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 natural—more 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 optimized—or even hybrid—analog 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."

Description
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 process—or 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.

Listening
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 signature—actually, more than one, as I'll discuss in a moment—its 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.

Company Info
Vincent Audio
US distributor: WS Distributing
3427 Kraft SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49512
(616) 885-9809
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Comments
WillWeber's picture
Accurate vs. Musical?

Hello Brian,

Well I’m confused.

You state: “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?”

You suggest that traditionally solid state has claimed to be  “more accurate” (by measurements) while tubes sounded more “musical.” But then you state: “…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.”

So if these “obvious colorations” are eliminated and the sound quality has “converged” over the years, doesn’t that imply both have become more accurate? (Colorations are an inaccuracy right?) Then where does "Musical" lie in this new terrain?

Then this new CD player has a choice of tube and solid state paths. And you state that is has: ”…a recognizable sonic signature—actually, more than one,…” So is this not a throwback in technology? You even detail how the tube path is sweet and warm (“…a little sweeter and more golden than reality”),  while the solid state path “…more accurate and more tonally neutral...”

So what am I missing here?

Thanks in advance for any helpful explanation,

WillW

PS: Opening Panda’s Box - Tube vs SS. Tubes are sweeter and warmer, my experience too, overall. But I find this sound syrupy and not so accurate. I find (high end) SS more like a live performance. In fact, I can make my synth sound sweeter, more like tubes, by adding a touch of 2nd and 3rd harmonics. That experimental data point suggests that this might be the allure of tubes, for those who prefer a more saccharine sound, albeit less accurate. (OK, all you tube guys get out your guns!) "Musical" might be a subjective term to some, but live performance is musical to me, and tubes (traditionally) don't have as much live character, again to me.

Brian Damkroger's picture
Accurate vs. Musical

Hi WIll. Thanks for the comment.

First, there's the question of semantics, and how we agree to use the words accurate and musical.  I tried to use the former to refer to the claim made by early solid-state proponents, which was that their gear had a measurably more accurate reproduction of the input waveform. The gear also sounded hard, cold, hazy, and any number of other not so great adjectives.  I used musical, on the other hand, to describe a classic tube sound - harmonically rich but with all the other baggage that plagued the early tube gear.  I didn't use accurate, or musical for that matter, to mean accurately reproducing the original musical event.  In my vernacular, neither accurate nor musical were particularly in this latter regard.

Over time, both tube and solid-state gear dramatically reduced their most obvious audible colorations, both sounding more like music and not coincidentally, more like each other.  Both did, as you note, grow to more nearly approach, or more accurately reproduce, the sound of the original recorded event.  Accurate and musical, as I originally used the terms, became less applicable and less relevant.  

You're right, the Vincent gear is a bit of a throwback in that it offers the two different output stages.

Thanks again for the comment.

Brian

WillWeber's picture
Harmony

Hi Brian,

Thanks for your clarification, that helps me understand your position much better.

Semantics are often a struggle in communications, as the forums attest to (quite strongly!). To me, as a scientist, "accuracy" has a very specific meaning that is carefully defined to the nth degree in the metrological context. I duly note that you refer to the context of early SS measurements, which were certainly incomplete, dubious even. In fact, these types of measurements have improved, but still I think they are lacking. There is a tendency for the disease that I call mononumerosis, that is trying to present data one dimensionally to allow easy comparisons. Meaningful measurements are much more complicated. And there are undoubtedly parameters that matter but are not measured, or at least not measured well enough.

I agree that many of the early (as well as cheap contemporary) SS designs are harsh and cold sounding, and would not seem to be so accurate, or musical. Some of the modern ‘phile designs though are silky smooth, dynamic, and detailed, and actually measure quite well too. I suspect that manufacturers are using more thorough and accurate measurements to assist in their R&D, which has enabled such progress, both valve and SS gear. Tubes still have more distortion, though of the kinder “musical” low harmonics, and output stages always require that unfortunate tranny output for impedance matching--with the consequential low Q and speaker impedance interaction. I hear these compromises as coloration and lack of control and dynamics (with most speakers). But I do think that good tube designs can be more useful in pre stages and line buffers, just not my preference (yet). There remain the issues of short life, excess heat, warm-up time, energy consumption, and microphonic behavior too.

My musician side, with context of “accuracy” and “musical” being as you describe--reproducing the live event as realistically as possible--still prefers high end SS over the sweetened sound of tubes, which seems to be largely unavoidable.

I appreciate your taking the time to explain your usage of these terms. (Aren’t you busy at the show in Germany?)

Cheers,

Will

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