Sony SCD-C555ES SACD changer Page 4

Getting Warm: "Red Book" Sound
To check out the SCD-C555ES's two-channel CD playback, I used "pure Red Book" 16-bit/44.1kHz, conventional CDs or selected the CD layer on the hybrid SACD discs. Compared to the much more expensive Krell KPS-28C CD transport playing conventional CDs, the C555 was more forceful and forward, with more presence and energy, but was less transparent, with a flatter soundstage. Fleetwood Mac's The Dance (Reprise 46702-2) excelled in punch and impact, but the band's voices had a bit more presence and hardness through the C555. David Bowie singing "Putting Out Fire," from the Cat People soundtrack (MCA MCAD-1498), was slightly compressed, without the opening crescendo that draws me into that music. The C555 was competent, fast, dynamic, and forceful playing Patricia Barber's breathy take on "Use Me," from Companion (Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2).

Turning to classical CDs, I thought the C555ES's extra energy lent a counterbalancing force to the somber tonalities and dark resonances of Robert Silverman's Bösendorfer 290SE reproducing piano playing Beethoven's Sonata 14, the "Moonlight" (Orpheum Masters KSP 830, engineered by John Atkinson). The somberness, mood, and ambience of the extremely soft piano enhanced the music's drama.

The other CD that illustrated the Sony's punch and rhythmic drive was Diana Krall's Love Scenes (Impulse! IMPD-233), especially her rendition of the well-known Carroll Gibbons-James Dyrenforth standard, "A Garden in the Rain." Krall's voice—soft, sweet, with just a touch of a whiskey raspiness through the Krell CD player—was supercharged by the C555. Krall simply belted the tune.

Getting Warmer: SACD Two-Channel Sound
I loved the SCD-C555ES, in two-channel SACD mode, playing James Taylor's Hourglass multichannel non-hybrid SACD (Columbia ASC 67912). The soundstage attained a width and depth not heard before. Taylor's voice was light, airy, well-defined, and rich in natural timbre, particularly on "Gaia." There was an open, extended, and effortless quality that had a remarkable smoothness and liquidity. Likewise, Kim Cattrall's voice reading "Little Dog's Day," on Mark Levinson's Live Recordings at Red Rose Music, Vol.1 (Red Rose Music RRM 1), was transparent and crystalline. The Japanese and Korean temple bells that back up Shane Cattrall's reading of Psalm 23 on the same album were reproduced with stunning realism, transparency, and detail.

But good as this two-channel SACD was, the best was yet to come.

Getting Hot: SACD Multichannel Sound
I didn't know what to expect from multichannel SACD. Yes, I'd been seared by the sounds of F-18 fighter jets screaming in behind and over me, from the Godzilla DVD's glorious 6.1-channel THX-EX sound. But would a multichannel music-only disc give me such hyper-involving, pulse-pounding, high-energy dramatics? Would there be any room for meditative, closed-eyed, total progressive muscular relaxation?

At first, I wasn't sure. Jerry Goldsmith's orchestral arrangement of the title music from Air Force One (on SACD Multichannel Demonstration Album) filled my listening room with intensely dramatic, high-impact orchestral music that remained free of distortion. I found myself less in the audience than in the middle of the orchestra—not a natural place to be.

Things were very different for choral music. I was transported as never before by "Ubi Caritas" on Gaudeamus' Sacred Feast (DMP SACD-09). Tom Jung recorded the 31-member chorus, conducted by Paul Halley, in Trinity College Chapel in Hartford, Connecticut. Everything I loved about vocal music was present: the sense of the hall, the resolution of different vocal textures, the layering of voices, the clarity of the reverberation, the intense reproduction of the bass. The chorus was placed solidly in front, with ample but natural reverberation in the surrounds.

This was no set of gee-whiz effects with voices coming out of every surround channel. No, the information in the retrieval said more about the hall than about the performers. I can't say I've ever had this experience in audio—of just closing my eyes and being instantly transported into the reverberant space of a small church. The C555 brought out all the subtleties of this recording with extraordinary transparency, regardless of whether I used the Revel Salons or the Dynaudio Temptations as my front-channel speakers. My listening notes: "The music is seamless, extremely clear and effortless. The overall effect is very seductive." In photography, one speaks of a print's depth of color. By analogy, the SCD-C555ES rendered timbre and musical color with far greater depth than I've ever heard from a two-channel system.