The Arcam DiVA CD73T is the latest and most affordable dedicated CD player from one of the most highly regarded HiFi manufacturers in the world. Arcam offers products that represent solid values at price points that are eminently reasonable. At a suggested retail of $699, and in the realm of specialty audio dollars, the CD73T is miles from the top.
Alternatively, while $699 may not be expensive enough to be taken seriously by some in a day and age when $3000 CD players are routinely referred to as bargains, the CD73T is nothing short of a statement product for the level of performance, value, and satisfaction that can be had for a relative pittance.
To put all of this in perspective, a player that costs, for example, $500 (I've owned several players at that price), is completely worthless if you rarely listen to it. On the other hand, a much more expensive player may be a great value if you find yourself listening to all the music you own and enjoying your system in a way you never thought possible. For those of us without unlimited budgets however (as in about 99.5%), the best we can hope for is that the most affordable model from a top notch manufacturer like Arcam at least gives us a taste of their state of the art.
Unfortunately, this situation presents an age-old, equipment-buying dilemma. Purchasing audio gear, to some extent, is always a fearful undertaking. If you know there is more expensive gear out there, especially from the same manufacturer, can you really be content with the affordable stuff? Do you just buy the more expensive gear because you don't want to sit there wondering what you're missing? Imagine my surprise that for $699, Arcam has delivered a knockout punch to all that audio fear.
The last CD player I reviewed was the Music Hall MMF-CD25, which at $599, slots up close to the price of the CD73T. I wanted to review the Arcam because I thought it would be instructive to compare another product in roughly the same price category and because I liked the Music Hall quite a bit, and consider it a great value. I figured potential buyers of the Music Hall might cross-shop the Arcam and vice versa, so while not a pure showdown, this could be a nice comparison. To be fair, my recollections of the Music Hall are just that, recollections subject to the limitations of human memory, not a strict A-B comparison.
Physically, the Arcam is certainly more svelte than the Music Hall, which outweighs the Arcam by some seven pounds. The Arcam also lacks the Music Hall's in-vogue, thick, brushed aluminum faceplate. Like all Arcam products, the CD73T is available in both Black and Silver. Both finishes are matte. It had been awhile since I had a black component on my rack, so I requested that color.
I find all the Arcam designs supremely elegant. The CD73T's buttons are silver and the black and silver combination is pleasingly understated. If you are the type of person, however, who drools over a Hummer H2 with 22 inch chrome wheels, the Arcam may not be quite garish enough for you, but then again, you probably have more pressing personal issues.
The display is the familiar Arcam green, and it can be dimmed to half its brightness as well as being turned off completely. In the manual, Arcam states, “Turning off the display generally produces a slight improvement in sound quality.” I did not notice any difference in the sound quality with the display off, so it was primarily on for the duration of the review period. In fairness, my system probably does not have the transparency required to hear what is most likely a subtle improvement. I will say that with the display off, the CD73T looks downright stealth because the power LED is very small and dim. I certainly marvel at those room-filling bright power LEDs, but the novelty wears off quickly in an otherwise darkened room. For example, when turning down the lights and watching a DVD, I've sometimes had to completely power down CD players because the power LED was distracting. I realize it might sound strange to discuss the luminosity of the power LED, but to me, it is simply an indication that the CD73T was designed from the ground up rather than pieced together with impressive looking individual parts that serve no function other than to get your attention in a retail environment.
Arcam has incorporated CD-text capability into all its current players, and this feature proved very useful. Most newer CDs are encoded with CD-text, but this feature will obviously only work if the CD is so encoded. For those not familiar with this technology, upon insertion of a compatible CD, the name of the artist and title of the CD scroll across the display window. When you play the CD (or advance tracks once playing), the track number is displayed and the track title follows, scrolling across the display. After a few seconds, the display returns to whatever you have it set to display: elapsed track time, remaining track time, or remaining disc time. Once the CD is stopped, the display again shows the title of the CD. On the far right of the display, a grid or track calendar appears, filled with the total track numbers on the CD, and while playing, the remaining tracks. As the tracks get played through, their number disappears from the grid. Again, this was a useful feature without it turning into information overload.
Technically, the CD73T includes the latest generation, single 24-bit, 192kHz DAC from Wolfson Microelectronics. This is the same DAC used in Arcam's highly regarded DVD players and universally-lauded FMJ AV8 preamp processor. The CD73T also features a low noise toroidal power transformer and six separately regulated power supplies. The CD drive and decoder utilizes Sony parts, chosen for their reliability.
The CD73T's master clock has been designed for extremely low jitter. The main circuit board is double-sided, incorporating carefully tuned analog filters with audiophile quality components in all sonically critical areas. Arcam applied damping to all the components subject to microphonic effects. The CD73T features two sets of analog outputs, both coaxial and optical digital outputs, and a standard IEC AC socket for use with aftermarket power cords.
