McCormack Audio UDP-1 universal disc player Kalman Rubinson, March 2005
I was stunned when John Atkinson's measurements of the McCormack UDP-1 universal disc player showed that its digital playback of DVD-Audio and SACD discs was not significantly better than its playback of "Red Book" CDs. In fact, JA told me, the UDP-1's digital performance was not substantially different from that of a $150 Pioneer DV-578A-S universal player he'd bought for reference. But I'd been charmed by the UDP-1's sound, which I'd ascribed to the improved power supply for the audio stages and to McCormack's proprietary analog output stages.
JA's measurements left me questioning my sanity, as well as the relationship of measurements to what one listens for. For instance, when I compared the CD and SACD versions of Andrew Manze's Concertos for the Emperor Vivaldi disc (respectively, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907332 and HMU 807332), I didn't hear more detail in the music, but more space around the music—which may have to do with the amount and frequency distribution of noise in the reproduction.
These differences were very subtle, but subtlety is what high-end audio is all about—I'm sure that $150 Pioneer player, when listened to less than critically, could do a similarly satisfying job. The distinctions I drew between the McCormack UDP-1 and two other high-end players, the Denon DV-5900 and Sony XA-9000ES, may be equally tiny. That's not a definitive answer, but one I must live with until I understand more.—Kalman Rubinson