Friday, February 17, 2006

Audiophilia: Further Tests

After the astonishing performance of my standard CD system I was curious to hear standard CDs through my high-resolution system.

Note the differences in the configurations:

SourceCal Audio CL-15 ($250)Sony 999ES ($600)
AmpProceed AMP5 ($2,500)Yamaha RX-495 ($250)
SpeakersB&W 703 ($3,000)B&W 602s3 ($600)

If you just consider the investment, the "Standard" rig should easily crush the "High-Res" rig.

Unfortunately that's not the case.

The High-Res rig outperformed the Standard rig because of its source. The Sony 999ES far surpassed the analog CD output of the Cal Audio player. What I thought was good instrument separation and localization in the Cal Audio player paled in comparison to the razor sharpness and accuracy of the Sony 999ES. This is not surprising. The Sony was at one point its top-of-the-line DVD player (originally retailing for $1,100). Clearly it has superior DACs (digital-to-analog converters).

I directly compared them by hooking the Cal Audio player into the High-Res rig, thereby fixing amp and speakers while only varying source.

And after hearing the impressive 999ES playback on the high-res rig, I was left with only disappointment in the Cal Audio playback. When the Cal Audio player was returned to the Standard rig, the disappointment continued.

My rave reviews of the previous post disappeared - the Sony had raised the performance bar once again (despite the vastly inferior amp and speakers of its rig). My $2k rig beat the pants off my $6k rig/Cal Audio combo.

My audiophile holy grail is, of course, to mate the Sony 999ES with the Proceed AMP5 and the bigger B&W 703s. But - curses! - that's not possible until my busted surround processor is back from the shop.

Until then, let this be a lesson to people assembling new systems. Great amps and speakers are nothing if you don't have a good source with good DACs!

Misc Notes:
The Flavor 1 cord did slightly improve the Standard rig's CD playback. But since the performance out of the Cal Audio player has been revealed to be mediocre, its maximum potential for improvement was modest to begin with.

I started off listening to the High-Res rig and was disappointed in the separation. I thought maybe I'd imagined the benefits and now the real world was settling in. Then I looked at my power setup - I had left the Yamaha receiver plugged into the wrong UPC-200. It was not getting power via a Flavor 2 cable. When I fixed the arrangement, the stunning separation returned to the music. It's not an illusion folks!


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