Entech Number Cruncher 203.2 & 205.2 D/A converters Page 2

Improved resolution of low-level detail was another area where the 203.2 made a big difference. The sense of space around an instrument was reproduced well, as were the image edges—the interaction of the instruments with the space around them. Acoustic discs like Festival had a wonderful, natural feel, with realistic images in a seamless, coherent space. Low-level details—pages turning, music stands being slid—were finely reproduced and helped re-create the original ambience. A really stark example of how the 203.2 handled space, however, was "Take the Highway Down," from Tommy Castro's Can't Keep a Good Man Down CD (Blind Pig BPCD5401). The background vocalists who enter toward the end of the track are distinct, individual voices, all recorded in a common acoustic space, but one that's jarringly different from the rest of the mix. Without the 203.2 helping the Philips out, the background vocalists weren't in a distinct, specific environment, and the background details on Festival were vague, unidentifiable noises.

Individual instruments or voices were easy to follow as distinct components of the music with the 203.2 in the system, and were firmly and realistically located on a wide, deep soundstage. There was never a sense of instruments getting congealed or lost, as there was with the Philips alone, even in more complex mixes or during sharp dynamic transients. The series of staccato lines near the opening of Appalachian Spring Suite was a good example. With the 203.2 in the system, the instruments remained distinct and coherent, and their size, detail, and tonal balance remained consistent as well.

Another good example was "Blue 'N' Boogie," from the Miles Davis All Stars' Walkin' CD (JVC JVCXR-0047-2). Davis' super-fast trumpet work around Lucky Thompson's tenor solo, and the solo itself, showed how clearly the 203.2 could keep everything distinct, without a hint of congestion, overemphasis, or edginess. Similarly, the various effects superimposed on and woven into Tommy Castro's guitar on "Can't Keep a Good Man Down"—the underlying feedback, the distant, decaying echo on the soft solo passages—were obvious and distinct, yet totally coherent with the instrument's fundamental sound and overall image.

The Entech 203.2 also made a major improvement in how distinctly and uniformly the system reproduced a note's components. The attack, basic tone, and decay were all audible, correctly balanced, and unique for each instrument, but were integrated into a realistic picture of the instrument. Bill Evans' piano on "Isn't It Romantic," from The Bill Evans Trio at Shelly's Manne-Hole (JVC JVCXR0036-2), was a particularly good example. No matter how fast the trill, each note was distinct and vivid, with a crisp attack, clear basic tone, and harmonically rich decay—with succeeding notes first superimposed on and then woven into the instrument's overall image. Ditto for when Evans would slide into and build a chord, one note at a time. The overlay of transients, followed by decays blending into and contributing to the structure, was fantastic! The cymbals were another area where the 203.2 significantly improved the system's sound. With just the Philips, cymbals sounded a bit like a pressure cooker's rolling hiss. Reinserting the 203.2 Number Cruncher brought back their attack, bell-like ring, and shimmering decay.

There were other areas were the 203.2 made a substantial improvement. Along with the Philips' mid- and upper-midrange emphasis, it had an unusually forward perspective and tendency for violins to get shrill and metallic as they rose in volume and/or pitch. The 203.2's perspective was much more balanced across the frequency spectrum, and the soundstage was far more natural. Violins remained sweet and pure, with perhaps only the faintest hint of steeliness during crescendos near the top of their range. Pitch—both solidity and subtleties—was improved, as were pace and timing. Overall focus was also improved, making everything more vivid and more sharply detailed.

After returning from the mountains, I auditioned the little Number Cruncher in our large reference system. Although it acquitted itself well, its performance did fall short of the players I have recently reviewed, the Ultech UCD-100 and CAL CL-15. In comparison, the 203.2 sounded a little thick and slow. Details were a little vague, both spatially and temporally, images were less dimensional, and the overall sonic picture was permeated with a coarse, pebblelike texture.

The differences were greatest at the frequency extremes. The upper-bass/lower-midrange region was slightly overblown and bloomy, with plenty of weight but lacking a bit of control and pitch definition. On top, the 203.2 sounded a little rolled-off in comparison to the Ultech or CAL, and lacked the last bit of air.

Okay, that's out of the way. In a $30,000 reference system, no one will mistake the Entech 203.2 for a premium-grade player. Nor, at $299.95, will anyone confuse its price with that of the Ultech or CAL. More to the point, the comparison is illustrative, but is it really relevant? In its intended application and context, the little 203.2 is dynamite. Even its shortcomings don't get in the way of the music, and, in fact, may actually be a good match for the sort of system in which it's likely to be used. To put things in perspective: the entire cabin system, including the 203.2, retails for substantially less than the CAL CL-15.

The Entech 203.2 Number Cruncher is a superb, inexpensive upgrade for an older or inexpensive CD player. Or, combined with a $100 mass-market carousel, it's a ridiculously cheap way to add a great-sounding changer to any system. It makes big improvements in just the characteristics that move a player—or a system—from mid-fi into the High End. I scribbled a page and a half of notes during "Let's Do It," from Ella and Louis Again (Mobile Fidelity MFSL UDCD2-651), but they all boil down to the last lines I wrote before I gave up and just listened: "Super, super, super. Talk about getting pulled in! I just can't ignore this or leave it in the background."

Highly recommended.

205.2 Number Cruncher
The 205.2 Number Cruncher aims at a slightly different target than its little brother. Rather than an invisible appendage to a digital front-end component, the 205.2 is intended to be more central to a system, filling an integration-and-switching role as well as D/A conversion. It's aimed a bit upmarket as well, adding upgrades in performance and cosmetics as well as additional inputs and user-interface features. On the performance side, there are more extensive output-stage filtering and power-supply regulation. It shares the 203.2's chassis, but is twice as deep and twice as heavy, and the thick, softly beveled faceplate and recessed switches and indicators give it a much more luxurious feel.

The biggest differences, however, are the user interface and convenience features. The 205.2 has three digital inputs instead of two, with front-panel selection and indicators. It also includes a phase-inversion switch, accessed by a second touch-sensitive front-panel switch. Combined, these added features make the 205.2 much more user-friendly in a complex, multisource system. It's easy to imagine the 205.2 as the first step in an audio/home-theater integration, where it would be the hub for adding the audio signals from DVD and laserdisc players to a two-channel audio system.

COMPANY INFO
Entech, Entertainment Technology Division of Monster Cable
455 Valley Drive
Brisbane, CA 94005
(415) 840-2000
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