Vincent Audio C-60 CD player
Should an audio component accurately reproduce the signal it's fed, or should it evoke the sound and feel of live music? Accuracy or musicality? This question has been at the heart of high-end audio since its inception. Back then, the question often took the form of the tubes-vs-transistors debate. Proponents of solid-state pointed to the far superior measured performance of transistor designs, and claim that they thus more accurately reproduced the input signal. Tube lovers steadfastly maintained that their gear sounded better, more naturalmore like music. Since then, both camps have eliminated the obvious colorations of their respective technologies, and the levels of performance of today's best tubed and solid-state gear have converged. At the same time, the circuits themselves have blurred into hybrids of various sorts, different mixes of devices and circuits.
The Vincent C-60 CD player ($4695), designed in Germany but manufactured, I believe, in China, is a throwback to when there were large differences and clear battle lines between the tube and solid-state camps. Rather than a single optimizedor even hybridanalog output stage, the C-60 gives the user a choice of two. Per US importer WS Distributing's website: "If you're in the mood for rich, romantic audio performance that brings analog complexity to compact discs, then bask in the vacuum tube output stage. But if you want a bit more edge to your music, you can simply switch to transistor output instead by clicking the C-60's front panel switch."
The Vincent Audio C-60 is a thoroughly modern take on the tube-transistor hybrid design that reflects the best of today's concepts. For example, physical and electrical isolation were a major consideration, so the C-60 actually consists of four isolated subchassis, each floated off a common backbone. Front and center is the top-loading disc transport, made by Philips. Just behind this, a second subchassis houses the power supply for the digital circuits. A full-depth subchassis on the left houses the main power-supply elements, two huge toroidal transformers, and, on a small board, the output stage supply. The latter is itself a hybrid design incorporating both solid-state elements and a 6Z4 rectifier tube. On the right, another full-depth subchassis supports the fully balanced audio circuits, including digital-to-analog converters based on Burr-Brown's PCM1792 24-bit/192kHz chip, as well as the tubed and solid-state output stages. Other, smaller boards handle such ancillary duties as the control buttons and the front-panel display.
The C-60 is nicely styled and built, with a handsome, solid chassis that incorporates into its exterior design such functional elements as a beefy aluminum top plate, a thick, smooth-sliding disc drawer, and oversized tower feet. The top plate incorporates buttons for the drive control functions, two mesh-covered windows that show off the tubes, and a nifty, countersunk logo plate of glass that can be illuminated by flipping a small rear-panel switch. The rear panel has both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) analog outputs, coaxial and optical (TosLink) digital outputs, and a standard IEC receptacle for a removable power cord. On the front are a large, well-lit display and two more buttons, one for power and the other to switch between the tubed and solid-state output stages. There's also a small, rubber-surfaced magnetic clamp to hold the CD in place.
The C-60 uses a Philips top-loader transport; opening or closing the cover stops or starts the playing processor at least that's how it's supposed to work. Not infrequently, the C-60 would refuse to acknowledge that there was, in fact, a disc in its transport. The C-60 eventually did play every disc I threw at it, but something about its drive or error-correction circuitry was finicky. Often, discs that would play perfectly in a half-dozen other players needed a fresh, more careful cleaning and polishing before the Vincent would read them. But other than that occasionally finicky drive, the Vincent was completely intuitive to operate, and proved bulletproof over several months of heavy use.
The months the C-60 spent in my system overlapped with the visits of a number of other review products. Although the C-60 did have a recognizable sonic signatureactually, more than one, as I'll discuss in a momentits performance was easy to incorporate into my reference system. I never felt I was degrading the system's performance or changing its fundamental character by using the C-60 as a source. In fact, the ability to switch between the player's two different-sounding output stages proved a benefit as I tweaked the system around other components I was reviewing.
I did play with the volume control some, including driving my amplifiers directly. The control's range was such, however, that I could only use the first one or two "clicks," so I ended up using the Vincent with the volume control set to its maximum.
Tubes or transistors?
I've always been a tube kind of guy, so I expected to prefer the sound of the Vincent's tubed output stage. That proved to be the case, so that's the configuration I'll discuss. The differences between the two output stages weren't huge, though, so most of the comments below apply equally to both.
Glowing tubes, glowing praise
As Steve Guttenberg pointed out in "Being There," his "As We See It" in the November 2010 issue, audio systems tend to better approximate the feel of live music with recordings of smaller-scale performances, where they don't have to cope with the huge and complex dynamics, or the sheer size of an orchestra and concert hall. Indeed, with such recordings as Warren Zevon's solo Learning to Flinch (CD, Giant 24493-2) and Rickie Lee Jones' Naked Songs (CD, Reprise 45950-2), the Vincent C-60 did a stellar job of capturing the live feel of these intimate concert performances.