio is a great dedicated player. I had a Sony ES dedicated player, and my Oppo 205 Universal blows it away on Redbook. Perhaps Jays Audio is better than the Oppo. Then again, how many people have $5k to blow on a single dedicated CD player and then the equipment needed to appreciate that players abilities, outside of the world of the 1/10% live-in-a-bubble privileged? It's all relative.  Play them all on one player, or equivalent players from the same manufacturer, and the superior format will stand out relative to the others.  Ie, I have Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on Redbook, SHM-CD, SACD & BluRay Audio. There is zero...I do mean ZERO comparison in SQ between the Redbook and the other formats. The SHM provides better extension of notes, more resolute bass tones that hit harder and more definitively, more natural vocals, and more defined yet still fuller high notes. The Blu Ray provides greater ultimate extension of notes and decay of them than the prior two, with greater detail and separation of notes from a black background, and improved depth & realism throughout the audio spectrum. The SACD is superior to all the aforementioned, with all of the best rolled into one, plus layers of sound even the BluRay Audio doesn’t present. That’s all from the same master recording. Going from Redbook to any of the other formats on that album is night and day, leaving me ready to throw the CD in the trash, but I keep it to play in the car and not worry if it gets beat up in the travel.  Very similar observations on Billy Joel and quite a few other albums including Steely Dan, across many genres.




XRCD is no successor nor has any relation, bearing, or comparison to HDCD. Both can be played on a redbook player, the HDCD chip to decode whatever HDCD was supposed to improve was just a minimal to nil upscaling flop generally by comparison.

XRCD is a totally different, FAR SUPERIOR, and patented detailed hi-rez INITIAL MASTERING and PRESSING PROCESS of the recording . HDCD was a rudimentary, clumsy and failed attempt on a very nominal ( if any ) attempt in upscaling a recording by way of a chip add-on.. . Think of HDCD as the fleeting flavour of the month back in the Jurassic era of CD digital before the advent of hi-rez mastering.

There is NO performance comparison to XRCD in its product manufacturing or its audio performance, and thus a reminder refrain from any conflation between the two.

Extended Resolution Compact Disc (XRCD) is a complete hi-rez full mastering and manufacture process patented by JVC (Victor Company of Japan, Ltd) for producing Red Book compact discs.

An XRCD is priced a LOT higher about as a regular full-priced CD. JVC attributes this to the higher cost of quality mastering and manufacturing. HINT: avoid ALL XRCD listings out of China including eBay ….most if not all units flogged out of China are cheaply produced, crap quality,  crap sounding,  inferior and illegal fakes . I got stung once … never again. Caveat emptor .., the real McCoy discs are great, the illegal fakes are shite,

Played on a high end cdp player, an XRCD will smoke any HDCD

…. not even close.

Blah blah blah "my Oppo 205" blah blah blah.

Please consider the possibility that the bottleneck isn't where you theorize it is. 

HDCDs smoke XRCDs played on my Sonic Frontiers SFCD1. Like I stated before, I guess it depends on your system, that's probably Why XRCD sound better on your system.

Second the Sonic Frontiers unit for HDCD playback. I recently purchased one with 2 levels of upgrades from the parts connexion. It is very very good. 



It sounds like you have very definite opinions, none of which have been shaken by the responses you have gotten here.  Some of these formats that you are enthusiastic about were attempts to overcome early limitations on Red Book playback.  The biggest incremental increase in sound quality imo was the jump to DSD , either in SACD or downloads.  Otherwise improvements in Redbook replay have been profound and narrowed the gap.  You won’t realize the Redbook improvements with an Oppo 205 although it’s an excellent transport for DSD from SACD over HDMI.  I would get a better DAC and maximize Redbook, but you seem to have definite opinions and are on a mission 

I have an Oppo 93 and it plays hdcd just fine. When did Oppo stop supporting the hdcd format?

@curiousjim  From what I read, the latest series, 203/205, is where they stopped incorporating HDCD software.

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I have a 105 and a 203.  The 203 sits in a second system and hardly gets used.  I bought it when Oppo announced they were discontinuing their players as a hedge against anything ever happening to the 105, which I use as my transport in my main 2 channel system.  I’ve never attempted to play a HDCD in the 203-I only own a few of them- but I will try and dig one up and see what happens on the 203.

  To return to the Blu Spec discussion, the first that I heard was Mahler Second Symphony with Bruno Walter conducting the New York Philharmonic, recorded around 1960.  This recording was my introduction to the work in the late seventies and I am extremely familiar with it.  When it first came out on CD I was blown away by the wealth of information I was hearing. One could really hear the coloration in the double basses that open the work.  Grunts from the conductor, the sounds of sheet music falling off stands and hitting the floor with a whap!, and even the HVAC system turning on and off we’re clearly audible.

  So I bought the Blu Spec a few years later and did some comparisons with the Redbook.  It sounded a bit smoother and detailed on the top end.  A slight improvement over Redbook but not as revelatory as the vinyl vs CD.  Then Sony reissued all the Walter recordings (a mother of a boxed set costing more than $200, but filled with really great recordings).  The Redbook CD from that box sounds identical to the BluSpec.  The book that accompanies the box is very detailed and states the mastering comes from Japan, lists equipment used, and given the limitations of the sparser documentation of the Blue Spec disc , I believe they are the same mastering.  So I conclude that it’s the remastering, not the disc materials, that accounts for the differences between Blue Spec and Redbook.  I had bought some other Blue Spec recordings that clearly outdo their Redbook alternatives, but here I don’t have multiple remasters to compare.

  I burned the Blue Specs to my NAS, a Melco N 100, and I can’t perceive much difference between playing them on my streamer and play the Blue Specs from the Oppo, into the same DAC

Thanks @sfcfran 

Thanks for the answer.  I have about a dozen hdcd’s, mostly Grateful Dead and some actually sound a bit better, but they all sound good!

  I burned the Blue Specs to my NAS, a Melco N 100, and I can’t perceive much difference between playing them on my streamer and play the Blue Specs from the Oppo, into the same DAC

Ripping Blu Spec and HDCDs doesn't work, although SHM CD do pass their resolution on, I never heard an XRCD, so I can't comment.

Some DVD-A's are better than SACD and vice versa. The Steven Wilson remasters of many classic albums (YES, King Crimson, Tull etc.) in DVD-A and Blu- Ray are fantastic.

If you can't get what you want on DVD-A or SACD,  SHM Mini LP CDs are your best bet.

I've never heard a MQA CD, am I missing anything?


  I have heard of MQA CDs.  Since I don't do MQA I can't comment further.

Not sure what you mean about "ripping Blue Specs....doesnt work".  Mine ripped fine.  However when I play the rips back through my server, and simultaneously play the disc into the same DAC, and switch inputs, I don't perceive a difference.  This isn't unblinded, but if I use to standard CD issue vs the rip, then I do hear the difference.  I conclude it is the remastering


With all due respect, if you haven't tried a Jays or equivalent, it's very doubtful you've ever heard how good redbook can sound.

@mahler123 What I was trying to explain is that HDCDs are 20bit but you can't rip them in 20bit, only 16bit.

Blu Spec CDs have smaller, more precise lands and grooves which allow them to sound a little better when played on a CDP but when ripped this doesn't seem to be noticeable.

You own experience seem to reflect this.


exceptthat the Blue Spec rips sound better than the red book or red book rips.  I just really didnt notice a difference between the Blue Spec spinning of an Oppo or a rip of the same