C.E.C. TL 0 CD transport Page 3

In an odd way, the TL 0 almost seemed to have less air than the less-expensive TL 1, the Jadis, or the Forsell, yet this impression wasn't really correct. Rather, the TL 0 was transparent and detailed in the fashion of an electron microscopic—way down to the molecular level, so to say—so that the air of the soundstage appeared "thinner." (Like listening in Santa Fe?) [insert bold grin here] This apparent dryness was similar in character, once again, to the Krell DT-10. But where the DT-10 can be said to be slightly grainy, no such grain existed with the TL 0.

In a (digital) sense, the TL 0 had the type of sound made by the Symphonic Line RG-8 Gold phono cartridge—a resolution so fine it goes beyond your normal ability to hear. Just like the RG-8, the TL 0 held on to the decay—following the tails of sounds right down into the noise floor better than any other transport I have used, in fact. In so doing, it addressed a serious complaint about digital and the truncation of such acoustic details as the decay of notes or vocals. But where the Forsell and the TL 1 deal with this in a lush, liquid manner, the TL 0 was all business and precision.

Sibelius's Symphony 2 (Chesky Gold Series CG903) and Mahler's Symphony 3 (with Lenny and the NYP, DG 427 328-2) sounded unbelievably open through the JS1/J1 combo; via the TL 0, they seemed even more transparent, airy, brilliant, and spacious. The soundstage itself was somewhat narrower, but the senses of hall size and volume were more specifically detailed with the TL 0.

Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth (4AD 45384-2) emerged from a quieter, darker background with the TL 0 than with the Forsell, Jadis, or Krell DT-10, and was essentially the most focused of the bunch. The bass was lighter than the others, but was nonetheless satisfyingly deep and controlled. The bass range wasn't really lightweight, just cleaned up and somewhat less opulent-sounding than the Forsell or the Jadis, and not quite as extended and tight as the Krell.

On Duke Ellington's effusive Ellington Jazz Party (Columbia CK 40712), the band was spread out in a clear, superbly delineated soundstage, the palpability factor aided by senses of micro-detail, focus, and "sharpness" in the presentation of leading-edge transients. Focus and palpability often seem to be associated with components that can zip the transients at the listener with "startle-factor" speed. The real test here continues to be that occasional moment when the system makes me jump as if something actually happened in our loft. "What the hell was that?!" My head gimbals around only to realize, mid-gimbal and with ironic smile, that, once again, the semblance of reality has been served.

Of course, you will protest that good "visuals" and the ability to startle is only a part of the overall gestalt of a system. "Excessive emphasis on the visual presentation is, for me, distracting, crude, and carnival-like," writes a single-ended acquaintance (still recovering from his wounds). But I agree: A system that images like a bastard but which isn't musical is of no use at all.

Did the TL 0 startle? Yes. In fact, with its strong sense of dynamics and fast transients, it startled more than not! Was the TL 0 musical, then? Alas, poor Rubric, there's the rub. In the right system with the right mix of components and ancillaries, it certainly was. But the hapless moneybags who buys this unit cannot think to simply plunk it down and connect it to just any old D/A. You wouldn't drink Veuve Cliquot with McDonalds, would you? You would? Isn't it time for your appointment?

The Krell DT-10 has the same general sound for 10 kilobux less, but certainly doesn't have the TL 0's refinement and levels of detail and brilliance. The Jadis J1 Drive and the Forsell are entirely different beasts. The Jadis's design criteria and sound "embody the senses most Gallic," as Poirot might have put it. Its own particular blend of knockout looks and a superbly chosen balance of sound define yet another aesthetic of how digital transports should be designed. Was the J1 musical, then? Certainly.

Disregard the Forsell for the present—as musical as it was—for it's another kettle of meatballs, to mix metaphors. At the time of this writing, Dr. Forsell was performing dramatic update surgery on the unit; he was installing a new power supply and Crystal E series chip in the D/A, and adding Mk.II boards, a newly designed top for the transport, and a newly implemented grounding scheme—details soon. Read all about it, Svenska! Suffice to say the Forsell digital front-end in its earlier iteration represented the polar opposite in sound from the TL 0—as did the (also very musical) TL 1.

So answer the damn question, Scull! Was the TL 0 musical? Yes. But, this ultraresolution of microdetail (and stunning imaging) could be both a blessing and a bane. If your downstream electronics aren't up to the task, much bedlam and teeth-gnashing will ensue. It wasn't really possible to just substitute the TL 0 in for the other transports; I had to tune the system around it to avoid Sterile Detail Syndrome. And you're obliged to feed it good-to-excellent recordings, because it won't treat lean'n'mean pop efforts with largess. "Sure, kid, take the Mondial. The top's already down—and try to keep it under 120, okay?" Right. If the CD sounded like shit, the TL 0 gave it right back to you in the face. Echhhh!

So I was able to "make it sound musical" with careful system, cable, and associated-equipment matching, but it didn't come easy. It mated gorgeously with the Jadis JP-80MC, of course, and got along famously with the Forsell D/A, in a more synergistic match than with the Jadis JS1 (so well-served by its own J1 Drive.)

The TL 0 loved the Siltech line-level cables (all that gold and silver), and got along famously with AudioQuest AudioTruth Diamond x3 balanced (all those diamonds!). It also liked the Illuminati balanced's open and robust sound. Glass was also fine—especially the ioGel-treated Aural Symphonics—but overall, I preferred the TL 0's balanced output, with its large, quiet soundstage and palpable imaging. The Kimber balanced (both TGDL and my favorite AGDL) sounded too lean, and can not be recommended unless you're using old Marantz amps loaded with bad tubes. Interestingly, the lower energy levels in the midrange up—a problem I've encountered with balanced connections in our system—seemed hardly a problem with the C.E.C. TL 0.

With the right attention to setup, the C.E.C. TL 0 sounded breathtaking and, yes, musical. The nature of its sound may be taken for a validation of its design criteria in eliminating jitter from the datastream. "It's a real black hole for vibration," The Schram quipped. It sounded ultraclean, and the detail and imaging were magnificent to behold.

The downside is that such a resolving lens on digital also reveals a bit of the format's failings. With the TL 0, there's nowhere to hide. "Inherent to the technology or the unit itself?" you may ask. "May it not be introducing other distortions besides jitter?" another manufacturer asked in a discussion of the TL 0's jitter-dispensing design.

My firm opinion, especially in light of what analog is capable of, is that the CD's technology is at fault. The TL 0 does what it's supposed to do: bring you what's encoded on the surface of the shiny, alluring CD. That the signal recovered may not be exactly what you really want to hear—"perfect sound forever"—well, c'est la vie, what?

I'd profile a TL 0 owner as a happy Mark Levinson No.30/No.30.5 owner looking for something a little more exotic and unique than ML's own fine No.31. The TL 0 delivered the same filigreed and detailed sonic soundscape as Levinson's outstanding digital duo. Sure, you'll miss some of the electronic ergonomic benefits of linking the Nos.30/31 together, but I promise you'll feel good every time you heft the stabilizer to change discs.

Richard Schram tells me that the TL 0 is available through special order, and that they keep a "very prudent quantity" on hand for those audiophile coupon-clippers who want it. Order up a stretch limo, whip out that basic-black P'n'L pedigree, head down to your authorized C.E.C. TL 0 dealer, and knock yourself out. (Before I do!)

US distributor: Parasound
950 Battery St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 397-7100