Photograph by John B. Carnett

Listen carefully: Both DVD-A and SACD promise you-are-there sound quality. Both require new discs and players. SACD can be listened to in 2-channel stereo, or in 5.1 surround sound; DVD-A can only be listened to in 5.1 surround, but offers video clips and images you can view on your PC or TV. In 5.1 surround mode, there’s not a lot of difference between the two formats to the untrained ear. The problem is that not every audiophile likes 5.1 surround sound — some believe 2-channel is closer to what a live performance sounds like. In that case, your only option is SACD.

Will SACD and DVD-A discs work in your player? Some SACD discs will only play in a SACD player, though the majority are hybrids that function in regular CD and DVD players. DVD-A discs will play in any DVD player, but unless your DVD machine is built for DVD-A, any benefits over ordinary CDs are lost. Expect hybrid DVD-A discs for CD players within the next year. Confused? Buy a universal player that reads all formats. Pioneer and others say they’ll have universal players for around $200 this year.