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 cases—in fact, across the board in my listening sessions—I 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 performance—to the music itself—sonic 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 musicality—40 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 sound—its 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 rig—or, 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!

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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