A Taste Of Honey
The Anthem CD 1 CD Changer
In this, my first full year as a member of the Audiophilia editorial team, I've had the opportunity to meet some very interesting audio enthusiasts. From truly brilliant minds to self-anointed gurus to charlatans, our great avocation seems to bring out the weird and the wonderful in people. Happily, the interesting far outweigh the odd. One of the most interesting and pleasant people I have come across this year is Sonic Frontiers President, Chris Johnson.
Recently, I took a factory tour of the Sonic Frontiers plant in Oakville, Ontario. It was evident that great care and pride is taken with every product, from initial design to final assembly. During our walkabout, Johnson discussed with enthusiasm the new Anthem CD 1 CD changer - one of a series of products from the Sonic Frontiers budget line. As his company is market driven, he thought a relatively inexpensive audiophile-quality changer would fill a niche in the marketplace. Excellent idea, I thought. But would serious audiophiles accept it? Everyone knows they are a conservative bunch. You could imagine them saying: "If it's convenient, it couldn't possibly sound good! We don't even like remotes!". The player did look wonderful, and Johnson's chat intrigued me, so I asked for a review player as soon as one became available. Sonic Frontiers accommodated my request almost immediately.
Back to the weird and the wonderful for a moment. Some of the audio mainstays I have met insist that reviewers should be able to judge the merits of a piece of equipment, or lack thereof, immediately! Well, maybe. As for me? I don't buy it! The subtleties of fine equipment shine only after extended listening. They are, after all, what high-end audio design is all about. Expanding the envelope in search of musical truth is an aspiration which guides most designer's lives. The silliness of the quick "yea or nea" artists I bring up only to highlight how wrong a hasty judgment of the CD 1 would have been.
Time was definitely on the Anthem's side, as the lengthy audition highlighted its many strengths and few weaknesses. A brief hearing might have conjured up thoughts like "inoffensive" or "reticent". However, time told another tale. It was my great pleasure to spend lots of one-on-one with Sonic Frontiers' budget player, discovering in the process its wonderful tonal balance and transparency, both of which are among the finest I have heard in the digital domain.
The CD 1 is a large, solid piece - its dimensions are 19"W x 13"D x 5¼"H with a fighting weight of 24 lbs. Its aluminum faceplate is quite beautiful and uncluttered, and is available in silver or black. As is the case with all Anthem products, the CD 1 cannot be faulted for its use of quality parts. From the inside view, one sees a circuit board laid out beautifully; all is neat and tidy. D/A conversion is optimized through dual 20 bit Burr-Brown PCM1702P DACs. The rear of the unit sports a detachable AC power cord, and S/PDIF and AES/EBU digital outputs (I completed the review using the CD 1 as a one-box player only). Also included is one pair of single ended RCAs. An infrared extension unit may also be connected so that the remote control can be used from other areas of the house. As a sonic bonus, Anthem provides the Pacific Microsonics HDCD filter/decoder chip. Since we seem to be some way from a unified higher sampling standard, prospective purchasers can take some solace in the addition of a high quality digital filter.
The Anthem CD 1 uses a single 6922/E88CC tube. It was inserted easily with slight pressure and was unsoiled by using the cotton glove Sonic Frontiers provides. The lonely tube is used in the buffer stage and is said to "...ensure that the traditional digital 'edginess' is eliminated". The CD 1 lived up to its marketing. Smooth, grain-free sound was the order of each day. Some suggest that using different tubes will improve the sound of this unit. I completed the review using only the stock tube.
Using a fine EMI recording of the LPO playing Wagner helped me to focus on the transparent nature of the player. The see-through ambiance was very telling. Orchestral strings sounded lifelike, with wood, horsehair, resin, steel and nylon in tact. No glutinous mass here. The Prelude to Act 3 from Die Meistersinger has some supremely beautiful massed string sonorities. Here, the CD 1 did much to bring the concert hall into the living room. The Anthem shone light through the soundstage with great delicacy, nurturing my predilection for this most elusive of qualities. Its gentle nature caressed and stroked, reminding me somewhat of excellent vinyl. No, the CD 1 did not transport me past the stylus. It did, however, take me to a wonderful place, one where I could immerse in the music completely.
Like most electronic devices, the CD 1 likes to be fed good things. As such, it really enjoyed well recorded CDs. Conversely, discs that were recorded poorly I relegated to the "for sale" pile. The CD 1 did not suffer this type of recording gladly. Miles' Milestones was a particularly unpleasant example. This particular recording was sweetened somewhat by the rich tonal qualities of certain players currently in house. I prefer nothing but the musical truth (concurrent with my mood, of course!), and in this regard, the Anthem did not disappoint. Playing on the CD 1, the great Miles Davis Sextet was reduced to hollow emoting accompanied by a couple of tin cans.
For a couple of days, I focused my listening solely on female vocals. Using a great classical artist and an audiophile favorite, helped me to uncover what strengths and weaknesses were hiding in the midrange. Throughout those days, the ladies pointed to lean, but refined, sound. The Anthem's tonal quality reminded me of the more expensive Copland CDA 266 (I had spent some weeks earlier with the Copland in readiness to compare notes with another reviewer). And while the bass of the Danish player was superior (a little better defined, at least), the mids were similar in nature, especially in information retrieval and instrumental/vocal timbral accuracy.
A favorite Telarc CD is now something of a sore point. The ever-present Fauré Requiem and the never-present Duruflé Requiem are magical, and, on this recording, performed brilliantly by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Robert Craft. Particularly, there are moments of the rarely performed Duruflé that are heart-stoppingly beautiful. The recording was always a little cloudy, but some machines made my top-of-the-pile CD sound acceptable. Sadly, the CD 1 lowered the boom. The result? Sound akin to looking through a dirty window pane. Even the super transparency of the CD 1 could not help this one.
When I am weeks into the review process and the pure pleasure has been all but exhausted, out comes the Waldstein. It's always near the top of my reviewer's toolbox. The opening movement is a torture test for CD players. Its very fast repeated patterns require electronics of the finest designs to help delineate all the notes. In Eugene Istomin's recording, I found a wonderful synergy between technique, tone and musicianship. The CD 1 did an admirable job unraveling the contrapuntal complexities of this masterpiece. Good piano tone, too.
No piece of audio equipment is all things to all people. The CD 1 was no exception. The Sony mechanism, while very convenient, is noisy, and a dimmer for the display would have been a nice touch. The remote control? Well, Sonic Frontiers has to save money somewhere! Considering they make the coolest remotes in audio, I thought the Anthem version could have been a little better. These are trifles, though, when considering the high-quality sound and convenience the Anthem affords. If a CD changer suits your lifestyle and you love excellent sound, audition the Anthem CD 1. You may never be single again.
1 CD Changer
Manufactured by Anthem (a divison of Sonic Frontiers. Inc.)
2790 Brighton Rd., Oakville, Ontario, Canada, L6H 5T4
phone: (905) 829-3838, fax: (905) 829-3033
e-mail: SFI@sonicfrontiers.com, web: http://www.sonicfrontiers.com
Source of review sample: Manufacturer Loan
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