Gramophone Dreams #69: Trance Dancing on Maxwell Street & the Rotel DT-6000 "DAC Transport" Page 2

When I discovered this omission, I huffed and puffed and stamped my little foot: "What do you mean I can't play my CDs through the DAC of my choice?" For me, this was a deal killer. In my 30 years of digital, I have only once (that $100 Oppo) stooped low enough to use one of those Cracker Jack–prize DACs that come inside CD players.

Somewhat indignantly, I asked Jeff Coates, managing director of Fine Sounds (Rotel's US distributor, footnote 2): Why no digital out? He told me, "The DT-6000 started its development as the CD-6000 with a continuation of the DAC topology we had been using, [from] Wolfson. Through various iterations, the engineers built working samples of the unit with Wolfson, AKM, TI, and then finally ESS DACs in their quest for the best possible performance. When they got to the ESS9028PRO, they realized that they had a DAC that outperformed the needs of a strictly Red Book CD player and modified the unit to accept external digital inputs as well."

Next, I asked, who manufactures the transport mechanism?

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"We do not identify the supplier, as we source different parts from vendors and we consider the manufactures and processes a trade secret. The motors, optical laser pickup, and CD tray are sourced from different suppliers. We tooled our own proprietary OPU (optical pickup) shielding to further improve operation."

The DT-6000's ESS DAC plays coax and optical inputs up to 24/192, and Class 2.0 USB up to 32/384. My unit connected automatically with my Roon core and played DSD files splendidly. According to Rotel's website, it supports MQA and MQA Studio up to 24/384.

My CD experience
I chose my first CD player—a TEAC VRDS-20—because I thought its transport would be sturdy and reliable. It was. I used it with a variety of expensive Audio Note DACs. After the pro-styled TEAC, I decided to skip the converter and bought a C.E.C. TL 1 belt-drive CD transport. After the C.E.C., I settled in for a long time with a 47 Labs Flatfish transport connected to a 47 Labs 4705 NOS DAC. I loved that combination, because it made CDs sound grainless and unmechanical: almost analog. When it broke down, I bought that $100 Oppo.

But times have changed. CD playing is no longer on audio's center stage. It has become a challenge to find a quality, affordable transport or a well-built, reasonably priced CD player to use as a transport. This makes me sad, because typically, I prefer the sound of music in the format it was originally issued in. When I started buying CDs, I made it a strict rule not to buy reissues of music originally issued on LP. Consequently, most of the weird music I bought on CD has not yet appeared on Tidal or Qobuz.

But now I am big-grin happy to be playing my cherished CDs again. They feel exotic and sound more solid and exciting than ever before.

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Right out of the box, Rotel's DT-6000 seemed to declare: Legacy CD players were severely handicapped by fuzzy, blurry, dodgy-sounding DACs and wobbly transports. If memory serves me, this Rotel makes my old CD players (and those fancy transports) sound blurry and muddy and slow. It accomplishes this by delivering Red Book digital with a brighter, cleaner-edged contrast structure. And more drive.

Rotel's Diamond Series DAC Transport full-force animated Gordon Quinn's field recordings for And This Is Maxwell Street in a manner that made me into a CD believer, something I have never been before.

If you are not familiar with the stars of this CD set, harmonica player Carey Bell and guitarist Robert Nighthawk, I promise you'll be impressed by how worn-shoe real-life it sounds. If you hear it through the DT-6000, you'll be even more impressed by how forcefully these artists come at you. The blues of these Chicago artists is raw, rough, and spontaneous in myriad street-performance ways—ways that artists like Muddy Waters and B.B. King were polishing out of their music to give their performances a more high-class nightclub feel. According to legend, Nighthawk asked Muddy to come to Maxwell Street and "have some fun." Muddy said, "No thanks man: You guys are already making me look bad."

I was surprised by the degree to which the DT-6000 let me experience a bigger-than-ever portion of the fast-rolling, high-torque boogie doled out by Big John Wrencher playing "Lucille" on Volume 1 of And This Is Maxwell Street. Wrencher's "Lucille" is entirely his own—nothing like Little Richard's 1957 rock'n'roll hit—but once you hear Wrencher's tune, you'll know you've experienced some full-force, home-schooled Chicago blues.

