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Thule Space DVA250B DVD-V/DVD-A Player - Supplement to the Benchmark Review

January, 2005

Jason Victor Serinus

 

Specifications

 

● Codecs: DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, CD, CD-R,
    CD-RW, MP3, HDCD, VCD, SVCD, Kodak
    Picture CD

Outputs: Composite, S-Video, Component
    Video, RGB

● MFR: 20 Hz -20 kHz ± 0.5 dB

● THD: 0.002%
● Dynamic range, 24bit, XLR Out 106dBA
● Dynamic range, 24bit, RCA Out 104dBA
● Dimensions: (W x H x D) 420 x 95 x 290mm
● Weight: 14 Pounds
● MSRP: $2999 USA

 

Thule Audio

www.thule-audio.dk

Introduction

This past fall, Secrets staff member Kris Deering sent me the following e-mail:

“I read your review of the Integra DPC 8.5 six-disc universal player and saw your comment on being anxious to check out a higher end DVD player for audio.

I think I have a player here that will fit the bill: the Thule DVA250B. It's their flagship design. I had them include their upsampling board for two-channel playback and put balanced outputs for two-channel. It also has DVD-A playback.

Would you be interested in reviewing it once I've tested it for the benchmark?”


Kris’ evaluation of the Thule as a DVD-V player has since appeared in the October 2004 DVD Benchmark.

This review therefore will focus exclusively on the Thule’s capability as a two-channel CD and DVD-A player.

As I noted in my September 2004 Integra review, the Integra bargain changer gave me my first in-home taste of SACD and DVD-A. As good as this player is for the price, it cannot touch the level of CD playback achieved by the far more costly Theta Gen. VIII DAC/preamp and Theta Carmen II transport combo that I use as a reference. The Thule, therefore, presented my initial opportunity to experience DVD-A playback on a unit of purported audiophile quality. In this regard, it is especially interesting to note Thule’s assertion on its website:

“Even with the many disc formats available, you will not sacrifice two- channel CD stereo - in fact the DVA250B should be compared with CD Players in the same price range.”

Design and Function

The audio section of the DVA250B features a 5.1 analog output, and stereo output is available in balanced XLR configuration. The D/A converter is the Burr-Brown PCM1716 D with multi-level Delta-Sigma and a separate power supply for the D/A converter section. The particular unit I received is upgraded with Thule’s DIGIT II 192kHz asynchronous upsampling board, which is claimed to suppress all jitter.

For the five or so Secrets readers who, like me, prefer to keep their TV set out of view so that it neither dominates the listening room nor interferes with optimal audio imaging and reproduction, the news that all menu choices can be viewed (albeit in somewhat cryptic, encoded fashion) on the unit’s display, obviating the need to turn on the TV to achieve the desired level of CD and DVD-A playback, is a welcome relief. I only had to plug in my TV once to make sure that Kris had not left the unit set to a mode that my system could not decode.

Kris has already commented on the remote control’s frustrating shortcomings from a video standpoint. To that I add that both player and remote control lack the ability to achieve multi-track audio programming. I could not, for example, program the player to first play break-in tones, then a demagnetization sweep. The absence of this basic function is lamentable. Thule would be wise to reconsider its design.

The front of the unit boasts a handsome, tasteful appearance. Its curved brushed aluminum front and minimal six-button control bespeaks a welcome industrial elegance one might expect from a Danish manufacturer. Unfortunately, these buttons do not include the ability to move forward through a specific track. The rear also scores high marks for simplicity of layout.

Set-Up

I took advantage of the Thule’s XLR outputs to run the signal balanced into my Theta Gen. VIII’s preamp. From there I went single-ended into either the Red Planet Labs STR201 stereo amp or the Jadis Defy-7 Mk. II. All interconnects, speaker cable, and power cables were Nordost Valhalla. Every component including speakers was supported by Ganymede ball-bearing supports.

Listening

My dual goals in assessing this player were (a) to enjoy myself, and (b) to report my findings to you as clearly as possible. For (a), I give this player a solid 9 for DVD-A and a bright wink. As for (b), I’ll let you be the judge.

I chose three recordings for audition: Naxos’ recent DSD-recorded disc of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, available in both DVD-A and hybrid SACD formats: EMI’s PCM recording of Sir Simon Rattle’s Mahler No. 10, which I have in both DVD-A and standard CD formats; and Telarc’s DSD recording of Weather Report, which I have in both DVD-A and hybrid SACD formats.

The Sibelius, previously reviewed on this site, came first. When I played the hybrid SACD through the Thule, I was immediately impressed by its extraordinarily wide, seemingly boundless soundstage. Blown away is more like it. I LOVE the huge, boundless soundstage this player creates.

As involving as was the soundstage size, CD reproduction itself seemed somewhat flat and uninvolving. There simply wasn’t enough life in the presentation for me. Granted, I am spoiled by a Theta set-up that costs five times as much. For anyone accustomed to the sound of a mass-market player in the $300-$700 price range, I have no doubt that the Thule DVA250B will represent a marked sonic upgrade. Its sound on CD is light years ahead of the Integra DPC 8.5’s.

