Music in the Round #81: Classé Sigma Mono amplifier, Sony UHP-H1 universal player Page 2

My biggest remaining concern: With the Classé Sigma Monos driving the B&W 802 D3 Diamonds, I still can find no fault with the amps. They seem to combine the overall clarity of the Benchmark with the vitality of the NAD, the power and richness of the McIntosh and Bel Canto, and the unaffected balance of the Parasound and Theta. Perhaps the synergy with the 802 D3s was designed in, but I doubt it: It would be shortsighted to make an amp that worked best with only one speaker, or a speaker that sounded good with only one amp; what I can't deny is that, with the Sigma Mono amps, my system sounds better and more enjoyable than ever. As Goldilocks said, this one sounds ju-u-u-st right.

Sony UHP-H1 universal audio & video player
Sony has always been the big player in SACD technology. From the original SCD-1 ($5000 in 1999) to the PS3 (discontinued in 2007), and through the XA series, which culminated in the XA-5400ES ($1500 when reviewed), Sony has offered high-quality players to support the consumer format they developed with Philips. At the other end of the scale, they included SACD capability in their mass-market Blu-ray players, but their offerings at both ends failed to make an across-the-board success of the Super Audio Compact Disc. Now the XA-5400ES, too, has been discontinued, and it's unlikely we'll see anything else like it from the inventor of the format. File streaming and downloads have pulled the rug from under such efforts.

I haven't been impressed with most of Sony's low-cost "universal" players; they were built into tinny boxes, and none played DVD-Audio discs, the SACD's erstwhile competitor in physical hi-rez formats. So when Sony announced the UHP-H1 as a "Premium Audio & Video Player" for $349.99, I was surprised to discover that, yes, for the first time, a Sony device will play DVD-As. It will also upsample video signals to 4K resolution, though it can't play a native 4K signal. But who cares? This is Sony's first truly universal audio player.

The UHP-H1's surprisingly small shipping carton warns that the device within is "heavy." Well, the UHP-H1 can be described as "heavy" only in comparison with cheaper mass-market players, which seem to weigh about the same as their nonfunctional display models. In contrast to those flimsy boxes, the UHP-H1 has gravitas. Its remote control is essential, for the UHP-H1 has only two controls of its own: a button to toggle the power on and off, and one to open and close the disc drawer. There's a USB port on the front, and a simple LED display; for most uses, it needs to be hooked up to a video display.

On the rear panel, beginning with the captive power cord at the left, are an RJ45 LAN port, two (count 'em: two!) HDMI outputs, optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs, and a stereo pair of line outputs (RCA). Significantly, the UHP-H1 can route video signals directly to the display through one of its HDMI outputs, and, through the other HDMI, send the audio to an AVR or pre-pro that doesn't necessarily support 4K video. Audio purists with no interest in 4K might want to do this anyway, but I'm skeptical about any audible advantage, since video signals (albeit without program content) still accompany the UHP-H1's "audio-only: HDMI output. So if we ignore the UHP-H1's more-than-competent video performance and its impressive collection of apps, we can focus on what it offers the music listener, and particularly the devotee of multichannel recordings.


The UHP-H1's analog audio outputs were serviceable. Bass power and extension seemed lacking; the midrange and treble were clean and detailed, but with a hint of glare. The digital outputs, however, were much, much better, and competitive with Oppo Digital's more expensive BDP-103 ($499).

However, since the UHP-H1 can't output multichannel signals except via HDMI, I spent all my time with it connected to either my Marantz AV-8802a (Connecticut system) or my Marantz NR-1606 (Manhattan). It flawlessly played all music discs—CD, SACD, BD, and DVD-A—and the sound was satisfying. Playback of files from directly connected USB and files streamed over Ethernet, either sent from my servers or summoned by Sony's SongPal app, was also excellent.

1116mitr.sonyrem.jpgIn fact, the big complaint I have about the UHP-H1 is that it doesn't support in multichannel some of those formats it supports in stereo. This is nothing new. Almost every multichannel-relevant component I've tried has this problem, and their manuals often completely ignore multichannel issues—even when, as here, the component is capable of some multichannel playback.

Sony states that the UHP-H1 will play files in the AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, DSD (DSDIFF and DSF), LPCM, and WMA formats, but every one of those formats is flagged with the comment that "The player may not play this format on a DLNA server" or "This file cannot be played on a DLNA server." There is no mention of whether it will play any of these in multichannel. In other words, all bets are off.

Well, there's some good news. The UHP-H1 will play all of those formats, in stereo, from files streamed by the SongPal app or by DLNA, using wired Ethernet or WiFi, including DSD (DSD64 only), and up to 24-bit/192kHz for the other formats. Unfortunately, only DSD64 was reliable in multichannel; the FLAC and WAV files were either ignored by SongPal, or rejected by the UHP-H1 when I sent them via JRiver Media Center.

Bottom line: The Sony UHP-H1 is a well-built, good-sounding, genuinely universal disc player when used with its digital audio outputs. It does require connection to a video monitor, but that should be no problem for anyone using the preferred HDMI audio output. Streaming, too, is excellent, but only for stereo or DSD. If this model's video performance and/or app library floats your boat, that should put it over the top.

