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Product Review
 

Yamaha DVD-CX1 DVD-V/DVD-A Player

March, 2003

Brett Johnson

 

Click on the photo above to see a larger version.

Specifications:


5-Disc Changer

12/54 Video DACs
24/192 Audio DACs

Component Video - Progressive Scan

Faroudja DCDi Processing

Plays DVD-V and DVD-A

Size: 4 3/4" H x 17 5/8" W x 16" D

Weight: 23 Pounds

 

MSRP: $1,299 USA; Street $889

 

http://www.yamaha.com

Introduction

I am like a lot of you, as DVD-A has been something that I have been willing to wait for. I had a very typical 5.1 surround system with speakers that worked best when 100 Hz and below normally going to the surrounds was rolled off to the subwoofer. I also have been using a processor without analog bass management, so I was struggling with what would be the best solution for that as well. The move to 7.1 was a good fit with my system and room design, and thanks to an upgrade program, a modest expense.

My point here is that, for a lot of us, keeping up with the changes in our hobby can consume more than its fair share of our free time. I think that it is important to understand the benefit of the changes we make in our systems, particularly when they are format-based changes. I was immersed in figuring out how to do multi-channel “The Right Way” and still be fiscally responsible. I have been able to modify the boundaries of my current system by co-opting my significant other with equipment that she actually uses and enjoys.

Trying to rationalize the need for an additional music format was something I was struggling with, and rationalizing it as a vital part of day to day living just made me laugh to myself. Finding a piece of equipment that simplifies the system or actually eliminates components or clutter is always a great selling point, so the idea of a multi-format player with high build and component quality is always a good choice. Yamaha has tried to address this with the DVD-CX1.

I brought DVD-A into my system because it was part of an upgrade to my display path. I did not expect that I would make use of the analog outputs on the DVD player until I had figured out the bass management conundrum. One day, just for fun, I chose "Large" for all my speakers in the setup menu on my processor, and pushed the DVD-A button.

Remember the first time you heard someone in the orchestra cough? The frantic replay to find the spot that this happened, to be sure that it was really what you heard? It is the confirmation that you are getting that little “extra” that we all are trying to find. Remember the look on your fellow hobbyists faces when they heard it too?

I felt that way with my first listen to DVD-A in my system. It was a great way to enjoy the music. Even music that I was very familiar with in stereo was attracting critical listening again. I heard DVD-A used to demonstrate Meridian's new line last spring. They were using the Bucky Pizarelli disc that I used during this review. I was so impressed that I decided then and there that I would take the opportunity to recreate that experience in my own system, albeit somewhat more modestly priced. Unfortunately I spent a lot of time fretting about bass management, rather than listening to music, so I got side tracked for awhile.

I thoroughly enjoy watching musical performance on DVD. It is probably my favorite way to listen to music lately. The visual cues given off by the performance are as stimulating and integral for me as the sound. It doesn’t matter to me if it is Clapton, Yo-Yo Ma, or the London Philharmonic. I enjoy watching artists at work. It is, to use a well worn phrase, “more involving”. There is much more of the “being there” that we are constantly trying to reproduce with technically accurate components. For me, that is the essence of listening to music with the level of detail that most of us are trying to experience. It gives us a connection with the performance that feels as realistic as possible.

Multi-channel audio is getting us closer to that goal by enveloping us with music. I think that it also will attract more people to the hobby, in the same way that 5.1 surround sound has attracted people to the DVD movie format. It not only sounds good, it is a lot of fun.

Because we are now used to surround sound in our movies, we will want to hear music that way too. Digital surround sound for movies and music is very high tech, but it is not important to understand how it works, in order to enjoy it and want to have it in your home.

The Design

The Yamaha DVD-CX1 is a 5 disc carousel changer that is capable of playing both DVD Video discs and DVD-Audio discs. It is also compatible with CD-R and CD-RW media and MP3 formatted discs. It is equipped with 192 kHz/24 bit audio DACs, which are becoming the industry standard, as is the rest of the feature pack on this player. It comes with a remote control, cable set, and a standard modular removable power cord (non-grounded).