DVD-A was another story altogether on the Thule. I immediately heard and felt far more air than through the CD layer of the SACD. The orchestral sound was literally haunting. The violin moved back from its initial flat, front and center position, with considerably more air around it. The soundstage was if anything even wider than the Theta’s, with a sense of boundlessness I find thrilling. I also heard far more reverberation from the hall, and greater color from the orchestra. The darkness of Sibelius’ landscape became that more involving through DVD-A.

One of my complaints about the Integra was that its bass could not approach the Theta’s. No such complaint here. The bass is quite full. Equally impressive is the stunning dynamic range of the Thule player.

Thule seems to have tuned its unit to create a soft, atmospheric presentation. While this is certainly preferable to harsh, digital glare, those looking for naturally vibrant highs will discover themselves seated a little farther back in the halls, where highs naturally roll off.

Also noticeable, especially through high quality equipment, is a certain lack of complex overtones and upper level harmonics. There was more of the violin’s sound to be heard through the all-Theta chain. The sound is also more liquid through the Theta, in part because of the extra clarity on high. But we’re comparing the one-piece Thule to a transport that alone costs the same, plus a separate DAC that costs considerably more. (and if you’re connecting and powering the two with Nordost Valhalla, throw in an extra $5000 to hold it all together). Hearing how great DVD-A sounds through the Thule makes me pray that Theta will announce its DVD-A and SACD upgrades before too much longer.

On the Mahler No. 10, the DVD-A played on the Thule delivered a truly wonderful sense of air around the Berlin Philharmonic’s violins. I could also easily hear that this PCM recording was not in the same league as Naxos’ Sibelius DSD production of four years later. Playing the regular CD on the Theta revealed a soundstage diminished in size, with less atmosphere and air around the orchestra. This was a clear case of DVD-A triumphing over Redbook PCM.

Auditioning the very different music of Telarc’s DSD-recorded Weather Report disc confirmed these findings. Through the Thule, the DVD-A was captivatingly atmospheric. The sound seemed to come from everywhere before me, with no defined sense of boundaries. Nor did it seem in any way flat or one-dimensional. While the highs were not as vibrant as I would have wished, this was music, pure and simple. The presentation was thrilling.

Playing the CD layer of the hybrid SACD on the Thule produced sound noticeably less involving, with atmosphere, color contrasts, and depth considerably lessened.

Playing the SACD’s CD layer on the Theta allowed me to hear subtleties of background instruments, a clarification of inner voices, and a host of overtones that had been minimized through the Thule. Bass also seemed a bit more cutting and faster, with more control on the deepest tones. And there was no question that the highs sounded more vibrant, with more edge, color and complexity. But as for atmosphere, reverberation, and air, the Thule with DVD-A continued to reign.

Conclusions

The Thule DVA250B does an outstanding job reproducing DVD-A in two-channel, and a more than passable job on CD. Its presentation on highs, a bit soft-grained and lacking in ultimate harmonic complexity, may prove an asset for people with bright systems. As for atmosphere, soundstage, bass extension, depth, and overall musicality, the Thule DVA250B equipped with its optional DIGIT II 192kHz asynchronous upsampling board is nothing short of thrilling. This player makes music.


- Jason Victor Serinus -

REFERENCE SYSTEM

Digital Front End
Sony 707ES transport modified by Alexander Peychev of APL Hi-Fi
Theta Gen VIII DAC/Preamp
Theta Carmen II transport (on loan from Theta)

Amplification
Jadis Defy 7 Mk. II soon to be upgraded to the current model
Red Planet Labs STR201

Loudspeakers
Talon Khorus X speakers MK. II (with latest modifications and Bybee filters on woofers and tweeters)

Cabling
Nordost Valhalla single-ended and balanced interconnects and balanced digital interconnects
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Nordost Silver Shadow digital interconnect for DVD-V
Nordost Valhalla Power Cables


Also on hand and sometimes used:
Interconnects: WireWorld Gold Eclipse 5 and Gold Starlight 5 digital, Harmonic Tech Magic One, Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II balanced, and Nirvana BNC-terminated digital.
Power cables: Elrod EPS Signature 2 and 3 plus EPS 1, 2, and 3; WireWorld Silver Electra 5, PS Audio X-treme Statement, Harmonic Tech, and AudioPrism SuperNatural S2.

Accessories
PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with MultiWave II
ExactPower EP15A
PS Audio Ultimate Outlet; PS Audio Power Ports
Ganymede supports in main digital chain and under speakers
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks and Corner Tunes

Michael Green Audiopoints, and Black Diamond Racing Cones elsewhere
Shakti stones on amp, Theta, and transport
Stillpoints ERS EMI/RFI sheets on most components
Bedini Dual Beam Ultraclarifier, Audioprism CD Stoplight,
Marigo Signature Mat for use atop CDs, Ayre demagnetizing CD and the original Sheffield/XLO demagnetizing and break-in CD.

Room Size
25.5’ deep, 37’ wide opposite the speakers, 21.5’ wide in the listening area. Ceilings are 9’2” high with heavy wooden cross-beams. Floors hardwood and carpet. Speakers are totally decoupled from the floor, resting on Ganymede supports and maple.

 

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