Roy Harris -- My Vincent CD-S6 has been my reference component since 2007. It is a tubed CD player whose circuit is tube sensitive. It requires 1 12AX7 and 1 12AU7 tubes. About two weeks ago, the transport mechanism malfunctioned. Given its age, I decided to consider a replacement. I am beginning my search with the latest player in the $2000 to $3000 price range. Thus I am reviewing the CD S7 DAC, as it was manufactured in 2011, and has a retail cost of $3000.
The CD-S7 DAC enables its owner to bypass the transport and access its DAC, using USB, Toslink, or coax input, but is restricted to 16/48KHZ format. There are four significant differences between the CD-S7 DAC and the CD-S6 — DAC chips/a pair of Burr Brown 24/192; tube complement/1 12AX7 and 2 6922; improved capacitors in the signal path; ability to function as both a CD player and DAC.
Initially, I used the Purist Audio Design break-in disc for three hours [an invaluable tool -Ed]. The disc contains random frequencies in a background of white noise. I strongly urge potential purchasers of this product not to evaluate this player until it has a minimum of 336 hours (2 weeks) of a continuous musical signal passed through it. While listening casually, I noticed changes in sound during days 10 through 14. During the break-in period, I replaced the stock tubes with 3 NOS tubes, including a Tesla 12AX7 and a pair of GE 6DJA. The stock tubes include a Chinese 12AX7 and a pair of Electroharmonix 6922s. The latter provides greater resolution, while the former lent a rich character to the sound, with some loss of detail. I reviewed the unit with the stock tubes. Although I usually replace stock tubes, I have changed my perspective on this subject, as the process of ascertaining suitable NOS tubes is costly and complex. One may have to listen to many tubes before settling on a set which satisfies one’s sonic preferences.
For those readers who prefer to read the conclusion, before reading the body of the review, I will keep it pithy, and provide in one sentence, the embodiment of the character of the Vincent CD-S7 DAC: The player is slightly warm, balanced in frequency response, smooth in the treble, and very dimensional.
I will now offer evidence of the above compendium of my audition of this player. I believe strongly in the first sentence of the Hippocratic Oath, namely “Do no harm”. Thus I first check for egregious frequency response errors. I use two or three CDs for this purpose.
The first is Holly Cole, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, Alert Z2 81020, track 1. The CD begins with an acoustic bass solo. The plucking of the strings was most articulate. I was able to observe the sound of the strings and the vibration of the wood body. The resonance of the wood body got louder as the bassist descended the scale, but never obscured the simple melody. Holly Cole’s voice exhibited some sibilance, a consequence of a close-miked voice. The sibilance was not excessive and did not seem to indicate a peak in the treble region.
My second selection was Bela Fleck, FLIGHT OF THE COSMIC HIPPO, Warner Brothers 9 26562, track 1. The electric bass was very clear from the midbass through the treble frequencies. One could hear the sound of fingers sliding over the strings. As the electric bass descended the scale, one could hear the vibrating wood body increase in SPL. At some frequency in the bass region , the sound of wood was louder than that of the plucking of the strings. At first, I thought that I was experiencing a sonic artifact of the tube circuit of the CD player, which could have created a loss in clarity. I decided to listen to a recording of an upright bass to try to determine if the source of the problem, i.e., lack of bass control, was the CD player or the recording.
I then listened to the CD ADAGIO ALBINONI, featuring Gary Karr, accompanied by an organist, from a Cisco disc, GCD 8003, track 1. The upright bass is close-miked and bowed, rather than fingered. The bass is the featured instrument. It is in the foreground, while the organ is positioned far behind, with much space separating the two instruments.The bass sounds extraordinarily clear and full-bodied. The bowing and the vibrating wood body are also clearly audible. It is the most realistic sounding bass on CD, that I am aware of. I highly recommend this recording for its sound quality and musicality. As the bassist produced his lowest fundamental, there was no loss in clarity. The acoustic reflection on wood did not obscure the notes.The sound of the organ was always clear, even at its distant location in the sound field. I did not notice any attenuation in the bass region, given the range of my speakers. The sound of the organ did not interfere with the clarity of the bass and each instrument was observed as a separate entity.
I would deduce from my audition of the two recordings — one of an electric bass, the other of an upright bass, that the tube circuit in the CD player was not a causative factor of the phenomenon I reported, when listening to the FIGHT OF THE COSMIC HIPPO. Rather, I would conjecture that some aspect of the recording, or the fact that an instrument is amplified, was responsible for the lack of bass control, which I observed.
I decided to complete my examination of the treble frequencies, by focusing on the sound of a violin. I have listened to this CD on many occasions. I find the recording maintains a great degree of timbral integrity. If you audition this disc and hear obvious errors in timbre, you probably have an issue with your stereo system. The CD is TWO WORLDS, Decca 012 157 960, track 8.