JRiver Media Center 22
I've been using JRiver's Media Center software ever since I began playing music files, although at the beginning I did try five or six of its competitors. Why I have not yet succumbed to the siren song of other players comes down to JRiver's versatility and configurability. Versatility means that I can play any format in any number of channels sent via any output devices. Configurability means that I can make the JRiver graphic user interface look like what I want for the purposes I want, and maintain custom file libraries without any changes in the organization of the stored files. Implicit in all of that are JRiver's support of multichannel playback, channel and bass management, DSP and plug-ins—and, of course, its sound quality. You can buy the latest version and use it forever, but you'll get free updates for only about a year (and they do keep improving it). I just installed Media Center 22 ($49.98 for the single-platform version with steep discounts for current licensees) and it included something I hadn't realized I needed.

I firmly believe in the importance of electronic room correction; generally, I use Dirac Live. Although Live is limited to PCM signals at maximum sample rates of 172.4 or 192kHz, these days that's pretty good. Recently, however, I've been enjoying recordings of higher and higher resolutions, and while I could play them as-is via JRiver Media Center, file loading was very slow, with continual interruptions for buffering when I tried to downsample them, even when I didn't use Dirac. On the other hand, when the real-time downsampling worked, adding Dirac Live always worked too. The issue was the resampling.

Looking for the source of the problem, I added more RAM to my NAS, reconfigured my LAN, cleaned up my JRiver configurations, and dissected my server, a Baetis XR3. Although the Baetis runs on an i7 processor at 3.10GHz with 16GB of RAM, its CPU was hitting the stops when I downsampled DSD256 or 24/352.8 PCM multichannel files to 96 or 192kHz. I figured it had to be the heavy arithmetic of the non-integer calculations—downsampling to 88.2 or 176.4kHz ran okay. Even more disturbing was that four of the CPU's eight logical processors were handling the load, while the other four were loafing or "parked." Every computer has limits, of course, but I didn't want to spend a bundle of money just to play these "special" files.

While this was going on, JRiver released Media Center 22, with a list of new features and fixes. Among them is an option to "Use SoX for resampling (experimental)." I had noticed SoX in the SqueezeBox communities and elsewhere but had never tried it. It was developed by SourceForge as "the Swiss Army knife of sound processing programs," and while SoX seems extremely capable, JRiver uses it purely as a resampler. But that's exactly what I needed. I clicked on the SoX option, and the real-time resampling worked smoothly, without interruptions, with all the CPU cores working comfortably within their limits.

My points here are that my current hardware was up to the new tasks given the improved software, and that JRiver Media Center 22 might be a boon to others who are having problems with high-bit-rate files, stereo or multichannel. Thanks, JRiver and SoX.


Axiom05's picture

Interesting write-up on the Classe mono amps. Is there any chance of JA doing some measurements on these? As a current owner of a pair of Classe CA-M300 amps, I can definitely appreciate the appeal of less weight and less heat!

Kal Rubinson's picture

All I can say is that it is very likely he will read your request.

tonygeno's picture

Kal, can the UHP-H1 play flac and dsd files without gaps?

shosty5's picture

Hi Kal, just wondering about your speaker setup, in the system with the Silver 8s. Do you have three Silver 8s across the front? What are your rear speakers? Not sure if this system is listed somewhere, so I thought I'd go directly to the source. Thanks! Jim

Kal Rubinson's picture

I use 3 MA Silver8s for LCR and a pair of Silver2s for SR/SL in the CT system. In that system, the sources are a JRiver-based server (MacMini running Win7 under BootCamp) and an Oppo 103 and they feed a Marantz AV8802a and a Bryston 9BST. There are also two JLAudio e110 subs.

allhifi's picture

Kalman: Wonderful review. I must say, I'm rather (very) surprised that such design (D/Switching Amplifiers) holds=up to scrutiny vs. premium, classic A/B designs -including many from Classe' themselves.

There is no doubt the company has the smarts/R&D and skill to manufacture some world-class product. The problem is the manner in which they move "forward"; not listening to 'legacy' customers, instead jumping both feet full-in with their latest/greatest product discovery/technology. And not without grave consequence; alienating a rich customer base spanning 40-years.

Not sure who is responsible (is it you Dave Nauber?) but this indifference to product/company history/consumer base has eroded consumer confidence in the product name and it's all-over-the-map product offerings over the past 10-years.

These fast/furious and 'new' product offerings are simply poorly introduced/marketed; as opposed to planned, cautionary, (and sensible) product Sku's, as children (with nary a second thought) Classe' jumps in/on new directions alienating everyone in the process. Bad news. As their deteriorating sales/consumer interest over the past 10-years has shown.
Too bad, for once and/when the company hits a 'home-run' (product ) most previous Classe (fanatics?)/customers have long since lost interest in the company's products/wayward ways.

Although I wish them well, may their failings be a lesson to other company's considering abandoning their core customer base. As an example, Levinson learned this (after Mr. Nauber's departure interestingly enough), while other company's (such as Sim Audio) have never lost sight of their base/core customer -although they could use a mild shake-up of sorts -lol.

Returning to the review (and my comment here), I wonder about class "D" amplifiers long-term performance capability; is it, will it, be as rock-solid as a well-known/respected, premium A/B designs (including my own CA-2100 Classe 2-channel A/B power amplifier) a PROVEN spectacular amplifier -to this day, 15-YEARS after its introduction.
Will the 'D' series' Classe' (including the Sigma Mono's) enjoy the same long-life and earn the respect/admiration of listener's ?

These are (some of) the questions that perhaps were neither asked /considered by Classe' management -nor answerable- given the 'newness' of the technology/application.
And customer's take note. They feel comfortable with expensive purchases they know enjoy a long, respected life/performance expectancy.

Although the 'Naub' is likely a pretty good guy, pulling-back the reign's may be advisable before the train runs off the rails ...

peter jasz