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
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?
The Music Begin
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.
Fun Of Tube Rolling
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.
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