It is not easy to surprise with anything in the digital hi-end. Often companies propose new solutions, as the digital technology does not stand still, but the top, the lead is narrow and the devices of that kind can be counted using the fingers of both hands. dCS, EMM Labs, Audio Research, Zanden, Accuphase, C.E.C., Esoteric, Jadis, Ancient Audio are the companies that manufacture the best CD and /or SACD players of the world. Most of them were in my system and I listened to them. I am writing this, not to prove to you anything, but to let you know that there are not so many top digital sources companies around, whose products could be called “ultimate”. On this background the proposition from Reimyo could seem a bit reactive. Because this is “only” a CD player, and the heart of the converter is the quite old D/A converter chips PCM1704 from Burr-Brown and also not very recent K2 digital filter from JVC. Yes, this is the same filter used by XRCD and K2 recordings, and in a modified version also for K2 HD (a reportage from the introduction of the format HERE).
And this is a recommendation, like no other. Let’s state this clear: the technologies used have absolutely no meaning, if they do not deliver perfect sound (perfect in a descriptive way, as ‘perfect’ does not exist): only the result counts, and not the means that lead there. Of course – to reach that high quality of the sound technologies are needed that are common for many devices, like outstanding drives, splendid power supplies, etc, but the rest of the elements might differ, and that by much. Because Ancient Audio, Jadis, Zanden and Audio Research use electron tubes in their output stages, and the other companies used solid state. dCS and Accuphase propose a SACD solution, other companies CD players. The companies use upsampling, oversampling or resign from using it – Zanden is based on the Philips TDA1541 S1 converter with switched off oversampling. And only one thing seems in common (except C.E.C, but this is another story): in most CD players almost exception less the Philps CD-Pro2LF (and earlier CD-Pro2M) drive is being used. For SACD player two solutions come in place: proprietary Accuphase drive or NEO-VRDS by Teac (dCS and Esoteric). Except for the DP-700 from Accuphase (description HERE) and the CD7 Reference from Audio Research all devices are split – from two-box EMM Labs and CEC and the 3 part Ancient Audio to four boxes of Esoteric, dCS and Jadis.
The split Reimyo CDT-777 + DAP-999EX player, when we forget for a moment about the K2 processor, seems boring and mediocre. It is composed of two elements – a drive and a DAC. This is a pure CD player, it cannot handle SACD or DVD-Audio. We won’t also play any MP3 or WMA files. It will read the CD layer from hybrid SACD discs only. The drive is the mentioned Philips unit, and the player itself is a classic top-loader. The output of the DAC is solid state, but first the digital signal is heavily processed in DSPs. This is not much, but we need to notice a few things: special Harmonix feet, or three R-core transformers in the drive section only. And – we can do it now – the K2 processor. And still, I can say it with full responsibility for my words, this is - in my opinion – probably the best CD player in the world (read: “as I heard”; I hesitated a bit writing these words, because the Lektor Grand SE Ancient Audio and Jadis JD1 MkI + JS1 MK III are equal to it, but I must place myself somewhere) and one of the two able to compete directly with the best turntables (the second one is the Lektor). And this tells more than the whole test.
It is not easy to review a legend. Even for me, accustomed to many kinds of exceptions and important people, not everything went smooth from the beginning. But I knew one thing after the first day of listening, when the player was still as cold as stone, and had only about 16 hours of playing on the meter, that it is a fantastic device. All Reimyo devices came to me directly from Mr. Kazuo Kiuchi (Kiuchi-San) from Japan and were unpacked at my place, by me. And I couldn’t wait with the units somewhere aside, burning-in, I just put the Japanese player in place of my Lektor Prime. Just as I wrote in the article about the whole system (Sum of all desires), first I used the Prime as the transport (connected via digital cable to the DAC) for the DAP-999EX, and replaced the Lektor with Reimyo drive later. And although I already wrote that, I need to repeat myself: a digital transport makes the difference. My Prime is fantastic as a drive. But it is still half-way – regardless of the fact if we use them or not the output stage circuits, with the current consuming tube among them, are always on. And at this level, every detail can be an obstacle.
