Philips LHH1000 CD player Page 2
The LHH1000 should therefore feature the best linearity of any machine using the Philips 16-bit DAC chips; does this mean that it should automatically sound great? Well, good DAC performance is not all there is to good CD sound. (Nothing is ever that easy.) According to Ken Ishiwata of Marantz Europe, a keen-eared engineer who happens to be an audiophile and who contributed to the design of the Marantz CD12, the DAC contributes maybe 20% to the sound quality of a high-end CD player. The quality of the various power supplies contributes maybe another 20%. Then there is the analog circuitry, which has a dominant effect, Ken feels, as well as the effect of timing jitter on the original digital data: the transport and laser head must also be capable of recovering the data intact and uncorrupted. It would seem obvious, therefore, that the best way to assess the package as a whole would be to listen to it. Which is what I did, therefore.
I used the LHH1000 over a period of two months, both for listening for pleasure and for evaluating other components. Now that a new generation of CDs has emerged that do appear to have the capability of offering a fundamental sound quality to rival LPthe Dorian organ recordings, the Chesky jazz CDs, some of the Bainbridge Colossus discsit is gratifying that there are Class A CD players capable of retrieving the music encoded within the pits/bumps. The Accuphase and Sony combinations, either version of the CAL Tempest tubed player, and the Theta and Wadia stand-alone processors, have all proved their musical worth; right from the start, it was apparent that the LHH1000 combination joins this group in being capable of offering stunning insights into recorded sound. Throughout my listening, I kept forgetting to listen analytically, just drifting off into the performance. This is undoubtedly a sign that something good is going on, and in the case of the LHH1000, was connected with the way in which it enabled the system to present an appropriate sense of space for each and every recording. Such otherwise unpromising (sonically) material as Frank Zappa's collection of live guitar solos, Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar (Ryko RCD 10028&9), was presented in a vividly real way.
Whether the ambience was real, in the sense that the recording was made in such a manner as to capture a coherent sense of the surrounding reverberation, or artificial, derived from whatever reverberation engine had captured the producer's fancy that dayKraftwerk's Electric Cafe album (Warner Bros 25525-2) is almost a textbook example of every kind of artificial echo, ambience, and reverberationthe timbre and nature of that ambience was laid bare for the listener's inspection. As a result, the big Philips was able almost to rival the depth of soundstaging presented by the CAL tube player, and made the Sony DAS-R1, already no slouch in this area, sound too forward by comparison. The LHH1000 reminded me of the more-than-three-times-the-price Accuphase in this respect, but as that superlative player has long since departed my listening room, I'll move on to other aspects of performance.
Tonally, the LHH1000 was more like the Theta DS Pre than the Accuphase, in that its sound was thinner, with a more laidback midrange, than either the CAL or Sony players. Listening to the Bernard Roberts recording of the Beethoven "Hammerklavier" sonata on Nimbus NI 5057, for example, the Philips presented the piano set well back within Nimbus's rather resonant recording acoustic, but still well-defined in space considering the fact that the recording is UHJ surround-sound encoded. The Tempest SE also preserved the spatial aspects of the recording, but with a less delicate piano tone, while the Sony was even more robust, the piano image moving forward almost to the plane of the speakers. In a sense, the Sony's version of the piano sound was more believable, in being more "solid," but the Philips presented the piano with a better degree of fidelity to the tonality of what I believe to be a Hamburg Steinway.
The LHH1000's low frequencies didn't quite have the weight of the Sony; when requiring some modern rock to blow you away, the Sony has to be considered the champ. The combination of synth and bass guitar on Thomas Dolby's Aliens Ate My Buick (Manhattan CDP-7-48075-2)check out "Airhead" for a thoroughly modern mix (footnote 3)came over as a little emasculated via the LHH1000 when compared with the Sony DAS-R1 (though, as J. Gordon Holt, in whose ears we trust, has pointed out, the Sony possibly offers too much of a good thing when it comes to low bass).
About the only occasions the Philips failed to deliver the musical goods was when the recording was already verging on the edge of EQ disaster. Tuck and Patti's Tears of Joy on Windham Hill Jazz (WD-0111) is typical of that label's work in that the sound is squeaky clean, with an apparent HF lift that taxes inexpensive electronics and loudspeakers. With the Sony or CAL players, there is a comb-and-paper raspiness to the female voicePatti Cathcart has a "must-hear" combination of restrained power and intelligence that reminds me of a more refined Alison Moyetthat nevertheless integrates with the main sound; via the Philips, the raspiness both becomes more sizzly and splashes out to the sides of the soundstage. Here the excellent definition offered by the LHH1000 paradoxically resulted in a less musically rewarding experience.
I note that I have probably spent a little too many column-inches on nonclassical, artificially produced recordings for some tastes. Rest assured, however, that I did spend much time during the review period with naturally recorded acoustic music. A benchmark recording that I tend to return to to assess the ability of CD players to present natural timbre and a sense of the performing space is the Gustav Leonhardt Brandenburg set on Seon (RSCD-1005 06). I have found that only the best CD players approach the verisimilitude, the sense of being there, that is routinely provided by the LP version (available at various times on Seon, RCA, and, I believe, Pro-Arte).
The Philips LHH1000 fell behind both the Sony DAS-R1 and the Tempest SE here. Its tonality rendered the harpsichord continuo too "clattery" compared with the other two decoders, throwing a rather thin-sounding veil over the overall sound. The tubed player was the best at presenting the sense of recorded space, with the Philips close behind, but the Sony was the superior when it came to differentiating the different character of the original instruments, the woodiness of the cellos, the verge-of-cracking nature of the piccolo trumpet, the spikey fullness of the harpsichord tone, the slight rattle on the very edge of the recorder tone, and the baroque oboe's braying quality.
To put my comments into perspective, when I demonstrated these differences for one of our regular listeners here in Santa Fe, Guy Lemcoe, he felt that the differences between the Tempest and the Philips were considerably greater in degree than those between the Sony and the Philips. (He felt that the Tempest had more of a euphonic tonality than the Philips or Sony, and he preferred it less for that reason.)
Beautifully constructed, the LHH1000 system is a worthy flagship for the recently launched Philips brandname here in the US. Tonally a little thin when compared with the twice-the-price Sony CD system and somewhat lacking the broad musical sweep offered by the American Tempest player, it nevertheless features superb sound quality with a wealth of detail apparent, and presents a particular insight into the music that will appeal to many audiophiles. Recommended, therefore, in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing.
Footnote 3: I found it both amusing and ironic to read in a recent Musician interview that Thomas Dolby (no relation) finds most modern rock recordings to be equalized to sound too bright. If memory serves me correctly, it was Mr. Dolby's debut album, She Blinded Me with Science, that set the trend for late '80s rock on record to sear your eyebrows off with overcooked highs.