Review by Neil Walker
What a huge improvement! In May of 1999, I bought a Theta Data Basic II CD Transport and an Audiolab 8000 DAX digital analogue converter. After several years of living with a Nakamichi MB1 cd changer, I had made the plunge into high end separates. I sold the Nak (big mistake!) and settled into a comfortable niche. Periodically, I noticed that various high end rooms at the audio shows were using the same transport as I had, so I felt pretty smug, pretty happy, that I had lucked into a unit which commanded some respect. Until November of last year...
Pascal Ravach, the formidable audio nut who also distributes Vecteur in North America, talked my ear off about how fine this new player was. "Neil, even with the Maestro (a very, very, very good DAC which he sells), we are getting better results than with almost any other transport. I cannot believe it myself, but even people who are buying it say, 'Pascal, this transport is making my system better than analogue." In December, the D-2 ($1,090 USD) arrived at my door, just a week prior to a year-end week in Cancun. Pascal had emphasized that it needed at least a good 200 hours to break in properly. Local dealer Rob Doughty confirmed this, and said that it improves even after that, too. So, I put in a disk, pressed play and then repeat and tried not to listen.
Ever try to disregard a TV set in the corner of the bar as it shows "Fitting Fashions For Fit Females" during a monologue from your best buddy about his cosmic solution to the world's conflicts? I thought, "You must be suffering sound fatigue. This already sounds better than your state of the art Theta.. Detail, crispness, rich bass, wow! clear mids, singing highs. . ." I loved Cancun, but could not wait to return to my little D-2. Life was getting pretty good, all told.
Looks like a... a... a... a metal box!
I returned full of expectations: there it sat, looking its normal, black and brushed aluminum plain little self. It measures the usual hi-fi gear 43 cm (17 in) wide. Its height is 11 cm (4 1/4") and is just under 15 " deep. Remove the large, solid aluminum hockey puck feet and put it on three of Mutine's little composite cones and the eight drops about an eighth of an inch (and the sound is even better). The case appears almost indistinguishable from the case of the Vecteur CD player. In fact, it is the same case - when you open it, you discover a neat CD transport at the left side of the case and a wide open space on the right. The unit's front plate is brushed, black anodized aluminum, over 1/4" thick. The controls, the digital read out and the CD drawer are set in a panel of grey aluminum. The unit weighs a solid 19 pounds and consumes 11 watts of power.
It features a mechanically decoupled optical head to minimize vibrational interference with the actual reading of the CD. Vibration damping material is applied to the chassis and cover. It has a triple regulated power supply and uses a low tolerance (five ppm) quartz laser and is also given anti-magnetic treatment. The circuit board is made of epoxy. Finally, it uses only metal film resistors with a maximum variance of one per cent from rated value.
Can a transport sound lovable?
I love the sound this transport provides. It is clear, detailed and full of life. Since all we are really talking about here is getting a lot of minute voltage variations lined up and timed correctly I can only assume that the D-2 is very good at extracting digital data, lining it up and clocking it accurately before it sends the data charging off to the DAC.
What impressed me immediately about this transport is the amount of detail it provided. The bass was tight, musical - easy to hear. I am not copping out when I say that the same can be said of every other part of the sound spectrum. This player rocks with real soul when you are flowing along with either an operatic aria, a country and western ballad, a blues romp or an an Acapella folk lament.
I pulled out a lot of my old favorites and started on the new machine. I also borrowed another DAC, much better than my own, to try it out. It was the Audiomat Tempo 2.5, an exceptional product which sells for $3,390 US. The depth and musicality of the Tempo were no challenge for the D-2. I was becoming a believer - Ravach had assured me that the D-2 more than kept its end of the bargain when you coupled it to even the highest quality DACs feeding into the most revealing of amplifiers and speakers.
