Products of the Year 1993 Joint Digital Sources of 1993

Joint Digital Sources of 1993

C.E.C. TL 1 CD transport ($4650; reviewed by Robert Harley, Vol.16 No.7, July 1993 Review)
Mark Levinson No.31 CD transport ($8495; reviewed by Robert Harley, Vol.16 No.6, June 1993 Review)

I had reorganized the voting strategy this year to minimize the possibility of a tie. Yet in this category, the Mark Levinson and C.E.C. transports remained continually nose-to-nose as the ballots trickled back from the writers. But with hindsight, how could it have been any different? Though each transport sounds quite different from the other, both stand head and shoulders above every other silver-disc spinner in the way they bring digital sound closer to the analog experience. The all-American Levinson has more bass slam; the Japanese belt-drive C.E.C., distributed by Parasound, has a greater sense of ease in the treble; but either one, driving a good inexpensive processor like the Meridian 263, gives a sound that is completely free from digital grain and boasts a soundstage that is as deep and wide as you could wish. And partnered with a state-of-the-art processor like last year's winner, the Mark Levinson No.30, you've got yourself one fine CD player.

Objectivists of the "bits-is-bits" persuasion, those benighted souls who feel that CD transports have no right being any different from each other than, say, floppy disk drives, should reread Robert Harley's "Transport of Delight" feature in November '93 (Vol.16 No.11, p.83). Bob's research showed that the portion of that jitter below 20kHz or so almost always goes right through to the DAC chip in the processor to which the transport is hooked up. As you might expect, the No.31 and the TL 1 each have very low jitter in their output datastreams. What is particularly significant is the difference in the spectra of their jitter: the No.31 is lower/better in the bass, the TL 1 is lower/better in the treble—just as you'd expect from how they sound. Exciting times in digital land—perhaps even time for some major credit-card action!

Runners-Up (in alphabetical order)

Audio Alchemy DTI ($349; reviewed by Robert Harley, Vol.16 Nos.5 & 11, May & November 1993)
Meridian CDR disc recorder ($6995; reviewed by Robert Harley, Vol.15 No.11, November 1992)
PS Audio Lambda CD transport ($1695; reviewed by Robert Harley, Vol.16 No.10, October 1993 Review)
PS Audio UltraLink D/A processor ($1995–$2195; reviewed by Robert Harley & Robert Deutsch, Vol.15 Nos.6 & 9, June & September 1992; and Corey Greenberg, Thomas J. Norton, & Robert Harley, Vol.16 Nos.1, 3, & 10, January, March, & October 1993 Review)
Theta DS Pro Basic II D/A processor ($1995–$3195; reviewed by Corey Greenberg & J. Gordon Holt, Vol.16 Nos.1 & 6, January & June 1993)

smargo's picture

who cares about the products of the year in 1993?

Anton's picture

Your umbrage is an easily remedied first world problem.

Seeing that list makes me wonder just how far we've advanced in the intervening years.



cgh's picture

That was my thought too Anton. I think the visual appearance of the speaker is probably what did it. (The speaker of the year would be $6783 on an inflation adjusted basis today.)

Staxguy's picture

Not been in the hobby for long?

For me, seeing that photo was gorgeous. The Theil. The CEC. The SL-1 (still being made) by CAT. The CP-1 (Lexicon).

Just look at that Mark Levinson. I don't care much for the Linn LP, for many reasons, but reading about the Kimber PB+J and Sumiko's Blue Point Special brought at tear to my eye.

What especially caught my eye when reading was the price of the Symphonic Line RG-8 ($5000) - 1993.

Over at TAS, they're recommending the Symphonic Line based Odyssey Audio Khartago (and Stratos) amps by Klaus Bungee.

You can get Symphonic Line from him as well.

In the news, Symphonic Line (Germany) just came out with the Kraftwerk Reference Integrated Amplifier, which was covered by Wizard High End Audio Blog, no less.

The collector in me now wants all these 1993 products! :)

To explain the emotive or reading interest, take a footballer.

Down at the pub, you might just get into this same conversation but any hard core Manchester United fan, like the carpenter from Dublin who just came into my home, might look back to 1993 with the same sort of enthusiasm.

Are you or I going to be buying a belt-driven transport like the CEC? Likely, not. I've had just about enough of belt driven turntables, re: wow and flutter, and breaking $5000 MC cartridges installing a new belt (one was enough...), but my what a list of items.

Don't tell me that you wouldn't mind a Krell KSA-250 or 300?

For everyone else,

Look the Bryston 7B was in it's 7B-NRB-THX stage back then. Bryston just realeased their 7B 3 last week (well, it's review came out, anyway). Amazing!

smargo's picture

its funny how much we have a concept of someone - I have been in the hobby for 24 years - i still think products of the year from 1993 are a waste of time to read.

