Real CDs Don't Leave
Anthony Kershaw listens to Accustic
Arts' CD-Player I
Whither the standard CD player? I've been reading of its death throes for some years now. Even the obits for its swanky, upsampled cousins are in the works. From the plethora of inexpensive SACD players at this year's shows, the writing may now finally be on the wall. But wait! What about software. Well, you knew it was too good to be true. It's going to take some time, energy and direction from the record companies to totally embrace the new digital formats. More and more (if it ever was different), the bottom line is the bottom line. It sells, or we don't bother - the American Idol(ization) of the art form! So, we music lovers, with heaps of 16-bit, 44.1 kHz material in our libraries, should be thankful of the companies still producing (and researching and developing) outstanding CD players for the non SACD/DVD-A generation. German manufacturer Accustic Arts is one such outfit.
Based in the lovely town of Laufen am Necker in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, Accustic Arts (AA) has been producing innovative, handmade equipment for five years. The company manufactures amplifiers as well as digital equipment. It is a small yet discerning company, adhering to the tenets of developing the High-End. It was my luck that local distributor Tricell Enterprises looks after Accustic Arts gear across North America. With a little persuasion, I picked up the CD-Player I for review. It is with much gratitude that I thank the distributor for the lengthy loan. As such, it has been my great pleasure to report my findings of many hours of listening.
The CD-Player I looks striking. Machined from what feels like a solid block of aluminum, the top-loading machine is a serious, well-made high-end piece, destined for use well into this century. A reflective glass drawer covers a standard spinner and solid metal, silver puck. When closed, the glass is bathed in a violet light, reflecting the Accustic Arts ID. Very cool. Very Upper West Side.
It takes but a few seconds from loading a CD to data capture. The two large knobs on the fascia of the resonance-minimizing housing have a solid feel. The left knob is for 'Skip', the right for 'Standby/Operate'. Central is the large LED, the two small knobs to its left and right labeled 'Stop' and 'Play'. Easy peasy! The rear of the unit is as simple and elegant as the front. It has both balanced and unbalanced analog and digital outputs. The power on/off rocker switch and plug for detachable mains power cord are on the back, too. And following AA's form and function mandate, the metal and plastic remote looked good and behaved well.
The CD-Player I is a very refined unit and incorporates advanced engineering. The clear, well-written manual highlights the following design features and specifications: 24 Bit/96 kHz upsampling, the aforementioned puck is magnetic and guarantees ideal pressing and smooth running, and AA's CDM Pro 2 drive module boasts a cast metal frame and mechanical decoupling. The toroidal core transformer is magnetically shielded, with five separate power supply units for laser control, digital signal processing, display control, display heating and the D/A converter section. The integrated D/A converter is an Enhanced Multi-Level Delta-Sima from Burr Brown. The analog output stage has a 12dB Butterworth-Filter, and the digital filter has 8-times oversampling.
Setup was plug and play. Break-in took about 100 hours, with serious listening happening as soon as I passed that magical number.
My initial observations of the CD-Player I's playback included refinement, ease of presentation and fine detail, all under a lovely sense of bloom and musicality. My very positive reaction did not change throughout the year. The upsampling helped the standard issue CDs and the audiophile quality recordings were spectacular. Interestingly, some early chamber CDs sounded positively vinyl-like. The old DG recording of Brahms Violin Sonatas played with consummate skill by Zukerman and Barenboim has a tendency to sound veiled and diffuse on lesser equipment. This CD has served as a valued reference of mine for years -- only the best in digital will highlight the supreme musicality, maintain the analog-like tone, yet unveil the soundstage and Zukerman's gorgeous tone. This was a great pleasure. And when comparing the CD to a John Marks audiophile-quality release with Arturo Delmoni playing the Brahms for all he's worth, the AA simply portrayed the CD in its unalloyed beauty.
