Disc Players

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Ken Kessler & Paul Miller  |  Jul 05, 2009
Our tendency to attribute the revival in separate transports and DACs to the rise of MP3 players, DAB et al, didn’t anticipate Accustic Arts’ flagship models. Its Reference Series’ TUBE DAC II and DRIVE II offer neither USB nor mini-jacks to suggest the welcoming of lesser/newer digital sources. This pair is almost retro, recalling the earliest, most over-engineered high-end transports and DACs, with valves thrown in for good measure. That they’re handsomely-styled, ergonomically intelligent exemplars of Teutonic build quality goes some way toward accounting for painfully high prices of £6150 for the DAC and £6750 for the transport.
Richard Stevenson & Paul Miller  |  Jun 05, 2009
Sony’s flagship Blu-ray player is a technically advanced and feature-rich beast with a widget for almost every occasion. I say ‘almost’ because Sony has gone to extraordinary lengths to make the BDP-S5000ES a defining statement in silver disc playback, yet has not enabled it to play SACDs. To paraphrase the words of Homer Simpson, d’oh! You see, underneath that rather lush and eminently well put together exterior is a full Profile 2. 0 BD player with a long list of proprietary Sony technologies to enhance your home entertainment pleasure.
Dave Berriman & Paul Miller  |  Jun 05, 2009
Although CD has improved in leaps and bounds since its introduction, the sound initially disappointed many audiophiles and music lovers. One of the first companies to realise that CD replay could be improved was Meridian, giving rise, in 1984, to the Meridian MCD and MCD Pro. Based on a robust Philips mechanism, but with Meridian’s own analogue circuits and oscillator, the MCD Pro really lifted CD sound and a succession of Meridian CD players have continued to set high standards ever since. The CD-only 808 was launched in 2004, but Meridian has developed its replay technology so far since then that it has significantly re-designed and re-launched it as the 808.
Richard Stevenson & Paul Miller  |  May 05, 2009
The battle for supremacy at the top end of the Blu-ray player market is becoming ferocious. Players above £1000 seem to emerge weekly as big name manufacturers attempt to create a definitive statement product from which they will hang, in marketing speak, their more affordable mass-market offerings. You need to be at the cutting edge of the Blu-ray game just to keep up with the Joneses these days. FANCY AUDIO Unless you are Marantz of course.
Andrew Harrison & Paul Miller  |  May 05, 2009
It’s no exaggeration to say that dCS spearheaded – if somewhat reluctantly – the current vogue for upsampling to step-up the sound quality of the humble compact disc. Reluctantly because, as a company founded by earnest IC design engineers, the maths alone couldn’t readily predict any advantage in repackaging the disc’s audio data before conversion into analogue. But improvements were there to be heard, and now many high-end CD players feature upsampling. This may be as much to take advantage of modern DAC silicon which is optimised to work with ‘DVD era’ PCM digital, centred on a 48kHz baseline sample frequency.
Paul Miller  |  Apr 05, 2009
So you want to enjoy the best that Blu-ray has to offer but you’re loathe to part with that ‘legacy’ AV receiver, a fine-sounding and perfectly serviceable multichannel amplifier but one that pre-dates HDMI connectivity? Thanks to Pioneer’s flagship BDP-LX91, your options just got broader. You see this is one of the very first BD players with sufficient on-board processing power to decode both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. It’s also one of the first to offer a full 7. 1 channel analogue output – perfect for direct and unencumbered connection to the multichannel analogue inputs of that treasured AV amplifier.
Dave Berriman & Paul Miller  |  Apr 05, 2009
Bel Canto’s little CD-2 strikes an ultra-minimal pose, with its diminutive green display, single rotary knob, brushed solid aluminium front panel and top-loading mechanism. The digital display shows the track number but precious little else, just a pause or play symbol alongside it, but pressing ‘Time’ on the handset, while in play or pause, shows the track time played. The player is more versatile than it seems: the secret lies in the remote handset, which controls or sets everything. The CD-2 can be used without a preamp, as it has a built-in volume control, which can be operated either by the rotary knob, while in ‘Stop’ or ‘Play’ mode, or from the handset.
Ken Kessler & Paul Miller  |  Mar 05, 2009
Though CD players now bear a whiff of fin de siècle, this is a ‘golden age’ for silver discs. Despite sales pointing to CD’s demise, some of us still prefer CD to downloads and servers. Ironically, recent gems from Nagra, dCS and others recall the raft of sublime turntables of the late 1980s. Perhaps 10 years hence, CD will be to downloads what vinyl is to CD.