The DAC is in itself fantastic, but at the same time a bit controversial. Because I used it just after a very interesting converter Weissa DAC1 Mk2 (with an S/PDIF to AES/EBU converter - it is about making the same signal balanced) I could place the transport out of the equation and compare only the DACs – Ancient, Weiss and Reimyo. The latter plays with an incredibly smooth, full and a bit warm sound, that was comparable, as the only one, to what I heard from the turntable SME 10A and Dynavector DRT XV-1S cartridge. My Lektor seemed more precise and more resolving. But in this comparison it lost somewhere the liberty and absolute smoothness of the analog and the Reimyo DAC. The latter does not have as good defined bass, and here the Ancient Audio player, as almost always, had more to say. Because in general, the area of interest for the DAP in the sound is midrange. This is due to the slight withdrawal of the 1 to 2 kHz sub range. This is how the Japanese converter sounds when attached to another drive than the CDT-777 – a part of Sinatra’s vocals, from the album I listened to, Only the Lonely was withdrawn. This resulted in an incredibly full, saturated voice without annoying brightening. But still, just after plugging over from the Prime, it could be heard, that this was done on purpose, that somebody in the recording studio wanted it to sound like that. I thought, that the disc is wrongly chosen, so I switched over to Come Dance With Me! from the American edition of the Entertainer of The Century, more vivid and dynamic than the European version, but nothing changed. The same with Autumn In Seattle Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio. But with this disc I had some thoughts, if I am not mistaken. Despite the visible lowering of a part of the sound spectrum, the strokes from Yamamoto, as always strong and resonant, were better than from the Lektor. But it is hard to tell if they were better, or other, because I do not know him from a recording studio, only from discs, but with Reimyo it resembled more what I was hearing from vinyl discs Misty and most of all Midnight Sugar by the artist’s trio, prepared for Three Blind Mice. There was dynamic attack and beautiful reverb. So I returned quickly to vocals – Chris Connor from Sings Lullabys of Birdland and Maria Peszek from Miasto Mania - and the same there: softened upper part of the voice, and thus a little warm and lowered tuning of the whole.
So I had only one thing I could do: unpack the transport. I thought earlier, that I will play with the DAC for a week, and during this time I will burn-in the mechanics. The CDT-777 plugged in a minute later showed what this sound is all about. The DAC itself (but with the Harmonix HP-102 cable used) was fantastic in its “analogousness”, but its sound was not fully neutral. And in this case, the lack of neutrality was related to the lack of naturality. Going from the Lektor Prime to Reimyo everything got “matter”, larger shapes and stronger volume. The withdrawal I talked about did not disappear – it was still there, but due to the fact that everything around it was more intensive, more natural, I stopped noticing that. Why? Because, that is what I think, and I try to find the answer to that questions for quite a long time, that a flat frequency response is in audio worse than over-zealousness. I am sure, if we were to measure the DAP then the frequency response would be perfectly flat. And still its sound differs from other ‘flat’ devices. I do not know how this is done, I am not a constructor, but keeping the measurements in place we get a new quality. Because the Reimyo system is a new quality.
Its sound really gives the same thing as good vinyl. It was similar with a Philips TDA1541A (without oversampling and output filtering) based player, the Abbingdon Music Research CD-77, but there the price paid for absolute coherence and fullness was clearly heard – low resolution. Here was nothing like this. We got coherence, fullness and an incredibly warm sound but without the drawbacks. I verified this quickly using discs from my favorite band, the Modern Jazz Quartet: Pyramid and the Sheriff, brilliantly re-mastered for the Atlantic 60th series. The vividness of the vibraphone was incredible! Even I was surprised, how freely this system handles dynamics (micro-dynamics). But yet, for Reimyo the whole is most important. It does not loose detail, this is not the kind that would do that, but it approaches them from the outside, we her everything, very deep in the mix, but looking from the whole, a very holistic approach of filling the space between the speakers. This makes the transmission very natural.
My Lektor approaches that from another side. Well – it does not reach it – it tries to. The Lektor Grand SE reaches it. And from the other side the recording is seen differently. On first sight everything is clearer, more precise. And I think, that the Grand SE is on the lowest levels a bit more resolving than Reimyo. But the latter is a tad more coherent. Listening to the Polish product we know, that this is the top of digital technology. We get a coherent vision and a consistent sound: incredibly resolving, precise, saturated, etc, but the accents are placed more on surprising with new impressions, enchanting with the “presence” of the musicians and instruments. And the Reimyo goes a step forward in comparison what the Jadis did – it does not look at the events from all possible sides, but rather puts them to the head and heart with high pressure. This like a kind of emotional and impression supercharger. The sound, regardless of the disc listened to, was so incredibly “analog”, as it is only possible now. And this description is not used to laugh at anything, but a real comparison to very good analog setup. This is how SME 300/II sounds as I remember it. On a different level, but in this way.
