Classé CDP-10 CD player Page 2
Some commentators, J. Gordon Holt among them, have written that when one component sounds more reverberant than another, it must be an aberration. I disagree, feeling that, microphonic tubes aside, as the low-level information that comprises a venue's reverberant signature is the first to be corrupted or obscured, its presence or relative absence is a reliable indicator of absolute quality. Of course, you then have the apparent paradox that a noise-shaped, 16-bit CD-R played back on the Classé player produces a higher-quality sound than the 24-bit original played back from the Sonic Solutions' hard drives. All I can suggest is that while the Sonic's output is quite jittery, CD-Rs are generally clean in this respect and the Classé has very low measured jitter—and that is where the difference originates.
The CDP-10's low frequencies were weighty, but sounded rather softened compared with the Mark Levinson Nos.31.5/30.6 pair, which remains the champion when it comes to combining low-bass extension with definition. Billy Drummond kept the front skin on his kick drum for "The Mooche" (from Editor's Choice, Stereophile STPH016-2; or Rendezvous, STPH013-2), and the drum sounds a little "woofy" as a result. This was perfectly acceptable via the megabucks Levinson combo, but was a little softened via the Classé. The Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista sounded still softer in the bass, but to put this comment into perspective, without direct comparisons this difference between the three components would be very hard to detect.
As I write these words I am listening to an unreleased live recording I made six years ago of a jazz quartet comprising pianist Marc Copland and electric guitarist John Abercrombie with a rhythm section of the great Billy Hart on drums and German bassist Peter Herbert. The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival's plans to release this recording fell through for various reasons, but it was still invaluable experience as a dry run for my subsequent jazz project with bassist Jerome Harris (Rendezvous, Stereophile STPH013-2). The concert venue was a reverberant stone-faced chamber completely unsuitable for small-scale jazz, so I had to close-mike all the instruments and record each pair of channels on a different digital recorder. Nevertheless, as all the A/D converters were clock-synchronized, I could align them all on my Sonic Solutions audio workstation in post-production to produce a musically satisfying mix (with the help of some Lexicon-sourced reverberation).
I had miked Peter Herbert's double bass with a single B&K omni close to one of the instrument's f-holes, and it was instructive to watch Herbert's relationship with the mike at the concert. In effect he seduced the mike, moving away from it for subsidiary passages, closing in on it for solos and for passages requiring some emphasis. Listening to the Copland Quartet's reading of John Abercrombie's "Sweet Sixteen" on the CDP-10, I was reminded of this, as every small change in the instrument's relationship was readily audible, to the benefit of the music. The power and sonic weight of the bass instrument were readily apparent, yet there was no loss in definition.
Billy Hart's cymbal work on this CD-R revealed what was perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the Classé CDP-10's sonic signature: its silky-smooth high frequencies. This and its lack of HF grain allowed the distinct tonalities of the metal percussion instruments on "Touch of Trash," from Patricia Barber's Companion (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2), to sound distinctly different from one another. By contrast with early CD playback or current MP3 playback, which diffuse the differences between such similar acoustic objects, rendering them more like shaped and textured pink noise, the Classé CDP-10 maximally preserved these differences, so well captured by master recordist Jim Anderson.
Ultimately, any CD player's performance in this area is restricted by CD's 16-bit word length, which is where SACD and DVD-A have the potential to offer better sound quality. But listening to the Classé reproduce such well-recorded CDs as this issue's "Recording of the Month"—the Capuçon brothers playing live recordings of violin and cello sonatas by Franck and Rachmaninoff (EMI Classics 5 57505 2)—in which instrumental tonalities were reproduced in such a natural, relaxed manner, it is hard to see that more quality is musically necessary.
A decade ago, you would have had to pay upward of $15,000 to get the level of measured performance offered by Classé's $2000 CDP-10. That it sounds as good as it does is no surprise, given those measurements. Yes, its bass is a little lacking in weight and definition in absolute terms, but against that must be cited the CDP-10's grain-free highs and well-resolved soundstaging. And it offers HDCD decoding, which is still important for me, at least. A well-engineered player that is highly recommended.