Accuphase DP-85 SACD player

Perhaps SACD has yet to reach critical mass in terms of consumer and industry acceptance, but halfway through 2002, it appears to be getting closer to that goal. Along with Sony and Philips (Universal Music), EMI is on board, as are many smaller, sound-conscious independent labels such as Chesky, Analogue Productions, Telarc, DMP, Rounder, Opus 3, Songlines, and the resurrected Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. For now, DVD-Audio, with its screen-driven menus, doesn't appear to be an attractive option for audiophiles not interested in merging audio with video. Perhaps the future will bring universal two- and multichannel playback devices equipped with LCD screens that actually live up to both formats' sonic potential, but I don't believe that day won't dawn any time soon.

There are 24-bit/96kHz audio-only DVD-V discs (DADs) offering very attractive sound, but what's the likelihood of that format catching on with mainstream consumers and manufacturers? Look at the options faced by ABKCO Records, owner of the Rolling Stones' Decca/London catalog: the label's 1980s-era digital transfers, including electronically reprocessed versions of many mono-only recordings, is acknowledged to be sonically poor to, at best, mediocre. Should the label transfer everything anew to 24/96 DVD-A, DAD, or SACD? With hybrid SACD, ABKCO can advertise new, improved 20-bit SBM transfers that will play on home, car, and portable CD players, with the promise of even better sound when the buyer upgrades to an SACD player. With DVD-A or DAD?

I don't have to spell it out: It's SACD for the Stones, and that could help open the rock reissue floodgates (though probably not for WEA titles, given Warner's strong support for DVD-A). And with the Four still Fab, can Beatles hybrid SACDs on EMI be far behind? Don't think the old Beatles-Stones rivalry is over!

Until DSD editing facilities become more widely available, most SACDs will be reissues from older analog catalog or upconverted transfers from multibit digital recordings, and there are billions of CDs out there. But it's also true that the SACD catalog is growing rapidly; it's time for audiophiles contemplating a digital upgrade to at least consider SACD. Thus I eat the words I wrote last year in my review of Musical Fidelity's Nu-Vista 3D CD-only player: "Until there's a steady flow of new SACD titles of music I really want to own, what's the point of buying an SACD player...?"

Consider the Accuphase DP-85
Though it's a step down from Accuphase's two-box, $28,000 SACD combo of DP100 transport and DC101 processor, the DP-85 is still very expensive at $16,500. It's also exquisitely built (not for nothing is Accuphase considered "the Japanese McIntosh"), features much of the separates' cutting-edge technology, and offers a full range of operating options. In fact, though it's a one-box player, the SACD/CD transport and processor sections are entirely separate and can be so accessed, including the 2.83MHz SACD bitstream, thanks to Accuphase's proprietary HS-link connector, which is based on the RJ-45 connection (aka Etherlink). (For more on this, see Jonathan Scull's review of the DP100/DC101 in the February 2001 issue.)

The scope of DP-85's connection possibilities and flexibility is mind-numbing. So is the instruction manual, which assumes that the buyer is part of the "Accuphase family." For instance, under the heading "Using [the] DP-85 as a Transport," you're told how to connect the DP-85 to Accuphase's CD-330. What that is, they don't say. Nor do the instructions tell you what the DF-35 is, though you can connect the transport's output to that device as well. True, if you're buying one of these expensive players, your dealer will most likely guide you through the maze, but how hard would it be for the instructions to identify the products to which it refers? I had to go online to discover that the CD-330 is Accuphase's digital preamplifier and the DF-35 is a digital crossover network.

Right out of the box, what you get for your $16.5k is a heavy, silky-smooth, sophisticated-looking hunk of machinery with an understated, eye-caressing satin-gold faceplate and a matching remote. The DP-85's rear connections allow both balanced and unbalanced analog outputs, TosLink and coaxial digital inputs, and HS-link and coaxial digital outputs. There are also three slots for optional circuit boards, and one for an external digital signal processing device, but more about that later.

Axiss Distribution, Inc.
17800 S. Main St., Suite 109
Gardena, CA 90248
(310) 329-0187