The appearance of a next high class source is always a big event. And a new player from a renowned company like Accuphase is an even bigger event. This company introduced its reference, top, split SACD player DP-800/DC-801 (the article about it HERE), that earned many awards in many important magazines, including the Japanese “Stereo Sound”. So when late 2007 the player DP-700 was presented it would seem, that it is just a simplified version of the reference. Nothing more deceiving. The engineers of Accuphase did not go for “slimming down” the device, simplify it and sell the idas tested in the top player for less. No, in this case the idea was simple: what would happen if we would eliminate the weakest link in the split device – the digital cable connecting the drive to the converter? And this can only be done in one way: integrating both devices in one enclosure. And that is the DP-700 – the reference placed in one enclosure. The negative effect of such a move is the proximity of the drive and audio sections, but the asset is the simplifying of the sound path and the possibility to use only one power cable instead of two. Because the DP-800/DC-801 was the first device of the company built around the new drive and a novel way of treating the SACD signal, upsampled to twice the value and due to an ingenious way of using eight decoding sections and delaying each by one cycle, the decoding can be done without classical digital filters. DP-700 was born from thinking about used solutions and is a clear example of how one can work not only based on economics but also from the need of seeing, what would be if we would…
The DP-700 came to Krakow shortly after its European premiere. We could not resist the occasion and not have a closer look at that device. Because the Polish distributor of Accuphase (Nautilus Hi-End) is always happy to participate in that kind of adventures, we managed to quickly arrange for a listening session of the Krakow Sonic Society. The session took place in the classic place for us, with the complete Ancient Audio system – the player Lektor Grand SE and the amplifiers Silver Grand Mono (with the loudspeakers Sonus Faber Electa Amator – their description HERE). We have described the system many times, so we will not repeat it, we will only say that this CD player and those amplifiers were part of the dream-system of John Tu (description HERE). Because those listening sections are for us, and I hope also for you, the readers, a kind of game, enjoyment, and do not fully have that “stiff” character. This can be seen among others in partial loosening of the test discipline. Now the library of the documented KSS meetings grows, so we would like it to become something more than a description of nice meetings, but to become some kind of documents, report from a test (every listening session is an examination by observation). That is the reason, why we will try to organize the sessions to satisfy all conditions possible to satisfy. We are unable to eliminate all holes and inconsistencies in the listening sessions, but I think, that equally important, as the ideal experiment, unreachable from definition, is the description of the shortcomings, inconveniences and listening session environment so that the each one of the readers will be able to develop his own opinion, and that it would be known to what extent and what elements of the session are credible.
One of the shortcomings of previous meetings at our host with the Ancient system was the lack of space on his rack to accommodate the guest devices. We dealt with that in many ways, but every time this was some deviations from the rules. This time, we made sure, a solid rack, from the company Sroka, was placed next to the original one. One could argue, that both racks, the one hosting the Ancient system and the Accuphase should be identical. This is probably true. But we were fundamental differences, and those will not be helped or harmed by any rack. On the Sroka rack we placed the DP-700 and below it the newest preamplifier of this Japanese company, the model C-2410 (about that in a moment). The player was powered by the XLO UnLimited power cable, then the Limited, and the preamplifier first with the Signature 2, then with the UnLimited. The Ancient player – the drive and the converters – were powered by computer cables. Both systems, AA and Accu, received their own Fadel power strip with a dedicated power cable.
