Burmester 001 CD player Page 2
Listening: Phase One
As open-minded as I try to be, sometimes a component arrives and I can't help but develop preconceived notions about how it's going to sound. In the case of the Burmester 001—massive, chrome-plated, Teutonic to the nth degree, jam-packed with engineering and features—I just knew it would sound cold, sterile, over-detailed, and have disconcertingly spectacular performance at the frequency extremes. After all, they'd even included a second, "softer" analog filter.
I was about as wrong as I've ever been in my life. After letting the 001 break in for about a week, I configured the system with it running into my VAC preamp and cued up Susan Tedeschi's Just Won't Burn (Tone-Cool CD TC 1164). "Rock Me Right" is a bit on the lean, edgy side, so I wasn't expecting a great match with the 001. But within just a few seconds, I found myself thinking, "Hmmm, this isn't too bad."
In fact, through the 001, Just Won't Burn was way better than "isn't too bad." The first thing that jumped out was the density of tonal colors and textures. Tedeschi's vocals had a weight and density that, unlike with most other CD players, suggested a person behind the voice—a chest and body rather than just a throat and mouth. Her guitar, too, seemed denser and more detailed. Rather than a constricted, two-dimensional portrait dominated by transients and strings, it was a bluesy, swampy mix of fundamentals and harmonics, with an immediacy that dropped me right into the middle of a cramped, overheated bar.
The Burmester—once I'd actually listened to it—was as far as could be from the sterile, analytical sound I'd expected to hear. It was rich, warm, lavishly textured and detailed, and, if anything, a bit to the lush side of absolute neutrality. And this was using its Linear analog filter.
The more I listened to the 001, the more I was struck by its portrayal of inner detail, tonal colors, and textures. Antony Michaelson's clarinet on Mosaic (Stereophile STPH015-2) was a great example. It was a bit warmer and more obviously woody than with other players, and a little more detailed in the sense that I could better feel, or imagine, the textures of the sound—the reed vibrating, the moving column of air, the interaction of the instrument's soundfield with the surrounding space.
Similarly, the vibes on the Smithereens' "In a Lonely Place," from Blown to Smithereens (Capitol CDP 8 31481 2), had a much denser, more complex ring than I'm used to, and I noted that the background vocals were "finally, obviously Suzanne Vega," something I'd been used to on vinyl but had rarely heard with CDs.
Images were wonderfully solid and three-dimensional with the 001. In particular, the 001 excelled at the depth dimension, opening up the rear portion of the soundstage and tangibly portraying the back edges of images. Although the soundstage from my Simaudio Moon Eclipse was wider, it couldn't match the 001's depth, and actually sounded a bit forward and two-dimensional in comparison.
On the other hand, the 001's images were slightly larger than with other players, with edges not as sharply defined. Similarly, though its images were rich with inner detail, there wasn't the sort of laser-photo portrayal of microscopic detail that I've heard elsewhere. This is more of a comment than a criticism, however; the Burmester's imaging more nearly matched what I hear in a club or concert hall. Its images were always correctly sized, and all of the soundstage's distances—between instruments, between the listener and the soundstage, and the size of the stage itself—added up to a coherent, realistic perspective.
Warmth, richness, lush tonal textures—these are all good, provided they mirror the natural characteristics of the instruments and voices, and are not seductive colorations added by the system. Since my listening notes were rapidly filling up with such words as warm, rich, and lush, I thought I'd better back off, recover my "objectivity," and listen carefully to the 001.
To make a long story short, the 001 was a gorgeous-sounding player—a bit too gorgeous-sounding.
First, there were those slightly soft image edges I mentioned. It also had a warmer-than-neutral tonal balance and a slightly imprecise bottom end—not objectionable, but there. Ray Brown's bass on The Poll Winners (Contemporary/JVC XRCD JVCXR-0019-2), for example, was slightly too prominent, as well as softer, richer, and kind of spotlit, almost as if it were glowing.
In fact, there was a beguiling golden glow across the frequency range. On "Chuck E.'s in Love," from Rickie Lee Jones' Naked Songs (Reprise 45950-2), Jones' voice was wonderfully sweet and lush, instead of having the reedy edginess that it should. Other notoriously distinctive voices—Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, even Dwight Yoakam—were similarly softened and sweetened by the Burmester's golden richness. Lovely, yes, but not quite the truth.
Finally, there were slightly softened dynamic transients. Edgy discs such as Just Won't Burn became more listenable, but on others there was a lack of air around and above instruments—in other words, a reduced sense of space between performers—and a slight loss of drive and pace. As gorgeous as the Burmester sounded, switching to the Simaudio opened up the stage on The Poll Winners noticeably, and made it sound as if the trio had awakened and had their first cup of coffee.
So: used as a fixed-output CD player to drive my standard reference system, the 001 presented me with a quandary. On one hand, I absolutely loved it. It was gorgeous, seductive, rich, and absolutely wonderful, with detailed, solid, three-dimensional images and incredible tonal colors and textures. Every time I turned it on, I was swept away by its beguiling sound, and the connection that it established between the music and me.
But as a reviewer, I couldn't ignore the fact that it had a distinct personality—and shouldn't any component costing this much be perfectly neutral? After all, $14,000 for a CD player is getting pretty close to "price no object" engineering. But maybe that's the point. The Burmester 001 sounds the way it does because it is the product of a price-no-object exercise: how it sounds is exactly how Burmester wants it to sound.