I've been lucky enough to be involved in the high-end audio industry for the last five years (I'm not currently, so please don't read the following as an attempt to drum up business) but for at least the last year or so I've been utterly dismayed by the fact that it's impossible to open up a hi-fi magazine withouth the 'DEATH OF CD' gleefully being pronounced. Why am I perturbed? Because over the last 2-3 years the performance of the CD format has improved exponentially. Players like Esoteric's K01 or K03, Audio Research's CD8, Gryphon's Mikado Signature, Wadia's 581 - all of them (and yes I have heard all of them) offer lifelike sound with large dollops of emotional involvement. And none of them bear the thumb print of the dreaded digititis.
Recently I heard the following system: ML 512 SACD / 326S pre / 532 power amp and ProAc Carbon6 loudspeakers. Now I can safely say I had NEVER heard sound like this before. Previous great systems I'd experienced might have been able to match up to it on one specific genre or another, but irrespective of whatever type of music I threw at it, this system (well, to me at least) represented a new frontier. I've seen Donald Fagen's 'Nightfly' album described before in the hi-fi press as a compressed 80's recording - well, not this time round. Here this 'compressed' recording opened up and bloomed in a startling glue-you-to-your-seat manner. I imagined that this is how it must have sounded in the control room of The Village Recorder, maybe even better (I've been in a lot of recording studios!) It was just so supremely pleasurable; how I wished all the high-end nay-sayers out there could have heard it even just for one minute.
The same hi-fi press who are so gleefully collaborating in the attempt to bury the optical disk have conversely been the main cheerleaders in the vinyl revival. Why is it worth all the endless faffing about? For one simple reason: it sounds better. Well I've got news for you - it doesn't! There's a review online of the 512 (I think it's Home Theatre.com or something like that) and the reviewer opines that the 512 is the first CD player he's experienced that actually surpasses the performance of the mega price-ticket turntables. Am I allowed to repeat such a sacriligious assertion here on the hallowed territory of The Absolute Sound!
I'm not immune to the appeal of hi-res downloads, and I can appreciate a space-saving set up that's high on useability and low on messing about. But I've auditioned both a full-fat Sooloos system as well as a Macbook (with solid state drive)/ Ayre QB9 and neither matched up sonically to the players I've mentioned. Yes they both sounded great, but not OMG great. And isn't OMG great the goal all of us audiophiles are meant to be aiming for.
So, to anyone out there planning on spending their next thousand free evenings burning music onto a computer - don't bother. Instead visit your local dealer and ask him to let you listen to a CD player that he thinks is really good. Then buy it, take it home, and let the music flow. And don't bother about the fact you can't control it from your ipad. I mean we spend all day as it is staring at screens, do we really need to do more goggling when we get home, just to enjoy our music collection?
And p.s. Could Absolute review Mark Levinson's new gear? The 512 SACD player has been available for two years already.