The listening session was split in two parts: in the first one both players were connected directly to the power amplifiers. This was possible, because the Lektor has an integrated amplifier and the DP-700 is equipped in a variable output. I wrote many times about the differences between those two solutions, so I repeat in short, that if the output voltage of the player surpasses the standard 2V for the RCA output (and 4V p-p for the XLR) then we deal with an integrated preamplifier; and if the maximum output voltage runs up to 2V then this is a player with variable output. In this case the information about the way the signal is regulated is important. Ancient uses an analog integrated resistor ladder, Accuphase controls the output in the digital domain. The specialist of that approach is Wadia, but Accu has also equipped its sources with this option. But until recently this was just an add-on and not a full fledged option. In the DP-700 it is different – like the company engineers say much effort was placed in fine-tuning this regulation, what makes it much more advanced than in the 800 series. Thus it was natural to connect those devices in the simplest way possible – directly to the power amplifiers. Because the Grands are SET amplifiers with an unsymmetrical input, the signal feeding them was taken from the RCA outputs of the players. The interconnect used was the resident of the system ISM The 0.8 Tara Labs. The amplifiers were connected with the loudspeakers with the cables Omega of the same company. In this setting, the listening was conducted in an open way – meaning that it was known which player was playing and the samples were long, bout 2 minutes each, a few discs in a row. After listening to the material on the Lektor, the cables were switched to the Accuphase and the listening to the same material was repeated. The second part of the session was done using the C-2410 preamplifier. Both sources were attached to the preamp by the XLO Limited interconnects, and the preamplifier to the power amplifiers by the mentioned Tara 0.8. In this Lektor model only the RCA outputs are active, that is why the signal is sent the unbalanced way. In case of the Accu its balanced potential was used and the signal was transmitted that way. The C-2410 is a fully balanced device, the signal is led in a fully balanced way and desimmetrized only at the RCA output when needed. However, when we enter via the RCA, the whole device is passed unsymmetrical. During this session the output signal from the Lektor was matched to the Accu (the one with the 0.0dB on the display). And from both devices (almost) the same disc was played in a way allowing for changing the sources in a blinded AB fashion. I personally took care of the connections, so only I knew which device is A in a given test and which B – this was randomly chosen by each disc.
As always, the setup took lots of space, but that’s its nature. The listening session took much longer than the setup and brought incredibly interesting observations. Because the first part was burdened with the fault of “knowing” what device is playing at a given moment, so one might say that it was less trustworthy than the second “blind” one. I think that this is a faulty assumption. But it was so, that the differences commented upon by the listeners were better perceptible and described clearer by them. As this is a subjective way of testing, I will try to call upon the most important remarks of all the listeners, so that the Readers will have the opportunity to “see” what we did.
Jaromir Waszczyszyn (Ancient Audio):
“Those are two distinct personalities – when the Lektor played, the sound from the tweeter was very detailed, accurate. But I think, that the saturation of that sub-range was not yet ideal. Splendid was the timing and really brilliantly drawn was the bass. Accuphase sounded in a way typical for that manufacturer, the whole world knows how Accuphase sounds. The sound is mild, there is not a trace of aggression, regardless of the disc played. The voices are splendid, even brilliant. It was surprising for me how a player from that price range played the bass. I mean how bad it played it. I heard it, but it was as if it would not be there. I think that there is a problem with its definition and substance. The Lektor played this sub-range in a less saturated way, but with a clear attack, I did not loose the technique of the playing, like with the Accu. As a result of that, although the lower registers of the DP-700 seems fuller, I received much less information about the instruments, as if there would be less bass. I know, this sounds like a paradox, but this is how I hear it. I felt bass on the sofa I was sitting on, but I did not hear it, the attack was washed-out. Also surprising for me was the lack of the stage depth – there were not even two planes.”
Janusz Stopa (owner of the Ancient system)
Robert Szklarz (Polish Accuphase’a distributor):
So much for the listeners. I think that you have a picture now of what happened. As you can see the description of the sound is similar in all cases. However its evaluation was different depending on who was evaluating. For me the precision and “truth” of the Ancient was brilliant. This was maybe not the best ever sound from that system, this is the system where Mr. Waszczyszyn tests all his new ideas, but anyway, in terms of resolution it is the unquestioned leader. On the other hand, it could have been heard, that it could profit from some saturation of the midrange and treble, just like the Frenchman said. And also this is exactly what I have in mind when saying, that in general the best source I ever heard is the Jadis (test HERE). The truth is, that the sound stage of the Polish player is phenomenal and Accuhase was not even close to that level, it did not even try. Also the bass was better for me from the Lektor, it was clearer and it was audible, what the contrabass player plays and not only a stream of sounds. But despite all this I uphold my opinion that I state at every test of Accuphase gear: this is the sound for life. If we do not like to search, stir-up, etc, but just listen in peace then we can take it blindly. I expect something else from the music, maybe more, but this is only my opinion.
