McCormack Audio UDP-1 universal disc player Page 2

Stereo by default
Despite requiring a video display to access its menus, the UDP-1 comes from the factory with two-channel stereo as its default mode for all formats. Any first-time user can just plug it in, turn it on, and enjoy two-channel CDs, SACDs, and DVD-As, as I did.

It was a revelation. Each time I popped in a familiar disc, I hoped to catch the UDP-1 out in some characteristic that would negatively distinguish it from what I've heard in the past. No such luck. The McCormack sounded as clean, balanced, and dynamic as all get-out. Violinist Andrew Manze's disc of Vivaldi concertos, Concertos for the Emperor (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907332), sounded almost squeaky-clean, albeit endowed with a warm ambience and great depth. In fact, the advantage gained by switching to the SACD version (HMU 807332) was small, endowing the soundstage with only a little more detail while bringing Manze's solos into greater relief. Similarly, female voices and their accompanists, from Anna Netrebko on Sempre Libera, with Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, (SACD, DG B0002999-02), to Tierney Sutton backed by piano, bass, and drums on Dancing in the Dark: Inspired by the Music of Frank Sinatra (SACD, Telarc SACD-63592), provided ample evidence of the UDP-1's ability to open up the greater soundstage without compromising the soloist up front.

The UDP-1 even told me more than I had known about the harmonic richness of Wayne Horvitz's keyboards on Forever, one of my favorite DVD-As (Hi-Res Music CHRM 2001). One should never mistake the instrument on "Capricious Midnight" for a damaged piano, but with the McCormack feeding my system, I savored the flavored harmonics as never before. But I best appreciated the UDP-1's transparency and balance with Yo Miles! Sky Garden, a two-channel-only, two-SACD set featuring guitarist Henry Kaiser and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith's reinterpretations of and riffs on the music of Miles Davis and others (Cuneiform RUNE191/192). This studio production, recorded direct to DSD, offers some of the most immediate and realistic sound of both electronic and acoustic instruments. Listen, for example, to how Smith's acoustic trumpet soars over the thick electronic-bass base of "Sivad>Gemini Double Image>Little Church," a sort of Davis-meets-Zawinul fest. The UDP-1 was both richly weighty and surgically revealing on this outstanding recording. Even feeding the CD layer through the Theta Gen.VIII didn't come close.

In level-matched A/B comparisons to the Sony SCD-XA9000ES SACD player, even with the latter's alternate filter in use for CD, the UDP-1 offered an edge on CDs and SACDs that was ever-so-slightly less hard. That difference was of small enough consequence to permit me to fully enjoy both players with the Revel Ultima Studio speakers, but it tilted my preference to the McCormack when I used the Paradigm Reference Studio/60s. In a similar A/B comparison, with CDs, of the McCormack's analog output with the output of the Theta Gen.VIII running off the UDP-1's coax digital output, there were no differences in balance or, indeed, in overall transparency and detail. But for the extra $11,000, the Gen.VIII did give me a wider, deeper, more convincing soundstage. And to show you how fast things change, I heard no advantage in piping the UDP-1's output through the Mark Levinson No.360S D/A processor—and no disadvantage, either.

Multichannel by design
In my multichannel system, the sound of the UDP-1 was as good as it had been in two channels: fast, clean, and balanced. The McCormack was my workhorse for auditioning all the new RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence SACDs, and it was simultaneously extremely revealing and eminently satisfying. For example, the higher levels of tape noise on the Mercurys were immediately noticeable but relatively unobtrusive, permitting my ear-brain to readily adapt to them. On the other hand, the richness and solidity of the spectral balance and soundstage were almost mesmerizing.

Nor did the UDP-1 display any favoritism when I played my favorites. It performed equally well with SACD and DVD-A, as well as with DD and DTS soundtracks. So, while I still prefer Naxos' DVD-As to their parallel SACD releases, the UDP-1 improved the SACDs' playback while simultaneously delineating the differences between the formats. Listen to the inner voices in the chorus of Arvo Pärt's Magnificat, from his Berliner Messe (Naxos SACD 6.110052, DVD-A 8.110052) and you'll hear what I mean. The SACD is spacious and detailed, but the DVD-A has just that little extra transparency.

The UDP-1 was even better with SACDs from original DSD recordings, providing ample justification both for the higher resolution and for the multichannel format. Only the $11,000 Linn Unidisk 1.1 is able to speak with as consistent a voice across all music formats, and thus is as capable of fairly distinguishing between the two hi-rez formats. The UDP-1 also did a bang-up job with DD and DTS. The DVD-A of Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic's version of Mahler's Symphony 5 was more incisive via the UDP-1, but the Dolby Digital DVD-V of the same performance clearly qualified as high-resolution audio, with the added fillip of full-motion video. The Linn Unidisk 1.1, however, requires an external decoder for these formats.

Junior Brown is one of my guilty pleasures. The UDP-1 delivered his gritty, resonant voice on Down Home Chrome with striking immediacy (SACD, Telarc SACD-63612). Where this album really scores over Brown's earlier CDs is in the fullness of his guit-steel guitar and the weight and size of the backing combo.

My Denon DV-5900 universal did equally well with the bottom half of the Junior Brown SACD, but is just a bit grainy in the upper end in comparison to the McCormack. Similarly, the Denon, excellent though it is, doesn't delineate between the SACD and DVD-A versions of Naxos recordings quite as clearly. Perhaps an extra $1000 in mods would level the playing field!

To say that I was happy with the performance of the McCormack Audio UDP-1 is an understatement. The UDP-1 played SACD, DVD-A, and CD recordings, to say nothing of Dolby Digital and DTS, equally well, making the best of each. It is an easy recommendation to make to audiophiles whose video needs are not obsessive but who nonetheless have a video monitor for accessing McCormack's excellent and essential menus. Mated to McCormack's MAP-1 preamp, the UDP-1 universal disc player offers wide-range, uncolored performance. The combination can stand comparison with anything on the market.

McCormack Audio
2733 Merrilee Drive
Fairfax, VA 22031
(703) 573-9665