YBA CD 1 Blue Laser CD player Page 2
Pressed for details, both Yves-Bernard and Daniel were casual and rather opaque concerning digital doings in the CD 1 Blue Laser. (A growing trend; Ensemble's Urs Wagner recently proved similarly coy about his digital wares. But "Just listen to the sound" is a compelling argument.) YBA: "You can say it's an oversampled 18-bit digital system with double converters."
I'm told the DACs are modified by YBA. Interestingly, there is no filter on the output. The CD 1 is similar to the Forsell D/A in that regardand somewhat similar in sound. During the design phase, Yves-Bernard mentioned that he'd listened to a lot of off-the-shelf filters. Disliking what he heard, he simply listened with no filterto baseline it, if you will. He reports that that's what sounded best, and without looking back (and shrugging off the great wringing of hands this will engender in Measurementville), he finalized the design sans filter.
"You know, Jonathan, measurements don't always correlate to the sonics," explained Daniel Jacques. My feelings exactly.
Another interesting design element is the player's low output voltage. YBA: "Most CD players have a 2V output signal. This increases to 20V by the gain of the preamplifier. But an amplifier typically needs only 0.8mV to 1V for maximum gain. So a normal playback setting for a preamp's potentiometer is at the 9 o'clock position.
"However, the volume controlan attenuator equivalent to resistance in serieswill invariably sound worse at lower settings. With our CD players, the lowest output level will require a higher volume level, something around 12 to 2 o'clock. The quality of sound is improved by reducing the maximum length of the track of the signal within the volume control."
So, does God live in the details, as they say? Does an obsessive attention to detail and simplicity of design get you the slice of sonic heaven we're all knocking ourselves out to find? We shall see...
After settling down with the system, we wound up removing all the little wool and lead squares except those under the phono stage MC modules. I found the wool'n'lead treatment to subtly darken the sound and somewhat minimize dynamics. I think this had much to do with the sound of the "tuneable" box that is the YBA when it's set upon the heavy, "woody" shelves of the substantial Signature ClampRacks.
Substituting small AudioPoints under the left'n'right rear of all the power-supply chassis proved helpful, usefully tightening up a certain ponderousness in the bass and opening up the highs to a useful degree.
Imaging was enhanced with the 'Points in place. Based on auditioning, I left unmolested the center-front aluminum squares on all the YBA power supplies as the third point of contact with the shelf. We did leave the wool squares on the tops of the Radians, and triangulated the three Mpingos behind them. (Don't faint. Next time you're around a speaker with any flat top surface to speak of, try putting your hand there during high-decibel playback, especially toward the rear. This seems like quite a lively area even in the most expensive of speakers.)
The CD 1 and comparison digital front-ends were auditioned through the optimized, short-signal-path Tape In RCA jacks of the 6 Chassis preamp. Flipping phase on the YBA preamp (there is no phase inversion available on the CD 1) was more startling than I'd ever experienced before. In fact, for the first week or two, as things were settling in, we ran the CD 1 out of phase, not realizing that the player itself inverts phase. (As do its siblings, the 2 and 3.) Up to that point I'd thought the CD 1 had sounded...a bit unfocused. So don't be lazy about absolute phase; check it if you're paying attention to the sound.
Why is the phase function manifested in the preamp rather than in the player, you wonder? Well, as it happens, the phono stage does not invert phase. Ahhh.
But I'm not complaining. Yves-Bernard points out that many recordings are phase-reversed or scrambled anyway, so it really doesn't make much difference.
Out-of-phase recordings were somewhat soft in the bass, the midrange a bit thick, and the highs a touch out of balance. (The player was so balanced-sounding that these anomalies stood out like a Day-Glo frieze.) This adversely affected overall clarityand thus imaging precision and airalong with a globbing-out of images.
Interestingly, this disturbed me more with the precise and oh-so-neutral YBA 6 Chassis preamp than with the voluptuous and beckoning Graaf 13.5B tubed preamp that stylishly anchored the system from time to time during the review period. You might say that this $5500 Italian line-stage is the very corporeal embodiment of Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vitatalk about attractive....But even with the Graaf, I preferred phase-correct as a starting point. Solution: Flip the phase at the speaker connections and use the phase switches on the 6 Chassis to correct for it when in use.
Audio is hell...
You sure this is digital?
Playing the CD 1 Blue Laser was entirely ritualistic. I began listening sessions by cleaning the read laser with the supplied air-brush. (YBA customers get a cute little plastic utility box filled with accessories.) Holding a CD by its edges, I used the special YBA-supplied cloth to wipe in small circular motions first around the data side, then the label side, followed by a quick swipe of the outside and inside edges, as demonstrated by Yves-Bernard. The CD is then set upon the rounded, rubber-topped spindle, followed by a small, magnetically positioned weight to top it off.
