While I cannot isolate the source of the SR’s reduced upper-end extension, the SR has other limitations that are almost certainly digital in origin. Cymbals are a particularly revealing example. If the aforementioned Mahler has one cymbal crash in the last three minutes, it has twenty. Through the reference system, each crash has a distinctive frequency and dynamic envelope, then trails off gradually just like a real cymbal. Through the SR system, the crashes all sound much the same— more like crinkled cellophane than a true cymbal—and all conclude abruptly. The former error may be bandwidth- related—and therefore possibly, but not certainly, digital in nature— but insufficient dynamic resolution to accurately depict decays is a classic digital artifact. Likewise, the SR exhibits less finely graduated dynamics than the reference—another manifestation of insufficient dynamic resolution in the digital domain.
I found two areas in which the SR, despite being significantly less expensive, actually bettered my reference system. I have already mentioned the deeply layered depth of the SR’s soundstage. In this respect, along with its near-holographic imaging, the SR trumps my reference. Whether this is due to some superiority in its digital topology or simply because the Logos are outstanding in this respect, once again I cannot say. The second realm in which the SR reigns supreme is that of background noise. In the SR system, there is absolutely none. Is the thing turned on? Impossible to tell. This contrasts with my reference which, though reasonably quiet, does impose a noticeable and unwanted “ambient” noise on the atmosphere of the room. Since noiselessness is a primary characteristic of digital technology, the SR’s still background is almost surely an advantage conferred by its digital genes.
Compared to analog systems, digital variants impose two additional format conversions on the signal: from analog to digital at the front end, and back to analog at the rear. Even within their own architecture, digital systems subject analog sources to one more conversion than they do digital sources. In theory, this puts analog sources at a disadvantage in digital systems, and my experience with digital controllers confirms it. When controllers convert analog signals to digital, rather than passing them through via a bypass feature, the results are never pretty.
So I was stunned by the SR8’s ability to transpose analog to digital with barely any telltale degradation. I can only surmise that Goldmund’s proprietary A/D converter is leagues ahead of third-party chipsets. With Nickel Creek’s latest, very naturally recorded CD Why Should the Fire Die? [Sugarhill], undergoing the conversion renders the sound slightly “softer” in focus and adds just a barely noticeable grain to textures. This is far, far less damage than typical A/D converters inflict. Further, despite my abhorrence to subjecting higher-resolution analog sources to digital conversion, DVD-As, SACDs, and yes, even LPs sound superb—and duly superior to CDs—in the SR system. The significance of this finding cannot be overstated. Benign A/D conversion is a prerequisite for the success of all-digital systems. The SR, for the first time, demonstrates that it can be done.
Although my assignment was to treat the SR as a standalone system, I could not resist exchanging a couple of elements with competitive offerings. I did so in order to learn more about the SR’s sound, but I ended up gaining important and surprising insights into the state of digital technology.
First, I compared the SRDVD to my reference Goldmund Mimesis 36 CD transport within both my reference and the SR systems. The SRDVD is a formidable universal player, and I have yet to encounter another that is superior. (Mind you, I haven’t heard Goldmund’s $89,000 Eidos Reference, or even the $39,900 Eidos 36.) But when the SRDVD is used as a transport and compared to the Mimesis 36, the latter is clearly superior. The 36’s lower noise floor allows sound to “pop” out of the background, generating more dimensional instruments and singers. This phenomenon can be readily heard on the guitar introduction to Norah Jones’ “What Am I to You” from Feels Like Home [Blue Note]. Also, like the SR system as a whole, the SRDVD rolls off the extreme highs compared to the 36’s unbounded openness. Lastly, the transport’s timing is more locked in than that of the SRDVD, which can sound rhythmically confused on occasions.
Given the Mimesis 36’s substantially higher cost and devotion to one specific task, these results might well be expected. On the other hand, aren’t the SR8 and similar components supposed to clean up any jitter in incoming signals through buffering, re-clocking, and the like? In the case of the SR system, such efforts are only partially effective. The system’s overall timing, for instance, is better than that of the SRDVD itself, indicating an improvement bestowed by the SR8. But clearly the SR8 cannot turn the SRDVD’s bits into the 36’s pristine stream.