The recent transcription of Bartok’s “Roumanian Folk Dances”, lets you hear a well recorded guitar, violin and piano. At the outset, there is a very brief piano introduction. It is positioned far behind the left speaker near the left wall. The first note is a bass frequency. You can hear the pianist press and release the piano key, and sense how solid the sound is. It is indicative of weight and reveals the size of the instrument. The violin sounded extended in the treble, natural in timbre, and certainly absent any peaks in the aforementioned frequency band. The acoustic guitar displayed the timbre of a nylon string, and one could sense the body, as well.
A stereo system is only as strong as its weakest link. Thus, it is often useful to listen to “problem” recordings. In this case, it’s a recording of a live jazz band from the 60’s, namely, Buddy Rich’s band recorded live at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas in 1968, from a Pacifc Jazz disc, CDP 7243 8 54331, track 1. The sound of a brash, aggressive and ragged trumpet section can expose problems in the treble and challenge one’s ability to be willing to listen to the music. I have heard this disc several times. While I enjoy the music, I don’t enjoy the sound, and I usually play one or two cuts, rather than listen to the entire CD. Unless you introduce serious coloration effects, this disc is a challenge to your sensibilities.
The presence of tubes removed a slight edge, making the music listenable for some period of time. It did not disguise its poor sound quality, but it lessened the nastiness of the sound of the trumpets, somewhat. Perhaps the engineering, including, close miking was at fault. It provided a front or second row perspective, which I would personally avoid if possible. The cymbals, drum and tenor sax sounded more realistic than other instruments.
In contrast to the Buddy Rich recording, another recording of a jazz band, JJ Johnson, THE BRASS ORCHESTRA, Verve 314 537 321, track 1, is very well recorded. Brash instruments sound smooth and full. One can observe spatial relationships, especially between the soloist, JJ Johnson and the rest of the musicians. When Johnson has a trombone solo, one is presented with a rounded, full and natural sounding instrument. The bass drum has a lot of impact and one can observe the tightly stretched skin. One can also hear the drummer tapping a cymbal softly in the background, giving an impression of an understated treble. Also heard, a harp and two other percussion instruments, the latter recorded at a level considerably lower than 70 DB. This is very complex material. All instruments are controlled and blended together to form a jazz tapestry.
The last selection is a test of dimensionality. It is track 5, from the TEST RECORD 1, OPUS 3 CD 7900. Three instruments are featured, a bassoon, a piccolo, and a trombone. The bassoon is positioned at the far left behind the left speaker near the center wall. The piccolo is positioned right of center in front of the bassoon, in the foreground and the trombone is located to the right of the piccolo, somewhat behind it. Thus, one can appreciate the spatial relationship between the three aforementioned instruments. For the most part, timbre is preserved—the bassoon sounding the most realistic of the three. These instruments are members of a symphonic band. The music is the polka movement from Shostakovitch’s “The Bolt”.
I expected some wide dynamics, so I set my Radio Shack meter at 70 DB, before I listened. The bassoon, furthest from center registered about 60 DB. When the band played in unison, the meter registered about 84 DB.
I did not detect an imbalance in frequency response. I did experience extension in both treble and bass frequencies absent any peaks. While the Vincent player can exhibit a touch of warmth, in my opinion, it does not exceed the euphonic coloration threshold. Rather, it can remove the edge from some recordings without audibly filtering or imposing itself on the music, but does not mask the sound of poor recording quality.
Its noise level is very low and free of sonic artifacts and resolution was musical, rather than analytical or “mechanical”. I noticed no veil or masking of instruments. I heard no constriction or congestion when listening to complex material. It provides space and separation which never sounds contrived or exaggerated.
With its slight touch of warmth the Vincent player is suitable for all stereo systems. Given the sample of recordings used for this review, I did not detect any sonic flaws. With all but the poorest sound quality recordings, the sound was always unforced and relaxed. It was easy to forget about the equipment and immerse oneself into the music.
If a recording preserves timbral integrity, it will be communicated to the listener. In such instances, the sound of the recording would neither be of “analog” or “digital” character. Rather, it will not sound like a recording, at all.
As I am writing this section, I am listening to an example of such a recording, namely, Jean Luc Ponty, NO ABSOLUTE TIME, Atlantic 7 82500. Another example of a recording which maintains timbral integrity is Praetorius “Dances from Terpsichore”, performed by Westra Aros Pijpare, Naxos 8.553865.
What I am hearing now are the smoothest and most natural sounds I have ever heard from a digital source, originating from any stereo system. With some recordings, this player has the uncanny quality of transforming music into a live experience in a manner unheard from any other CD player, or DAC and transport.
Further information: Vincent