Only the audio aspects of this player are covered here, since the video has already been covered in our Benchmark pages. However, I did watch a number of movies through this player and found it to be quite satisfactory. (I had to set the Black Level to Lighter, as the initial viewing appeared to be much too dark.) I ran an 8” CRT projector with a Faroudja NRS at 720p, and the player set to interlaced output.

The first thing that I noticed when I picked up this piece was the weight. It is surprisingly heavy, and in a very heavy carton. I don’t know why, but we seem to associate weight and thick cartons with quality in this business. I remember thinking that it was nice that they put it in a good box. The player weighs 23 pounds; fit and finish are very good. Part of the weight is the copper shielding of the electronics package. There is a high level of attention paid to the construction of the CX1.

The front panel layout is simple and uncluttered. There are transport buttons on the faceplate for basic disc operations. Most of the initial setup must be done with the on-screen menus and the remote control. The panel on the front of the unit can give you a lot of information, but you have to be pretty close to read it. The remote is a simple standard Yamaha unit that has been formatted for the CX1. Back lighting is not present, but most people that use a device of this caliber will probably operate it with a multi-function controller of some sort. The player has additional remote control inputs on the back panel for allowing the use of an advanced controller. It also has an RS 232 connection for two-way control and integration. This is a nice feature, which fits well with installation in a large centrally controlled system.

Click on photo above to see larger version.

The connections available on the back panel include the 5.1-channel analog outputs for DVD-A and decoded DD or DTS. There is one pair of two channel analog outs, one coaxial digital out, and one optical digital out. The video connections include two sets of component outputs, two S-Video outputs, and two composite video outputs.

The terminals on the back are of good quality and there is sufficient spacing to use all of the types of cables I had available. The weight of this player made it one of the first pieces in a long time where I could connect the plugs without holding the player from the front. The unit has Yamaha’s isolation feet with a rubber surface attached. It sits firmly on a rack shelf and is reasonably isolated from surrounding vibration.

In Use

I set up the CX1 fairly quickly. The menu was reasonably intuitive, and the setup for audio was very similar to other players that I have been using lately. The speaker setup menu is simple to navigate, and aside from not having a subwoofer test tone, easy to use for adjusting your system. The setup does not affect the digital out, so your processor can be used when you select the options. The default settings are Bit Stream for Dolby Digital and PCM for DTS, so you have to go through the whole setup carefully. This unit also lets you elect to down convert the PCM signal from 96 kHz to 48 kHz if your processor is not set up to handle higher sampling frequencies.

None of the setup is used for the DVD-A analog output signals. This is not always easy to figure out as it is used for the decoded signals processed in the unit for DTS and Dolby Digital and output on the same analog outputs. Simply reading the manual did not tell me this. It took a bit of messing around with test disc to finally figure it out. This is one of my major complaints about the player; the documentation is either too simple or too vague. I can’t imagine that someone would be able to get it figured out if they did not have a good understanding of the format. The tendency to default to the Dolby Digital information or track on a DVD-A disc will cause some users to miss the DVD-A tracks and not know they are listening to DD rather than DVD-A.

Listening tests were performed using the analog outputs for DVD-A and standard CDs My system was in direct mode for the CDs and DVD-A mode for the DVD-A discs. I did some critical listening to DVD-A after it was reprocessed by my receiver, and I will tell you here and now, that it was worth the messing around to hear the difference between CDs and DVD-A.

My B&K receiver allows me to select my rear channels or the side channels to input the back channel information. Having rears and sides is also an option, but I was trying to stick to the intention of the recording engineers and run with only 5 speakers active. The Chesky folks have their own variant of this with the 4.0 track. I found that I preferred the rear channels rather than the sides. My rear channels are at 1400 and 2200 from the listening position, because the back wall of my listening room has two symmetrical angled walls and a set of double doors.

I did a bit of critical listening using the digital out and the processing for Dolby and DTS via my receiver's processor, but the CX1 sounded very good using either the player's onboard decoders or my receiver's decoders for both surround sound movie formats.

The balance of my listening was focused on this player’s performance for DVD-A multi-channel playback and two-channel stereo.

My listening room is my theater. I used my primary display to see the on-screen menus. I did all of my listening with my display shut down as the fans in my projector are noisy. With my display shut down, I was able to toggle the Video Off function back and forth to see if their was any perceptible difference in sound quality. I did not detect a significant difference in the performance of the player with the video section shut down.