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Robert Nighthawk plays electric bass behind Wrencher's screeching harp, and, along with Jimmie Collins (I think) on drums, moves the boogie forward in a way that could never be duplicated in the confines of a recording studio. I mention this because Rotel's DT-6000 DAC Transport (and their RA-6000 integrated amplifier; see my review in this issue) punched these hurricane-force grooves right through. The music's rawness was unmitigated. This is foot-tapping, head-bopping music in its maximal form, and Rotel's delta-sigma chip did not stifle any grooves. My more expensive R2R DACs did not better the DT-6000's beat-keeping and boogie-stomping.

As we listened together, my friend Gaucho speculated, "Delta sigma excels at flow over time, while R2R excels at the right-now part." I concurred.

The sensations I am alluding to are easy to spot and utterly tangible, but to understand, you must experience the power of their physical form. Rotel's pretty-faced, suburban-styled, place-it-on-your-dresser DAC Transport did audio vérité with all the righteous street-boogie intact.

Evaluating audio is not so much about having an ear for sound—although that is a necessity. It's more about having a mind that's capable of overcoming prejudice when confronted with conflicting evidence. This applies to the gear and the music passing through it.

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A case in point is pianist Yuja Wang's The Berlin Recital (Live at Philharmonie, Berlin 2018) (24/96 FLAC, Deutsche Gramophone/Qobuz and 16/44.1 FLAC Deutsche Gramophone/Tidal). I've followed Wang since she first appeared. The way she plays charges me up, but I am never sure how much art or humanity is communicated by her spectacular performances.

What I mainly got from Yuja Wang's playing was the note-dense thrill of her virtuosity and Rachmaninoff-centered repertoire. However, during my time with the DT-6000, I stumbled on Berlin Recital, which, without warning, made me think: Perhaps I've been missing something. I was listening casually to see how Rotel's DAC would stream a well-recorded piano (its answer: with clean, fast, well-sculpted authority) when all of a sudden I thought I heard the voice of a frightened child in the darkness behind the wall of Wang's intense pianism. The longer I listened, the more I felt a rapt human presence coming through. My first sense of this emotional communication, real or imagined, appeared during Alexander Scriabin's Sonata No.10 Op.70, but it became more conspicuous during the three dramatic György Ligeti Òtudes. I credit this hear-the-human-behind-the-sound revelation to the DT-6000. In contrast to most mainstream digital processors, Rotel's DAC did not filter out the human presence in the performances it reproduced.

Plus!
I am sure many of you have done this many times, but this month's studies allowed me to casually compare how streaming felt compared to good-quality CD playback.

Not surprisingly, using the same DAC—the one in the DT-6000—made all the sources sound similar, maybe 80% alike. But once I recognized the differences, they were consistent and obvious. The most noticeable differences between Rotel's CD playback and its Roon/Qobuz/files playback were in energy delivery and viscosity: Music from CDs sounded denser and better fortified than music from Qobuz and Tidal.

Streaming was clearer, smoother, and more open, with contrasts that weren't as sharp, more liquid and dreamy-spacy. What I like most about streaming is how it makes the passing of time and the space around notes into something interesting. With the DT-6000, streaming sounded less physical than phono or CD, but it was quite nice for late nights.

I suspect this casual comparison says more about my streaming implementation than it does about the nature of CD playback. The signal path for a CD is quite simple, so it should sound better. For me, streaming is the big adventure

I fall asleep with and wake up to, every day. I would be trés triste to live without it. However, whenever I pause and look at the bigger picture, music streaming seems like an audiophile tarpit, rife with technical uncertainties, as well as being ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated by what people who know digital sound tell me is necessary for best results: dedicated computers; audiophile-grade routers and modems; military-grade NAS devices, specialized HDMI, Ethernet, USB, AES3, and coax cables; plus Ethernet filters, DDCs, master clocks, network switches, add-on power supplies; and, I almost forgot, DACs and streamers!

That's why I am having so much fun rediscovering the Joy of CDs: one-box simple, stress-free, plug'n'play, and something physical to touch, scrutinize, and collect.

Is perfect sound biodegradable?
Stereophile's Recommended Components (October 2022) features the product category Disc & File Players and another called Digital Processors. It's my opinion that Rotel's DT-6000 DAC Transport should be listed in both. I say this because its CD player made my CDs sound more revealed and alive than I'd ever heard before. And its vigorous, smooth, meaty-sounding DAC streamed Tidal and Qobuz in a manner that could please me till the day I fly away. Other than its lack of a digital output, nothing about the DT-6000 disappointed me.

