Pioneer DV-AX10 SACD/DVD-A/CD player Page 2

The main event...
When fed the right material in the right format, the DV-AX10's bass could be as slammin' as anything I'd heard anywhere, anytime. Depending on what mode I was running in, the deep, mid-, and upper bass, and up into the lower midrange, sounded excellent and in no way wanting. That was in 20 or 24 bits at 88.2 or 96kHz. With 16/44.1 CD, and especially SACD, the Pioneer's sound could turn rather soft and fat.

Its midrange was the 'AX10's saving grace. You can't dislike an audio component that offers such a big-bosomed, cushy, liquid, round, palpable sound, with tonal colors that—once again, with the right material—were capable of producing high goosebump levels.

The mids were luscious and liquid with most recordings, no matter their pedigree, which led to an occasional problem in the lower-treble/upper-midrange. In CD mode, and even with certain SACDs from old master tapes, there was a narrow band that was shelved forward in this range. And, as with all such italicized presence regions, some grain accompanied the push. Above this anomaly—the Circuit City effect, I call it—the highs were gentlemanly enough to shelve back to their normal frequency response, and all was sweetness and light.

But why so eager to qualify my criticism? Because, finally, [smacks forehead] through the DV-AX10 I heard DVD-Audio sounding extremely fine, No Excuses jeans. SACD was eh, so-so—which I found incredible, as I'm so accustomed to it sounding great. And CD was very, very good, especially if the midrange and bass had been recorded well. With this player, DVD-A finally proved SACD's undoing, though the why of it is complex.

In the meantime, please open your hymnals to the Pat Metheny Group's Imaginary Day (Warner Bros. 46791-9), a DVD-A release identified by the 'AX10 as having been recorded at 24/88.2. Brethren, turn to "The Awakening" and listen for the Celtic-like goings on. Perhaps the bass will chuff your ports (if you have 'em) and cannonade some really deep bass into your room, as it did in mine. Via the Pioneer, there was always (except when playing SACD) a larger-than-life quality to the sound—quite spectacular, with vividness, tonal color, and a sense of aliveness that opened up the top end and made the music somehow more accessible.

On well-recorded high-resolution material, the Pioneer's transparency stood out, along with the "construction" of the soundstage and its many elements, linearity, bass authority, sweet and open highs, and a midrange to make the average audiophile plotz with pleasure. The tonal balance and palpability at 24/88.2 and above were just about perfect—breathtaking, in fact.

The Metheny Group's timing and pace sounded ultrafast with no overhang, always quick on the leading edge defining the acoustic wavefront. This was accompanied by bags of air and detail, created with apparent ease. Great explosions of sound were available on request, as well as small, detailed dynamic shifts, always followed by a lovely fireball of harmonics and acoustic decay.

Listening to an older recording of Monk's Straight, No Chaser (Columbia/Legacy CK 64886) rereleased as a two-channel SACD on the Sony, I enjoyed an all-encompassing midrange liquidity that was to die for. But again with the 'AX10, just above that delectable edible midrange lay a slightly forward treble region. This was most pronounced on CD and some older SACD remasterings.

This shelved-forward presence region gave the presentation a fast, immediate sound, but it could also be just the slightest bit hard and aggressive at times. I found myself moving my listening chair forward and back a bit (it was almost like setting VTA). When I was locked in, it was very rewarding, especially with DVD-A material. The slight hardness in the presence region when playing SACDs (!) and CDs, which I'm more used to hearing from CD, reared its head only occasionally. I suppose that's the price one pays for a machine that does it all.

But in DVD modes and even on some well-recorded CDs, the 'AX10 had a nice, thorough liquidity, especially in that sexy midrange and above. I enjoyed Daniel Barenboim and the Berliner Staatskapelle's recording of Beethoven's Symphony 9 (Teldec 8573-83063-9), which has both 24/96 surround and two-channel mixes. In general, I prefer the quieter passages in the slow movements, especially of concertos. But the Molto vivace of the Beethoven was a delight through the 'AX10. The smart tolling of the timpani about three minutes in should tell you instantly all you need to know about your system's lower midrange and how it integrates with the frequencies above. It was just smashing on the Pioneer; inspiring.

I next turned to the Doors' "Riders on the Storm," from L.A. Woman (Elektra 62612-9), at 24/96! (It astonishes me what gets reissued.) The Pioneer grabbed this recording by the ears and pulled up a vast open space full of air, palpably delineating the position and sound of everyone and everything on the soundstage. Listen for Morrison's floating, reverb'd voice hanging like a curtain behind the speakers.

When I placed Barenboim, then the Doors, in the open drawer of the Toshiba SD-9200 and pressed Play, the whole air/transparency/palpability/magic thing collapsed. It became flatter: nice, sweet, less dynamic, less detail, an easier sound, comfy, like an old pair of slippers. But when I moved back to the Pioneer to play the Chesky brothers' 24/96 version of Dave's True Story's Sex Without Bodies (Chesky CHDVD174), I was immediately impressed with the sound again. Kelly Flint's voice was voluptuous and alluring, the most open I've ever heard it—and I was at the recording sessions! The extended, liquid detail at the top was the kind of acoustic construction I'm used to hearing from the Accuphase SACD, or in 24/192 splendor from the dCS pairing. Music has never sounded this fine before in 24/96!

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