Technics DVD-A10 DVD-Audio player Page 4

CD Sound
After more than a week in repeat mode, the DVD-A10 was nice 'n' toasty 'n' ready to go. (When idle, the unit powers down to Standby to save energy.) I started listening to a lot of familiar "Red Book" CDs on the Linn and the Accuphase, then flipped the discs into the DVD-A10.

On most 16/44.1 recordings, in the default Re-Master mode (upsampling to 24/88.2k), the DVD-A10 sounded like a pleasant, smooth, inoffensive $1k CD player. Re-Mastering produced a pleasant aura around the music, especially in the midrange, that could be quite attractive. It smoothed off the rough edges of everything comin' in the door—very nice, if perhaps a bit over-polite, bland, and uninspiring. This was almost too much of a good thing with the latest of the already mucho analog-sounding JVC XRCD2 jazz releases I've been enjoying lately. You want "big," color-laden mono with mesmerizing, head-nodding drive and rhythm? The Ray Bryant Trio (JVC VICJ-60212) has it. Unhappily, it sounded almost boring on the A10: no rhythmic drive.

The DVD-A10 also had a tendency to slightly shrink the soundstage with most 16/44.1 CDs, producing a noticeably more opaque acoustic. The 'stage was also placed more forward and was not as deep as what the other digital front-ends produced, but had good if not outstanding focus. The sense of air and separation was somewhat lacking as well. I felt, in fact, a certain lack of excitement listening to CDs—no real sense of get-up-and-boogie, no lean-into-it pace and timing. I really missed the sense of speed and transparency. Listening to "Run On," from Moby's Play (V2 63881-27049-2), the bass was prodigious and went impressively deep, but was nevertheless a tad diffuse, woolly, and slightly out of focus.

There was also a band of forwardness and grain in the upper midrange/lower treble that proved endemic to the DVD-A10's sound. This slight lift and grain in the presence region, subjectively shelving back to the high frequencies above, gave Moby's voice a slightly shouty quality at mid to high volume levels. Female vocals suffered the same fate, and were perhaps a bit worse.

Given all that, CDs sounded . . . good. They just didn't move me very much.

DVD-Audio Sound
When I switched to the Warners DVD-A sampler that customers get with the player, things changed dramatically. But . . . keep in mind that all tracks on both samplers varied widely as to sampling rate and bit depth. Most of sampler 1 was recorded at 24-bits/96kHz (footnote 3) but there are three 48kHz tracks and one 44.1, all at 24 bits. All the tracks on this sampler are six-channel and are automatically mixed down to two-channel by the DVD-A10 according to instructions in what's called "meta content" on the disc. (The six original channels are available at the 5.1 analog output jacks.) Technics calls this feature Smart Content, although it wasn't mentioned in any of the documentation.

Just to make it interesting, the in-house sampler I was supplied contained 5.1-channel tracks at 20/96, as well as six-channel 16/48 and two-channel 24/192 tracks! With all the multichannel tracks on the second sampler, "cannot down-mix" scrolled urgently across the DVD-A10's display, due to the fact that the mixdown meta content had not been mastered on the disc. With this disc I was listening to just the L/R front-channel information rather than a two-channel mixdown. Just to kick it up a notch, [BAM!] I had a Denon Ambience DVD-Video Sampler (DEG-02001) and could switch between a linear-PCM two-channel mix and a Dolby Digital surround version of Beethoven's Egmont overture, plus his "Eroica" symphony and 30 minutes of Chopin.

With this many variables to comment on, I'd just as soon make a spreadsheet and plot sound quality against resolution! But I was able draw some general conclusions. Everything at 88.2kHz and above coming in on a video disc was throughput at its original high resolution with no sidesteps to the Re-Mastering module. In most cases, higher-resolution material rendered a larger and more transparent soundstage, better bass, a more detailed midrange, and more extended highs. The higher the speed, the better things sounded; no question.

A 20-bit word depth sounded quite a bit better than 16 bits, but the jump from 20 to 24 bits wasn't that dramatic. There were a few other surprises in the lay of the data points: Handel's Concerto for Harp and Strings, Op.4 No.6, at 16/48 six-channel (a Japanese ensemble on the unofficial sampler) sounded wonderful, as did another 16/48 track on this disc. But, as you might also expect, the 24/192 two-channel tracks sounded by far the best, and quite significantly so. Everything at 48kHz and below sounded pleasant if not terribly detailed, but when shifting into high gear at 88.2kHz, the resolution became transparent enough to hear the warts in the recording, and even perhaps the limitations of the hardware. And it sounded more liquid, as did all the high-resolution formats.

Footnote 3: As you can see from my article on the subject in the January 2001 Stereophile (pp.175-179), a number of the cuts labeled "96kHz" on this DVD-A are actually 48kHz recordings that have either been upsampled in the mastering or have been dubbed to analog and redigitized with a 96kHz sample rate.—John Atkinson