Spectral SDR-2000 Professional D/A processor Thomas J. Norton

Thomas J. Norton wrote about the Spectreal in November 1995 (Vol.18 No.11):

RH salivated over the Spectral SDR-2000 Professional HDCD D/A processor in Vol.18 No.5, and this was my first chance to hear it in my system. He did not exaggerate. It is clearly a Class A processor; it may even be the best processor in Class A, though I haven't had the opportunity to compare it directly with the Mark Levinson No.30.5, which isn't exactly chopped liver (footnote 1).

At first I found the differences between the SDR-2000 and the Mark Levinson No.36 D/A converter to be subtle—less notable than the differences between the No.36 and the Theta. Shortly, however, two primary differences crystallized. First, there was an increase in high-frequency air with the Spectral, combined with a boost in clarity and fine detail. This came without any of the corresponding edginess or roughness that often ride along with enhanced definition. (RH's review measurements indicated a very small top-end rise in the Spectral's frequency response which might account for this, though at +0.3dB at 20kHz, it doesn't seem terribly significant—and I can't hear 20kHz in any event.) And second, the Spectral was leaner through the upper bass and lower midrange. Riding on the coattails of these primary differences was an increase in soundstage precision, in lateral focus and depth. This improvement struck me as a result of the tonal changes, not an independent enhancement.

After a period of familiarity it was hard not to appreciate what the Spectral did for the sound of CDs, from the subtle percussive details on Mokave's Afrique (AudioQuest AQ-CD1024) and The All Star Percussion II (Golden String GSCD 013), to Branford Marsalis's ethereal saxophone on the soundtrack from Sneakers (Columbia CK 53146), to the separation of vocalists on recordings as dissimilar as the King's Singers' Good Vibrations (BMG Classics 60938-2), and Postcards (Reference RR-61CD).

Stated this way, these differences sound dramatic. They weren't. The more I listened, the more obvious they became—and the more I agreed with RH's conclusions. But the No.36 was very close. It was just a bit soft-sounding next to the Spectral. In one respect, however, I did prefer the No.36. Its slightly greater warmth sounded more natural with the human voice. The Spectral may have been a hair better defined at the very bottom end of the spectrum, but I wouldn't base any purchase decision on the bass differences between these two excellent processors.

Which would I buy? If money were no object, the Spectral. The more I listened to it, the better I liked it. But at more than twice the price of the No.36, it had better be better. The fact that the differences are there will be of significance to those with the resources to take advantage of them. But I'd certainly be more than happy living with the No.36. The important point is not how good the Spectral is (and it is good), but rather just how close the Mark Levinson No.36 is for half the price.—Thomas J. Norton

Footnote 1: When I did this comparison, I found the Spectral to edge ahead in sheer coherence of its soundstage presentation, though its HF balance sounded a little too tilted-up in the context of my system.—John Atkinson.
Spectral, Inc.
442 Oakmead Parkway
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
(408) 738-8521

dial's picture

They still exist. Their products are well built, although the older ones use a lot of parts now unavailable. So take care in case of repair. But I don't know any owner of a Spectral unit with a single problem.
And they're beautiful. Like old Goldmund gear when it was french or during their first swiss years.

Herb Reichert's picture

converter as vivid and exciting - the class of its field

(at the time I was selling converters that competed directly with it)


rascs's picture

I worked at a dealer that sold these too. Spectacular, beautifully made top of class component. At one point we were back-ordered nearly a year despite Spectral's regular production. Would love to see the reprint of the Spectral/ Avalon/ MIT system that was positively reviewed. After hearing Spectral at the store and at CES it's hard to want anything else.
Thanks for reposting this.