Vincent Audio C-60 CD player Page 3
This isn't to imply that the C-60's soundstage was smaller than those of other source components. To the contrary, the Vincent's soundstage was consistently large, extending well outside the speakers, projecting slightly in front of them, and creating whatever depth had been coded into the bits and bytes. Images were always appropriately sized, and I never felt that the Vincent was expanding or limiting the scale of the players or stage. In fact, the C-60's knack for reproducing fine detail behind louder, more prominent lines worked well with recordings of a soloist and orchestra. Listening to Jascha Heifetz's performance of the Allegro vivacissimo of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, with Reiner/CSO (CD, RCA Living Stereo 61495-2), I noted how clearly and consistently the orchestra was portrayed, even behind Heifetz's most forceful and dramatic passages. Even the faintest horn lines from the very rear of the stage were lifelike, and very obviously the work of a group of individual players.
Solid state, solid performance
That Heifetz recording is a good place to switch gears and compare the C-60's tubed and solid-state output stages. I loved listening to the Tchaikovsky concerto through the tubed stage, but its tonal balance was a bit on the warm side of neutrality. Heiftez's violin sounded a little bigger, almost viola-like at times, and even the brass and woodwinds were a little sweeter and more golden than reality. This extra lushness and warmth was even more evident with another classic RCA, Gregor Piatigorsky's recording of Dvorak's Cello Concerto with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony (CD, JVX XRCD13): the cello had a slightly deeper, richer body tone than the instrument has when heard live.
In both casesin fact, across the board in my listening sessionsI preferred the sound of the Vincent's tubed output stage, but had to admit that the solid-state stage sounded more accurate and more tonally neutral. Coltrane's tenor was a little sweeter through the tubes, for example, but its honk didn't have quite enough edge or bite to be realistic. The same was true for women's voices; they were richer and sweeter through tubes, but their initial transients had a more realistic bite through transistors.
The solid-state output stage also had a little more bottom-end punch than the tubed stage, and notes stopped and started with a bit more precision and authority with the transistors. Conversely, individual instruments were more distinct through tubes, with a better sense of a resonating, wooden instrument following the initial transient. In the Dvor†k concerto, for example, it was a little easier to sort out the bass drum, timpani, and sharp double-bass notes through the tubes, but the lines sounded quicker and had a bit more impact via solid-state. On top, the transistor stage might have been more extended, but didn't have quite the harmonic richness of the tubes. For example, the brushed cymbals on "I See Your Face Before Me," from Settin' the Pace, were largely a metallic hiss, without a distinct ring at their core.
The two output stages also handled detail differently. Spatial detail, for example, was more precise and more sharply defined through the transistors. On the other hand, the tubed section did a better job of capturing the subtleties and complexities within an instrument's tone or voice. The tubes also did a much better job with the lowest-level information, the point where a note finally disappears into the surrounding space. Combined with the tubes' slightly better re-creation of low-level ambient information, the way notes faded out felt much more real, the instruments and singers more three-dimensional.
The transistor output stage matched, or perhaps even slightly bettered, the tube stage's large, open soundstage. When I dissected the sound and concentrated on audiophile criteria, I noted that images were more sharply defined with the transistors, with more open space between them. But when I listened to the overall performanceto the music itselfsonic images interacted with the surrounding space in a way that felt more natural through the tubes, and I found it much easier to close my eyes and imagine the hall or club in front of me.
Accuracy or musicality40 years later and we still have to choose?
Comparing the C-60's solid-state and tubed output stages was a fascinating exercise. Both were excellent, but while the differences between them weren't huge, they were profound. In most cases, I felt the transistor configuration was more accurate, and would have fared better on an audiophile scorecard. At the same time, I found the tubed section to be more musical, more evocative of the original performance, despite its more obvious colorations.
The solid-state section of the Vincent C-60 is an excellent performer, and I can imagine many listeners preferring its more neutral soundits leaner tonal balance, sharper transients, and tighter, more powerful bass. It's well designed and beautifully built, and completely in line with the competition at $4695. The C-60's solid-state section didn't quite match the resolution, or the overall flow and clarity, of far more expensive, super-premium solid-state players such as the Simaudio Moon Evolution Andromeda ($12,500), but it handily outperformed really good midpriced players like my Primare CD-31 ($2500).
Thirty-some years ago, I chose musicality over accuracy and traded my solid-state Audio Research D-120 amplifier for a tubed Audio Research D-76A. Night after night, I made the same choice with the Vincent. The solid-state configuration was good, but with its tubed output stage in circuit, the C-60 transcended the performance of the similarly priced players I've heard. In many ways, it sidestepped the limitations of "Red Book" CD performance, sounding more like a good analog rigor, better yet, and sometimes more like a live performance. Its tonal balance was probably a little warmer and sweeter than reality, but instruments and voices had an uncannily lifelike energy and presence. Players, singers, and the space around them were re-created in a way that just felt a bit more real than through the transistor stage, or through most other CD players. With the tubed stage, it was as if the Vincent were vanishing and taking the rest of my system with it, letting me hear back through the recording chain to the original performance or session. Was it completely accurate? Maybe not. Did it evoke live music? Absolutely!