Accuphase DP-90 CD transport & DC-91 D/A processor Page 2

The trumpet and harpsichord are two instruments that are often treated unkindly by CD players. On Kathleen Battle's and Wynton Marsalis's Baroque Duet (Sony Classical SK 46672), both Wynton's up-front trumpet and Anthony Newman's background harpsichord popped into space with immaculate timing with the DP-90. The flow of transient attack and decay were closer to the real thing than I've ever experienced from CD. The bouncy, rhythmic pluck that underscores harpsichord timbre was readily resolved—in fact, for the first time I was able to precisely discern its exact phrasing. I simply felt better connected with the music.

Enter the DC-91
The partnership of the two Accuphase pieces proved to be one of natural synergy. At the time, I was admiring the sonic artistry of the Sonic Frontiers SFD-2 processor, and to be perfectly honest, I just didn't believe the Accuphase stood a chance of substantially bettering it. Boy, was I wrong. There was so much more information to behold with the DC-91. The Accuphase dug deeper and closer to the noise floor of the recording to unearth low-level detail. It was also more felicitous of transient decay, enabling me to more clearly follow the trail of each transient into the blackness of the hall. On Emmylou Harris's "Wayfaring Stranger," from Roses in the Snow (Warner Bros. 3422-2), the hokey early-'70s reverb on the vocal track was totally resolvable—not part of the way down into the noise floor, but all the way down.

With the Accuphase, the SFD-2's thicker sonic textures gave way to a more transparent view of the soundstage. Multilayered recordings with complex reverb signatures were more clearly resolvable. Access to the inner recesses of the soundstage became much easier. I could let my mind's eye travel unhindered to explore the full depth and width of the spatial perspective. A case in point is Loreena McKennitt's latest offering, The Mask and Mirror (Warner Bros. 45420-2), whose various layers of sound were organically resolved. By that I mean that whenever I chose to focus my attention on a particular piece of information or parcel of soundstage, it was waiting for me to download it. I never felt as though I was being bombarded by detail or forced to digest more than I could handle—which is how a lot of digital processors make me feel.

The harmonic tapestry painted by the Accuphase duo was smoother and more liquid than that of any other digital system I've heard to date. Violin overtones and massed strings were afforded a definitive velvety treatment. The most severe test I could come up with in this regard consisted of an early (ca 1982) Deutsche Grammophon digital recording of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's live performance of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante (415 486-2). The soloists are none other than Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, and maestro Zubin Mehta manages to whip up a satisfying performance that's right on the mark musically. The problem sonically is an inherently dry acoustic and the somewhat grainy quality of the strings. Textural qualities, which I've heard on all other processors, were further mangled to the point of discomfort. Despite its sonic warts, the Accuphase was alone in allowing me to enjoy this performance.

Female voice was treated with tender loving care. Nina Simone's sad timbre—a conduit straight to the heart—was given full expressive scope. "End of the Line," from the reissue of Simone's Pastel Blues (PolyGram 846 663-2), ain't exactly blues; but neither is its searing intensity pastel. It felt as if a slow fire was kindled somewhere deep inside my soul.

The grain and glare endemic to a greater or lesser extent in most processors was totally absent here. Hence, bad recordings, or those heavily processed, weren't exacerbated to the point of active annoyance. The raucous sound quality on Leonard Cohen's The Future (Columbia CK 53226) was neither softened nor elevated to the status of aggravated assault with a sizzly tweeter. The mix quality was exposed, but without any further sonic insult.

An extreme example of processed sound is represented by Rykodisc's Gorillas in the Mix (RCD 10119), which was produced by Bernie Krause and Human Remains, and is synthesized entirely from animal voices. Human Remains is a group of studio musicians and recordists dedicated to bringing what's left of animal sounds in our environment into every home. A share of the artists' royalties and Rykodisc's earnings from this album goes to the Nature Conservancy.

My favorite track on this album is "Ape No Mountain High Enough." How about ruffed grouse on kickdrum, lead melody and bass by walrus, elephants on horns, dolphin on piano, lead rap vocals by mountain gorillas, snapping shrimp hi-hat, and cameo appearances by killer whale, humpback whales, raven, crow, and house wren!? I've always been put off by this track's electronic glaze. A thick curtain of process grunge seems to permeate the music, making it difficult for me to step into the realm of Human Remains. The Accuphase allowed me to connect with the music for the first time. The processing artifacts were there, but they just weren't as obtrusive.

The Accuphase repeatedly forced me to reassess my opinion of CD reissues of analog material. Cleo Laine's LP version of Live at Carnegie Hall (RCA/BMG 60960-2) is an emotional experience, with such tracks as "Send in the Clowns" and "Stop and Smell the Roses" consistently pushing my buttons. The CD reissue has never cut it for me, so it's disappeared from the top of my "favorites" pile. I dug it out expressly for the Accuphase. To my amazement, Cleo was resurrected in full glory. Palpable outlines, a vivid and dynamic portrayal of the harmonic envelope, tremendous bass definition, and a convincing ambient signature—it was all there.

At last! A digital front-end that I find competitive with a high-performance analog front-end. As you may know, my analog system (Basis Ovation turntable, Graham Engineering 1.5-T tonearm, and Symphonic Line RG-8 Gold cartridge) isn't exactly chopped liver. With the phono preamplifier, the grand total approaches $20k.

So it was fair, at least price-wise, to compare my analog rig to the Accuphase DP-90/DC-91 combination. In terms of spatial impression, image focus, dynamic bloom, timbral accuracy, textural liquidity, timing and rhythmic precision, and the innate ability to create a gestalt of the original musical event, the Accuphase duo held its own.

In the face of such mesmerizing performance, how could I possibly walk away from these components? I couldn't—I bought them. Absolute reference caliber, and a perfect 10 in my book.

Accuphase Laboratory, Inc.
US distributor: Axiss Distribution, Inc.
17800 S. Main St., Suite 109
Gardena, CA 90248
(310) 329-0187

volvic's picture

Always wanted one but did not want to dish out that kind of cash, but simply as a trophy piece, but that is what my YBA CD1a is these days so pointless considering how far computer audio has come. Still absolutely beautiful gear.

JUNO-106's picture

Yes, computer audio has come a long way but sometimes it's nice to turn off all the screens and slip in a disc!

volvic's picture

Over two years now and still haven't finished importing those 5000 Cd's to the HD. Sometimes putting in a disc and pressing play is quite relaxing.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Am so fed up with hi-end. My Mark Levinson/Proceed CD transport died, while my ultra cheap Phillips CD player, which is just as old (older than the above Accuphase), is still going strong. Am replacing the Proceed not with another hi-end piece of junk, but with a cheap TEAC. It not only features a 24 bit/192 kHz Burr Brown processor, which I know is excellent in my TEAC DS-H01 docking station, but has a USB port for docking Apple & other products or a USB stick (the unit plays all forms of MP3 and can transfer files to an external USB memory device).

Allen Fant's picture

Beautiful for sure. The real question is this- does Accuphase still service these "vintage" spinners?