Id rather see a review of something or an article that applies to the hear and now!

cgh's picture

I unwittingly blew future income listening to Beveridge electrostatics and DQs before 1993... so no, not new to it all. My nostalgia is easily trumped by my interest in music.

Staxguy's picture

I was just trying to guess the reason underlying your comment, Smargo. No offense, intended. :)

Whether it be nostalgia, or a cetain love of architecture, certain products bring a smile to my face.

Take the cover of Stereophile's 1992 Recommended Componets: The Mark Levinson No. 30 DAC.

To me, it is a thing of beauty, that to my eye exceeds most Hi Fi products built today.

The CEC looks great to me too, or the ol' Threshold T2 Preamplifier of yore: certain things of beauty.

Certain products today get design right, to my taste.

The Lumin S1 Streamer

Sort of a computer + DAC. :)

Now take a computer like the Cray 2 Supercomputer. You wouldn't likely want one today, but look at the design!

Pievetta Opera Only ($2M) sort of copies it or plays homage (not to cop a Sonus Faber)...


Certain products like that Theil (3.6) had something beautiful or at least interesting to it - like that curved baffle along with it's flat front and over-all slope to it.

Look at Thiel Loudspeakers today (not to be Thiel / Small):

Their sort of interesting and decor friendly (in the same way the 3.6 was and is today if in good condition) and yet...

my mind's eye says they're just ...

given that Snell is no longer in market, today.

I've never been one for history, but there was one graph (Adbusters, I believe) which showed the decline of Earth species, left to right (falling line) and the increase in consumer products (more brands of toothpaste, etc.), correspondingly...

and this immediately made me interested in the history of technology and it's evolution from sort of the British do-nothing in it's heyday Empire free-man perspective.

That's one side.

On the other, certain objects are just to my eye, intrinsically beautiful.

The Devialet Expert 1000 today may be the more competent product of the two, but to my eye the circuit board of the original D-Premier is much more lovely.

[off-topic content deleted by John Atkinson]

cgh's picture

Working on my PhD I recall executing massively parallel Fortran on Crays (and IBM SP3s) from the Unix shell to solve certain classes of partial differential equations. Even screwing up a password involved getting on the phone to the Sys Admin at Lawrence Livermore or Berkeley who didn't differentiate between me and the guy doing top-secret nuclear simulations. Today I (rather, the kids that work for me) run CUDA on GPU grids and write to a cloud. While I have a certain nostalgia for sitting in my basement waiting hours for QBasic programs on, at best, a 486 to produce fractal images (which I my iPhone could do in a second now), which is similar to my nostalgia for listening to really bizarre music at all hours on those ESLs, I have zero nostalgia for those old Crays.

dalethorn's picture

The old stuff makes me think, if I could go back to the 80's, I'd get a better amp for the DQ10's and a more suitable room as well. Then I could build better memories. The lessons of history are valuable things.

Anton's picture

It's not as if Stereophile just spent time writing an article that could have otherwise been written about 'something new.'

Perhaps other people think surround sound articles area waste of time, or vinyl, or CD players...

Hopefully, they won't now waste all that time writing up articles about gear from 1992 and can focus on 'new stuff!' ;-D

Christian Goergen's picture

Do yourself a favor, compare the prices, for example, of the loudspeakers of the year. High end audio stuff is the only industrial branch I know of, that was able to prevent it's own extinction by introducing prohibititive prices.

Chakenheimer's picture

Sorry to be off topic but lost your email. Do you intend to review The Co-Op lp?

Chakenheimer's picture

When may we expect posting?

readargos's picture

I agree those Thiel speakers have a certain visual appeal. I also liked the similar-looking Hales tower speakers from this era. I remember seeing the Hales at a dealer in Indianapolis for the first time, and found the appearance arresting. The aesthetics of the current Mark Levinson gear is a pale imitation of the chunky art decco glory of the stuff from the '90s.

Moreover, much of the gear remains relevant, and could be the basis of a good second system, or even first system. Replacing passive components that age, like capacitors and resistors, with more modern designs can keep older gear refreshed, and in many cases, sounding better than it did when it premiered.

The Levinson gear from this era was also heroically overbuilt, and like a number of other luxury class goods (I'm thinking of automobiles, in particular) continued to compete with newer designs for many years. If I recall correctly, JA was using the Mark Levinson Reference digital processor until it died on him a few years ago, and I believe some of Stereophile's other reviewers (LG?) are still using Levinson amps of this vintage. We have higher-specification DAC chips now, and higher-resolution digital, but the analog output stage and overall design and attention to detail have almost as much to do with ultimate sound quality, and long-term listening pleasure.