I did all of my listening in the range of 65 to 85 dB with my SPL meter in the C-weighted mode.

I used a number of discs that are familiar for DVD-A evaluation. The first was the well worn “Swing Live” from Chesky. The disc gives you three separate ways to listen to the 96/24 analog signal. Most of us will have to make best use of the 4.0 track, as it is supplied to accommodate the 5.1 systems we have. There is also a 4.0 mix that is compatible with your surround system that will come through the digital port.

The DVD-CX1 did a respectable job of decoding and outputting the high quality analog signal from the disc. The recording of Buky Pizzarelli, Allen Vache, Michael Moore, Bernard Purdie, and Peter Appleyard was engineered to place you in the audience at a crowded dinner club. This is the essence of multi-channel audio reproduction. The format succeeds in making that happen. The CX1 extracted the recording from the disc without diminishing the impact of the performance. Even if you are not a fan of the genre’, this performance is moving. If you do enjoy this kind of music, this is one of the special recordings of its kind.

The CX1 does its job by getting out of the way. There are a tremendous amount of audio cues that are required to form visual detail from sound. Reproducing those cues as accurately as possible is required to give the listener the spatial references that make the recording work. With multi-channel DVD-A, I feel like I am in a crowded place with lots of other activity in addition to the artists. We are all together, the performers, the audience and all of the other people working the room. You hear the glasses as they are set on tables, the voices of exuberant support, and whispered recognition. These things are not distracting or noisy, because they are conveyed accurately and are part of the audio scene. They are as much a part of capturing the performance as the mallet hitting the plates on the vibraphone, or the work of the other musicians on the stage.

The dimension created by the multi-channel recording without the need for data compression, adds to the presence I felt when listening to the DVD-A tracks. On track 7 of "Swing Live", there is a point at (56:06) when the sound of crashing plates is so clear that I thought my cats were trashing the kitchen (I reflexively winced at the sound, having been a busboy once).

The next disc I listened to was the DTS version of Queen’s "A Night At The Opera". I am a Queen fan, and I own every record they made in CD format. But, I do not like the song selection on this record much. While the new recording is technically well done, it is a skip fest for me. Love of My Life was one of the stops, and the harp on this track is beautiful and well rendered. I also listened to Bohemian Rhapsody a few times, which is my favorite song on the disc. The multi-channel recording conveys the big operatic feeling that the song was intended to give us, and is much, much better than the two-channel version.

I also listened to the selections on the Chesky "Ultimate Surround Sampler" used in the setup procedure for this review. The hand drumming on the Conga Kings’ Tumbao De Tamborito makes the listener feel like part of a drumming circle. The drum heads resonate in a way that gives us a feeling for the size of the room in which they are being played, without using the recording to add that ambience. The CX1 gives us an opportunity to do this without diminishing the intention of the recording engineer, or the performer, by leaving information behind, or adding artificial ambience to make up for the loss.

The player performed well on two-channel stereo from either DVDs or CDs. The sound quality was excellent, and I listened in separate sessions to prevent the multi-channel affect from skewing the listening experience.

Lastly, I experimented with the multi-disc functions of this player. The system did a reasonable job of changing discs as long as they were the same format. It was not possible to shuffle between DVD-V and DVD-A discs unless I manually intervened. It will play multiple discs of the same format with the same functionality as most carousel type changers.

On the Bench (JEJ)

At 1 kHz (16/44 test CD), THD is very, very low.

11 kHz and 12 kHz inputs produced only a very small set of peaks at the 23 kHz region. Larger peaks occurred outside of the audible band.

With 16/44 signals, the frequency response is within 0.3 dB from 10 Hz to 20 kHz.

WIth 24/96 signals (24/96 test DVD), the frequency response is within 0.8 dB from 10 Hz to 48 kHz.

Conclusions

It is too bad that Yamaha did not include SACD capability in this player. If they had, purchasing the CX1 would be a no brainer. (Yamaha does have a universal player though, at a higher price.) Nevertheless, this is a beautifully constructed piece of equipment, and it sounds great.



- Brett Johnson -

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

DVD Benchmark

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