What is more, the DVD99 acquitted itself well on acknowledged cinematic torture tests, such the Seabiscuit scene where the camera pans over a black & white photo of a man wearing a finely patterned hound’stooth jacket. Most players exhibit noticeable moiré problems when those jacket surfaces appear, yet the Cambridge player did not. My point is that the DVD99 gives you images with greater resolution, and greater freedom from potential playback problems, than most other players do.
Sound quality is also a significant part of the DVD99’s appeal, though I would want to acknowledge from the outset that it does not sound equally good on CDs, SACDs, and DVD-Audio discs. I would the say the DVD99 is a good CD player, a better DVD-Audio player, and an extremely good SACD player. That said, however, I should also point on that even the Cambridge player’s baseline CD performance compares quite favorably with that of most other players in our survey. This player’s general sonic character starts out shaded ever so slightly to the bright side of neutrality, while offering good measures of detail and resolution. The only drawback, really, is that the player can sound just a touch lean or slightly “etched” on some (though not all) CDs. As you step up to DVD-Audio material, and especially to SACDs, three good things happen: first, overall resolution improves; second, three-dimensionality improves; and third, a richer, warmer, and more vibrant sound emerges. What’s not to like about that?
I put on “Mood Indigo” from the Joe Wilder/Marshal Royal Quintet’s Mostly Ellington [Blueport/NuForce CD, reviewed elsewhere in this issue], and was simply floored at how lovely and lifelike the Cambridge player made the recording sound. The DVD99 succeeded largely because it revealed, but did not exaggerate, the recording’s numerous small details, which together add up to terrific realism—realism few players in this class can match. You can hear, for example, subtle mouthpiece and reed noises from Royals’ alto sax, as well as the almost subliminal sounds of him drawing breaths between phrases, all set in contrast to stunningly beautiful timbre of the sax itself. While the record sounded perhaps a touch brighter and more lightly balanced through the Cambridge than through other more warmly balanced players, the DVD99’s strengths more than offset its weaknesses.
But on well-recorded SACDs, such as the Reiner/Chicago performance of Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste [RCA Living Stereo, multichannel SACD], things get even better. Through the DVD99, this difficult-to-reproduce piece sounds clean, angular, and exciting, revealing that inherent richness of orchestral tonal colors without any stridency, edginess or glare. And, thanks to the player’s good levels of resolution, you can clearly hear the reverberant acoustic of the recording space, too.
Cambridge Audio DVD99 is sophisticated and highly versatile universal player that offers much better than average video quality, plus refined, high definition sound that is very effective for CD playback, and even better on DVD-Audio and SACDs. The player’s user interface, let’s not forget, is also a thing of beauty.