Just a couple of years after the first SACD players arrived, prices began to fall. No longer did you need to drop £5,000 on Marantz’s seminal SA-1. Suddenly, DVD players were available with SACD compatibility for one twentieth of the price – and by 2002 the Philips DVD 763SA was the cheapest serious Super Audio Compact Disc spinner. It threatened Sony’s £600 SCD-940QS, and bolted on full DVD video capability too.
To that, you could add Compact Disc (CD-R and CD-RW), MP3-CD (at 96, 112, 128, 256kbps and VBR) and VCD. In short, it spun practically any digital disc available at the time, save DVD-Audio. It also came with Dolby Digital/AC3, DTS, MPEG and 24/96 PCM decoding – making it near state-of-the-art in its day. Even CD Text was included, along with an audio and video bitrate indicator and full SACD bass management. Things didn’t get any more feature-packed than this at anywhere near its price. It might not seem a big deal now, but geeks were gasping back then.
Added to that, it was an unexpectedly handsome machine by the standards of anything emanating from the Philips stable. Small at 435×77.5×303.5mm, and light at 3.3kg, it was admittedly a little plasticky but looked very modern all the same. The fascia was a model of early twenty first century design – super clean with the usual transport controls plus a Sound button which selects the required mode – CD, SACD stereo or SACD multichannel; the Philips downmixed multichannel discs to stereo if so you wished.
Round the back, there are six phono sockets which together form the multichannel audio output, a pair of RCA phonos for the stereo audio out, one optical and one coaxial digital output, plus the video outputs (CBVS, component, S-Video and two SCARTs). You can forget about HDMI, this was still half a decade too early for the connector we all use today. A passable illuminated remote is included, complete with three different switchable brightnesses. The original package included the player, remote, batteries, user manual, SCART cable, video cable and a pair of cheap phono audio leads.
Alongside its great spec list, SACD playback and crisp styling, what really makes this machine worth remembering is its sound – especially in SACD mode. This selected, things are smooth and sweet, with loads of detail and a seemingly crystal-clear midband. There’s none of the harshness of some CD players hailing from this period when playing hi-res discs, and you’ll like the nicely wide and three dimensional soundstage that gives more expensive Sony SACD machines a run for their money. Treble isn’t especially sugary, but is commendably free from harshness. Overall, it’s a decently tuneful and involving performer, if not the equal of more expensive SACD spinners.
Nowadays, the Philips DVD 763SA costs pennies to buy secondhand, and there are a surprisingly large amount of them still about. So if you’re interested in experimenting with SACDs, then this opens the door for £20 or so – indeed most of the discs on sale secondhand now cost more. It’s not a bad DVD player via its SCART sockets, either – so is good for bedroom or home office systems. In the great scheme of things, this machine is nothing exceptional but is as good at giving cheap access to SACD now as it was then.