Playback Designs MPS-5 SACD/CD player Manufacturers' Comment

Manufacturers' Comment

Editor: We would like to thank both Michael Fremer and John Atkinson for the time and work they put into reviewing and testing our Playback Designs MPS-5 SACD/CD player. We were very pleased that an analog lover like Michael would enjoy our digital player.

Most of the measurement results are generally to be expected from the way they were measured. What differentiates the D/A converter inside the MPS-5 from other, more conventional converters is that it uses all custom algorithms and discrete components that were not designed following classic theories and practices. A large percentage of your charts show the behavior of the MPS-5 in the frequency domain, and only two charts show the time domain, although with rigid sinewaves as test inputs. While this would be totally adequate in most cases, it isn't for the MPS-5. For instance, most of the filter algorithms inside the MPS-5 cannot be described or even defined by feeding them periodic test tones such as sinewaves and looking at frequency charts. They were designed for real music signals, and therefore "listen" to the input signal and vary accordingly, to take advantage of how our ear perceives music, which never even resembles periodic test signals. It is common knowledge that such psychoacoustic criteria hardly ever lead to ideal measurements based on steady-state test signals.

Right from the beginning, the design goals for the MPS-5 were to reach new heights in sonic performance with real music signals rather than optimum test-signal measurements. The result is that the algorithms may not perform optimally from a measurement point of view when they have to process test signals, but, as your review also confirms, they do their assigned job quite well when processing real music signals. As we are always researching new ideas, the next-generation algorithms may very well make these kind of measurements even worse—but we can assure you that it will be for the benefit of sonic performance. Isn't that what we are all after?

Again, thank you for the wonderful review!—Jonathan Tinn, Andreas Koch
Playback Designs

Playback Designs
4160 SW Greenleaf Drive
Portland, OR 97221
(503) 221-0465

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

This story might simply be a one-off incident, but I thought I would mention it anyway:
I cannnot say anything about how great this player sounds compared to any other players, as I have only listened to it during a speaker auditon.
Anyway, this player had a very heavy hiss during playback. I've since read that the MPD-3 had a problem with light hiss, which was an inherent part of its design. I'm almost certain that what I listened to was the MPS-5 for two reasons: One was that I remember the black part at the bottom of the player, and second was that the first thing we played was a SACD. I looked at the CD cover, and it had the SACD logo, and the display on the player said "SACD 2 CH". As far as I understand, the MPD-3 is not an SACD player, so it couldn't have been that one.
Moreoever, what I read about the MPD-3, the hiss is very low-level. The hiss I heard that day was HEAVY. I first listened to "The sounds of silence" by Simon & Garfunkel, and the hiss was audible throughout the entire song. During the mellow parts, the hiss was like a very heavy tape hiss. When not playing, the player also had this hiss.
As I said, I can't say if this is a one-off incident, but in no way was this hiss low-level, and my estimate is that it was 10-20 dB below full scale. The seller was utterly surprised when I mentioned the hiss, which struck me as very odd, but that's a different discussion. He changed the cables, which didn't help. The other channels of the amp didn't have this hiss, and we also tried plugging the player into a different input, but that didn't change anything, and when we plugged in a turntable there was no hiss either. So it could only be the Playback Design player, but it is possible that it was only this one copy that was broken - unless it was designed to sound this way, but this should have shown up in the measurements published here.