An objectivist's subjective journey, or how I ended up with two hi-res players.

Discussion in 'Playback Devices' started by PaulDA, Jun 7, 2004.

  1. PaulDA

    PaulDA Cinematographer

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    Well, I took the plunge and bought my hi-res players. Yes, players (even though one of them is a universal player--I got two). I spent weeks (and weeks and weeks) researching players re: features, cost, bass management/time alignment, reliability, build quality, availability, warranty, etc. After much consideration (and lots of valuable input from folks on a few forum sites), I decided to buy a Marantz DV6400 for hi-res duties and a dedicated CD player for redbook playback. For that purpose, I’d decided to audition the 540C by Cambridge Audio, as the press and feedback from individuals were compelling. A couple of people had told me to compare the 540C to the Cambridge 540D for CD playback performance. The rule of thumb is a dedicated player should be better than a multi-use player at the same price point, as all of the engineering is specific to that one purpose. As the two Cambridge players are identical in price, and I had the chance to compare them, I gave them each a try. The results were quite surprising, both to me and the salesperson.

    While I didn’t conduct a “double-blind” test, and while I’m aware of all the psychoacoustic effects that can come in to play (as amply demonstrated elsewhere in various forums), I believe my exercise had some “objective” merit, even though I admit it was not a rigorous scientific experiment. I will describe the exercise, and let the “objectivist” and “subjectivist” camps weigh in at their leisure, if they wish to do so at all.

    My first goal was to determine if I could audibly identify a difference in sound quality between the player’s DACs and the receiver’s DACs via optical input. If I could not tell the difference, then I might have chosen a less expensive player to use as a transport. The first test was the 540D (a DVD-A/V player) vs. the receiver (the Cambridge Audio 540R). I have a different receiver, but they share the ability to defeat DSP on all analogue inputs (this was important for comparing the 540D to the 540C). I configured the receiver to small front speakers, sub on (the salesperson told me the crossover is fixed in the receiver at 80hz in this setup). I configured the 540D to small front speakers and sub on (the crossover, according to a different store’s salesperson, is 80hz within the player--though I must point out that I’ve found no literature or website to confirm this, nor do I own equipment to verify this). With the receiver and player set up in this manner, I could toggle between the receiver and player via one button on the remote. I found the sound changed largely in width of soundstage. With the player doing the work, the soundstage was wider, but the lower frequency range seemed a bit more “polite”, or less pronounced than when the receiver was doing the work. I could not discern an appreciable difference in volume output, but I did not have an SPL meter on hand. I can’t say one was better than the other, just slightly different (either one might be preferable depending on the type of music being played). A salesperson (not mine) walked into the room while I was toggling and made the same observation (he did not know which device was doing the work, but I did). The DACs in the receiver and the DACs in the player are from the same company, but not the same model number.

    I then wanted to compare the 540D to the 540C, which I expected to sound better, as did my salesperson. As he was retrieving the unit (540C) to hook it up to the same system (so the speakers and listening room conditions would remain the same), he told me if I liked the 540D, I’d almost certainly like the 540C better. After all, it’s a dedicated CD player, it’s DACs are from a different company than those in the receiver and DVD player I’d been listening to, etc.
    He connected the unit to the receiver using what appeared to be expensive interconnects (I’m not convinced of the impact such cables are said to have over my Radio Shack Gold cables--but that’s for another thread). I did not examine the interconnects for the DVD player. I configured the DVD player to large front speakers, sub off, as the CD player has no bass management capabilities, and the receiver was set to analogue, front speakers large, sub off, to make things equal. Two commercially purchased copies of the same CD were used, one in each player. Playback was synchronized so that toggling back and forth between players would be as seemless as possible. As before, I was left alone in the room to listen at my leisure (the store was great in that regard--in fact, it was a great shopping experience all around). After a few minutes of listening and toggling back and forth, I found a very noticeable difference in sound. The 540D behaved as before, with a wide soundstage and good detail and clarity. The 540C, however, was a disappointment. It sounded muffled in comparison, as though I’d placed a blanket over the speakers. I went to get the salesperson and made him listen (for the first few toggles, he was unaware of the source of playback). He concurred with my observation and then I told him which was which. To say he was surprised would be an understatement.

    The difference in sound quality between the CD player and DVD player was much more pronounced than that between the receiver and the DVD player. In both cases, the DVD player seemed to generate a wider soundstage than either the receiver or the CD player. The receiver provided a subtle but noticeably stronger lower frequency response (though this might have been owing to less pronounced mids) and seemed to create a deeper, though narrower, soundstage. The CD player provided far less detail than either the receiver or DVD player and playback sounded like it was coming through some sort of obstruction placed between me and the speakers.

