Arcam FMJ CD23 CD player Page 2

The front-panel controls and display are those you'd expect from a CD player—and, needless to say, are quite tastefully presented. Not so obvious is a red LED above the Arcam badge that lights up when an HDCD disc is played—the CD23 has the Pacific Microsonics HDCD PDM100 filter/decoder chipset. Other than that, all displays and controls are self-explanatory.

One thing the CD23's remote has in common with the one that comes with the FMJ A22 is that it's plastic, which makes it feel as if the cosmetic upgrade wasn't quite completed. However, unlike the other remote, the only extraneous controls here are for mute and volume—which, oddly enough, control the A22, not the CD23. Even so, they're down low and out of the way, and if you have an A22 (as I did), they're quite handy. Most of the time, this was the only remote I needed.

There are coax and optical digital outputs, but I have to wonder why. After all, the CD23 features one of the most advanced DACs available today—proof against obsolescence, I suppose. I have to admit that I didn't use them during my testing, as I can't imagine anyone buying a CD23 to use merely as a transport. It would be unusual, but very cool if it had digital input jacks, to allow the use of the Ring DAC for other digital sources. Maybe a standalone FMJ DAC will appear some day.

One somewhat unusual feature that will be much appreciated by reviewers but is of limited utility to the general user are the CD23's two sets of analog outputs. This is a very handy item if you're trying to compare a pair of preamplifiers—no cable switching required!

Get the small things right, and the big ones will take care of themselves
Sometimes, when I think of the "D" word—detail—I think of too much of a good thing. I mean false detail. In the video realm, a similar situation occurs when a TV's Sharpness control is turned up too high. What you're seeing is actually distortion, but, still, things look edgier—sharper, but not accurate. A similar effect can be had in audio by jacking up the Treble control, in the mistaken belief that more tizz means more "detail."

But if you get the low-level details truly right—that is, not by exaggerating them, but by extracting them from the signal without distortion or obfuscation—then magic occurs. Instead of a fatiguing "hi-fi" effect, you actually achieve a sound of greater organic wholeness. That's what I heard with the FMJ CD23.

When I listened to Shostakovich's Cello Concerto 1, featuring soloist William De Rosa with Sarah Caldwell conducting the Ekaterinburg Philharmonic (Audiofon CD 72060), the music flowed with a sense of ease, without any electronic or digital coloration. At the same time, there was a great deal of spaciousness, in the small sense of more room between individual instruments, and in the large sense of the feel of the acoustic environment. This was enabled, I'm convinced, by the resolution of low-level detail.

Next up was Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov's Night on Bald Mountain, as performed by Alexander Gibson and the New Symphony Orchestra of London, from Witches' Brew (RCA/Classic LSCD-2225-2, CD). I was goggle-eyed over the fullness of the blasts of brass, the furiously sawing violins, the rumbling basses and shrieking woodwinds—all perfectly delineated without losing the sense of ensemble. When the orchestra paused en masse, the dying away of the reverberant sound extended in a way that made it just a little more real—and at this level of performance, a little more is a lot. Listened to on my other two CD playback systems, the Audio Alchemy rig and the EAD CD-1000, the fade crumbled to nothingness a little more swiftly, a little less convincingly.

The perspective offered by the CD23 was somewhat forward, while the EAD's was more toward the rear of the hall. Using the EAD player, Night on Bald Mountain was presented with a more distant view, with less air, leading to a sense that the highest highs were somewhat rolled-off. The delineation of the instruments wasn't as strong via the EAD (as befits its back-row point of view), but it preserved the organic wholeness of the performance. Although forward—perhaps "unobscured" would be a better description—the CD23 offered as good a sense of depth and lateral definition as I've heard from CD playback.

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