Richard Stevenson & Paul Miller  |  Mar 05, 2009
Just occasionally very creative people can pair two otherwise completely incongruous items and come up with something truly special. Take strawberries and cream: who would have thought mixing a ground fruit with the soured milk of a lactating mammal would sire an international tennis tournament and two weeks of eastern European girls running around in short skirts? Marvellous. But an SACD player with a traditionally video-centric HDMI connection? I’m not so sure. The reason is multichannel SACD audio and getting that data to an external DAC with almost zero jitter.
Paul Miller  |  Mar 05, 2009
If CES 2008 sounded a warning shot across, if not into the bows of the HD DVD fleet then there was always the consolation that its players were, on the whole, far cheaper than their Blu-ray competition while boasting full compatibility with both the software-driven and web-enabled functionality of its discs. Not all Blu-ray players can currently promise that. Sony’s BDP-S300 is one of those players that neither fully conforms to the BD1. 1 video profile (which means that picture-in-picture, ‘Blu-Scape’ games and other bonus features may not function wholly as intended) nor deliver Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio bitstreams over its HDMI 1.
Andrew Harrison & Paul Miller  |  Feb 05, 2009
It’s always heartening to find a product that gives a taste of high-end sound performance at a realistic price. And if that’s a giveaway to the outcome of this CD player’s all-important listening tests, so be it. Before we get there though, it’s worth looking over the mechanics of what’s on offer here. Like other products in the company’s range such as the entry-level AT3000 CD player and the pre/power amplifers, the AT3500 is built around a sturdy metal chassis with extruded alloy side panels with a heavy-gauge top plate.
Ken Kessler & Paul Miller  |  Jan 05, 2009
Canny audio manufacturers never seem to run out of new takes on old formats. Because of such lateral thinking, the humble and now familiar CD has weathered (easily) a few dozen silver disc variations, up to and including SACD and DVD-A, which achieved minimal market penetration. Leema’s equivalent of CD Viagra is to add so many DACs that you have to marvel not at the technological achievement, but at the price: the updated Stream still sells for under £1200. As the company puts it, ‘Sixteen 24-bit/192kHz multi-bit Delta-Sigma converters are used in Leema’s unique MD2 Active Differential Multi-DAC to produce an incredibly real and tactile musical performance with almost no noise and distortion.
John Bamford & Paul Miller  |  Jan 05, 2009
With its design team headed up by Dominique Giner, Metronome Technologie is a French high-end audio company founded in 1987. Alongside world famous hi-fi marques such as Koetsu, Audio Research, Krell Industries and Sonus faber, Metronome’s products are imported and distributed in the UK by Absolute Sounds of south-west London. Recent visitors to hi-fi shows at Heathrow may have come across Metronome’s magnificent Kalista Reference CD transport with matching C2A two-box DAC making sublime music in one of Absolute Sounds’ ‘Absolute Studio’ demonstrations, partnered with DarTZeel amplification and Magico speakers. While Metronome produces some slightly more ‘real world’ CD spinners such as the CD3 Signature (a mere £6900 for the transport), the Kalista line-up represents Metronome’s no-holds-barred statement products.
Ken Kessler & Paul Miller  |  Jan 05, 2009
It amuses me immeasurably that there’s a flood of new high-end CD players when the format is under serious threat. Even that über-geek bible, Wired, recently ran a blog titled ‘Vinyl May Be Final Nail in CD’s Coffin’ – rich stuff coming from the most digitised read on earth. So, are audiophiles now being implored to buy our ‘final’ CD players? In the face of MP3, high-def discs and other threats, there are still billions of CDs out there. And I can tell you right now that many of us will not be replacing our collections again.
Ken Kessler & Paul Miller  |  Jan 05, 2009
Predisposed as I am toward Nagra, the long-awaited CD player presents a quandary: Although this brand has a hold on my heart – I would gladly live forever with their valve electronics – I am increasingly distressed by the ever-spiralling pricing of high-end audio. Nagra, being both Swiss and high-end, is as guilty as any of widening the chasm between reality and sanity. £8500 for any CD player is to take the mickey. Yet something so ‘right’ about the wee Nagra CDP almost makes me want to forgive the pricing.

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