The Goldmund SR8 multichannel digital preamplifier and SRDVD universal player

A $55,000 PEEK INTO THE DIGITAL FUTURE

I also compared the SRDVD with Ayre’s C-5xe, a highly touted universal player priced similarly to the SRDVD. I consider the choice a toss-up. The Ayre’s sound is better paced and more beautiful, but the SRDVD is singular in its ability to reveal the textural essence of instruments, and is purer, lacking the subtle grain that afflicts the Ayre. Where the Goldmund’s CD performance feels limited in terms of high-frequency extension, the Ayre is similarly limited in dynamic range. Both units sound much freer playing DVD-As, better still with SACDs.

By far the most dramatic sonic change wrought by my tinkering arose not from substituting source components, but from swapping out a far more mundane element: the digital cables. Specifically, I pulled Goldmund’s Lineals in favor of my reference cables, the Empirical Design 118s. In doing so, I reduced the SR system’s cost by a cool $5000 while markedly improving its sound. Indeed, I must now confess that all the SR system attributes described above were achieved with ED rather than Goldmund digital cables. Initially, of course, I used the Lineal. But a grainy hash infused the sound, especially the midrange, and the overall dynamic range seemed constricted. Pace was likewise lackluster. As a result, the SR system with Lineal, though not without impressive qualities, failed to hold my attention for long. It also sounded oddly “canned.” The improvement wrought by swapping in the ED cables was not slight—it was transformative. The noise floor dropped like a free-falling elevator. The distasteful hash evaporated. Bass became tauter, and rhythms became infectious; my toes, stubbornly motionless beforehand, began tapping to everything. Finally, a wealth of previously cloaked dynamic and timbral detail emerged. In short, what was once very pleasant background music was now riveting enough to command centerstage.

Again the question arises: Should this be the case? When simply swapping digital cables yields such strikingly contrasting results, we clearly have not yet arrived at the what-goes-in-comes-out digital utopia.

Many elements of the SR system augur well for an all-digital future, even as the system itself demonstrates that we are not quite there yet. The SR retains the lion’s share of attributes that differentiate Goldmund products from most offerings on the market—a formidable achievement. Furthermore, the SR confirms that it is possible, given the right technology, to confidently incorporate analog sources into systems that are digital by design.

But the SR also evinces artifacts— discontinuous dynamic shifts, curtailed note decay—that are unquestionably digital in nature. It also does not make a convincing case that digital transport is yet the robust panacea its fans purport it to be. While analog signals are subject to noise, interference, and degradation, digital signals are apparently subject to different forms of the same thing. Moreover, there was only one area—background noise—in which the digital nature of this system gave it a sonic leg up on my analog reference system.

These are still early days for the technology and topology that underpins the SR system. Even so, Goldmund has already demonstrated that such systems are capable of very good sound, and that they can incorporate analog sources with surprising impunity. The video industry instructs us that, given time and sufficient technical resources, digital can improve to the point where it surmounts all but the very best analog. A similar evolution in music no longer seems far-fetched.

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