Important Note- I was basically forced to move this spoof from the Digital References File to this separate file, after I discovered that some readers (especially foreign) actually believed it was "Real" (which is one more "accomplishment" of Stereophile and TAS).
Due to the harsh, yet fair, rational, informed and intelligent criticism of the FALL 2007 DIGITAL "SHOOTOUT", posted on Digital Drive, my (Fired!*) associate, deep in the depression he now realizes he so justly deserved, received an Audio Epiphany, and has felt compelled to re-edit his complete original comments. You can read his re-edit of his "Shameful Shootout" below.
However, his original essay will remain exactly as posted, as a constant "reminder" to him of his sinful and wayward past. (And to also remind me not to be his fool and dupe ever again!)
*As soon as he gets back from his all-expenses-paid annual visits to Italy and Australia. Now I'll have to find someone to replace him, which will be mighty difficult, considering the enormous amount of time and effort he makes to eat, drink, sight-see and socialize with audio manufacturers in their strange foreign lands.
Inspired by John Atkinson, Robert Harley, Jonathan Valin, Mike Kuller, Marc Mikelson, Doug Schneider, Sam Tellig, Tom Miiller, Wes Phillips and all the other great audio panderers of our time, my guilt ridden associate has decided to completely re-edit his so-called, and utterly shameful, FALL 2007 DIGITAL "SHOOTOUT". He only hopes and prays that this act of sincere humility and repentance will begin his long journey to achieve the same degree of admiration and popularity that the aforementioned writers possess. Caught myself in the audio vapors, I dared not edit this revelation and masterpiece of audio journalism.
The current state of digital reproduction has never been at such an exalted level. From entry level players to state of the art, the quality exhibited by ALL the players in the following survey is exemplary. Who could have imagined such huge sonic progress in the digital realm. Not only has performance jumped by leaps and bounds, but the value offered by all the players is absolutely staggering. While all of them are extremely special, a couple of them are even more special than others! Those who believe digital cannot equal analog may even be forced to rethink all their preconceived notions.
We have categorized them into 3 groups-
Class A+ - The Very Best
Class A - The Best
Class B - Would be in Class A if they cost more and did not pose a threat to the established companies in Class A.
Even more Great News!!
Since it is that time of the year, we are also presenting our Digital Product of the Year!!!
The Results!- It is a tie between the 2 players in Class A+.
Runner Up - All of the units in Class A.
Honorable Mention - All of the Players in Class B.
The Ayre C-5xe is what makes this hobby so enjoyable. Superb sonics and excellent build quality simply abounds here. The Ayre is very easy to listen to. None of those explosive dynamics or hearing every little detail on a recording to upset that late night relaxing listening session. Tired of deep, impactful bass and midbass, that may bother family members in another room? Worry not! The Ayre is nicely rolled off in both frequency extremes so any digital nasties on those poor recordings will never be revealed. Better yet, there's so much more to love!
The soundstage is nice and concise. Tidy is a good way to describe it. While other players may present an image that extends way beyond the boundaries of the speakers, the Ayre is infinitely more precise! It actually locates all the sounds right on the speaker drivers, so all the musicians are easily found. All in all, the Ayre is what high end audio is all about. Is it perfect? Sadly no, its display is a little dim and the size of the display a tad small for those of advanced years, like most of our readers. At $6000, it's a virtual bargain if it played only redbook, but add the fact that the C-5xe is a multi format player, and we are talking a literal "give away". Most Highly recommended!!
The Audio Research CD7 is what can be expected from a company with such a long and revered tradition of component excellence. My factory visit to their headquarters in Minnesota confirmed the dedication and committed approach all ARC employees exhibit in their jobs. My 7 day visit was far too short. Always well built, reliably designed and representing great value, the ARC CD7 is no exception. This player is very neutral, exhibiting wonderful detail and clarity. The bass, midrange and highs are in perfect balance. The soundstage is massive, almost making 2 channel CDs appear like surround sound. The ARC was so good that even my wife (who can barely tolerate my audio passion) remarked how much she enjoyed listening to music through the Audio Research. While it may not be perfect (it is a little conservative in appearance) CD sound does not get any better than this. My hats off to Bill Johnson and his entire design team for producing another winner in their long line of distinguished components.