By changing the DAC module, the CD73T is upgradeable to the performance of either the CD82T or CD93T, the higher end models in the DiVA line. According to Gary Warzin at Audiophile Systems, Arcam's North American distributor, upgrading the DAC module not only increases clarity, but more importantly, adds significantly to the naturalness of the presentation. He especially noted that since the CD93T DAC upsamples, the improvement over the CD73T is quite dramatic. One of the strengths of the CD73T is definitely the naturalness of the presentation; I never once found the sound irritating or shrill as many sub-$1000 CD players tend be. In fact, it had a natural warmth and rhythm that made listening supremely enjoyable. While I did not upgrade the CD73T during the review period, it is certainly a great option to have should you need to scratch that upgrade itch. Essentially, an upgrade will get you more of the same, which, from what I heard over the course of several months, is a very good thing indeed. It is also satisfying to just know that you can upgrade.
This player read every CD I threw at it, including a multitude of CDRs recorded on all sorts of computers with all sorts of software. Lest the RIAA is reading, I did not steal any of this music! Unlike the Music Hall, the CD73T never once had a problem reading the discs and did so with lightning quickness. The drawer opens and closes quickly, but not so quickly that you're in danger of losing a finger. Again, while I exaggerate a bit, those bullet drawers are a phenomenon I have experienced first hand and I always wondered what possible function they served. This is not a huge deal, but again, merely reflects thoughtful and careful design. Track advance and reverse is similarly quick to the point of the CD73T being the fastest player I think I have ever used. None of this would really matter though if the sound disappointed, which it certainly did not.
The CD73T reacted instantly to the remote commands and the button layout is easy to follow. I rarely have any issues with remotes unless they are really poorly designed.
I created a demo CD a while back, which features some very dense production and competently recorded vocals. On it, there are several tracks from my favorite measuring stick, Radiohead, as well as several female vocalists such as Beth Orton, Sinead O'Connor, Norah Jones, and Aimee Mann. There are definitely some CD players I've heard that seem voiced for a particular style of music often to the detriment of other styles. The CD73T, however, displayed its strengths on every CD I listened to. Male and female vocals were rich and weighty, and the CD73T is neutral enough to reveal the different balances the mastering engineer was trying to achieve. For example, Sinead O'Connor's vocals are usually very prominent, while Beth Orton's are usually more balanced with the musical track behind them. Radiohead can best be described as an electronic stew with eerie vocals often entering and exiting the musical landscape abruptly. Hearing these differences makes listening to music a sheer pleasure and reminds us of why we listen to particular artists and why we like them as much as we do. The CD73T brought all these wonderful nuances to the surface.
I also listened to some Wyclef Jean, Dave Brubeck, and various classical violin pieces by Paganini and Ravel. The CD73T never lost its grip on the music, and I can unequivocally state that this machine plays music confidently and in a way that conveys the dynamic strength of individual performers, while maintaining the ease and refinement of my most cherished listening experiences. I cannot say that the CD73T is the most dynamic player I've ever heard, but what it does remarkably well, given its price, is avoid any trace of artifice and yet remain dynamic enough to allow you to hear deeply into every track it plays. It did not make me want to listen to every CD in my collection, but to be honest, I find that standard completely unrealistic. I doubt any CD player in existence would do that for me, but what the CD73T did do is make me listen over and over to the same CDs because I never grew tired of the music it made. The more I listened, the more I liked, and as time went on, I found myself really falling for the Arcam. Perhaps it was due to the break-in or perhaps it's simply because the sound of this player is so refined that it takes some time to appreciate how it good it really is and to get over the fact that it costs only $699.
Out of curiosity, I connected a coaxial digital cable from the output of the CD73T to the input of my Rotel receiver in order to evaluate the Arcam as a transport as well as the Rotel's internal DAC. Using the DAC in the receiver brought several interesting differences to light. The Rotel's DAC had a more dynamic presentation with seemingly more resolution. Whether this is a more accurate presentation of what is recorded on the individual CDs, I cannot say with any degree of certainty. However, while some moments of some recordings seemed to shine with the added information, vocals on every recording were noticeably thinner and seemed unnatural in comparison. Listening was simply not as enjoyable when the DAC inside the Arcam was bypassed and I quickly tired of the “more dynamic” sound. For my final comparison, I used my Panasonic DVD-RP82 as a transport connected to the Rotel. This was a really awful experience as the sound became hard and two-dimensional with little or no soundstage depth.
In the end, while I would
recommend using the CD73T's internal DAC, it is certainly nice to know that it
also makes a great transport, certainly better than the typical DVD player.
The ability to experiment is a pleasing surprise and that flexibility simply
adds value to what I already consider an outstanding bargain.