But which Recommended Components grade level should it fall in? There are 18 components in Disc & File Players Class A+, but most of them are file players. Only five of them play CDs, and the cheapest of those, the MBL Noble Line N31, costs $17,400. And guess what? There are no disc players in Class A. There's only one, the $2999 Cyrus CDi-XR, in Class B.

I am not sure how to interpret this, but it worries me. Are CDs becoming obsolete? If so, where will they go? Into the earth? Under the sea?

My hope is that some number of those trillion CDs will end up as treasured collectables, like Joe Bussard's 78s. This hope will only be realized if people like us encourage mainstream audio companies like Rotel to continue making newly designed, well-built, great-sounding, reasonably priced CD players like the DT-6000. I think Class A needs a CD player.


Footnote 2: The Rotel Co. Ltd. US distributor: Fine Sounds America, 11763 95th Ave., Maple Grove, MN 55369 Tel: (510) 843-4500 Web: finesounds.com

COMMENTS
cognoscente's picture

It is good to read a review of an audio component that is affordable for most of us.

Although I am very fond of the ease of use of nowadays digital music (I have never understood the revival of the record player, or the cassette deck / walkman, reel deck, the discsman and yes, it took a while, but then of course the CD (player) nowadays - sales of CDs are on the rise again) I am also against streaming. For the quantitative reason, I don't need to have all, almost all music at my disposal, also the qualitative reason. Streaming is simply not the best way in terms of quality, as described in the review. I am in favor of a simple and, above all, closed system, without all the noise that you also get from the internet in an open system, where you then need all kinds of unnecessary, and therefore too expensive, peripheral equipment to get it all right again (I'm ignoring the power supply for convenience). Data traffic is also a major cost item for the providers, so they have every interest in not sending you the very best, read heavy full, files. But the main reason is that I don't believe in the platform economy, where only the platform really earns from it. I'm not a hi-res audio denier. I still buy music, not a physical CD or SACD, but on Qobuz. AIFF files, so without compression. The full quality. Usually in the highest Hi-Res quality available, if I think it has added value. That is certainly not always. I put the purchased music on my iPhone (which is the storage and remote control) in the Onkyo HF app (which makes it possible to play Hi-Res files, CD quality is a software limitation on an iPhone, not a hardware limitation ) and play the music via a USB cable connected to my dac (I'm also not in favor of wireless audio, BTW Airplay is again limited to CD quality). This is an intermediate form of listening via a physical (CD / SACD) player and streaming. The ease of streaming and the quality of a physical player.

Anyway: what I mean to say, if you still feel the need for a physical playback device, get the Panasonic DP-UB9000. The whole player, including the transport, is built like a tank, or bunker if you prefer. And a good music dac is probably already in your current set anyway. Although the audio dac in this Panasonic is also very good. You also immediately have an excellent Blu-Ray player, for an everlasting build quality, better than the Rotel, and cheaper player than the Rotel.

cognoscente's picture

oh forgot to write, streaming a song 1x takes the same amount of energy as downloading it 1x. And you keep streaming over and over. Every time and again and again and again. So also in terms of climate change, if you believe in that and want to do something about it, streaming is not the best way.

jtshaw's picture

My experience with a Bryston BCD3 CD Player somewhat mirrors Herb's. It's a redbook-only player that truly sounds fully-optimized for its mission. I'm running it with a balanced interconnect into a Luxman integrated amplifer, and I'm getting the best CD sound I have heard in almost 35 years of CD collecting and listening. We still have a lot of CDs at our house, some still unavailable on streaming services. A few are quite rare now (for example, Gilad Hekselman's Split Life, his first recording, live at Small's in New York) that I am so grateful to have. I'll be listening to CDs for a long time even as I enjoy other media as well.

cafe67's picture

And limiting they didn’t include a digital out of some sort even if just a coaxial out.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Marvelous writing, marvelous storytelling.

Herb Reichert's picture

it was a fun story to tell

h

georgehifi's picture

Like a multi digital input all in one preamp/dac. Great work Rotel!!

But!! and there's always one for me, the only thing missing even though it's on the remote, is a volume control so you can then go direct into your power amp/s.
shorturl.at/loBCL
Hopefully there will be a firmware upgrade to active this, as the ESS9028PRO converter has that ability to easily be turned on. Like Benchmark did on their Dac3 with the ESS9028Pro dac

Cheers George

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