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October 2010
Enjoy the Music.com
World Premiere!
Vincent CD-S8 Hybrid HDCD CD Player
The glory of tubes in a state-of-the-art package.
Review By Anthony Nicosia

 

Vincent CD-S8 Hybrid HDCD CD Player  Vincent Audio originated in Germany back in 1995 under the guidance of Uwe Bartel the company’s founder, an electronics engineer who still remains very involved in the design of current products. While their audio equipment is manufactured in China they are done under strict company supervision with an eye towards keeping costs down but quality high. Going to their website you need only look under the tab labeled "Premium Line" to find the newest edition to their CD player line-up, the CD-S8. Although listed there it is not the company’s top-of-the-line unit which is reserved for the highly acclaimed and more expensive C60. Knowing that the company has a history of producing hybrid preamplifiers, power amplifiers, mono block amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, CD players and stand alone headphone amplifiers gave me a comfortable feeling when the opportunity arose for me to do this review. Given their history of producing quality hybrid audio gear I awaiting the CD-S8's arrival like a kid on his birthday.

Once the CD-S8 was delivered, and after a recommended four day break-in period, out came the OPPPO Digital BDP-83 Special Edition Universal player to be replaced by this new hybrid player from Vincent Audio. The CD-S8 is touted as an HDCD player however most of my CD collection is in red book only playback with a few SACD hybrid discs thrown in. Now it is not my intention to debate HDCD versus SACD or DVD-Audio but rather to concentrate on the player instead. Still a mention of HDCD technology is in order as owners of this player will surely seek out HDCD encoded discs. HDCD stands for High Definition Compatible Digital. Discs encoded with this technology can be played on ordinary CD players although their playback will be at 16bits rather than the enhanced expansion to 20bits. When used with a compatible player the resulting effect on CD performance should be a larger dynamic swing found within that extra 4bits of data. If you look carefully at your collection of CDs you might just find you already have some HDCD discs without you even being aware of it.

Somewhere on the CD case, usually the back, should be some letters simply stating HDCD. Shifting through my collection a little over a dozen CD's were discovered to be HDCD encoded making this review a tad easier to complete. Aside from the HDCD technology what made me take particular notice of Vincents CD-S8, was the addition of tubes within the signal path. For you see there is a nice large box of spare tubes, a tube amplifier, tube preamplifier, integrated tube amplifier and tube tuner currently residing within my house. Yes this audiophile loves tube gear and so having the chance to review a tube CD player, even a hybrid one, certainly brought a smile to my face. Besides having the flexibility of tube rolling the CD-S8 comes with balanced outputs for those who care to use them. For me however my Placette preamplifier does not have balanced input or outputs and so this review was done using the CD-S8's RCA jacks. While my interconnects are all keep to one meter lengths, helping to offset the need for XLR connections, my hunt is still on for a tubed preamplifier equipped with both XLR and RCA input/outputs. Stay tuned on that note.

 

On The Technical Side
Looking inside of the CD-S8 we see it is a symmetrically constructed HDCD player with the highly rated Philips VAM1250 CD transport and Texas Instrument's PM1792 24-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with 192 kHz sampling. The analog output stage is not hybrid but rather consists of a full vacuum tube section made up of  two Russian 6922 dual triode tubes (for RCA or XLR output) as well as premium WIMA and Solon capacitors to provide a smoother much richer sound. In an effort to achieve a purer signal by keeping noise out of the signal chain this circuitry is put in a section inside the chassis that is shielded and physically separate from both the digital and high-voltage power supply circuits. As for digital and optical outputs they see the use of one Chinese 12AX7 tube. The CD-S8 also comes complete with a dedicated headphone stage sporting a separate volume control located on the left side of the front panel so headphone lovers will find no need to buy an additional headphone amplifier. This was something not found on my reference player and while not really a headphone type of guy this can be seen as a big plus in savings and convenience to those that prefer one.

This amplifier worked well and the headphone volume adjustment on the CD-S8 came in handy as my Placette Passive unit also has no headphone jack. Listening was done with its volume control set at around eight to ten o'clock through some older Sennheiser HD497 headphones found lying around my son’s room. While certainly not state of the art headphones they did enable me to experience and to enjoy the CD-S8 through them. Both optical and coaxial digital outputs can be found on the back panel allowing the CD-S8 to be used with an AV processor- or a receiver-based system as well as two 12-VDC trigger inputs to aide with system integration with other components. If you like the CD-S8 can be operated by way of its aluminum remote control or its front-panel controls. I found myself using both as when loading CD's it was just as easy to hit play on the front panel before turning away to return to my listening position. Once there the remote was obviously more convenient. Although it did not light up in the dark it still was both comfortable and easy to use with a nice weighty feel to it. After quickly becoming accustomed to its controls and the location of its operating buttons this was not an issue for me.

