It is mid-May as I begin to write this and already Spring's siren song is calling me to abandon my system and enjoy more the beauties of nature. Here in New Hampshire we are just completing our fifth time of year, known as "Mud Season", and our sixth season, known as "Black Fly Time" has not yet arrived, so for about two weeks we can really take pleasure in the out-of-doors, especially since all of winter's fallen branches have been cleaned up on the property. Thus, I'm conflicted between communing with Nature and evaluating several superb components which have come my way for evaluation.
For some reason, over the past couple of months I've received more requests from manufacturers to review equipment than in the preceding six, and its been difficult to be able to publish separate articles on each due to time constraints and the fact that each manufacturer wants his unit to be reviewed ASAP. So instead of writing four long articles full of junk to fill the pages and keep my editor happy, this month I'll discuss the three products which have wowed me the most. Such is the unhappy but fulfilling life of a reviewer.
First, I have to fill you in on my further adventures with my OPPO BDP-83 Universal player, reviewed last month. While I was thrilled then with its sound and picture, I've become ecstatic with its quality since its last software update. While the update was somewhat difficult due to the fact that two downloads had to be done in consecutive order rather than the normal one, the outcome seems to have corrected the remaining faults in its playback of DVD-Audio discs. The outcome is that this $500 unit now sounds as good if not better than any other Blu-ray player I've heard for ten times the price. As a bonus, the picture is superb, giving a 1080 P image which is comparable to that produced by my $3000 video processor. 90+ percent of the original evaluators have returned positive reviews of the product so the company has decided to release it to the public.
I have found two discs which will not play on the unit, Blu-ray, audio only DTS Master Audio recordings from Acoustic Reality of the "Moussorgsky Pictures" and "Tchaikowsky Piano Concertos". Two other discs in the series, "Rachmaninoff Piano Conc. 2 & 3", and "Grieg Piano Concert" play fine. Interestingly, the same two discs are not recognized by my Samsung Blu-ray player but play fine on my computer with two Blu-ray programs. I've gotten the following information from OPPO as they have been evaluating various company's discs for compatibility with their machine as there are multiple variables with Blu-Ray that continue to cause problems for the machine manufacturers:
The two that work fine are recognized as BD and the two that don't as AVCHD. Thus, the explanation rings true. Supposedly they've mended their ways and are now producing true Blu-ray discs. So a word to the wise. OPPO sent me two replacement discs of the above titles recently purchased by them with the following comments. They now both play fine on my machine so Acoustic Reality has learned from their error.
These are two Acoustic Reality Experience discs that we newly purchased from Amazon. I checked and these are still recorded to DVD+R DL media, not Blu-ray. At least these discs will play in the BDP-83 and PS3. I mailed these two discs to you in stead of returning the original pressed DVD discs that won't play. The units should be available for sale by the time this article publishes, directly from OPPO and I would highly recommend that if you need a universal player, that you line up now for one. More than well worth its asking price. Such a Deal!
Black Ravioli Risers
The problem with the original Ravioli's was their height, which was shorter than even the least sized chassis feet in my system, and they needed to contact the chassis itself to work all their magic, so they either had to be doubled up or placed between other feet or cones and the chassis, or have the original feet removed. The risers have sufficient height to overcome this obstacle on all of my equipment, and with two Ravioli per footer seem to also work even better at isolation and chassis vibration control than the single Ravioli with my metal and ceramic cones. I don't know what they contain that works so well, but they both isolate the equipment from ground-borne movements and decrease chassis vibration.
The only caveat I have is that their cloth coating is fairly slippery so the equipment needs to be fairly balanced and level, and one has to be careful in pushing closed drawers on transports. Other than that, these are the best feet I have ever had in my system. Globe Audio Marketing is the distributor in the US and Canada for these products, and they haven't set a price for them yet, so you may want to contact them pronto to see if they'll give you a special deal. Mine are staying in my system.
