Philips SACD1000 SACD/DVD-Video player Page 2
With its front-loading disc drawer, illuminated display, and straightforward remote, operating the SACD1000 was self-explanatory, so I just plugged in to the right and left front speaker outs and let 'er rip.
Having auditioned a number of tubed integrated amps in the months leading up to this evaluation, I decided to remain in that mode for a little while longer. My reference system included a Mesa Baron power amp (mainly in the 90W 1/3 pentode-2/3 triode mode), the single-ended triode Blue Circle Galatea preamp, and a pair of Joseph Audio's two-way RM7si Signature speakers. I completed the signal chain with a biwire set of Monster Cable Sigma Retro speaker cables and a set of Sigma Retro interconnects, having found these top-of-the-line components to be a felicitous match with tube gear—they supplemented this system's rich midrange resolution while fleshing out high-end details and solidifying the bottom.
For comparisons, I had on hand the California Audio Labs CL-20 ($2500), a 20-bit/96kHz DVD/HDCD player; and the $2500 Sony SCD-777ES SACD player. To level the playing field, I dispensed with my stalwart Synergistic Research Designer's Reference2 AC Master Couplers (the SACD1000 only has a 2-pin AC connector) and plugged a pair of generic outlet cords into the IEC inlets of the Sony and CAL decks. (All cords were plugged into my daisy-chain of JPS Power AC Outlet Centers.)
The DVD Experience
The one playback option not available from the SACD1000 is DVD-Audio. Well, I won't weigh in on that hot potato here, but before I checked out the SACD1000's sound with SACDs, I was keen to hear how the SACD1000 handled a number of DVD-V and 24/96 DAD discs I have on hand. To this end, I pulled out the 24/96 soundtrack to Casino Royale (Classic DAD 1033), Jonathan Faralli's Percussion XX (Arts Audiophile 47558-6), and a very good live recording of James Levine conducting the Metropolitan Opera forces in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, just released on DG DVD-Video 44 073 003-9.
On "The Look of Love," from Casino Royale, Dusty Springfield's voice was richly articulated via the Philips, with a warm, stable focus to the dual trumpets, excellent detailing of left-right stereo imaging, and solid bass resolution. There seemed to be a bit more extension on the top and bottom through the CAL CL-20, but I suspect that the CAL might have a slightly hotter output. Turning the volume down one notch on the preamp seemed to confirm this, though the Philips still sounded slightly more laid-back on top, and didn't quite approach the CL-20's layering of sound.
Faralli's performance of John Cage's Cartridge Music begins with an enormous metallic transient and follows with a litany of bowed, scraped, and ratcheted sounds punctuated by long, expressive silences, resounding low-end interjections, and a panned conclusion involving breathing into water. The Philips' retrieval of the low-level information that defines space and venue was very good; imaging was rock-solid, as was the depiction of complex timbres and overtones, and it handled the bass transients with aplomb. The CAL still offered greater inner detail, blacker silences, and a more telling depiction of front-to-back dimensionality. However, the Philips' remote offered track-by-track access with the push of a single numerical button, whereas on the CAL I had to press Play, then skip, step by step, to track 7.
On the Mozart, the Philips' rhythm and pacing were quite good; it accurately depicted all spatial cues associated with a symphony orchestra and an opera (such as the dueling left-right violin sections, and the way it tracked Tamino's "Zu Hilfe! Zu Hilfe!" as the tenor wandered about the stage, from left to center to right). There was also a silky, inviting quality to the strings and voices—especially welcome on soprano Luciana Serra's unbelievable passages during the aria "O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn!" which might otherwise melt your eyeballs with its high-frequency glare. Again, the CL-20 trumped the SACD1000 in depicting that nth degree of detail and resolution, which translated into transparency and distinction between individual voices.
The CD Experience
Moving on to CDs, I listened to the title track of Andy Summers' Green Chimneys (RCA 63472-2) on all three machines. As this recording is HDCD-encoded, I expected the CL-20 to have a certain advantage in terms of air, inner detail, and dimensionality, the SACD1000 lacking HDCD decoding. I have found correctly decoded HDCD sound to possess an analytical quality that lets me get further inside the music, closer to each instrument. But even without HDCD, the Philips more than held its own in terms of rhythm and pacing. It also conveyed more body—as in slam, oomph, and roundness to the leading edge of transients...almost as if it had a little hotter output. It didn't sound colored exactly, but contoured, which tended to fill up and fill out the limted bass end of the Josephs. The Sony, by the way, seemed to split the difference between the CAL and the Philips with a remarkable degree of transparency and liveness.
I had an advance CD-R of Larry Goldings' superb organ-trio album, As One (look for it soon on Palmetto). The Philips displayed stable imaging, a laid-back top end, and a euphonic midrange; all in all, it had more body than the Sony, which would tend to make it a nice match for a brighter type of speaker in a less revealing, less extended, less expensive system. It occurred to me how bitchin' the SACD1000 would sound with something like the high-value PSB Alpha Mini/Subsonic 5 system, which I auditioned for the June 2000 Stereophile with the NAD L40—match it to a $1000-$1500 surround-sound receiver and you've got a high-value, high-resolution rig that could kick considerable butt for less than $5000 (not counting video monitor and cables). However, in my setup (a pair of $1799 speakers and roughly $8500 for amp and preamp), the Sony divulged another level of depth in presence, detail, and dimensionality.