My review sample came with the silver faceplate rather than the black and weighing just under twenty-four pounds felt quite sturdy. When planning its insertion into an audio rack be aware that at 17" wide, 5.3" high and 14.5" deep it might command a little additional room compared to some other CD players. The tray is located in the middle of the front panel above the power on/off button with six displays/controls to its right and six controls to its left. Since it was taller than my other CD players it was nice being a front loading design in that it took up less space than one of a top loading variety. On the top plate of the unit you will find some ventilation slots. These slots can be important considering there are three tubes located inside and being that air circulation helps extend tube life. If you run the factory tubes that might not be so much of a concern as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. If you do decide to replace the 12AX7 and 6922 tubes with those of a rarer older variety then these ventilation slots with improved air circulation takes on an added appeal. Unfortunately the only way to see the tubes is by looking at them through those slots as the chassis obstructed my view of any glow coming from them. More importantly, though, was that when music played their effect could actually be felt with the music which is really all that should matter anyway. So now that some of the technical data is out of the way it is time to talk about that very question what did it sound like?

 

Let The Music Begin
Since there are HDCD recordings in my music collection what better place to start then by using them for my initial listening sessions. Many years ago my wife took me by the hand and walked me down the path to discovering Country Western music and I thank her for it daily (or at least I should). While having only one HDCD by the Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces [Monument NK 68195], it is quite an engrossing disc. When playing the title song, “Wide Open Spaces” the CD-S8 lent clarity and an air to the recording allowing for it to sound remarkably natural. The voice of Natalie Maine actually came across as “Wide Open” with her voice filling the space between and beyond my loudspeakers bringing great joy to my ears. Accompanied by Emily Erwin on guitar and Martie Seidel on Fiddle, along with the accompanying band, the talent of each of these three women stood out separately within and together as a group. The spaces separating performers was distinct and quiet giving a level of playback that drew one into the music. If you like the Dixie Chicks as my wife and myself do you are sure to enjoy this HDCD performance played through the CD-S8. Vocals and acoustical instruments alone though are not the only area where this player shines as was discovered when listening to “Loving Arms”. Here the presence of Greg Morrow on drums keep a firm and steady beat throughout the song. This again was heard on “Give It Up Or Let Me Go” as Greg Morrow lent solid support to the Dixie Chicks as they played that Bonnie Raitt classic. The opening guitar chords were sharp and fast never giving into any slow style tube playback. This is one fast paced song starting from the opening notes to the scream at the end followed by a “You all are awesome” comment from Natalie Maine. In between we are treated to Martie Seidel playing fiddle as she moves from the background to the forefront during the song. A fiddle can be a good test of a systems ability to reproduce speed. If you can not get it right something is amiss somewhere. Not to fear though as the CD-S8 did better than just fine in this department and if you find yourself not caught up within the music please take a moment to check your equipment or perhaps even your pulse.

Now onto something that for me has never sounded better than it did today when heard through this newest CD player from Vincent Audio, Neil Young's Greatest Hits [Reprise 48935-2]. Within this album we have so many great songs from which to choose but “After the Gold Rush” has always captured my attention. Here the CD-S8 lets that classic Neil Young style of singing flourish with its open yet delicate sound. There is nothing quite like his voice which is quite distinctly heard on this HDCD recording. When referring to the word delicate it is not meant that details were lost. More so that it had a flowing way about it, more akin to the sound of a vinyl recording with less digital harshness. There was an overall sense to performances that connected one with the music which to me is more appealing than one having an overly analytical sound about it. In this same vein Bill Peterson on flugelhorn takes you to a place where one is filled with sadness to compliment the famous Neil Young line “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the nineteen seventies”. This is an emotional song brought to life by the capacity of the CD-S8 to connect one with the music. Suffice to say, both music and CD player where that good.

You might ask, but can this player put out the necessary energy when needed? Fair enough question to ask and one which brings us to the song “Rockin' In The Free World”. Here we have a fast paced high energy song recorded at Neil Young's famous “The Barn” studio. He is not one to sit on the fence nor does he do so with this recording as he lets us have it with both barrels musically and verse wise. The CD-S8 helped me feel close to the music while still keeping dynamic energy high to give the proper rendition of size and space within “The Barn”. You've just got to love this song. Before departing from this album what better track to leave off on but “Harvest Moon” with its appropriately placement as the last song on this CD. Here Neil Young winds us down with a slower paced uplifting tune to ease our minds and make peaceful our hearts. My first thought when hearing this was how nice the background harmony sounded and how well it integrated within the song only to discover it was Linda Ronstadt performing. She is no stranger to Neil Young as she and James Taylor performed as background vocalists on the original Harvest Moon CD (Reprise Records 25899). The line “Come a little bit closer hear what I have to say” (from the song “Harvest Moon”) is a phrase you could use to capture the CD-S8's ability of drawing one into the music as it spins its magic to the delight of all. My problem with writing this review was getting lost inside performances rather than critically listening as I became lost within the joy of music the CD-S8 would put out. Fortunately this is a problem only reviewers need worry about as the end purchasers of this product from Vincent Audio get to relax and “Enjoy the Music”.

