Sonic Frontiers SFCD-1 CD player Comparisons with the Accuphase DP-55
Having just reviewed the similarly-priced Sonic Frontiers SFCD-1 CD player (June '96, Vol.19 No.6), I was interested to hear what the Accuphase DP-55 had to offer. The $5995 DP-65 had been favorably reviewed by TJN, and the $21,000+ DP-90/DC-91 pair had so impressed Dick Olsher that he bought the review samples (see June 1995, Vol.18 No.6).
The following impressions were gained with the DP-55 in its optimum setup: no attenuation, and playing through the balanced outputs.
It was evident from the start that the $3995 DP-55 interpreted the music differently than did the $3495 SFCD-1. The Accuphase player had a brighter, more forward, and incisive quality. It had tremendous clarity, detail, and zip, in contrast with the SFCD-1's more subtle presentation.
Although I wouldn't characterize the DP-55 as overly bright, it had a full measure of treble energy. Cymbals assumed a more prominent place in the mix, sounding slightly forward of the rest of the presentation. Although free from grain, the treble had a bit of hardness that called attention to itself. The DP-55's treble lacked the refinement, inner detail, and finely filigreed presentation heard from the SFCD-1.
The hint of treble hardness on cymbals extended down to the upper midrange. Instruments rich in upper order harmonics took on a slightly mechanical sound. For example, the piano's timbre in Sonata: Piano Works by Franz Liszt (Stereophile STPH008-2) was overlaid with a trace of glare and "clanginess" not heard from the SFCD-1. The magnificent Steinway D, which I heard at length in the church and through the live microphone feed during the recording process, sounded colder through the DP-55 than it did either in my memory of it or through the SFCD-1. Similarly, the violins in Peter McGrath's recording of Handel's Water Music (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907010) sounded thinner and brighter than through other digital front ends, with a trace of edge.
The DP-55's rendering of detail, like its reproduction of transients, exhibited immediacy and vividness. Low-level signals were easily resolved through the DP-55, sounding almost as though a layer of detail had been brought up in level. At the very finest degree of low-level information and inner detail, however, the DP-55 was less resolving and refined sounding than the SFCD-1. The DP-55 lacked a sense of ease in revealing detail, bordering instead on the analytical.
On the plus side, the DP-55 had good bass reproduction. The player had deep extension, midbass weight that was well-balanced, and clear bass articulation. Kick drum had a nice solidity and impact, with a greater sense of extreme bottom-end tautness and extension than through the SFCD-1. The mid-bass was leaner and drier than that of the Sonic Frontiers player, which had slightly more mid-and-upper bass weight and greater bloom. The SFCD-1's rendering of bass guitar had more rhythmic flow, forward propulsion, and pace.
Overall, the DP-55 wasn't competitive with the SFCD-1 or several other similarly-priced digital front-ends on hand (the $3590 Parasound C/BD-2000 and D/AC-2000 combination, for example). The Sonic Frontiers player was more musical and inviting, with a subtle yet highly detailed presentation, more air and space, and greater timbral liquidity.
In terms of features, appearance, and operation of the drawer, the DP-55 was miles ahead of the SFCD-1. The DP-55 has digital inputs that allow it to be used as a processor, digital outputs so it can become a transport, as well as remote volume control, none of which are included on the SFCD-1. In addition, the DP-55's silky drawer operation makes the Sonic Frontiers player seem clunky.
Putting the listening impressions aside, you can look at the SFCD-1/DP-55 comparison in two ways. For roughly the same money, the DP-55 gives you the ability to use the player as a transport or as a processor, remote volume control, and vastly better appearance and drawer operation. Conversely, the SFCD-1 has a massive power supply, HDCD filter, UltraAnalog DAC, and a tubed output stage, whereas the DP-55 has a small power supply, NPC filter, Burr-Brown DACs, and an op-amp output stage.—Robert Harley