Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Tube output CD-players

Nobody has escaped from noticing two trends in high-end CD-player market: increasing usage of tubes in output stage and onslaught of Chinese manufacturers.

In TAS April/May 2004 Harry Pearson summarized Italian Lector CDP-7 cd-player (with 2 x ECC81/12AT7 tube output stage) as "...I think that Lector represents a new wave in CD sound. What is does right, it does with such authority and in so many areas that I may, for the moment, be insensible to its shortcomings, which must sure exist, but certainly not in any great magnitude...I'd say you can't go wrong may find yourself with a first-time case of digitally-induced goosebumps." He emphasized that what he was hearing was not sophisticated tube colorations, just "What this player does is let you hear more information, in my case, more than I ever thought could be encoded on the best 16/44 CDs."

However, Chris Thomas in Issue 37 of Hifi+ was not as positive. Albeit he concluded that CDP-/TL "is a machine that offers exceptionally good value", he also noted that it lacked the needlepoint fine resolution of a pure solid-state player like the Naim CD3. He adviced an auditioning at home in order to find out whether you like its character (balanced on the soft side, not the fastest sounding).

In March 2005 issue of Revue de Son Jean-Pierre Landragin and Jean Hiraga listened to Chinese Consonance CDP-5.0. This is 24bit 192kHz up-sampling CD-player with full-balanced 6H30 tube output and top-loading design. Chassis construction is wood, graphite and ceramic sandwich and special made super-clock is employed to reach very low jitter (manufacturer claims jitter less than 14psec!).

Two gents were impressed by CDP-5, top grades for quality/price, and it earned their recommendation. Highlighted super reproduction of voices, wide and deep soundstage, dynamics, need for good support and superiority of balanced connections. Put in the context of previous reviews by same gentlemen, not on the same level as several top-of-the line Accuphases or Mark Levinson 390S, but as said, excellent quality/price.

Enters Shanling CD-T300 Limited Edition CD Player. This player has some interesting specs: 8 Burr-Brown PCM1704K D/A converter chips, four per channel in parallel for single-ended output, two per channel in parallel for balanced configuration. The 8-times oversampling is implemented by Japanese Nippon Precision Circuit SM5847 chip, 4 EH6922 vacuum tubes in output stage, renowned Philips CDM-4 transport, 2(!) absolutely fabulous aluminium remote controls, external power unit, and two sets of different cones.

CD-T300 was a subject to reviews in Haute Fidelite May 2005 and Prestige Audio Video April 2005. Whilst both magazines concluded it to be a true audiophile player (I save you here from typical idiosyncrasies like "astonished with opera music"), reviews' findings were a tad peculiar. PEV found T300 sounding best as a transport feeding modified (Black Gates caps etc.) Tact digital integrated amplifier, and advised to avoid single-ended connections ("which provided quite standard sound"), whereas HF found asymmetric connections to be most musical. Go figure, must be system dependent - as usage of either SE or balanced connections usually are.

Shanling has used tubes in output stage in other models like in SCD-T200 SACD player, and CD-T100 and CD-T80 players. CD-T80, BTW, was reviewed by Hi-Fi News May 2005: "Anyone looking for a truly outstanding player in the £500 to £1000 area has to hear this Shanling."

Musical Fidelity has announced a limited edition kW SACD player. Antony Michaelson, one of the best marketers in hifi business, really knows how to fulfill audiophiles' need for exclusivity with his "limited editions"... ;). To be fair, Michaelson was quoted in December 2004 Stereophile eNewsletter as "Actually, everything any company makes is a limited edition by virtue of all production being finite. But our editions' numbers are determined by the availability of the active devices we use, and by our knowledge of the size of the market. Frankly, I don't understand the furore. Ferrari produced 399 Enzos, a limited number of Stradales. Most high-end watches are severely limited editions, sometimes as few as 10 pieces. Nobody complains about that, ever. But I do understand consumers' disappointment."

The kW SACD is 2-channel only SACD player with switchable tube (mu-vista 6112?) and transistor output stages, both in Class A. The SACD and CD path are internally entirely separatete and company claims pretty staggering noise ratio of 128dB. In its ad Musical Fidelity states that both output stages can be run simultaneously through different inputs on preamp - logic probably being that user can easily switch between inputs to find out which output stage has better sound per a partucular recording. I suspect all hifi magazines to go overboard with positive reviews.

Viewpoint: Chinese enter into HE-hifi segment seems to be based on truly individualistic, innovative products with futuristic and esthetic designs. Although some products are priced right against Western products, Chinese manufacturers are also capitalizing on their costs advantage to create new price/performance points in contested hifi market.

German T+A D10 tube output stage (2 x 12AX7 LPS, 2 x ECC 99) SACD player was tested in June 2005 Stereo (German) magazine. This 2-channel player completes T+A's V-serie (other products are integrated amplifier and turntable, all share the same industrial design). Rating of 94% for SACD playback and "Excellent" for price/performance. For me T+A's V-serie design resamples too much Shanling. BTW, T+A stands for "Theory and Application", not for "Tits and Ass" as some wiseguys have guessed ;)

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