Sony SCD-XA777ES multichannel SACD/CD player Page 3
With some older material, whether still on CD or newly remastered for SACD, the XA777ES's uncompromising nature could be disadvantageous—brightness in the source was not curable with either CD filter setting (it ain't a tone control). However, my continued delight in Sony Classical's reissue of Walton's Partita for Orchestra (SS 89415) was only minimally diminished by my observing that all the original's high-frequency hardness and indistinct microdynamics were faithfully passed on by the XA777ES. That said, this SACD reissue is the most effective and communicative version of this superb performance, and the XA777ES allowed me to recall the thrill I had on first hearing it from an old Epic LP sampler. Through the softer, more distant Philips SACD 1000, the Partita was easier to listen to but, ultimately, less involving.
Compared to other CD players, the SCD-XA777ES was definitely in the "accurate" rather than the "euphonic" camp. But by my lights, accuracy is euphonic—to the degree that any link in the chain deviates from accuracy, it obscures the music. Consequently, all the players that I've liked are in the "accurate" camp, even though the XA777ES sits toward the end of the spectrum, with the Burmester 969/970 and the Meridian Reference 800. The California Audio Labs CL-20 and the Philips SACD 1000 sacrifice little in terms of clarity, but both seem to soften the high frequencies and the microdynamics just a bit.
Multichannel in the Country
The Sony SCD-XA777ES was equally at home in the sticks, where it was hooked up (via its six-channel analog outputs) to Sony's TA-P9000ES preamp, along with the Philips SACD 1000. As luck or, perhaps, poor communications would have it, I had two copies each of several SACDs and was able to rapidly switch between the two players on the same selection. After I'd corrected for the Philips' slightly lower output level and defeated the bass management because I had five full-range speakers and a subwoofer, the two players sounded much more similar in tone than they had in stereo. One might think this was due to a leveling of the playing field—the Sony now had only one dual DAC per channel instead of the three it employs at the two-channel jacks—but I suspect it had as much to do with the vastly different spatial presentation of multichannel, which floods the listener's attention with many more stimuli than does stereo.
Nonetheless, there was a consistent difference between the two players that was independent of type of music, record label, or how the producer used the channels for ambience or effect. The ambient space reproduced by the Philips was always just a bit narrower than that from the Sony, and the instruments within it were just slightly more distant.
One consequence of the outstanding clarity and soundstaging of the XA777ES was its ability to communicate a staggering dynamic range without apparent distortion of the musical illusion. On those few discs with extremely wide dynamics—eg, Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique (Neeme Järvi/Cincinnati Symphony, Telarc SACD-60578)—the XA777ES was spine-tingling while the Philips was just good and loud. With the Sony, inner detail was thrilling, the woodwinds in the middle of the orchestra as discernible in the loud passages as in the quiet. It was as if, in a concert, I had focused my view and concentration on a particular instrument: if I listened for it, I could hear it. Independently, I could enjoy each player without reservation; but having heard the A/B comparison, it was the Sony that I—and other listeners—preferred.