YBA CD 1 Blue Laser CD player
The YBA CD 1 Blue Laser (or Lecteur CD 1, as it's known at home in France) breaks new ground. It is very French in that it's individualistic in the extreme, and perfectly embodies current thinking chez YBA regarding music playback in the home. Its design dates back to 1991, a point Yves-Bernard takes pains to point out in the manual.
The most fascinating element of the player's design is the blue LED that rides outboard of the dual-rail linear-tracking three-beam laser read assembly. Most Stereophile readers are digitally up to date and aware of today's requirement to dither down (or noise-shape) from the typical 20+ bits of the master tape to the 16 bits of current commercial media. In a similar process, YBA treats the data to a massage of sorts as it is reada form of pre-dithering, if you will. The additional LED bathes the underside of the CD in an eerie blue light while the red read laser does its thing.
According to Yves-Bernard: "It's been observed that the phenomenon of stochastic resonance allows random noise to amplify signals of small amplitude. This paradox, used in biology, astronomy, and physics, can also be applied to opto-electronics. It provides a quality of sound similar to analog and produces a level of information never achieved before. The blue laser diode actually permits better extraction of information from the digital medium with less reliance on the error-correction algorithms."
My wife Kathleen suggests that it's like being in a relatively quiet restaurant with a general low-level hubbub: You might better understand your dinner partner in such circumstances due to the randomized noise floor. (Have a look at my "Kind of Blue" sidebar for the complete lowdown on blue lasers and stochastic resonance.)
Setup of the CD 1 Blue Laser was further revealing of the endless attention to detail that marks the entire YBA presentation. Yves-Bernard and Daniel flew in from Chicago (yes, their arms were very tired...), where they'd been tending a client's monster YBA installation.
Yves: "We are always there for our customersby phone or by faxso they are not alone when they set up their systems."
Our installation included the CD 1 Blue Laser under test and the Signature 6 Chassis Phono preamplifier. At $19,000, the preamp represents YBA's assault on the absolute state of the preamplifier art. They also brought along a pair of YBA Signature Alpha HC (High Current) monoblocks, $16k the pair, each rated at 100W.
We set the player on the top shelf of a Michael Green Signature DACRack, as we call it chez-10a Signature ClampRack dedicated entirely to digital processors. First, our reference Forsell Air Bearing D/A, clamped as usual without its top cover in place; the YBA analog power supply on the shelf below (unClamped, thank you) on its bespoke footers; and the Ensemble Dichrono DAC on its anti-resonance Honeyplate;r stand.
The small but herniating Signature Alpha monoblocks were set upon two small Tuning AmpStands (nothing more than Signature ClampRack shelves with short, threaded corner posts which can be run "tight" with everything cinched up, or "loose" for interesting changes in sound). They sat close to and either side of Forsell's hulking The Statement amplifier, and were hitched to the Avalon Ascent speakers (followed by Radian HCs) with TARA Labs Decade, then Synergistic Research Resolution Reference cables.
It's a foot fetish thing...
Each YBA component comes complete with a trio of unusual footers anchored to the chassis. The rear pair are short, discrete, stubby metal shafts terminated in small nylon feet. The centered front footer features a similar shaft terminated with an aluminum square rather than the petite nylon foot.
Interestingly, the player section of the CD 1 was fitted with a chunky rubber nodule under its aluminum front footer, perhaps to further decouple the transport mechanism. Enigmatically, the 6 Chassis preamp sports round front aluminum footers on the dual-mono control units, while the power supplies sit on "standard" aluminum squares. One can only conclude that a lot of thought has gone into this.
Now you see it...
As we confirmed connections and warmed up the system, Yves-Bernard began his ministrations.
Showing some regard for my credulity, he slipped small squares of black wool under the equipment footers while giving me questioning looks as I sat in the Ribbon Chair. Then he slipped small, thin-cut squares of lead under the wool pads. "What do you think of the sound now?"
We also listened with the CD bay's sliding door open and closed. As indicated in the manual, the sound was better with it open; that is to say, more open-sounding.
Trying to absorb all this, I suddenly found myself on the receiving end of a short briefing on the wraparound effects of high-frequency speaker drivers. I eyed the two 6½"-by-7½" squares of black wool that Yves-Bernard had been waving around as he spoke. I removed the three Mpingo Discs that usually sit atop each speaker and watched as he placed a wool square on each of the Ascents, centered on the top surface and just touching the leading edge of the slant-back baffle.
He returned me to the Ribbon Chair and inquired as to which orientation of the squares sounded best. I put a cork in it (wisecracks bubble over in my mind...) and complied. In fact, given the circumstances, I did hear a difference in what seemed like upper-frequency linearity and extension, and settled on one particular orientation.
Yves-Bernard suddenly knelt down to run his open palm across the wool carpet between the listening chair and the speakers. "You are in the wrong orientation," he declared. (Here we go again with the orientations...) "I will show you..." He helped us lift the carpet and reverse its direction 180° so that its nap ran toward the listener. This did indeed effect an improvement in overall smoothness and coherence.
Not yet content with setting the record for Maximum Number of Tweaks Performed During a Setup, Yves-Bernard did it again. "Do you prefer the sound like this...or like this!" Once again the very picture of debonair nonchalance, he quickly unscrewed four retaining bolts and lifted the entire top/side-cover assembly off the player's chassis!
...now you don't!
Fast as a scalded cat, I popped out of the listening chair for a quick look. Pretty (yes!) bronze-colored Roederstein capacitors (modified, I'm told) nestle close to YBA's own silicone-filled aluminum cylinder caps, all mounted on a substantial copper bus bar. (The caps are threaded to be slightly loose to avoid oscillation.)
Checking out the belt-driven, linear-tracking, triple-beam laser sled, I learned that it is sourced from Japanese belt mavens C.E.C., and the spindle motor is TEAC-derived. I also noticed the routing of the separate digital power supply (ground-lifted on its own power cord) right into a nice example of those dipped-in-fois-gras transformers YBA uses.
Despite YBA's claim that it's an integrated player, the CD 1 Blue Laser is a two-chassis affair. The second full-size chassis houses the analog power supply (500VA double C-core transformers), umbilicaled to the player. With a single-box unit, there's no S/PDIF interface and thus no jitter, avers Yves-Bernard.
M. Bernard on the subject of separate transports and DACs: "The signal between transport and D/A converter is, of course, high-frequency and low-intensity. The connecting cable acts like an RC network whose resistance and capacitance depend on the length of the cable, which gives the cable its own impedance characteristics. That creates distortions and shifts in the time domain. Fiber-optic has the same faults. So we integrate them."