Now to slip into something a little different as we stroll over to Garth Brooks Double Live [Capitol 7243-4-97424-2-0] HDCD recording. This was a show held in Dublin Ireland at the Croke Park stadium back on May 18th 1997. The stadium holds 60,000 people although for this concert a four hundred eighty foot wide stage with a six story high backdrop was built taking up about a 20,000 person capacity. Still though satisfying the remaining 40,000 screaming fans was not an easy undertaking. At first Garth Brooks pondered how to make it a memorable and intimate experience for such a large gathering, but after listening to the audience on this CD he apparently pulled it off nicely. The job of the CD-S8, along with the rest of my system, is to give us a glimpse of those live moments as we recapture that intimate feeling while never losing sight of it happening in an open arena before 40,000 people. All this of course had to be occur within the relatively small listening environment of my home.

On “Tear It Up (And Burnin' It Down)” Jim Mattingly on fiddle gave the concert a down to earth close knit feel as the audience with countless layering of rows upon rows of people lined up between and behind my loudspeakers. As for concert hall realism it sounded as if you were sitting maybe ten rows or so back. Nothing of the in your face up front first or second row order but the more preferable seating where one can better take in the entire sound scape with its sense of depth. Although slightly less wide and tall than the very best this was about to change as factory tubes were substituted for some of a much older and rarer variety to be  found within my personal collection. Before that though it is important that you know it was not just with HDCD discs where the CD-S8 shined but also with the many rebook CD's played as well. On a favorite album of mine, Yo-Yo-Ma & Friends Songs of Joy & Peace [Sony Classical 88697-24414-2] there was an extra level of enjoyment uncovered when played back through the CD-S8. On “Here Comes The Sun” a beautiful layering of guitar, cello and vocals emerged with a vibrant cello showcased before us in true life size. Turning to “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, a John Lennon & Yoko Ono tune, both cello and ukulele come across as distinct in both size and timbre. The ukulele sounding like a playful small stringed instrument with a comfortable decaying of notes as the cello released a deep full body resonance in accordance to its size. My loudspeakers seemed to melt away giving rise to instruments unveiling their musical splendor within the confines of my listening room.

Those of you who cherish the flute might want to visit, Flute Mystery (2L58) by the Norwegian composer Fred Jonny Berg. This album features Emily Beynon on flute and Catherine Beynon on Harp with the support of the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. Starting with the opening notes in “Flute Mystery Op.66b” flute and harp come together to be later intertwined with the full orchestra. The Philharmonia takes on an open spaciousness with good depth and body to it while keeping that feeling of individual distance between instruments. Lastly on “Warning Zero Op.54b” we hear a spectacular musical display. The brass section can only be described as “brassy” and one feels as if sitting at close quarters to the orchestra pit. Woodwind instruments open up sounding light and delicate with a good degree of air on the very top. Here the CD-S8 exposed some very powerful dynamic passages that had me riveted to my seat as some very ominous sounding music rolled over me. Here the CD-S8 brought out the intended emotional content of this piece with full flare.

 

The Fun Of Tube Rolling
How can one just sit by when there are additional tubes ready for insertion into this beautifully designed CD player? The answer to that is of course, you can not, or at least so it was for me. Out came the factory 6922 tubes and in went two Amperex Gold Pin made in the USA 6922's. Being there are countless combinations of tube replacement scenarios that can take place and that the main thrust of this review is to determine how the factory component worked there will only be a brief mention of my experimentation with tube substitution. You of course might choose other tubes and that is what is so much fun about tube equipment. The possibilities to tweak are endless with difference makes, and sometimes even types as well that can work as substitutes (please see the manufacturer or your dealer before trying tube substitutions especially if of a different type). My replacement tubes, since they were already used, needed no additional break-in time. It is recommended though to give tubes at lease twenty minutes of warm up time before critically evaluating, which is of course what I did.

Turning to Joni Mitchell's Blue [Reprise 2038-2] a remastered HDCD encoded disc it was quite apparent my tube changes had working for the better. On "River" Joni Mitchell's voice was more pronounced with details readily apparent. Her singing took on a more holographic nature, closer to a live rendition as the piano generated a longer decay of notes giving a greater sense of truth to timbre. Moving over to the Grateful Deads American Beauty [WB Rhino R2 74397] remastered HDCD album the drums on “Operator” had a little fuller presentation as background and lead vocals came across clearer with some extra air on top. Overall songs drew me in close as a heightened sense of awareness to details and space surrounding instruments became more evident. The new tubes brought with it a wider sound stage and an improved holographic sense of realism. If this were my purchase then replacing the Russian 6922 tubes with others that can be had for around $100 each would not be an issue. The improvement in playback was well worth the extra money and after spending $3295 for the player this extra outlay of funds seems like a good return on ones investment. Still if you prefer going with the stock tubes they actually surprised me with their ability to sound good considering their quite modest price.