More about the bloom and refinement later. The inner detail I heard was up there with the best machines, with both macro and micro dynamics always spot on. I have listened to the Queensland Symphony's Naxos recording of Arnold's Dances many times; it's a decent digital substitute for the well-known EMI LP. The Naxos orchestra is not in the LSO's league, and it shows at both ends of the instrumental spectrum. Never before did I notice the Aussie's weak tuba and piccolo (both tremendously important in Arnold's music) playing on this recording. Weak tonguing down below, and dodgy tuning way up high were clearly defined by the CD-Player I. It separated musical lines very easily, heard to spectacular effect through the fab audio Model 1 speakers. Uncanny, at times. The AA excelled at this sport even better than the Cary CD-303 CD player and the splendid standard CD section of the great Sony SCD-1 SACD player, both my previous benchmarks. Bravo!
The aural range was not segmented, but connected through the innate musicality and refinement of the player. Octaves were seamless when tessituras changed. This was especially good with female voices. Renee Fleming singing Strauss' Four Last Songs on RCA always gives a system a workout. The refulgence of her tone and the pyrotechnics with which she dispatches the most fearsome lines, were captured to perfection. Even her Decca recording of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, a CD with the best of intentions but with many pitfalls for all but the most robust electronics, sounded like it was a walk down easy street. The LSO under Solti sounded exquisite, too.
The midrange, helped in no small part by the player portraying soundstages accurately and to the fullest, was rich and bloomed where appropriate. It matched the treble and bass perfectly and sounded especially fine on piano records. The late, great William Kapell, has never played better than in his recital from NYC's Frick Museum (Copland, Chopin and a great Pictures). The RCA recording, however, sounds as dead as a doornail. The lovely midrange of the AA helped get the most out of his piano tone, but left the narrow soundstage intact. This was the CD-Player I's style with most recordings. The listener could sit back and relax, knowing the machine added nothing in the way of unwanted 'enhancement'. As such, the 'flow' was really good.
Bass was deep and
defined, yet well connected to the fabric of the music. This was found
in a new release by top DJ Tiesto. His remix of Barber's Adagio
for Strings is ingenious. The groove is undeniable, with
punctuated hits of Barber's heartbreaking chords. To some purists,
this may sound like a disaster. It's not. Cool, driving, and moving.
The treble and mids of this electronica move along with the bass at
breakneck speed. All was good with the world.
Just this past month, I let the Accustic Arts masterpiece live a little dangerously. The result of substituting a NAD C 372 integrated amplifier for the ARC VT 100 Mk. II was abrupt. A flattened, pressed and squished soundstage did nothing for the AA's bloom and blush - romance was gone, digital clarity remained. Thus, the player, like all thoroughbreds, likes to be fed the choicest cuts. Feed it fast food, and the indigestion can be painful.
Accustic Arts certainly has taken great pains to produce something quite brilliant, machined to perfection, and sounding very musical. The CD-Player I is expensive and sounds it. It reproduces performances that matter, that move and uplift. In these regards, it rivals the great Audio Aero Capitole, another digital masterpiece. Where the Accustic Arts 'wins' is in build, the French component 'winning' in features (with its superb, built in volume control). Both sound sublime.
The CD-Player 1, hand built near the home of Porsche, by artisans equal to that heady standard of German engineering, should be a must-hear for those audiophiles not yet ready to jump digital ship. The standard CD is not dead yet. Lots of them need to be heard, and heard at their best. The CD-Player I will fit the bill superbly.
[It is with great pleasure that we award The Audiophilia Star Component Award to the Accustic Arts CD-Player I. Congratulations! - Ed]
The Accustic Arts CD-Player I
Manufactured by SAE GmbH & Co. KG
Hoher Steg 7, D-74348 Lauffen
Tel (07133) 97477-0 Fax (07133) 97477-40
web: http://www.accusticarts.de, e-mail: email@example.com
Source of review sample: Canadian Distributor
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