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Impressions: Dream CD Players


aerius
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Today, my friend & I went to a top secret test location to take part in a top of the line digital showdown. We had a Simaudio Eclipse & Andromeda, Wadia 861, and the Mk1 Audio Aero Capitole. Amps were Wavelength Cardinals with the Coincident Total Victory II speakers and a S&B TX102 TVC preamp.

Music was mostly classical and not entirely to my taste, but not surprising as me & my friend were the only ones under 45. I found this rather depressing since I had to act mature and refrain from ejaculating 4-letter words. I was also saddened that I couldn't play Slayer. On the bright side, no one played Norah Jones nor Diana Krall, and there was no "Hotel California" from the Hell Freezes Over album. Thank god for small wonders.

The Capitole Mk1 was clearly outclassed by all the other players, it's a good player, better than most I've heard, but it's definitely dated and it's not a top-tier component anymore which is why I guess they have the Mk2 these days. It has a wonderful smooth sound and a deep analog-like soundstage, but the resolution, image focus, and authority just isn't there compared to the other. It's a little too smooth, and tends to round off transients a bit, cymbal hits don't crash quite right and trumpet blasts sound slightly muted, the dynamic contrasts aren't as good, it only goes from pp-ff instead of ppp-fff. It can't really knock you back with dynamics.

The other issue, somewhat related to dynamics is weight & authority, especially in the bass, for lack of better words, it's kinda wussy down there. We played some stuff with big tympani hits and it just didn't sound right, it wasn't small, they sounded about the right size, rather, they were kinda diffuse and not as solid which reminds me of the K701. Pianos also suffered from this, Robert Silverman's Bosendorfer grand piano got a bit soft and floaty in the lower notes as did Tori Amos' Imperial Grand, the power just doesn't seem to be there. By unanimous consensus, the Capitole Mk1 was dead last by a fair margin.

The Wadia 861 which I'd really been looking forward to hearing proved to be rather disappointing, good resolution and lots of detail, but it's too analytical sounding, it does not know how to get the fuck out of the way of the music. It doesn't quite shove details in your face, but it does tend to highlight details at the expense of flow and it does so just enough to annoy me. Liquidity is not in its vocabulary. Yes I can hear a fair bit deeper into the recordings than I can with the Capitole, but the presentation frankly sucked, I'd rather live with the Capitole and all its shortcomings than the Wadia. It's distinctly digital sounding, and there's no way in hell I could ever mistake it for vinyl, it's to mechanical & analytical. I kinda tuned it out after a while so I don't have too much to say about it. Buy this if you're a Benchmark DAC1 fanboy.

The Simaudio Eclipse was a really refreshing change, for once, it can actually do everything. It'll easily match the Wadia in detail & resolution and it does so without the unnatural highlighting and dryness to the sound. It also has the best dynamics of the bunch, this thing fucking slams, percussion hits and trumpet blasts will really knock you back in your seat, it's actually somewhat scary. Unfortunately, nobody had the 1812 Overture recording with the real cannons, unthinkable, unthinkable I tell you for a group of supposed audiophiles.

Anyways, we all thought the Eclipse had the most neutral balance out of all the players, very extended, very flat, it does everything well. The bass notes on pianos sound right with the proper weight to them, vocals are excellent, and you can hear cymbals shimmer & decay for ages if you care to follow them. On Sun Going Down by The Tea Party, I could actually hear multiple cymbal decays from several cymbals while the rest of the band is going full tilt and playing loud. The Capitole can't follow that deep into the recording, the Wadia can, but the cymbals sound rather washed out, it's hard to tell if it's lack of resolution or just the analytical signature of the player.

Soundstage & imaging is also quite nice, it's not the grand presentation of the Capitole or Andromeda, but it can still do the wrap-around effect, and imaging is a lot more focused and precise than the Capitole and definitely more solid sounding as well. The bass player is there, and he ain't going see-through. For me, this was my 2nd fave player, some of us agreed, a few said it was a tie with the Wadia.

