Super Audio CDs (SACDs) were a next-generation CD format, capable of much higher fidelity as well as 5.1 channel surround sound... and unlike regular CDs, designed to be impossible to rip. Although a handful of disks and players are still being sold, the format has been a failure, mainly because the CD format wasn't broken to begin with, except for audiophiles and record companies.
Since my SACD player was my early-model PlayStation 3, which has already broken once, I needed to rip my SACD music into a more durable format. Also, I wanted to be able to listen to it in 5.1 channels which I hadn't been able to do before now, because my tuner only has an optical audio connection, and the PlayStation demands an HDMI connection for playing multi-channel audio. |
Luckily, ripping music from SACDs has just become possible. This tutorial will teach you not only how to rip your files from SACD, but also how to play them in multi-channel format without the need for any expensive audiophile hardware or software. What you need is:
- A PlayStation 3 model CECHAxx, CECHBxx, CECHCxx or CECHExx, released in 2006 or 2007. See if you can find one on eBay.
- Said PlayStation must be running firmware version 3.55 or 3.41 - which means that you won't be able to use it on Sony's PlayStation Network. Unfortunately, downgrading the firmware is not currently possible.
- A modified unofficial version of that same firmware called OtherOS++.
- SACD Ripper (http://code.google.com/p/sacd-ripper/). Unless you want to compile your own binary, you can download a precompiled one here. (https://wdnqg3ehh3hvalpe.tor2web.org/sacd-ripper.pkg)
- The PS3's root keys (https://wdnqg3ehh3hvalpe.tor2web.org/ps3free-ps3keys-master.tar.gz), which are needed the first time you run SACD Ripper.
- DSDConverter (http://www.nullmedium.de/index.php?category=software - this is for Mac OS X, I'm not sure about other platforms).
- FFmpeg (http://www.ffmpeg.org/) and MPlayer (http://www.mplayerhq.hu/ - for any operating system).
The first step is to install the OtherOS++ firmware. To do this:
1. Copy the OtherOS++ firmware file that you downloaded to a USB memory stick as /PS3/UPDATE/PS3UPDAT.PUP.
2. While your PS3 is off, press and hold the power button until it turns on then turns off again.
3. Press and hold the power button again until the PS3 beeps, then leave it held down until it beeps twice more.
4. You are now in the PS3 recovery menu. Plug in your USB stick, select System Update and follow the instructions.
Now install and run SACD Ripper.
1. Copy it to a USB memory stick, and insert that into the PS3.
2. Go to the PS3's game menu and you'll see "Install package files". It should find the SACD Ripper package, so select it and install.
3. Unzip the PS3 root keys package that you downloaded to the root of a USB stick. Run SACD Ripper and insert the USB stick when it prompts you for the root key files.
You're now all set to perform your first rip.
1. Insert an SACD. SACD Ripper should recognise it.
2. Insert a large capacity USB device. SACD Ripper under-states the size required, and won't warn you if your device isn't big enough. As a rough guide, a multi-channel SACD of about ten tracks needs about an 8Gb device. External hard drives are usually quicker than USB sticks.
3. Press the circle key to change the format in which the SACD is ripped. We want either DSDIFF (DSD) or DSF (DSD). The sound quality is the same no matter which of these you choose. However do take care that if your SACD is multi-channel (not all are), you choose one of the "mch" formats, not "2ch".
Since you are not an audiophile, you don't have any software capable of playing the DSD format directly, so we'll need to convert it to an ordinary PCM (eg. WAV) file. This is what DSDConverter is for. To use it:
1. Move the USB device to your Mac.
2. Run DSDConverter and open the first ripped track. Choose WAV as the file format and 24 as the bit depth (or 16 to economise on file size).
3. The setting for sample rate is a bit more complex. If you want to be able to compress it to a reasonable size (10-15Mb) later, you need a sample rate of 44.1 Khz, which is no better than CD quality. If you are unhappy with that, but don't mind a file at least ten times larger, you will have to stay in WAV format, and choose whatever sample rate you like (176.4 should be enough, though).
3. Click Start and make yourself a tea or coffee.
Next we will compress the file into an AC-3 file, which is a good compressed format for multi-channel audio (another alternative is multi-channel MP3, but this isn't so widely supported). It's exactly the same Dolby Digital format that you get on DVDs. We're going to use FFmpeg for this.
1. From the command line, type "ffmpeg -i [file.wav] -ab 320 [file.ac3]". Of course, replace the parts in square brackets with the actual names for your input and output files - but you must include .ac3 as the extension for your output file, so FFmpeg knows what format to use.
2. The "-ab" setting is the bitrate. Note that this is not the same as the sample rate! It controls how compressed the file will be. 320 is the same bitrate used on DVDs, so should be good enough for most people, but feel free to experiment.
Finally, how do you play this file? Here is where your mileage will vary. In my case, I have a computer running Ubuntu hooked up to my sound system, and it decodes AC3 audio in hardware. So I need to play the AC3 file without my computer decoding it first. The command line that I use is:
pasuspender -- mplayer -ao alsa:device=hw=1,0 -ac hwac3 [file.ac3]
Breaking this down:
1. pasuspender tells Ubuntu's PulseAudio sound system not to interfere with MPlayer, since PulseAudio doesn't yet support AC-3 passthrough.
2. -- is just a separator to tell pasuspender that what follows is the command I want to execute without interference from PulseAudio.
3. The -ao option to MPlayer specifies the audio output device, which will certainly be different on your system to mine. Use "aplay -l" to find out what it is on your system.
4. The -ac option tells MPlayer that we want to play the file using hardware AC-3 decoding.
There are a few ripped files that MPlayer hasn't been able to play, and I'm not sure why, since they play fine (but in stereo) using other multimedia players such as Totem. But most files play very nicely.
So it was a bit of a marathon, but I can now hear my SACDs in all their multi-channel glory for the first time, and they sound great! If you run into trouble with the above procedure, feel free to drop me a note and I'll try to help you out.