But you need to audition the Lektor Grand SE, before or after listening to Reimyo, and this to confront our expectations. The Polish player seems to define the “visible” shapes and room proportions better, or the reverbs added to the instruments. With Reimyo this element is irrelevant. On first sight there is not much to “see” from the recording room, because the intensity of the playing makes us immerse in it and draws our attention away from other aspects of the sound. But after a few moments we realize an incredible coherence of the original and reflected sound. Now when listening we will “see” the interior, but less precise than from the Lektor. But to do this we need to want to see it. Normally this category is imminent to the sound of an instrument. Everything is there as it should be, but in difference to the Lektor we do not “need” to see it. I think, this can be attributed to the way the players present the treble. Reimyo handles it like a turntable, the attack is slightly rounded and the sound bases on sustain and decay. Lektor, on the other hand, makes sure nothing from the attack gets lost, but looses some of the sustain. This can be heard best on tape hiss. I repeat – I do not listen to noise, but I use it as an element of diagnose unequivocally, how a given device behaves. Tape hiss (background noise) is so characteristic, and has such a wide frequency band, that it is ideal for this. I listened to three Sonny Rollins discs, recorded in subsequent years (1956, 1957 & 1958): Saxophone Colossus, Way Out West and Sonny Rollins and The Contemporary Leaders. It was clear, that the Grand SE, similar to the Prime, gives a fuller band on the upper treble. But at the same time it connects it a bit to the sound of the instruments. Reimyo seemed warmer and fuller, but here the noise was a thick, heavy cloth hanging behind the instruments. I never heard something like that – the noise had its own life, it did not “hiss”, not “murmur” in the common sense of those words, but pulsated, rustled, etc. It was not loud – it was quieter than from the Lektors, and was “different”.
Like I mentioned, the only thing that the Prime and Grand SE do better, is defining the lower bass. The one in Reimyo has a beautiful timbre, goes low, and we have everything we want, but its consistence and attack are slightly worse. This is related to a different handling of dynamics by the Japanese player. Because the attack of the sound is a bit harder and stronger, the dynamic jumps are clearer with the Lektors. It is hard to say, that they are better, but they are perceived as quicker. Reimyo stabilizes everything. This can be perceived as quieter sound. This will be especially well heard with stronger kinds of music. With Rammstein from the single Stripped the music had surprising strong bass beat, but it was not as explosive, as unpredictable as with my Prime. But when I turned on the discs I received for reviewing from the David Gilmour concert in Gdansk, I could not look over the incredible coherence and musicality I got. The Prime and the Grand SE are not very forgiving for worse recorded music of that kind. With Reimyo it can be listened to with joy. This is a paradox, it might have seemed, that it should be the other way round. And this is not about masking the details of the production, that do not fit in the whole. Its just that the Japanese player puts emphasis on the music as a whole, and on that, what the sound carries, and not the sound in itself.
I wrote a lot about that, but I need to be understood well. The Reimyo system is the best CD player I heard, together with the Grand SE. Jadis is also brilliant, but it places itself in between the two, so it could seem, that it takes from their sound what is best, But unfortunately true is also the opposite claim, it does not have all that, what the competitors offer, staying half a step behind. The Japanese player also turned out to be the most versatile one – paradoxically. Going outside of the sound, not loosing any tiny bit of resolution, results in a presentation, that is modeled, that has elements, which could have been done a tad better, but absolutely perfect from the standpoint of music. I have my opinion, I wrote it, but I do not want to decide for anyone, which of the three players is best, because they differ a lot. But the experience with the 777 + 999 combo was one of the best musical events in my life as reviewer and music lover.
