January 17, 2012

Best Digital Gear 2011.

Frankly, I am a little surprised that after 2010, CAS based high end audio products some how, just stop coming on to the market place, instead all we got was disc based players which showcased CDs at their very best! What happened?

To me it's a bit of a dejavu feeling we got during the twilight days of vinyl, when the best advancing turn table designs only started to surface when dooms day was already pronounced, back then in the late 80's. Twenty years or so later vinyl is enjoying it's second spring, while the CD is now in it's last legs, How times have changed. Ultimately, should CAS make further in roads in to the audiophile world, or just slowly fade away like SACD and DVD-A is any one's guest today. One thing is for sure, with 32/384 music files on the horizon, it's only a matter of time when new hardware will be required to keep up.

In the mean time let the CD bask in glory of it's best play back equipment yet!

TAD D-600 CD/SACD player is a master stroke.

TAD D-600 CD/SACD player.

This is likely to be the Yamato battleship of CD players. The common storyline includes being the last pride of it's kind, where the Imperial Japanese Navy built the Yamato to be the end of all battleships, while realizing naval war fare was already shifting towards more agile and aggresive carrier based strategy. TAD also adopted this view when designing the D-600 CD/SACD player. However, unlike the Imperial Japanese Navy, they did not allow the disc spinner to be redundant in the advent of CAS digital source. Instead the TAD D-600 proved to be a perfect match for the Bryston BDP-1 playing hi-rez files to form an un-matched sonic synergy that's out of this world! Playing CDs and SACDs proved to be just as spectacular an event of musical enjoyment. Digital playback don't come much better than this, as it should, fully justifying it's asking price.

Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD player is unique because it's designed to be fully up grade able which will ensure that it won't be obsolete in the near future.

Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD player.

This is an interesting player because of it's modular structure and software based up grade able design. It would be a shame if it didn't sound good too. However, with it's latest power supply and firmware up grades, it does live up to expectations. Like the TAD mentioned above, it also allows connection to a digital media player like my Bryston BDP-1 to play hi rez music files. In this mode, the MPS-5 actually has the pizazz to rival the TAD master class, with it's phenomenally propulsive bass quality, low noise floor and transparency. There's a tendency to lose the last bit of "air" in a given recording compared to the TAD, but in the end, I guess one should choose it's own poison here.  However, it's when playing CDs and SACDs that the D-600 proved mostly superior, perhaps due to it's sturdier built in all aluminium transport mechanism. Having said that, I must put things in context that the fact the MPS-5 is mentioned here in this distinguished list means that it's playing at the very top level of digital playback.

Ayre DX-5 AV Engine is a do it all player, but excels particularly with CDs.
Ayre DX-5 AV Engine.

This Ayre reigned supreme, if only briefly, until the arrival of the two players mentioned above. Some have said that I was perhaps, a little harsh on the Ayre DX-5 AV Engine in my original review. Again in perspective, I found the DX-5 to show it's best with CD and Blu-ray replay. It sounded just as good too, when playing hi rez music files, via it's USB input, with signal fed by a purpose built for CAS windows OS based computer. The only reservation I had with this player is SACD playback, which is a little soft, not in volume, but rather a slight lack of drive and sense of drama, which it's otherwise a rather fine and natural sounding player. I am also not being fair to the Ayre perhaps, because ultimately, it's a whole more affordable than the other two stratospheric priced players mentioned above. Actually come to think of it, which other sub RM$40k player does it all(Audio & Video) with such high levels of competency?

Krell S-350a CD player sonically out performs it's price range by a mile. At one point, it had me wondering, why bother to spend more?

Krell S-350a CD player.

If one is contemplating on buying his last CD only player, my personal advise is why spend more? This sub RM$10k CD player can sound nearly as good as CDs are ever gonna get! It's well built and operates faultlessly too. It's sonic performance is clearly in the league of players costing 3-5 times more, if bench marked just a few years ago.  My digital source bargain of the year!

Here are a few other digital source components which I believe are worthy of my mention here in no particular order or ranking, though not formally reviewed by me personally, but heard else where.

1) Wadia 571 CD Transport, 931 Digital Controller and 922 Mono Decoding Computers combo.
2) DCS Pucini CD/SACD player and U-Clock combo.
3) Linn Klimax DS with Dinamik power supply upgrade.
4) Vitus Audio SCD-010 CD player.

That rounds up my Best Digital Gear 2011. Stay tuned for Best Amplifiers 2011, next!

No comments: