Weiss Medea D/A processor Page 2
Will a class-A CD player benefit from an external DAC?
My favorite reference disc is one of my 2002 "Records To Die For," Sera Una Noche, by vocalist Pedro Aznar and a small tango group (M•A Recordings M052A). The extension and delineation of low bass was a marked distinction of the Medea through its coax or balanced inputs, but not when I used the TosLink input. There was then simply more low end, and it was better defined. Pedro Aznar's voice seemed slightly fuller, as if the Medea had a tilt that favored the low portion the voice's frequency range. Yet Aznar's characteristic nasality and sibilants were not suppressed. To complete the triad of felicities, the ambience of the recorded space (a small stone church) was larger, and the instruments and voices were more clearly distinguishable within it. Female voices on other recordings, such as those of Alison Krauss and Patricia Barber, were also more rounded without being masculinized.
All of that might make you think that the Medea sounded dark and perhaps a bit hooded. It was exactly the opposite. It seemed that the Medea's transparency and resolution simply avoided emphasis in favor of natural space and balance. For example, in the opening of the last movement of Leonard Bernstein's later recording of Mahler's Symphony 6 (Deutsche Grammophon 27697), powerful and spacious though it remained, the Medea made it clear that there's not much deep bass, and that the Vienna Philharmonic's violins on this disc are quite steely. Contrast that with Glen Cortese's recording of the work (Titanic Ti-257), and, for all the difference in experience and reputation, the student violins of the Manhattan School of Music Symphony Orchestra sound more like strings, and engineer Jerry Bruck's bass has real impact. The Medea let me hear all the differences, and would be quite appropriate for studio monitoring.
In fact, the Medea was so effective in optimizing what came into it that it minimized the differences between the CD and the two-channel SACD layers of Benjamin Zander's recording of the Mahler Sixth (Telarc SACD-60586). Sure, subtle issues of ambience and placement, and the tonal quality of the winds, still distinguished the two media—but the Medea rendered the CD version of this impressive recording with magnificent power and delicate detail. Boy, would I like to hear the SACD tracks through a DAC as good as the Medea!
Something akin to that is possible by using the 24-bit/96kHz digital output of the CAL CL-20 or Meridian Reference 800 DVD-Audio players. Most impressive was the sound of John Lee Hooker's Mr. Lucky (24/96, Virgin/Classic DAD-1007) and the stereo DVD-A of Leon Russell's Leon Russell (Hi-Res). Of course, I've been enjoying Mr. Lucky for many months, but the Medea gave Hooker's voice even more grip, and the bass incredible clout, without sacrificing clarity. The Russell reissue showed the age of its master tapes (more than 30 years) only in the soft carpet of tape hiss, but that faded from conscious awareness as the electricity of Russell's performances and the momentum of the music swept me up. Presence and impact to spare!
Why don't you pick on someone your own size?
Given the Medea's pedigree and its $9800 price, you'd expect it to be good enough to beat out built-in DACs, and it did indeed do so. But how did it fare against other heavyweight, standalone DACs?
On hand for this shoot-out were the highly praised Musical Fidelity A324 (reviewed in April and June 2002), and the MSB Platinum Plus (review to appear next month). Near the end of my listening sessions, I also received the Mark Levinson No.360S, upgraded from the No.360 I've used for years. All of these devices were excellent and eminently satisfying; none, in isolation, would give a listener cause to think that further improvement was possible. In other words, the differences among them were almost disappearingly small, but, when apparent, always in the Medea's favor.