Technics DVD-A10 DVD-Audio player Page 6

DVD-Video sound
While the two sampler discs demonstrated the potential of DVD-Audio, the 24/96 recordings from Classic and Fréres Chesky delivered the musical goods in the here and now, producing a familiar, unmanipulated two-channel sound that I related to more easily. But before I tell you what I liked about them, I'll tell you about a weakness they revealed.

I popped Dave's True Story's Sex Without Bodies into the DVD-A10 and cued up one of my favorites, "Daddy-O," followed by Kelly Flint's and David Cantor's cover of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side." Now I know this recording real well—Kathleen and I were at the St. Peter's recording session. In fact, Flint had a tickle in her throat, soothed by one of those high-end Japanese Gummy Bears we scoop up by the bagful at Sunshine Market at St. Marks and Third. It was White Peach flavor; highly addictive. Hey, we even attended her wedding! Well, sort of. The former Miss Flint married bassist Darren Solomon on stage, during a performance at Club Fez, under the Time Café on Lafayette St. (The minister was more nervous than Kelly or her betrothed!)

Chesky's 24/96 Super Audio Discs are DVD-Vs mastered in the 24/96 format they're to be played in. And I know the 16/44.1 CD version of this recording intimately. Sex without bodies, after all. The DVD-A10 always produced a light gray scrim that separated me slightly from the sound, good though it was in so many other ways. Imaging and focus, for example, were once again "good": adequate, but not great. This was closely associated with a certain dryness of sound—the trailing edges of acoustic information from the midrange up attenuated more quickly than I thought natural, pulling the sound back into the speakers. So that's a characteristic of the player and not the technology.

Two-channel DVD-A recordings at 24/192 exhibited the least darkness, 24/96 DVD-Vs had it a few molecules more deep, and Re-Mastered CDs and 48kHz DVDs, while smooth 'n' sorta sexy, proved the most deeply shadowed.

Closing my eyes and listening to Kelly Flint's take on "Walk on the Wild Side" proved darkly delicious and resonant, her voice full of knowing—as good as it got on the DVD-A10, hands down. Interestingly, the soundstages on the two-channel 24/96 recordings were bigger than what I'd heard from two-channel 24/192 recordings on the sampler. Not the same tracks, but this seemed common to all the DVD-Videos: big 'n' cushy in the soundstage, wider, not incredibly deep, but nicely ambient if not totally transparent. There was an engaging openness in the upper mids, a slight and welcome warmth just below that band of grain, with an extended if not very sweet treble. The bass was quite good, starting to fall apart only at very high levels.

Sex Without Bodies actually sounded smoother and more liquid in the midrange with the DVD-A10 Re-Mastering the 16/44.1 CD! It was more "white" in the upper-midrange, shelving up to what seemed like a more metallic, slightly grainy upper treble. Skipping back to 24/96 returned upsampling's welcome ease of presentation. In that way the Chesky SACDs and the Classic 24/96 DADs were always impressively musical, if still somewhat confused and grainy in the transition between upper midrange and lower treble.

I mentioned the Denon sampler and its two audio-data channels: Dolby Digital 5.1 and linear PCM stereo. Love Beethoven's Egmontso romantic. Well, no surprise: I preferred the two-channel PCM version, but neither sounded very good in the highs. Massed strings were hard and faintly unpleasant. While I was playing them, K-10 walked across our loft and made a face as she passed the Ribbon Chair. A picture's worth a thousand words, they say . . .

The Art Davis DAD from Classic is very fine-sounding too. But it's slightly dry, even though sourced from an old, "wet"-sounding analog master. The tail of the acoustic envelope winked out rather quickly, and probably added to the slightly gray cast of the DVD-A10's sound. Re-Master was smooth and slightly obscuring, but these two-channel 24/96 recordings allowed me to hear far more deeply into the recording and "see" problems in the recording chain and elsewhere. Nuttin's free, ya know.

Another stunner in the musicality department of 24/96 DVD-V recordings was Classic's thoroughly enjoyable reissue of the Jimmy Rushing All Stars' Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You (DAD 1005). Track 2, "Mr. Blues," was just killer in every way. We're talking early stereo master here—but if you have any objection to that, you're reading the wrong magazine! My notes: "Still piercing at high volume levels and a little ragged when pegging the input meters." There's nothing wrong with the recording, as I confirmed by playing the CD version in the Linn and Accuphase.

Don't forget—all of this is without watermarking. If DVD-Audio's highs are a little questionable now, without watermarking, what will they sound like with it? I shudder to think. (Our own JA, in his September "As We See It", called for a boycott of all watermarked recordings.)

What's it all about?
I was a little disappointed in the sound of the Technics DVD-A10, but, after all, it is a $1200 player. Maybe the addition of three more channels will make DVD-Audio bear musical fruit. I dunno . . . I doubt many audiophiles will suddenly start adding speakers willy-nilly to their carefully set-up two-channel systems on the basis of this player. But the future of audio is certainly multichannel, they say, and we'll see how this Technics' sound quality translates to the multichannel experience in a future issue.

Still, the balance of sound the DVD-A10 makes in two-channel mode is well chosen for its intended purpose, given its price and other capabilities. In fact, what I'm left with is a sense of DVD-Audio's potential—properly implemented, it could rock our audio world in a big way. In my opinion, that potential has not yet been reached. With Sony and Marantz supporting the Super Audio CD launch with true high-end audio hardware, SACD just wipes DVD-A's clock in every important performance parameter.

When you power the DVD-A10 down, its display reads "bye," then "off," then fades slowly out. But I suspect it's not goodbye, just adieu.