Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Is it my CD Player or is it my Amp that’s letting me down?

It’s a very good question and I am going to try to answer it as simply and as painlessly as possible. But before I start I need to clarify the question a little better so you will know just what the points are that I am answering. Perhaps its better to ask ‘Is it my CD player that’s not giving me the musical detail I want or is it my Amplifier that’s letting me down?’

More questions first.

Are you hearing the acoustic presence of the room in a live recording? Can you hear the damper action on a close mic’d piano and the singers breath as they battle it out with the auditorium and the rest of the band? Is the bass rich and well defined? Do the highs soar? Can you hear the acoustic resonance and space around a guitar, bass, violin; they tell me it’s the sibilance. Is your stereo image solid and strong?

Well if you are answering no to those questions; if you are running a brand name CD player that cost you around $400.00 or it’s inflation indexed equivalent… In short if the answer is no, its not your CD player its your Amp. If you are about to set off to the local Hi-Fi store to lay down a couple of thousand of your hard earned because you can’t hear the musical things I mention above. If you believe that a high end player is the only answer you just might want to read on first.

It might seem a bit of a long stretch to some for someone on a Vintage Audio site to be writing about CD players (they did not even exist in the 60s and 70s) but the CD has become for most of us if not the preferred music delivery device certainly the most convenient. Yes the CD has long since overtaken the LP as the main music delivery system. Funnily enough the CD arrived on the scene at about the same time true Hi-Fidelity started to mean less and less to the big name manufacturers of 70s Hi-Fi.

Audiophiles reported a ‘squareness’ and harshness in the sound of the new CD media. We got over-sampling and then more over-sampling and re-mastering for CD. We certainly got about 20 to 30% more volume from a CD than we got from an LP and that was good! The CD player didn’t jump when someone walked through the room, you could suddenly party a lot harder without upsetting the music. The CD seemed to represent a democratisation of musical fidelity.

We upgraded because new is always better; we got Surround Sound, DVD and a new audio status quo.

So after admitting the supposed evils of the CD player what have I got to say? Well at Vintage Audio .Com .AU we don’t actually get to listen to a lot of high end CD players but we do get to listen to an awful lot of high end 1970’s Amplifiers and Receivers. Because it is unavoidable we also get to listen to a fair bit of 80s and 90s gear and a bit of newer ‘Hi-Fi’ equipment too. So all in all we are pretty well rounded guys who get to hear a fair amount of gear from a lot more manufactures than your average guy and even dare I say it your average Hi-Fi salesman. Did I just write that!!! Yes all in all we consider ourselves well placed to make up-to-date-historical-evaluations of audio equipment.

When I get around to doing a listening test for a piece of equipment so I can write a review about how it sounds, I simply slot it into my normal home system. This has some drawbacks (and positives too) but everyone at home is now well trained to look for ‘tape monitor 1’ on any Amp or Receiver if they want to listen to the TV/Video/DVD. And the household has opinions too! Yes they develop fav’s based on sexiness or sound quality or whatever, and like the classic art lover they may not know what’s good but they certainly know what they like. And they love Vintage Audio because it always sounds great.

Back to the question, CD or Amp?

There is no doubt that different CD players like different Turntables and Tone Arm/Cartridge combinations model the sound differently. The key point here is that they model the sound in much the same way a Rotel models the sound differently to a Pioneer or Sansui. What we HAVE NOT NOTICED is any lack of detail with regard to the musical details we mentioned oh so very far above when listening to music on a brand name CD player through a 1970s Amp or Receiver. We have noticed differences in modeling of the sound and these differences are sometimes very pleasing (though not everyone seems to notice them). What are the brand names we are thinking of that we feel do the job; Yamaha, NAD, Marantz, Sony, Denon...

Something else we have noticed is that you do not need to go to the top-of-the-line when it comes to Vintage Audio to hear most of the audio details we talked about above. (Why doesn’t anyone seem to like Vintage Rotel equipment? Its awesome! We feel the same about Nikko, and even Monarch which fair enough no one has heard of).

If you want to hear the music, or smell the coffee, there is not a single 70s Amp or Receiver on Vintage Audio .Com .Au that will not deliver period.
Of course things do happen in degrees but if you’re wondering where the detail and music have gone grab your self a classic 70’s Amplifier or Receiver keep your entry level CD player and find out for yourself; it seems the music never went away at all.

Addendum

Vintage Audio .Com .Au (VA) is starting to get quite a bit of feed-back about the state of contemporary amplification and Hi-Fi systems. The basic stories go along these lines.

”I paid a few thousand dollars for X amplifier and for a while I was reasonably happy but then I started to realize that that I wasn’t hearing all the things in the music that I knew should be there. Things I could remember hearing on systems I had heard back in the 70s.”

“I was at the Hi-Fi shop and I finally found an Amp that I feel is going to do the job, it’s not cheap. The sales person suggests that if I really want to get the most out of this amp I will need to by X CD player at around the $2000.00 mark.”

“After I found your equipment reviews on VA I realized that I was not just imagining that I was not hearing all the music that I should be getting from my sound system. It really isn’t there!”

If you are wondering what might be a good choice to get started with, here are a few selections from our pages that deliver a lot of sound for very little money. If you already have your system worked out one of these items below would make an excellent Christmas gift for someone you know.

Our top Christmas pick, the Rotel RX-602

The RX 602 is one of the great receivers from the 1970’s. The sound is clean and clear; fast moving, well defined, natural and rich. If you like the Sansui sound but would like a receiver not an amp and tuner then you will be very very happy with the Rotel’s RX 602.

Technics SA 5400X 4 Channel Receiver $280.00
Rotel RX 402 Receiver $220.00
Luxman R 800M Receiver $480.00
Monarch Series 8 Tuner & Amplifier $380.00
NAD Silver Face Model 120 $300.00
Rotel RA 714 Integrated Amp $370.00
Rotel RA 412 Integrated Amp $200.00
Teac As-100 Integrated Amplifier $280.00
Sansui AU-555A Integrated Amp, $350.00

Cheers From Kent & Bob.

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