TEAC Esoteric SACD
These digital SACDs were mastered in Japan using their D-01VU D/A converter with their Mexcel cables and G-0Rb rubidium master clock generator, but no mention is given as to which tape player they used for the project.
Now for the negatives. First, they did some digital tape hiss and noise cleanup which makes the recordings pristine and allows some previously hidden ambiance information to come through, but also seems to take away some of the high frequency information. Turning up the treble a couple of dB replaces some of that but being an old codger, I prefer a little tape hiss with my recordings, thank you. Second, these are the most expensive recordings I have yet purchased, at $59.95 list each. Also one has to purchase them at an Esoteric retailer or at (323) 726-0303, ext. 749. Are they worth it? Only your pocketbook can decide. Mine already has.
Before we discuss the last product I'll do a quick review of my electrical setup. As discussed in multiple articles in the past, I have some of the worst electricity in the world. Direct from the wall there is so much junk on the line, that my system can be un-listenable at times. Thus over the years I've probably spent more time and money on equipment to correct this problem that on the system itself; everything from having the electric company change out the street transformer and breakers, to a new junction box and running 4 gauge cord to the media room, to using multiple AC cleaner-uppers between the wall and equipment. Back in the 80's I even used four 3 KVA transformers in series with parallel large motor run capacitors to try to improve the sound when there wasn't much in the way of store-bought AC conditioners out there.
While some have helped improve the situation, many have caused their own problems which detracted from their effectiveness. I've also found that there is no one product out there that will completely clean up the electricity of all of its faults. Even using a home generator years ago didn't do it. Like with crossovers, using conditioners, cords, filters, etc., in tandem can multiply their improvements on the sound, but can also add negatives, such as a slowing of transients.
At present, the optimal setup has my system tied into a separate 60 amp feeder box in my media room with four 30 Ampere circuit breakers hot wired to four runs of Silent Source 10 gauge cable. These plug into three APC S-15 power conditioners for left, right and center-back equipment. One of these feeds an Audience Adept Response aR12 power conditioner for all of the low amperage stuff including players, pre-pro and active crossovers. Each then feeds a Torus power conditioner which feed all of the amplifiers. AC cords are a mixture from Silent Source and Synergistic Research.
This combination has decreased my AC problems without adding any obvious detracting factors. At least that's what I had thought. Unhappily for my bank account, two new AC modifiers have shown up on my doorstep over the past month which have again proved that no one piece of equipment can completely clean up the garbage coming in from your local electrical company. One will be discussed today and the other next month.
TelWire HC Cord
Like its brother, the new cord is very pliable, and can even be tied in knots, (but I wouldn't recommend that as that may cause some of the crystals to fracture). But this does allow one to move it easily to get it away from interconnects or speaker wire which may pick up electrical noise if run too close together with the AC cord. It is also fairly thin and lightweight for a 10 gauge cable so it doesn't have a tendency to pull on outlets or tip over equipment, and the plugs' prongs are very slightly thicker than the standard, giving a very tight bond to wall outlets and equipment. Enough of the construction! I won't go into nuances as with electricity conditioning one can tell right away whether the cord is helping (dropping of the noise floor, more ambiance information, sharper attacks and transients) or causing problems( loosening of bass, and slower transients).
So how does it sound? In a word, superb. I don't have their original cords here for comparison as they had to be returned to Clark Johnsen who tipped me off to them originally, but I do believe they have the same characteristics as their older brother. Used between the wall and the APC conditioner, compared to the super high end multi-bucks cable used previously, the background low level noise inherent in all systems was decreased, with a smoothing especially of digital highs. Transients were improved somewhat and there was no discernable decrease in attacks and bass tightness compared to the four times more expensive cable. Plus the other cable is at least three times thicker, heavier and unbendable, and uses the same plugs.
Normally they will retail for $999 for a 5 footer, but right now there's a special price of $699 that I think the company will honor for a month after this article publishes, right Mr. Kline? (Yes, the $699 will be in effect for some time to come.) Anyway, they are a value for what they do, are very easy to use, and can be purchased in lengths to suit their runs. What more could you ask?