What is a music reviewer to do when he keeps getting fine quality SACD multichannel/surround sound recordings to review from such fine sources as Telarc? In my case I still have a good CD player in the Heart model 6000 OSELE a slight upgrade from Heart's original 6000. From the days of yore I still have the seldom played Toshiba 9200 that will play almost anything... anything that is except definitely not SACD multi-channel but it does DVD-Audio very fine thank you, as well as very good DVD-Video. That presents a real dilemma as I spent what is called "good money" quite awhile back so I could report on the future audio savior, DVD-Audio discs. Someone forgot to tell the recording companies that the equipment companies are turning out players to handle DVD-Audio discs. All the logic was there, even Joe Six-Pack and Sally White-Wine had heard of DVD! A little step of promotion from DVD-Video for the best in (watching movies) to or adding DVD-Audio for the best in music listening was all it would have taken. How could the advisers for and CEO's of the large companies been so blind (or was it stupid?). I guess they are still contented playing their 8-track tapes.
Well, this reviewer wound up "biting that famous bullet" while shelling out even more "good money" for a good SACD multichannel player. The rewards of my decision ultimately go to the Sony Corporation. Known for their ability to make as fine a line of audio or video products as any company, large or small, in the world, unfortunately they only bother to do it once in a while. They make their money and corporate profits from selling tons of very adequate "me-too" products. They are perceived as being a company that is either stubborn or slow moving at best. People far more knowledgeable than I, think and believe (and I do agree) that Sony and eventually everyone would benefit if Sony would almost give away their SACD licensing fees (hardware and software) and add DVD-Audio to their multitude of players. What better way to show the world that SACD is better than DVD-Audio?
New Kid In Town
This new model, Sony DVP-NS999ES has taken the place of their previous top SACD/DVD video model, the well-known Sony DVD9000ES. It was a model that showed what Sony could build when they wanted to. It weighed almost double the newer NS999ES's modest, but above average fourteen pounds. Weight implies much in players, such as better shielding, less chassis vibration or resonance, beefier or more transformers and so on.
The previous model SACD's performance was only stereo (two channels). This new DVP-NS999ES does everything its flagship predecessor could do plus adding multi-channel SACD reproduction with integrated bass management - all at a lower price! It will play almost every and any 5-inch disc down to and including CDs with encoded MP3 files, except it will not play DVD-Audio which is a downright shame, but it will play all those many other DVD types of discs plus video CDs - none of which I possess at this time. As with any other multi-channel player, the multichannel output is analog. That means hooking up a half dozen RCA type interconnects to your AV receiver, processor, preamplifier or whatever. Do not go too far to the economy or bargain side of the cable world to save money with so many cables needed. Most of us will not need or completely appreciate the best interconnect cables here, but do remember this connection is near the beginning of the chain and faults such as cables with a harsh or bright treble or boomy bass will get amplified further along the chain of following events. If all winds up in the "home theater" arena I agree that the visual distractions of that factor do seem to mitigate the effect of minor audio problems.
This DVP-NS999ES (that Is simply too many letters and numbers) player has a sleek shiny black appearance with a slightly classy and simple appearance. There is only one protruding narrow diameter knob on the front panel and I have readily grown to like it immensely. At the beginning or after pushing either the stop or pause button, turning it logically one way or the other gets to the desired track with no accompanying noises of any kind. Near it, on the player's right side are the expected four buttons - open/close, play, pause and stop. On the extreme left side of player is the on/off button and the disc drawer is centrally located with an attractive narrow blue LED on indicator above it that can appear to be as much as two inches in length depending on your viewing angle.
There are also two indicators on the front panel for controllable functions only accessible with the remote control. They are panel lights on/dimmer/off and for video off indications. I was not able to repeatedly hear even any subtle change as those two features were turned on or off. Use them as you hear them, is my considered opinion. These controls are increasingly common on players that play DVD video and my guess is that someone in management or marketing told the engineers to add that feature to "satisfy those audiophile nuts" out there. Those in the know say that well designed players do not need to turn off those features and ones that need them do not have them.