Which brings us to the Andromeda, universally agreed upon as the best CD player. Take the Eclipse, add more resolution, and give it a nice big soundstage with a liquid analog-like sound. It's a bit less dynamic than the Eclipse but still better than the other players, and it's definitely a bit on the warm & full sounding side with a richer tone as well. People who lean towards the DAC1 sound will likely hate it and bitch about how it's coloured, I hate the DAC1 so this is my kind of CD player. It just does everything right, this is the way digital is meant to sound.

The outstanding feature of the Andromeda to me was its ability to do tone. To use a visual analogy, imagine a picture that's a bit overexposed and washed out. The colours aren't fully saturated and it all looks a bit bleached. Now take a picture that's properly exposed and dial up the saturation a bit, the colours are rich and real. That's what the Andromeda does, it has vivid technicolour tones, everything sounds more fleshed out and more real, more complete. Vocals & blues guitar are just freakin' awesome, there's a rightness to it which the other CDPs can't capture.

It does sound a little bit rolled off in the treble compared to the Eclipse & Wadia, we couldn't agree on whether it was an actual roll-off or the effect of the warmer & smoother sound as compered to those 2 CDP's. We'll have to do a lot more listening or possibly even measure it to find a definitive answer. We agreed that all the shimmer & air from cymbals & triangles was still there, and in fact it was more textured yet the extension seems a bit lacking at times, though only when played back to back with the Wadia or Eclipse. To me it sounds just fine, and even it turns out to be an actual roll-off, the rest is so good that it just wouldn't matter to me and we all agreed on that.

In short, the Andromeda's as close to a perfect CD player as any of us have heard. 2nd place goes to the Eclipse, though a couple guys put the Wadia ahead of it but majority decision put it in 3rd, with the Capitole bringing up the rear. I'd be happy to own any of them except the Wadia, but I doubt I ever will unless I win the lottery.

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Which brings us to the Andromeda, universally agreed upon as the best CD player.

By whom?

The best CD playback that I've heard is the Zanden separates. Best single chassis player?? Good question. It certainly varies with the listeners tastes, so I doubt that anything is universally agreed upon. Perhaps you meant something like: Our little listening group universally agreed that the Andromeda is the best of those auditioned.

One should avoid speaking in absolutes when talking about things based upon opinions.

Now that I am done picking the nit I still have another ? hour until I need to leave for the airport.

REMEMBER!! ALL PEOPLE WHO SPEAK IN ABSOLUTES ARE DICK HEADS!

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By whom?

The best CD playback that I've heard is the Zanden separates. Best single chassis player?? Good question. It certainly varies with the listeners tastes, so I doubt that anything is universally agreed upon. Perhaps you meant something like: Our little listening group universally agreed that the Andromeda is the best of those auditioned.

I miss a few words here & there, at times. I wanted to phrase it the way you did for better clarity, but I somehow slipped over it when I was doing the preview on the post.

I'd like to heard the Zanden sometime, but I don't think that's happening anytime soon, unfortunately. One of the guys in our listening group had the Zanden 7000 300B amp and was thoroughly unimpressed so he's pretty much sworn off their products. Oh well, I'm pretty sure one will find its way into my area some day, but that day looks to be a while off.

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Perhaps you meant something like: Our little listening group universally agreed that the Andromeda is the best of those auditioned.

That is the way I read it.

Players of this level do seem a bit out of my price range too but the suggestion of buying second hand make it much more achievable. From the description the Andromeda would seem to really be my kind of player.

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I've heard the regular & SE but not in the same system so I can't really make a comparison. However, I think $750 for the upgrade is kinda out there since the only changes are 2 caps and cryo'd tubes. You could probably swap the caps yourself, and if KG is right about cryo'd tubes, that's where most if not all of the differences will be.

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