Its overall tonality was superb. I tried every kind of music on this transport, as well as a test CD. No matter how complex the source, this transport succeeded in making musical sense of it. Conventional wisdom now dictates that CDs are incapable of delivering enough information for genuinely musical reproduction, especially of any complex or high frequency sounds. But originally. CDs were hailed as perfect sound reproduction. When I bought my first CD player in 1987, I also bought a handful of discs in the first few weeks to try out the perfect sound. The first one I tried was, Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits. It sounded great, sort of. The second, Mendelssohn's violin concerto in E minor was a huge disappointment. The recording featured violinist Isaac Stern and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Seiji Ozawa [CBS Masterworks, MK 37204]. When I bought the CD, I was ecstatic at the thought of hearing this beautiful piece in perfect sound. What a disappointment. The orchestra sounded harsh, unpleasant and unmusical. How could this be?. Was this not digital music - quiet, detailed, full of detail and with a huge dynamic range? Must be just a problem with, well, with what?
The D-2 is a large part of the answer. Reproducing the music of a full symphony orchestra is difficult for the CD medium at the best of times. Moreover, this cd was recorded in 1982, "digitally, using the 32-track 3M digital recorder, mastered from the original studio recording at the CBS recording studio, New York, on the CBS Discomputer™ system." This CD is a real test of the D-2 transport. I felt that, if one could extract a little more detail from the disc, it could offer up the beauty of the music, assuming that the detail was there in this early CD recording effort. Result? This cd shocked me when I played it on the D-2. For the first time, I could hear music, real live genuine music from this CD. The early digital sound was far from perfect, but now, the music which other CD players had been unable to find poured out of the speakers. The D-2 extracts enough detail from the CD to allow you to hear the music which the CD possesses.
What does this ability mean for a better recording? I tried a more modern orchestral recording, Beethoven's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 61, played by Hilary Hahn, violin with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the direction of David Zinman [Sony Classical SK 60584]. The orchestra possessed inner detail and a realistic sound stage. The D-2 did full justice to Hahn's violin work, bringing out more of the warmth for which her playing is famous.
No matter what I listened to with this transport, there were several constants where it excelled. Inner detail means a lot for an orchestra, and for a chorus. I listened to The Antioch Baptist Church Choir on André Previn's disc, What Headphones? [Angel CDC 0777 7 54917 2 2], The Turtle Creek Chorale in on their disc Psalms [Reference Recordings RR 86 CD], the Chor des Bayerisches Rundfunks on Vesselina Kasarova - A Portrait [RCA Victor Red Deal 09026-68522-2] and The Sixteen - Harry Christophers performing Allegri's Miserere [Collins Classics 50092]. In every instance, the D-2 presented coherent music where both the overall choral effect and the individual voices were clear. The sound staging was well defined and the D-2 captured the ambience of each choir's recording venue.
The ability to preserve both overall effect while offering highly resolved music makes the D-2 formidable in other kinds of music, too. This transport adds depth to the virtuosic playing of Mikhail Pletnev in Domenico Scarlatti's keyboard sonata K24 in A major [Virgin Classics 7243 5 45123 2 2]. It gives the bass line in Shirley Horn's "If you go" [You won't Forget Me, Verve 847 482 - 2] a continuity it lacked when played with other transports - this plus a haunting reproduction of Horn's voice and a startling imaging of the cymbals' metallic shimmer.
The bass line in this CD is often elusive, but one this transport brings out the bass very convincingly. Try a totally different approach and listen to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill [Ruffhouse CK69035] to understand fully what I mean. Or try some classical organ music, such as J S Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 and discover what you have been missing [CBS MK 42644].
But then the same can be said about the upper registers of both instrumental and vocal music, classical, pop, electronica. With the D-2's resolving power, CDs such as Paul Oakenfold's Perfecto Presents Another World [Sire CD 31035] or Paul van Dyk's Out There and Back [Mute 9127-2] really twist your cranium. And when Leon Parker using his body as a slap drum on Above and Below, you can practically feel it yourself - ouch!
Are you with me so far?
When I first received this transport, I almost abandoned vinyl. Ok, I'm lying. More to the point, I wondered at the wisdom of buying an SACD player when CDs have so much to offer. That is the real lesson of this transport - it gives you more resolution, more life, more music than other transports I have used or auditioned at this price point.
Vecteur have not made it a luxurious looking device - it even uses a plastic CD tray. But that big power cord and its Hubbell connector make you realize that these people have their priorities straight. And there we agree - the music, ahhh, the music, here it has a special magic.