The McCormack UDP 1 is a top notch performer. Designed by Steve McCormack, one of audio's originals and an all around great guy, the UDP 1 is a universal player that performs equally superbly in all formats. This player is nicely constructed and offers all the performance one can hope for. This is the perfect player for those not overly fussy or demanding, and whose association with live music is non existent. An easy top recommendation.
The AMR CD 77 is beautifully constructed and weighs in at a back breaking 92 lbs. The chassis alone weighs more than 70 lbs. The unit is shipped in an aluminum flight case to prevent against any prospect of freight damage. We applaud all the efforts expended in getting this unit safely to its prospective owners. Functionally the CD 77 was enjoyable to use. Loved the remote. It is light movement sensitive and proved simple to operate especially in the dark. Impressive was how well balanced and easy on the ears the AMR is. CD sound proved very analogue like and anyone who claims only LPs can sound warm and non edgy will be shown the error of their ways. Sonically this unit was beyond reproach. There is one caution though: the player's hefty size and weight. A sturdy stand with at least 14" height clearance is a necessity. The AMR may be a newcomer to the audio scene, but this auspicious start augers well for a very promising future. Highly recommended!
The Reimyo DAP 77 and CDT 77 are constructed to the highest standard and are beautiful in their elegant simplicity. We would have reviewed their single box CDP 77, but it was recently discontinued in favor of the current DAC and transport configuration. While the Reimyos are the costliest units in this survey, who can put a price tag on Rolls Royce type quality. We can only tell you that it offers unparalleled beauty of construction and sound that will satisfy any one who cherishes a beautiful midrange and, after all, the midrange is where 80% of the music is. The bass is full bodied and warm unlike other players that can sound cold and thin. Give me warm and full any day. The sound is so lustrous at lower volumes, there is no need to play it at loud levels and we caution against it. We do have one complaint though: The remote is made of rather inexpensive plastic. At this price, it should be fashioned from brushed aluminum. Highest recommendation!
The APL Denon 3910 is a multi format player that starts life as a mass market $1500 unit (available discounted for $1200), but then gets extensively modified by Alex Peychev, originally from Russia, I mean Europe, but now living and working in the US. His modification costs about $4000, or you can buy a complete player from him for $6000. While that may sound like a lot to pay for a modified Denon, that cosmetically continues to look exactly like a Denon, it is hard to quarrel with the sonic results. Peychev takes a nice sounding consumer machine and turns it into an even nicer sounding one! This player is smooth. Very smooth. Nothing played through the APL will irritate or annoy. Poorly recorded material will be transformed. Digititis need not apply here. Pour a nice glass of cognac, sit back in your lazy boy and luxuriate in the soothing sounds emanating from your speakers. If you happen to even doze off, do not be surprised, so relaxing is this player. While we wish it had an owner's manual that was legible, that is merely a quibble for a player that sounds even superior to a stock Denon. Recommended highly!
The ElectroCompaniet UPSE is a very well built player that is a solid all round performer. Does everything at a top level. After months of living with it, it is exceedingly difficult not to like everything about it. Right up there. Nuff said. Highly recommended!
The Doge 6 is a Chinese sourced player available direct from Pacific Valves for a reasonable $1400. Construction quality is good, but not in the same league as the above mentioned units. It is nice looking and a solid performer. Not much to criticize. It represents reasonably good value, but its long term reliability cannot be determined at this time. Highly Recommended!
