California Audio Labs Tempest CD player January 1987

Anthony H. Cordesman wrote about the Tempest in January 1987 (Vol.10 No.1):

If anyone is still around who hasn't been reading their back issues of Stereophile religiously, the California Audio CD player ($1895) uses tubes—without overall negative feedback—for all of the analog circuitry. It uses triode class-A tube stages, operating in dual mono, for current-to-voltage conversion rather than IC op-amps. It also uses passive filtering for output-waveform reconstruction within the tube analog section, instead of the active low-pass networks used in other players, and uses passive de-emphasis rather than the active circuits. Further, it uses solid-state devices to monitor and optimize tube life. The internal components are of exceptionally high quality, the player uses oxygen-free linear crystal wire and Tiffany connectors, and has a separate high-performance power supply and transformer for the analog section.

That said, I do not believe the sound of the California Audio really lives fully up to its price, components, and technology. If you like an old-style tube preamp with warmth—but a certain lack of resolution and detail—you'll like the California Audio. It has nice focus, good depth, and a very realistic overall timbre.

In fact, the California Audio Tempest CD player just edges into the recommended category, and does so only on the basis of a second and improved sample. The first sample simply lacked sufficient resolution of complex musical passages to be acceptable. The second tended to be too sweet and forgiving, too often presenting a soundstage where the width seemed out of proportion to the depth, and produced some surprise in terms of musical detail that I didn't hear in the same performance on any other player. Further, while it is often lovely on fairly simple music, it never seems to have a fully realistic degree of resolution with massed string or choral music. A tube lover's CD player, but a notch below the best units in overall realism and resolution.

A note: California Audio Lab has had problems in quality control with the 6DJ8 tube—a real pain in the kazoo for all companies who have used it. The improved model is not perfect, but is much better than the first. If you have real trouble with any aspect of the sound, a new set of tubes may be the answer.—Anthony H. Cordesman

Footnote 1: For the reference comparisons, the preamplifiers included the Audio Research SP-11, Convergent Audio SL-1, Krell PAM-3, and PS Audio 4.5 preamps. Amplifiers included the new Krell KMA-100 monos, the Krell KSA-50, the new Meitner 100 watt monos, and the PS Audio 200C. Speakers included the Apogee Duetta II, Fuselier 3.5, Infinity RS-1B, and Thiel CS 3.5. Cables included the Straight Wire and Monster Cable Reference interconnects, and Kimber, MIT, and Straight Wire speaker cables. Listening impressions were controlled using "blind" listening tests comparing multiple copies of reference CDs, with gain matched between different players using an SLM.—Anthony H. Cordesman
California Audio Labs
SONICblue Inc.
Santa Clara, CA
(877) 563-9388