Quad 99 CDP-2 CD player Page 2

However, when I fed the 99 CDP-2 a really good string of zeros and ones, such as the 24-bit/96kHz output of the DAD version of Muddy Waters' Folksinger (Classic DAD-1020), I got goosebumps at just how there it sounded. I could have read a book in the time it took notes to decay.

Feeding the X-RayV3's transport through the Quad's DAC, I found it difficult to distinguish any difference between that source and the CDP-2's own transport. This shouldn't really surprise anyone, I reckon. I determined I'd compare the stock X-RayV3 to the 99 CDP-2 through the Nu-Vista.

Do ya do ya do ya wanna dance?
But first, I should describe the sound of the 99 CDP-2 as a CD player: refined, extended, smooth, detailed, and listenable. That whole less than involving sound I heard through the variable outputs? No sign of it with the fixed outputs.

As a result, I spent many hours listening intently to my favorite music, as well as to new CDs I was hoping might make that list. I find listening with intent to commit prose quite taxing, so I have to limit my daily dose to a few hours. However, one way I know that a component is really working for me is if I continue to listen to it after the serious listening is over for the day. I might read, I might woolgather—I might just float along buoyed by the melodies. Technically, that ain't really listening, which is an active pursuit, but it's one of the ways we use our stereos—and the 99 CDP-2 impressed me just as much with how little it intruded on that part of my audition experience as it did when I engaged it more actively.

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On "I Know Love Is All I Need," from Rodney Crowell's The Houston Kid (CD, Sugar Hill 1065), Crowell's voice rides out front of the intertwined acoustic guitars and brushed drums. It's personal and natural, although you can clearly hear that the drums were slightly compressed to make 'em pop out of the mix a bit. The bass is a shade woolly, but that's the recording—for all its warmth and natural timbre, it isn't audio verité. Of course, when the Quad reports all of that, it's just doing its job.

Gary Burton's "The Colors of Chloë," from Ring (CD, ECM 1051), was one of those old favorites the 99 CDP-2 reintroduced to my must-play pile. With two bass players (Steve Swallow, Eberhard Weber), two guitarists (Pat Metheny, Mick Goodrick), Burton on vibes, and the extraordinary Bob Moses on drums, the track is a feast of textures and timbres. The Quad sorted them out quite handily and gave Burton's vibes and Moses' cymbals extended top-end sheen. Note to self: How does something this gorgeous ever fall out of the must-play pile?

Then there was Arturo Delmoni's disc of solo violin works by Ysaÿe, Kreisler, and Bach (CD, John Marks JMR 14), which never even made it to my must-play pile because somehow it got filed unopened. Better late than never, I reckon, but holy moly, this one's a keeper! Get it—and get it now. (Yes, I know it's out of print, but it's out there—and Acoustic Sounds has it on LP, too. You'll thank me.)

The Ysaÿe proved a revelation—I generally find his music pretty but not terribly engaging. Delmoni makes an unbelievably strong argument for his Sonata Op.27 No.2. Dedicated to Jacques Thibaud, it quotes from Bach's E-minor Partita and the Dies Irae. That makes it sound sort of intellectual, which it sort of is, but Delmoni's huge tone, bigger soul, and phenomenal technique make this a blockbuster sequel to Songs My Mother Taught Me.

The sound was crisp and clean, with so much overtone extension I looked up occasionally to be sure there was still room on my ceiling for all the high frequencies. I mean that in a good way, of course.

Just do that funk
When I played Rodney Crowell's "I Know Love Is All I Need" on the Musical Fidelity X-RayV3,1 it tightened up the woolly bass but also made the acoustic guitars sound leaner, too. The X-RayV3 had more bite but less bloom—not a lot, but enough to make me find the 99 CDP-2 truer to my experiences listening to The Houston Kid on my Ayre C-5xe.

I was less sure of my preference with Gary Burton's "The Colors of Chloë," primarily because the X-RayV3's deeper, tauter bass gave the track more heft—and a modicum more forward momentum. On the other hand, the 99 CDP-2's refined sound was very seductive. Close call, advantage Musical Fidelity.

However, on the Arturo Delmoni Ysaÿe track, the Quad's suave, extended top end sounded much more like Delmoni's in-room tone than the X-RayV3's crisper, slightly steelier presentation. The X-RayV3 again had a bit more bodily heft than the Quad, which shaved a bit of that body off the sound in favor of a smoother presentation.

I can't quite shake the suspicion that the Quad may have been dumping the smallest amount of detail in favor of tonality, but that's probably the way I'd call it if I were "tuning" a product myself. Was it more "accurate" than the X-RayV3? Well, it isn't an either/or question, because both sounded different from the original event (that's the nature of recording, if not reproduction). But if I had my druthers, I'd choose the 99 CDP-2.

I do!
One of the phrases we reviewers lean on so heavily is "all things being equal." In fact, things seldom are all that equal, and the Quad 99 CDP-2 is a great example of how a product can be designed so that they aren't. At $1350, it's positioned nicely between the first layer of ambitious but affordable CD players and the next level: high-aspiration players at or near the $2k price point, such as the late, lamented Classé CDP-10. Just on a strict sound/dollar ratio, the 99 CDP-2 would be a contender.

But it's more than a CD player. The addition of digital inputs and digital switching make it a fabulous addition to a system. Got an XM Radio tuner with digital out? The 99 CDP-2 will make it sound better. Got a DirecTV box with digital out? If you listen in two-channel mode (some of us do), you can make it sound a lot better through the 99 CDP-2. And if you have a DVD player with hi-rez PCM out, you can hear a whole new ballgame from the few hi-rez discs you can get your hands on. (No, I wouldn't buy anything just for this feature, but it's a pretty nice lagniappe.)

Although I wasn't all that impressed with the variable-output feature, I can see situations in which I might take advantage of it, although in those situations, I'm not sure a $1350 CD player is the best solution in the first place.

But, tarnation and great balls of fire! Add all of those features together and the Quad 99 CDP-2 starts to scream Buy me! Or, at the very least, Try me!

At its price, it's almost certainly what you need—and what you want.

COMPANY INFO
Quad Electroacoustics Ltd.
US distributor: IAG America
15 Walpole Park South
Walpole, MA 02081
(508) 650-3950
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