Even this weight doesn't escape intensive efforts to "maximize the pleasure," as Daniel Jacques amusingly puts it. To wit, each weight has a small adjustment screw to couple it perfectly with its associated player, and a gold-plated prototype was rejected for sonic reasons. There's damping material applied to the weight's top surface...but of course.
Then, unless you're a lazy sod, and even if you do use the remote, you'll want to reset the bufferthe player's memory of the last ToC (Table of Contents) readeach time you change discs. (There's no "automatic" way of doing this, not even by opening the disc drawer.) Snapping the Play switch upward twice initiates the read. If you're running it topless, you'll see the motor rev up, and the laser sled, on its polished rails, dive for the center of the disc to read the ToC. (If the current CD has as many or fewer tracks than the one before, you can skip this procedure, but I always forced a read for each disc. It felt...tr;ges Polytechnique.)
Next, touch Play, followed quickly by Pause. (Yves-Bernard suggests allowing the laser to take its position at the chosen track and settle down before Play.) While still in Pause, press Display twice. This selects the third display function, Elapsed Time. "The better sound is something to do with the voltage running around inside...," shrugged Yves-Bernard when I asked him why. Still in Pause, the by now much-involved tweaky-typeagain, in the interest of best sonicswill reach behind the player to snap the Display Off switch.
If you're one of those looking for the nth degree of refinement and openness of sound, and so run the unit without its topas we didthen each time you reach back to toggle the display off, you'll find your smiling little audiophile face eyeball-to-eyeball with the player's fascinating innards.
With all these manipulations, I found myself more involved with the process than usual, not less. Suddenly digital was more organic and analoglike than an anonymous black box responding to invisible infrared commands. (Of course, our reference Forsell Air Bearing CD transport is hardly that either.) At night, in the dark, I looked for excuses to change discs and watch the CD 1's blue diode bathe the underside of a CD in its soft light.
But let's withdraw, if only for a moment, from the vertiginous precipice of Tweakdom. Understand, if you don't want to bravely flip your Ascot and play Boy Racer, you don't have to. Place your disc on the spindle of the fully buttoned-up player, leave the bay door open or closed as suits your fancy, don't bother with the display, and just snap the Play switch. You will, however, not pass Go and collect $200 in this fashion. (Nor will you achieve the CD 1's considerable best sound.)
Let's make the point, then, regarding the entire YBA line. It is marvelously discreet stuff. Even the many-chassis'd preamp is quiet and self-effacing with its flat black livery and old-money, antique gold logos. No shiny stuff here, although the optional silver finish looks like liquid mercury and is crazy attractive. There's even an optional wood-veneer finish that elevates them to Fine Audio Jewelry status. Feel free to stack a few YBA pieces on your Louis Quatorze commode, relax into your button-leather English club chair, sip a fine single-malt Scotch, and congratulate yourself on being so discreet...you forgot to breathe!
And the YBA components sound fine when merely plunked about. Their integral footers and the attention paid to interior resonance control guarantee good sound with only a minimum of concern about how they're mounted. But chasing the brass ring in Statement Product Land as we do, I tuned the hell out of it!
In fact, the way it wound up for Absolute Best Sound was atop a contraption called the Leonardo Base from Acustica Applicata, an Italian firm planning US distribution. (Overture Sound in Wilmington should have some in by the time this review sees print, and other distribution channels are planned, I'm told.)
I'd stared balefully at the amusing-looking Leonardo for a long while before heaving it into position and giving it a try. I'm glad I did. Riding high above the Signature ClampRack and supporting the topless French player on a trio of Ebony Pyramids,$s1 the serpentine green Designer's Reference splayed from its rear, it all looked...very George Jetson with a Renaissance twist.
The Leonardo Base features a modular, fully adjustable "table" on a sospensione elastica attached to movable positioning blocks sliding on corner posts. The table is further located and suspended underneath by two elastic elements attached to the frame.
The Ebony Pyramidsthe same as those Purist Audio were marketing for a time, but without the cryogenic treatmentand the Leonardo Base really put us over the top in the chase for Best Sound.
I thought it appropriate to begin with something quintessentially French, and Poulenc par Poulenc (Adès 14.052-2, AAD) fit the bill rather well. Listening to track 8, Sonata for Flute and Piano, I instantly became aware of how deep the YBA set up the soundstage behind the speakers. This never failed to fascinate and delight visiting audiophiles. Within the deep acoustic, instruments sounded sweet, very midrangey, and quite palpable. This sense of events taking place way back, well to the sides, and on their way to being wrapped around the listener was enticing and participatory.