 

Conclusion
Well here we are at the end of the review and sadly the CD-S8 is soon to be returned leaving a hole in my system that will unfortunately be hard to replace. In today’s world with manufacturers producing CD players costing ten thousand US dollars or more it was a good to see Vincent Audio coming in at only $3295 retail. Still this is a very difficult price point as there are players costing much less than the CD-S8. You might ask yourself is it worth the extra expenditure of funds to move up to this quality of a CD player, well for me the answer was an unequivocal yes as it greatly impressed me on so many levels. The HDCD encoded discs sounded excellent, the joy of tube rolling was a delight as was the addition of a headphone amplifier (with headphone output jack and volume control) as well as the fact that playback even with my red book CD's was vastly improved upon. This CD-S8 CD player had all of the above plus, digital, optical and even XLR outputs housed within a substantially built 23.8 pound enclosure. If this is too much for your budget fear not as there might be a Vincent Audio product for you yet, for their CD-S1.1 and CD-S6 Hybrid CD players are priced considerable less. For those who would like to up the ante a bit more you might want to also consider their other Hybrid CD player the C60. Priced at around $4695 and featuring a top-loading system with a puck-style CD stabilizer the C60 looks to be another interesting venture into the world of CD playback from Vincent Audio. For now though you must excuse me as the CD-S8 is calling and while it is here I intend to savor every minute of the musical bliss it has to offer.

 

The Listening Environment
The review room is eighteen feet eight inches long by thirteen feet wide with loudspeakers and equipment kept on the short wall. The cathedral ceiling starts at eight feet and sloops up-wards to thirteen feet at its peak in the middle spanning across the short length of the room for the full thirteen feet width. The hardwood floor has a nine by six foot oriental rug lying down the long ways facing toward the system placed dead center in between, yet not under, the listener and the review equipment The room has no doors but there are two openings. One opening is in front of the right loudspeaker giving access to the hallway while the other is behind the listening position which opens into a formal dining area. The room is treated with three floor standing acoustical panels whose placement varies depending on which loudspeakers are used and their position within the room. All the audio equipment is located in a Cherry Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack placed about a foot away from and in the middle of the short wall opposite the listening position. 

 

Review Equipment
Monarchy Audio SM-70 PRO mono block amplifiers
Placette Passive Preamplifier
Legacy Focus 20/20 Loudspeakers
Audience aR2p-T0 power conditioner
PS Audio UPC 200 Power Conditioner
PS Audio Power Port Receptacle
Two Blue Circle Audio Mk III Power Line Conditioners
Loudspeaker Cables: Cardas Golden Presence (2 pairs running bi-wired)
Interconnects: Cardas Musician's Reference (2 pairs)
Power Cords: Cardas Cross (1)

 

My Ratings
Please take into consideration that the equipment under review is being measured in my room, with my equipment and heard through my ears. As always you should be the final judge as to what works for you in your environment and measured against what traits you value most. The following was how I rated the equipment based on a rating system that does not take in to consideration the cost of the product, until the very last question, “Value For The Money”. Before that all products are rated against others in its category, regardless of financial considerations with a highest rating of 5. 

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Stereo CD player
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
Output stage: Two Tubes 6922/6DJ8
CD Drive: Philips VAM1250 Transport
DAC: Texas Instruments PM1792 with 24-bit/192kHz sampling rate
Analog Output: 2.5V Continuous
Dynamic: >100 dB
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: >90 dB
Power Consumption: 25 Watts
Channel separation: >90 dB
Inputs: 3.5mm Jack (Power Control)
Analog Outputs: Stereo via balanced  XLR or unbalanced RCA
Digital Output: S/PDIF coaxial and TOSLINK optical
Dimensions: 17 x 5.3 x 14.5 (WxHxD in inches)
Weight: 23.8 lbs. 
Available in Silver or Black
Warranty: two-year parts and labor limited warranty
Price: $3295

 

Company Information
Vincent Audio-A division of:
Sinter Vertigoes GmbH
Electronic Import & Export
Südring 14
D-76473 Iffezheim Germany

Voice: (+49) 7229 18 29 98
Fax: (+49) 7229 18 29 99
Website: www.vincent-tac.de

 

United States Distributor
WS Distributing, LLC
3427 Kraft SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49512

Voice: (866) 984-0677
Fax: (616) 885-981

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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