The Oracle CD 2500 MK II is a stunning looking machine that more resembles a space ship than a CD player. It looks a lot like the company's turntable. Care must be taken in wiping off the inevitable finger prints that will be visible on the polished aluminum and acrylic finish. The player is supplied with a soft cloth and cleaner which is a nice touch. The packing the player comes in is equally impressive. There is an outer cardboard box and the player itself is housed in a wooden one. Very nice packing job. The remote is large and quite heavy and matches the lacquered aluminum finish of the player itself. It felt very tactile to the touch. I especially enjoyed holding the remote. When my non audiophile wife came into the room and first spotted the Oracle, she actually had no idea what it was. When I told her it was a CD player, she thought I was being condescending and making fun of her. She did not speak to me for 3 days! If one is contemplating the purchase of the Oracle, do not duplicate my experience with your wife, or significant other. Consider yourself warned!
Still, the Oracle is a very competent performer that held its own in this esteemed group. It sounded like the music being played through it. It was very difficult to find fault with it. It did not seem to conceal any musical information nor pervert it. Musical details on familiar recordings were presented anew. I was hearing things I never heard before with an energy and dynamism that was thrilling. The bass was explosive, the mids very open and pure and highs were pristine. The soundstage was expansive yet highly focused. Instruments had weight and body. While my wife was still not speaking to me, she kept returning to my audio room to listen to music. This was the definitive sign indicative of the quality of reproduction. However, I must add a caution. Many audiophiles who read this magazine are not partial to the sonic portrayal as described above. My advise is to listen for yourself. Ask your local dealer to loan you this delicate $10,000 player to determine if this is your aural cup of tea. The Oracle may simply be just too much of a good thing. But for those few who do value total accuracy, transparency, uniform frequency response, unbridled dynamics and full rendering of harmonics, this might be the player for you. Highly recommended, but you are warned.
The MHZS (now that is a mouthful- who came up with that name) CD 66 and 88 are also offered direct by Pacific Valves. These are superbly built (especially for the price) and offer performance way beyond their meager asking price. They let the music flow without too much in the way of interference. I could say they sound superior to other more costly players, but that would would upset a lot of industry manufacturers and insiders and why do that for a Chinese player that is directly sold and means nothing to us. Instead, allow me to state that if your budget is limited to under $1000, I would check out these players. Highly Recommended.
Conclusion- While 2 players were selected into Class A +, that does not mean that all the Class A players are not worthy of consideration. After all, they are "the best", just not quite "the very best", such as Class A+. They are all remarkable performers with differing strengths and weaknesses. As we are acutely aware, everything is system dependant, and personal taste will determine which player will work for you. Never forget; Audio is exactly like wine tasting; whatever satisfies your palette is good. There are no absolutes. Everything is relative and completely subjective. As always, I urge you to borrow all these players for an in home audition prior to purchase. Use this survey only as a starting point. Do not ever take the opinion of any reviewer seriously enough to base a purchase upon it. Nothing is perfect and one man's meat is another man's poison. I may think Pamela Anderson is hot, you may feel the same way about Kirstie Ally.
As for methodology used for these evaluations, I used blind testing, double blind testing, sighted testing, (the blind fold was getting itchy) my wife coming into the room when suitably impressed testing. I listened to the players in phase and with polarity inverted and sometimes both at the same time. I used 12 different power cords, plugged directly into the wall and through 6 power conditioners. The players were evaluated using 4 different pairs of speakers, 6 amplifiers and 8 preamps including active and passive models. I changed interconnects 9 different times and used each pair on each player. I must admit to using only 2 speaker cables, but I was exhausted at this point and I was auditioning the Chinese players, so I felt it really didn't matter. Further, level matching between each player was within .0001db, since it is well known that unless there is absolute level matching, it is impossible to distinguish between the components. As a matter of fact, the poorer performers might even sound sonically superior if level matching is not exact.
Also, 4 different systems were set up ranging from the most neutral and transparent, to lower and lower resolution. It is edifying to discover that some players (i.e the Ayre, APL and McCormack) sounded best on the lowest resolution systems, while the Oracle and ARC performed at their best on the most transparent set ups. This once again only proves how system dependant audio components can be. And as always, your mileage may vary.
THE REFERENCE COMPONENTS
REFERENCE DIGITAL SOURCES
THE RECENT FILE
The Supreme Recordings
Reviewing the Reviewers
My Audio System
My Audio Philosophy