- Written by Jim Milton
- Published on 25 April 2011
To take advantage of the CD-500's DAC, I hooked it up to my Emotiva UMC-1 pre/pro via the analog outs, using Kimber PBJ (Ppeanut Butter & Jelly, I kid you not!) interconnects. I set the pre/pro to DIRECT, so that it would not interfere with the original output signal. The sample rate converter (SRC) can be controlled via the remote or the front panel on the CD-500. A blue LED indicator keeps track of your selected sample rate.
Frankly, I could not hear a difference above the 192 kHz sample rate, but running with 192 kHz presented a very noticeable improvement over the 44.1 kHz basic Redbook sample rate. I ended up doing most of my reviewing using the CD-500 DAC with 192 kHz SR engaged. Toggling back and forth allows you listen to sound changes from your seat and kept me busy listening for sonic changes while playing music I have been listening to for years. Eventually, I just settled in and listened to music for enjoyment and not strictly for analysis.
Everything Waits to be Noticed: Adult contemporary with Art Garfunkel, Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock that features acoustic jazz flavors with a wonderful blend of voices. (I've always secretly wished I could sing like Arty, but don't tell anyone). The CD-500 gave a rich, full sound with great staging and detailed minutia of the instruments being played. Bass was very solid and tight. The intake of breathe before a voice comes in could be heard upon occasion. Vocals were a bit more forward into the room than I recall from hearing before. I noticed the vocal shift was also part of a broader, deeper soundstage, as though the entire ensemble moved their chairs and microphones out to provide more elbow room. This was a consistent effect that was noticeable on everything I played on the CD-500 when compared to my standard (Oppo 980H) CD player. Brass, kick-drum and electric guitars had plenty of bite and snap. Overall, music sounded natural and "live".
By the way, this was the disc that was not marked as HDCD, but to my surprise the blue light came on before track one started playing. Sweet! Just so you know, the CD-500 does not upsample HDCD when played in PCM, but plays it at 44.1 kHz. This is due to the inherent algorithm design used to process HDCD. I love HDCDs and have several, mostly from Reference Recordings. It was a nice surprise to find this disc was one as well.
Antal Dorati Conducts: I selected this disc because it was well performed, yet comes from an old analog tape master that has some hiss that is noticeable in the quiet passages. The hiss is mainly due to the limitation of the tape noise floor, but it can also reveal small details in the actual recording process, such as squeaky chairs, rustling sheet music and things that when the original LP was made, you would never have been able to hear due to the higher noise floor of the LP medium. In other words, the master tape would have sounded more detailed then the LP that was cut from it. Small sonic details were often obscured by the cut vinyl and rumble of the turntable.
In any case, these details do manifest themselves now because of the increased resolution provided by the increased dynamics found on digital media. I could hear more of the extraneous noise in the recording at 196 kHz than at 44.1 kHz. Now you might think this is bad, but I like the idea that I can hear into the actual recorded event and probably hear the same things Mr. Dorati heard from his podium some 50 years ago.
Today's orchestras work closely with the sound engineers to reduce these noises because they know they will show up on a digital medium (padded chairs, carpeted podium, ventilation system masking, etc.). In any case, the hiss was not increased so much as the details became more apparent. Yes, I could hear the chair squeak and the podium creak, but the sound of the orchestra was beautiful presented. The music itself was expansive and rich while giving no hint that it was recorded over 50 years ago. The Cary brought out all of the hidden details and gave a sense of air and natural space around the orchestra. Again, the bass in particular had weight and punch. On my standard CD player, I never got to completely hear the minutiae of detail that the CD-500 brought out.
Britten- Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra: An awesome recording in SACD and HDCD by the famed Prof. Keith O. Johnson. This disc allowed me to compare the higher resolution of the SACD layer to the enhanced resolution of the HDCD layer. I down mixed the SACD to two channels on my Oppo 980H and listened for the comparison with the CD-500 playing the HDCD version. Both sounded remarkably similar. In a blind A-B test, I would have been hard pressed to tell which was playing what at any given time.
The low end on this recording is amazing. The beginning of track two starts with a kettle drum whack that is quite powerful and will make the unsuspecting person jump (namely me, the first time I heard it). The CD-500 presented a very stable, wide and deep soundstage. It conveyed a sense of space that I had not heard before in my two channel listening. It almost equaled the multi-channel sound space from the Oppo. Very satisfying, indeed!