Music in the Round #48
You may already have ripped all of yours to a computer or music server, but most of us still own lots of CDsas well as other 5" optical-disc formats that are not so easily ripped and stored. DVD-Audio may have faded, but the occasional new DVD-A is still released. SACD slogs on with a steady output of classical discs and, rarely, other sorts of music. But the numbers of music and movie releases on Blu-ray keeps burgeoning. Truly universal players are getting scarce, as DVD-A slips through the cracks and with analog 5.1/7.1-channel outputs slowly being eliminated. An issue for me is being certain that the HDMI output from SACDs is available both as DSD and as, at least, 24-bit/88.2kHz PCM. Some manufacturers have limited their players' PCM outputs to 24/48, or even 16/44.1! This should not be condoned, even in a $100 big-box store special.
There's no such shortchanging of resolution with Yamaha's Aventage BD-A1000 universal player ($699.95). Though labeled a Blu-ray player, the list of types of discs and files the BD-A1000 can play is longer and more comprehensive than other players' lists of discs/files they can't. Included are Blu-ray (including dtsHD Master Audio and Dolby TruHD), DVD (in all its many varieties), CD, and SACD, as well as DVD-ROM, DVD-R/RW, CD-ROM, and CD-R/RW. It will also stream content from Netflix, Blockbuster, and YouTube, and play many audio and video formats via its USB and network ports. The only glaring omissions are its inability to play FLAC and AIFFwhile you can convert such files yourself to WMA or WAV or PCM, why should you need to?
But I'll stick with the good news: The BD-A1000 will output DSD from SACD, if your AVR or pre-pro can handle it, or output it at up to 24/176.4 PCM! Now, that may not surprise you, as the Yamaha and many other players will output 24/192 via HDMI from Dolby TruHD and dts MA. However, few players are capable of outputting such a sampling rate from SACD. The players from Oppo Digitaland all players from other companies based on Oppo modelsare limited to 24/88.2, and some of the players that will output 24/176.4, such as Sony's, won't play DVD-As at all.
So what? Well, I have not yet had a player that will let me switch the output sampling rate at will, so I can't say that there will be an audible difference between 88.2 and 176.4kHz. In fact, I doubt there would be. On the other hand, since the difference in hardware is the manufacturer's choice of chip, why should we have to settle for less than what's on the disc?
With such a lack of significant limitations on paper, the Aventage BD-A1000 seemed likely to be a high-quality do-it-all player. I had to have one. And at $699.95, it seemed reasonably priced for its potential.
I was impressed with the BD-A1000's sophisticated, sharp-edged appearance, which matches that of Yamaha's new Aventage AVRs. The front panel is a uniform gloss black, with a basic set of disc-operation controls, a USB port, and only a few indicator LEDs (SACD, Pure Direct). In fact, the very legible display can be turned off completely, leaving no indication at all of its windowa great option for home theaters in which any offscreen light source is a distraction. On the other hand, their black-on-black design and subtle labeling can make these controls a bit frustrating for those who want to manually use them in a darkened room. The remote control is both comprehensive and comfortable to use, but not illuminated.
The BD-A1000's rear panel has all the requisites of a modern universal player. From the right are: an IEC power inlet and a grille for the cooling fan, optical and coaxial digital outputs, composite and component video outputs, dedicated mixdown for the two- and 7.1-channel analog outputs, and USB, HDMI, and Ethernet ports. Above those last three are in/out control ports and an RS-232 connector.
I plugged the BD-A1000 into the Marantz AV-7005 pre-pro (see "Music in the Round," March 2011) via HDMI and up popped the onscreen menus to do the usual setups. Such menus, regardless of manufacturer, seem to be converging on common content and arrangement; using it was pretty much as I had done with many other players, so I thought the BD-A1000 would be "good to go" right out of the box. Not so. Every time I put in a Blu-ray disc, this annoying warning was displayed: "THE SETTING IS PROHIBITED, PLEASE SETUP AGAIN." I had to hit Enter to continue. Why? What setting? Well, it turns out that, although I didn't have the BD-A1000's Ethernet port connected to my network (and told it so), I still had to say "Yes" to BDLive before I could bypass that obscure warning.
After that, all went swimmingly. The BD-A1000 did, indeed, play every type of optical disc I had on hand, including dts CDs. The Yamaha's sound was noticeably open and transparent, with a wide soundstage, whether it was playing good multichannel discs or even CDs. The balance was good, from very extended and detailed bass to pure, grain-free treble. I noticed no lack of warmth, but the midbass didn't call attention to itself, as with players that purport to offer a more "analog" type of sound. Overall, the BD-A1000's sound seemed fairly devoid of any distinctive character, and that's a compliment.