A complete surprise was the session with the preamplifier. The session was “blind” and I switched between the players every few seconds on the fly. So the comparison was instantaneous. Earlier we compared only CDs, but now came the time also for other comparisons – finally the Accuphase is a SACD player. First comparison was regarding the CDs – the album Chris Connor. The second encompassed SACDs - Invitation Milt Jackson Sextet: the Lektor played the CD layer of the hybrid disc and the Accuphase the SACD layer. And the third comparison was most comfortable, as on the Lector we played the CD and on the Accuphase the same disc but in SACD version (Jacintha, Here's to Ben, CD: GRV-2001-2, SACD: GRVSA1001). We made a few test – a few dozen switches and after each piece I asked first which device – A or B – was more liked by the listeners, and then which one is the Lektor and which the Accuphase. And with this, quick switching, where the listeners had to react to quick changes, without insight in longer hrases, structure of the recording, etc, in most cases the listeners preferred… Accuphase, that was indicated as the nicer device. Eleven people were present and during the first attempt all pointed to the DP-700 as the better player. Second attempt – the same. Only during the third attempt two persons – the owner of the AA and its constructor chose Accu as the device that sounds nicer, but said that the differences were minimal. Everybody was shaking their heads, because the previous part, without the preamplifier favored Ancient Audio. With the quick changing all assets I talked about were amplified – this was a class, splendid sound. “Blind” listening does not lie, and one cannot support himself with “extra-musical” things. In this setting, here and now, the Japanese player bettered the Ancient, maybe not by much, but enough to have everybody prefer it. The differences were not big, but in hi-end every bit costs much, and nothing may be overlooked. In this case the discussion was shorter, because apparently everybody had something to digest after the session. After the first round it seemed, that more points favor the Lektor. In the second test it turned out, that the DP-700 in its environment, can more than the Lektor Grand SE thrown into it. And this is really something, especially as the Polish device is a specialized three-box CD player, and the DP-700 is a one box SACD player. After leaving we talked a bit, but the talk always came to one thing: Accu prepared a splendid device. Every time quite detailed description followed what was liked and why, although the listeners claimed, that the differences were minimal. Why? This is interesting, because earlier the differences were bigger, unambiguous. There are probably a few explanations to this phenomenon. First is a result from what I wrote, that the devices sound almost identical, there is no difference between them. And this can be taken without a grain of salt. But I think that another possibility has to be evaluated. Like I mentioned we compared CD with CD and CD with SACD. In case of the last test the differences between the players were smallest. This is not credible because SACD differs from CD and this by a lot. As one of the listeners said, he was very disappointed with SACD discs, because they showed absolutely no advantage to the CD. One more thing – comparing the CD layer from a hybrid disc to the SACD layer with the Accuphase we placed it in the best possible position and the Lektor in the worst. And here the differences were also minimal. So it can be that the preamplifier placed its signature upon both devices, something that all listeners noted, that the Accu sounds with a smooth, slightly less resolved sound, and the Lektor is more precise. It can also be, that the Lektor played in its own, synergic system, and now Accuphase played in such one – SACD with preamplifier – and thus was favored.
Unfortunately there was no time for a last test – to compare the Lektor connected directly to the power amplifiers and the DP-700 connected through the preamplifier. Pity. However I think that most things were sketched anyway. The DP-700 is a splendid source, a class on its own, maybe even better than the split 800 system. It has assets that would be handy for the Lektor. Then the Ancient would be the best source I ever heard. And so it is a splendid contrast to the Accuphase – those two brilliant sources should stand next to each other, because the potential client would then be able to choose between one and the other way of sound, while staying in the circle of the top sound.
Discs used during listening sessions:
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