Toshiba SD-9200 DVD-Audio/Video player Page 3

After switching to track 11 of Pierre Boulez's resounding 1993 recording of Stravinsky's Firebird (Chicago Symphony, DG 437 850-2) to take in the varied percussion transients (such as the massive bass-drum stroke at 1:58), I thought the SD-9200 did an admirable job of tracking the reverb tail of the bass drum as it receded into blackness, and of capturing the dynamic range and swelling intensity of the orchestra. However, compared to the CL-20, the depth of the orchestral soundstage seemed slightly flattened, and the CAL's portrayal of ambient information seemed to convey more of the spatial dimension of an orchestra on a physical stage in a palpable acoustical environment.

I turned to another standby, the HDCD master of the title cut of guitarist Andy Summers' Green Chimneys: The Music of Thelonious Monk (RCA 63472-2), which features some lovely stereo guitar, immense bass transients, and a nice spatial spread to Peter Erskine's drum kit, with realistic bass-drum strokes and sweetly articulated cymbals. Again, as with the Stravinsky, while the general outlines of the sound were very close, there was a more open, dimensional character to the presentation of the CL-20, which revealed itself in a more holographic portrayal of the drum kit across the lateral plane and a crisper presence to the cymbals. Still, the CL-20 can't play CD-Rs.

Moving along to DVD-Vs, I chose a favorite old 24/96 DAD, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington's Roulette Sessions (Classic 1031); Jonathan Faralli's 24/96 DVD-V of Percussion XX (Arts Audiophile 47558-6); and Jon Faddis's DVD-V of Remembrances (Chesky CHDV0176). My experiences paralleled those in 16/44.1 mode: perhaps I was taken in by some differences in the relative brightness of the CL-20; maybe the CAL had a slightly hotter signal. In any event, while the sonic signatures were quite similar, I heard more layering and dimensional details with the CL-20 on "Duke's Place (C-Jam Blues)" in the form of distinctions between instrumental images across the soundstage, though I thought I preferred the SD-9200's portrayal of Louis's vocals: smoother, with more sense of ease.

Percussion XX has no onscreen cues or commands, and started up automatically in the Toshiba. Hans Werner Henze's Prison Song, with its various subsonic sources, vocals, whistles, bells, and miking techniques, gives the listener a sense of varied perspectives, near and far. Both players did a fine job of resolving the complex acoustic cues and varied dynamics, the Toshiba excelling at fleshing out lateral details, the CL-20 seeming to portray more depth. On Jon Faddis's lush, richly voiced orchestral chart of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," while the CL-20 was a touch better at resolving inner details, the SD-9200 did a very good job of sorting out the complex interlacing of textures and of centering Faddis's muted horn in the mix like a good vocal.

Auditioning the new DVD-A discs, my sense of the Toshiba SD-9200 itself was generally positive, but my sense of expectation for the DVD-A experience in two-channel mode ranged from exhilaration to consternation, for several reasons: the limited number of recordings, the relative quality of the music, and an intermittent sense of bewilderment as to what I was actually listening to. This was based in some part on the disparity I experienced between the playback of multichannel mixes and two-channel mixes. Let me explain.

In using my video monitor to establish the Toshiba's default audio output settings, what the owner's manual refers to as "Analog 2ch" is the choice for connecting the SD-9200 to a standard stereo system via its analog audio jacks, while "Analog 6ch" is the obvious choice when connecting to an A/V amplifier equipped with 5.1-channel audio inputs; likewise, "Bitstream" is the choice when hooking up to a receiver or processor equipped with a Dolby Digital, DTS, MPEG1, or MPEG2 decoder, whereas "PCM" is for connection to a conventional two-channel digital/analog processor.

So I was taken aback when I began referencing the Panasonic/Technics DVD-A sampler disc (VFV0156) and found that the gain structure on tracks that had been created as five- or six-channel masters seemed out of sorts with those done up as two-channel recordings. On the solo piano of track 5 (Debussy's Clair de Lune), I was enraptured by the textural intimacy and enormous soundstage depth of the two-channel 24/192 recording. It was enormously involving and realistic, and put me in mind of when, recently, I listened to my wife playing Bach on a 9' concert grand in a Steinway showroom. The deep emotions I felt swimming around in the complex layers of overtones and harmonics she was able to elicit...I thought this was a good example of the medium's potential for hi-rez music reproduction.

However, on track 8 of the sampler—a 24/192 two-channel version of an analog master of some grim vocalist doing "Sometimes I'm Happy"—I was put off by the digital glare. The track had been mastered hot, and revealed far more of the recording's failings than I needed to know. Track 2 is a 20/96 five-channel recording of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. In the standard Analog 2ch mode, the gain and dynamics of this work, with its enormous bass-drum whacks, didn't seem convincingly loud enough—this from an amp rated at 300W into 8 ohms and putting out a real 40A of current. Something was obviously amiss, but I wasn't sure what it was or what I was listening to.

However, when I switched the digital output to "PCM," the gain structure and dynamics now seemed commensurate with my expectations of orchestral music, even though I was still listening to the 2ch analog outputs. Nothing was forthcoming on the disc or in the manual to give me a clue. All I can think of is that when you switch the '9200's digital output to "Bitstream," you then get a downsampled stereo mix from the multichannel Dolby Digital tracks from the player's two-channel analog outputs. I therefore switched the Toshiba into Analog 6ch mode and switched my interconnects to the left-right front analog outputs, and guess what? The gain structure was commensurate with that from the left-right stereo outputs with the digital output switched to "PCM." Case proved...I think.

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