Discs used for listening tests:
From the outside looks as a classic top-loader, only placed on wide feet. The main body is a cuboid made from thick, aluminum plates, anodized in a color between gold and titanium. In the front panel we have five small chrome plated buttons to operate the drive, and atop of them a green display, characteristic for Philips CD-Pro2 drives. And when we open the cover we see that such a drive is mounted inside. The disc is clamped with a quite big, aluminum puck (but not a full cylinder). Similar to the Nagra puck used in the CDC player, Electrocompaniet EMC 1UP, Jadis JD1 MkII + JS1 MkIII and the Ancient Audio players Lektor Prime and Lektor Grand SE also here the puck is not fully centric, when placed on the disc. Maybe I am mad on this point, but I know, how the sound changed, when I used the Electrocompaniet Spider instead of the standard puck in the Prime. The issue is resolved splendidly in the Ayon CD-1 and Acoustic Arts CD-Player 1 MkIII, using the fact, that a spindle is holding the plate supporting the disc, that can be used to center the puck in a natural way, if allowed to.
Anyway, the enclosure is reinforced on top with two ribs, that cover additional six screws mounting the top cover. After removing it a known view becomes visible, with some additional elements not found anywhere else. The mid part, with the transport is a separate element, made from 10mm thick aluminum sheets, that are arrange in a shape of a drawer, covered from top with the movable cover. The latter moves on ultra-glide elements glued to the metal, and to the side on cork. Behind the transport two splendid transformers, R-Core from Kitamura are visible. And one more to the side. Next there is a PCB with the power supplies – I counted five identical rectifiers. It looks like a separate power line is used for the motor, digital servo, display, lens and something else. Behind the IEC socket there is 2Pi and an Enacom filter. The signal goes out in the native form, without any upsampling, by means of a fantastic RCA socket on the back plate. Interestingly there is no other form of output present – Mr. Kiuchi must have decided, that any other unused output is a source of distortion.
The Reimyo DAC is very low. In the front panel we have some buttons, identical to those on the transport, that are used to choose the input. Atop of them we see LEDs. To the side we have more LEDs indicating the sampling frequency. Note: the device is optimized for 44.1kHz signal, it accepts also 32kHz and 48kHz signals, but that’s it. No 96kHz. A red LED shows when there is no signal, and another one the deemphasis status: in the beginning of the CD era the noise of the converters could not yet be handled well, so a circuit was used, that works a bit like Dolby did for the tape or RIAA does for vinyl (this is of course a rude simplification) – during recording the treble was slightly risen, and later they were softened by playing back. Some of modern converters do not have that function, or it is implemented wrongly, that is why some older CDs play too bright and unpleasant. On the back we see a variety of sockets – digital inputs AES/EBU, RCA, BNC, TOSLINK, absolute phase switch (a pity that it is not in the front) and analog XLR and RCA outputs.
The inside is just one big PCB. The power is supplied from two good looking C-Core transformers. At the IEC socket there is a 2Pi and an Enacom filter. I counted five rectifiers, power supply is separate for each analog channel, K2 filter, and other filters. The main fuse is also splendid – this is a Hi-Fi tuning element. The digital with the power and the analog sections are clearly separate on the PCB. The signal goes to the receiver and then it is processed initially before it goes to the K2 JVC8009 processor and then to the NPC digital filter. Before the signal goes to the converters it is galvanic separated in special chips. I have no clarity, on how the K2 chip works in this setting. I understand it during mastering, where it does the A/D conversion. But in this case the only thing known, is that it is a D/D converter working with a 16-24 bits word. One can read some from the schematics placed on the JVC page devoted to K2, and based on those we can say, that this is a jitter and echo and pre-echo eliminator. The digital section is very complicated and much more advanced than in many CD players. The philosophy behind it is also in direct conflict with Zandens or AMRs striving to maximum simplicity. All processors and converters are clocked by a one clock, located near a Yamaha DSP.
The analog output looks also nice – it starts with two Burr-Brown D/A converters, the PCM1704. Those are NOS units, used also by for example Wadia in their new players, like the 581SE. The I/V conversion is done on the OPA627 from BB, and the amplification and buffering – surprise, surprise – in the popular JRC5534 chips. Hmm… The same chips are used by Accuphase in their top players DP800 + DC801 and DP700, so maybe there is something in them. The passive elements are also OK, those are polypropylene capacitors and metalized, precise resistors. There are also splendid and expensive Sanyo electrolyte capacitors present. Anyway – it does not look like it sounds – such a complicated sound from such simple elements is almost incredible! The sockets are not gold plated. The device stands on special antivibration cones.
CDs FROM JAPAN
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