The Fifth Element #57 Page 3

The ATC SCM 11 is a fully-ready-for-prime-time loudspeaker with excellent resolution and dynamics, etc., but, even more important, the ability to create musical involvement. I intended to listen to just one track's worth of Gregorian chant from Consortium Vocale Oslo's Exaudium Eum (SACD, 2L 2L43SACD), and ended up listening to the whole thing. What more can I say? What I can't say is whether the SCM 11 will be the ideal speaker for you. But between it and Aerial's 5B, you have two super-high-value choices in the $2000/pair region.

Denon RCD-CX1 SACD/CD receiver: $1500
To recap the intro of my August column: Denon's RCD-CX1 CD receiver ($1500) has excellent build quality and styling, and is almost unique in its class in also playing SACDs. It even has phono inputs that are switchable from moving magnet to moving coil. However, it lags a bit on the digital and connectivity fronts. While iPod docks are available as extra-cost accessories, the RCD-CX1 has no USB input. It has an optical digital output, but no digital input. So while the RCD-CX1 might be the one-box solution for some people, others might find the Peachtree Nova better fits their needs.

Still, I think the Denon one-box gets all the big stuff and all the little stuff right. Build quality is a cut above the competition—it's built like a brick—though you might find the Peachtree Nova's styling more appealing. The Denon's casework is all metal, in a classy brushed-champagne finish. The disc tray, too, is all metal, and presents to the world only a thin edge. The volume knob has a band of faux-wood veneer around it, and is smooth in operation. The display is red, but engaging the Pure Direct mode defeats it except when you're giving it commands. The Denon's remote control is exemplary. The connectors are excellent but not world-class. There's a cooling fan, but it must be thermostatically controlled; I never heard it running.

I did exhaustive round-robin comparisons, culminating in driving a briefly borrowed pair of Quad's ESL-2805 electrostatic loudspeakers (heavenly!) with the Peachtree Nova, the Carat I57, and the Denon RCD-CX1. As test tracks for the Quad listening session, I used Alannah Myles' (does she count as a one-hit wonder?) "Black Velvet" ("BV"), from her eponymous debut album (CD, Atlantic); and John Atkinson's recording of Cantus singing Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium (OMM), from their Comfort and Joy: Volume One (CD, Cantus CTS-1204).

Denon RCD-CX1, "BV": What's Not To Love? Solid, no edginess, lyrics very comprehensible (except that it's likely nothing will ever decode the mumbling the track opens with). Great rhythmic drive. OMM: Truly wonderful. Lower voices extraordinary.

Peachtree Nova, "BV": A bit clearer, but the voice was slightly recessed or distant, and cooler or grayer in timbre. The Nova's resolving power was extraordinary, but the Denon was timbrally more full. OMM: Wonderful; remarkable detail/resolution, and the timbral contest was closer on this track.

Carat I57, "BV": Voice slightly farther back, but not cool like the Nova. The biggest difference between the Carat and the Denon? The Denon's treble might have been a touch warmer, and perhaps slightly less extended. OMM: The Carat did space and soundstaging wonderfully.

Denon, OMM: Slightly more clarity in the upper midrange on male vocal harmonies.

It's only by a nose, and your mileage may vary, or the feature sets or wattage might make you decide differently, but for me, it's the Denon RCD-CX1. Bravo.

Denon SC-CX303 loudspeaker: $1200/pair
Before I wrap up the system quest, I must give some space to Denon's companion loudspeaker, the SC-CX303 ($1200/pair). The SC-CX303 is a ported two-way with a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a carbon-fiber-cone 5" woofer. Denon claims a sensitivity of 86dB and an impedance of 6 ohms. Instead of a formal frequency response, Denon instead gives an unreferenced figure for frequency extension that, at 35Hz–60kHz, is neither helpful nor credible.

Each SC-CX303 comes with a port plug of open-cell foam; after a certain amount of experimentation, I used these all the time. The cabinet measures 11.6" high by 6.9" wide by 10" deep and weighs 19 lbs. Therefore, with a displacement of 800.4 in3, the SC-CX303 is significantly smaller than both the ATC SCM 11 (1220 in3) and the Aerial Acoustics 5B (1109 in3). Of course, with the SC-CX303's "woofer" being only 5" in diameter, compared to the ATC's 6" and the Aerial's 7.1", it's going to be one league down in bass capability. On the other hand, the Denon costs 30–40% less.