    So, in the end, I bought the DVD player for my CD playback. I could have used the Marantz for that, but, as I’ve stated elsewhere in various threads, I wanted two players for the purpose of having the best CD playback I could get for my dollar (the Cambridge player sounded better to me than the Marantz for CD playback) and I want to split the work between the two (hoping they each last longer) and, most importantly for me, I don’t want to be without a player in my primary system should one go down.

    Was my selection method rigorously scientific? No.
    Was my selection influence by pyschoacoustic effects? Likely, in part, but I know the sonic differences were there between the 540D and 540C. It was as detectable as the difference between my TV’s speakers and my front mains. As much as the DBT method is more rigorous, and has exposed psychoacoustic effects, I also think there are self evident differences in sound quality that can be asserted without the need to resort to such an exhaustive exercise. The differences in this case are of that nature.

    Caveats (nods to the objectivists out there):
    1--could have been a defective 540C, I didn’t use another one to compare.

    2--the receiver’s analogue pass-through doesn’t work as advertised or it has a problem with the CD analogue input. I was not equipped nor inclined to go that far into the testing.

    3--there was something wrong with the disc in the CD player. Possible, but unlikely. However, I did not swap the discs, so perhaps.

    4--I was aware, at all times, which device was used as a source. Didn’t have the time to get around that. If anything, I was biased towards expecting the 540C to be the best source, not the worst of the three. Take that for what it’s worth.

    Overall conclusion: I got the best CD sound that I could reasonably afford, on my criteria and terms, but from a surprising source. My system is now complete (save for speaker stands and a rack for equipment).
     
  2. Andrew Beckmen

    Andrew Beckmen Stunt Coordinator

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    Yeah, sometimes you have to buy two to get everything you want. I plan on buying both the Pioneer DVR510HS and the Zenith DVB318. I want a DVD recorder with HDD and a player with 1080i upconversion via DVI. I don't think there is a recorder on the market that does 1080i, so I am planning on buying both models to fit my needs. It has it's other advantages though, since the TV I am planning locks into 16X9 for HD content, if I want to watch 4:3 content non-stetched I can just use the Pioneer. 3:2 pulldown via component isn't that much of a downgrade from faux-1080i DVI.

    Of course, I foresee myself buying ANOTHER player for other-region/PAL/SVCDs, ect but that's another story.
     
  3. Marc H

    Marc H Second Unit

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    Paul,
    Thank you for your business and for your kind comments about our shop! It was terrific of you to drive all the way from Montreal.
    Regards,
    Marc
     
  4. ScottCHI

    ScottCHI Screenwriter

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    so, the gist is that you got 2 players as planned, but for dedicated cd playback, you, strangely enough, got a dvd player. right?

    enjoy the tunes! [​IMG]
     
  5. PaulDA

    PaulDA Cinematographer

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    ^^ You're right, and I will[​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  6. EricRWem

    EricRWem Screenwriter

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    I am going to be in the same boat. I am going to use my Zenith DVB318 strictly for movies, even though it does play CD's beautifully.

    So, I am going to be on the prowl from now until fall for a good universal player with my priorities being audio all the way.
     
  7. Drew_W

    Drew_W Screenwriter

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    I'm stuck. I need a better CD player than the DVD-2200 by Denon. It sounds much better as a transport even with my inexpensive Yamaha RXV-630 (pre-amp use only).

    It was interesting to hear your story. I might go for two players as well. I think I'm looking more at a DAC though since I already have a 300CD jukebox I don't want to part with. The DACs inside it are relatively unsatisfactory, but I'd prefer to keep the convenience of the jukebox.

    Another thing I think I might look at an ES series jukebox with SACD capabilities. Then I can look for a player with DVD-Audio only which should open up more possibilities, like the Rotel players. Only problem here is that I need two 6ch inputs. I might have to change to using something like a Sony 2000ES receiver though as a preamp to get the two sets of multichannel inputs.

    Decisions decisions. I didn't fret this much with speakers or amps. Gawd, who would have thought sources would have been the worst of the bunch?

    Glad you made up your mind Paul. Just curious as to what the rest of your system is.
     
  8. PaulDA

    PaulDA Cinematographer

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    My system is:

    Integra DTR 6.4 receiver
    Sony Wega 32" non-HD tv
    Boston Acoustics VR-M60 mains, VRC centre, VR-M50 surrounds, PV900 Sub in 5.1 configuration
    Marantz DV6400 universal player
    Cambridge Audio 540D DVD-A/V player
    Aiwa ADF-800 cassette deck
    JVC HR-S3912U S-VHS VCR
    Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8000 PVR

    My solution to the two multichannel players is a couple of Radio Shack switchboxes. Very low-tech, but I've been unable to hear any negative effect on sound. They are passive boxes so the potential for signal interference from an extra power source is eliminated.

    If you go the two player route, I highly recommend you audition the Cambridge Audio 540D. I think you'll find it's also a fine CD player for critical listening.
     

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