|Classé Delta Series CDP-300 Universal Player|
|Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players|
|Written by Tim Hart|
|Friday, 01 September 2006|
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Let the Games Begin
Because the CDP-300 up-samples to 192 kHz, I looked forward to seeing how well red book CDs benefited. The production on Tool’s latest project 10,000 Days (Volcano Entertainment) is not what you normally expect from any heavy metal band. Imaging and sound-staging is surprisingly good. Low and mid bass textures, which Tool uses a lot of, exhibit a very detailed structure to them, even more so with the CDP-300, where depth and layers are unveiled in a delicate and complex pallet. “Intension” opens with spectral guitar notes underscored by piles of junk being moved around. Maynard James Keenan’s disembodied voice floats around the soundstage with pinpoint location laid back behind the speakers. The joining kick drum is tight and well defined, sounding liquidly smooth and taut. The non-linear roller coaster bass line that Justin Chancellor creates comes in at this point and oozes holographic detail of the vibration of the strings, the body of the bass and the harmonics as he changes notes. I’ve only heard it slightly better with my current reference, the Linn Unidisk 1.1, which is nearly double the price. “Right in Two” has Keenan’s vocals back dead center between the speakers, while Adam Jones’ single-string plucking seems to come alive within the soundstage they are portraying. Nothing is simple with Tool’s playing and song structure. The CDP-300 uncovers a tremendous amount of soul and nuance from this recording with a straight-up natural and neutral presentation.
Shawn Mullins is one of my favorites to use as an evaluating tool, because the production qualities of his recordings are topnotch and he is a great singer/songwriter. His vocals are captivating and powerful with a wonderful timbre and range. “Drumming Clown” off of The First Ten Years (Sony Entertainment) is a good example of Mullins’ talent. The CDP-300 captured this tune with all of the detail spread out before the listener with Mullins’ vocals dead center and slightly in back of the main speakers. Transients had a nice defined edge that allowed the pick striking the strings to sound more three-dimensional with a nice space around it, which was duly noted when I first installed the CDP-300 in my system. The CDP-300 compelled me to listen to “This Time/Last Time” as I was warming up my system, with the opening piano and the ensuing body of the tune grabbing my full attention and demonstrating how musical this player can be. It truly rejuvenates the CD format and the up-sampling adds more dimension and depth to the older format. At this point, the CDP-300 is doing its job of endearing me to this marvelous Classe product.
Another endearing feature that proved that it is not just a gimmicky light show but a very functional tool was the touch screen. Remember the frustration of cuing up a DVD-Audio without firing up the projector or big screen to see the menu? Yup, it was a pain, which is easily avoided with the CDP-300. There are some DVD-Audio discs that are authored in such a way that you must turn on your video display device, but those are rare.
So how did the CDP-300 sound with DVD-Audio? I go back to this disc often, but sometimes I get another angle on a familiar tune. The surround mix of The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty heard on the CDP-300 did just that. The presentation put me Dead center, with Jerry Garcia right in front of me, accompanied by vocals on the left and right sides, with some of the piano and rhythm guitar in the rear surround speakers. The mix was very well done. I felt Jerry as the focal point and the rest of the band joining in around me in a way that enveloped me. I’ve heard this disc on lower-performance universal players that don’t provide the effect that the CDP-300 gives you.
“Sugar Magnolia” was another example of a song that enveloped me with a layered and detailed sound. Bob Weir’s vocals were suspended in front with plenty of space around the backing vocals and instruments. Jerry’s guitar soared through the mix with a well-sculpted presence that could mesmerize the listener. I noted that this DVD-Audio didn’t jump right out with tons more information, but subtle aspects of the tunes had added nuance and texture that became more apparent the more I listened. This recording was both stereo PCM and surround at 48 kHz/24 bit, so there was added information, but not at, say, the level of a disc that was recorded in two-channel at 96 kHz/24-bit, like Metallica’s Black album.
REM’s Automatic for the People in DVD-Audio was also recorded at 48 kHz/24-bit in stereo and surround, but the production values on this recording were warmer-sounding than American Beauty, treating me to a great soundstage that was airy and detailed. This format stripped most of the keyboards from the mix, which gave the tunes an earthier feel to them. The melancholy is teased out of “Ignoreland” by the CDP-300 while giving the sense of depth and scope more tangibility. “Man on the Moon” and “Night Swimming” sounded very articulate and musical. Low-frequency information was tight and deep, as were the bass lines with the added fleshed-out vibration of the strings on the bass and acoustic guitars. “Find the River” stood out sonically with beautiful acoustic guitar, a tight bass line, wonderful harmonies and some of the purest Michael Stipe vocals I’ve heard. The biggest compliment I can give the CDP-300 is that it got out of the way and let the music do the rest.
So how well does the internal video processor and up-converting work? I turned to my new Sony KDS-60A2000 60” SXRD RPTV which will accept a 1080p 60 Hz signal to test drive the internal processor. I started off using a Monster two meter HDMI connection and ran the CDP-300 at 1080p. At first my impression was “wow”, then after I got over the initial response noticed a fair amount of pixelization on fast moving images. Just for grins a changed to Cardas component video cables and was stunned to see most of the issues disappear. Either the cable was not up to the task or the current version of the HDMI is not quite ready for primetime yet.
I was hard pressed to pick between standard definition material at 480i from decent HD material from my Directv source. Better produced HD material uncovered some of the upconverted image issues. Background clarity suffered a bit, and edge definition wasn’t as detailed, but over all a vast improvement over 480i. DVDs faired even better, providing a smoother, more detailed image. The DVD collection just got and extended stay of execution thanks to the CDP-300.
The immediate reaction I had with the CDP-300 in my system was that the image was sharper and noticeably brighter. Video noise was somewhat reduced, though not as dramatic as the other improvements. There was improvement with the de-interlacing of edges and the stair-stepping I’ve seen on color boundaries and image edges. In Gladiator (DreamWorks SKG), there is a scene in the opening chapter where the solders with pikes are aligned on the battlefield waiting to attack the Germanians. The pikes have exhibited a jagged appearance on other players, like the Denon 2900. The CDP-300 took most of that away and produced a more coherent image. This scene is also a little on the dark side and the CDP-300 brought better image detail and a more three-dimensional look to the video. Grain improved slightly over the Linn 1.1 I use as my reference. Also, at the very beginning, as Maximus is walking through a field of grain with his hand extended, the detail of the actual grain and the structure of the other parts of the plants were vivid, with great color rendition and balance.
Vivid landscapes and colorful costumes seemed like a good test for the CDP-300, so I pulled out the cinematic masterpiece Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Sony Pictures Classics) to shake the cobwebs off of the retinas. In Chapter 18, bandits overtake the wagon train of the banker’s daughter, Jen, played by Zhang Ziyi. Lo (Chang Chen), the bandit leader, steals Jen’s comb. She wants it back with a vengeance. The ensuing horse chase takes you through some beautiful steppes and expansive desert scenery. The CDP-300 processed the fast-moving scenery with dexterity, keeping motion artifacts to a minimum and giving the picture better depth. For fun I connected my older Sony projector to the CDP-300 via component video connections, i.e., a 30-foot run of Transparent’s High Performance Component Video cable. My seven-inch Sony is only capable of 720p, so I wasn’t able to get the benefit of the full resolution. But I did get a tremendous benefit from the CDP-300. I ran it at 1080p and 720p to see if there was any difference between the two and felt there was no noticeable improvement in running it at 1080p. Even the edge of the scenes, which is a weak link on the Sony projector and has always had a bit of blurriness to the image, was improved.