I should add that if your positioning in cabinetry (such as for a home theater system) is such that shelf depth is lacking, realize that the track tuning knob protrudes a half inch (nothing else on front panel does) and could make the difference in being able to close a cabinet door or not. I am not a remote control user usually, though I make exceptions for universal gems from the Universal Company such as their MX-700 and MX-500 models. Try them and you may never try another remote control. Having said that I must mention Sony's included remote, which is longer than usual at nine inches and narrow at a bit under two inches. The bottom third is plain and slides down to reveal a few lesser-used items plus specific channel number selections. It is well balanced with a well placed depression on the under side for your forefinger. It can control your TV as well as this SACD/CD/DVD player and features a rather neat to use "scroll button". You can pretty much forget it and get some exercise while listening. Highly recommended by heart specialists and then nobody can accuse you of being a couch potato.
It must be about time to mention something about using this player and how it sounds. It is very simple and straightforward to use as a stereo player for CD or SACD recordings plus all other variations of these. All control buttons worked as they should with a fairly smooth and solid feel. However they do require a solid push, not a dainty touch like using a computer keyboard. The display panel lets you know what type of disc has been inserted and for surround/multi-channel discs in a lighted very small size lettering the word "multi" is displayed. Access to different tracks is particularly easy, smooth and quick as previously alluded to.
Sound quality was just about what I would expect and was frankly expecting in this price range for a CD player. Let this price range be between $750 and $1,500. First impressions were of a strong midrange, a rather forward overall sound quality if you will. Whether it be Frank Sinatra, Diana Krall or Ella Fitzgerald, with their better recordings you tend to get the audible illusion of hearing them nicely close up as in listening to them in a medium sized night club setting where either the drinks or admission would be ridiculously expensive. The recently reviewed SACD (hybrid multi-channel) featuring John Pizzarelli with the George Shearing Quintet [Telarc SACD-63545] was simply superb sounding as reviewed recently and available for viewing by going to Enjoy the Music.com™'s music section. Nothing to fault, a beautifully sublime album of cool jazz. Same goes for the great Reference Recording of Richard Danielpour's outstanding composition An American Requiem. This Sony player took its massive passages for chorus and orchestra and presented them with little in the way of compression or distortion. At all times the solo vocal passages were very clearly delivered. Those famous bass drum passages on RR's Copland disc [RR-93-CD] were as clean, clear and deep as I can remember hearing, even at CES demonstrations.
The closest players (price wise) that I have on hand are the Heart and the Toshiba 9200. This Sony DVP-NS999ES goes further into the deep bass with greater power and clarity than the newest Heart model and both have a similar strong midrange. However the fine Heart player is for CD only with no SACD (or DVD-Audio or Video) or multi-channel. The Toshiba 9200 has similar bass extension as the Sony and adds DVD-Audio but not SACD - which do you prefer or need? The Toshiba's overall sound quality is slightly recessed compared to both the Sony and the Heart players. It results in a more relaxed perspective if not actual sound quality.
The Sony offers much more than simply good CD reproduction for a typical CD only priced player. Preliminary brief listening sessions seem to indicate, with the few duplicate discs I have, that the true SACD multichannel recordings offer a sweeter and more relaxed overall sound quality. If you decide to go for just better CD sound quality and forget about SACD, DVD-Audio and DVD reproduction, consider Todd Warnke's fine reviews of a couple of superb CD only players still available in our equipment review section. They are the Ayre and Cary models at the three thousand dollar mark and both feature up sampling. As usual take the numerical ratings that follow with a grain of salt and realize that perhaps the standards for comparison are slowly but surely rising.
Media Type: DVD, CD, Video CD, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW, SACD
Audio Decoders: Dolby Digital and DTS
Surround Effects: Virtual surround sound
Features: 3:2 pulldown, MP3 compatible, Progressive scan
Audio D/A Converter: 24-bit/192KHz
Video D/A Converter: 14-bit/108MHz
Warranty: 5 years
Dimensions: 17 x 4.5 x 13.8 (WxHxD in inches)
Voice: (800) 222-7669