|Lexicon RT-10 Universal Disc Player|
|Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players|
|Written by Ben Shyman|
|Monday, 01 September 2003|
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Many people can imagine that setting up a hybrid disc transport featuring DVD-Audio and SACD would be a confusing and frustrating task, and rightly so. Despite the additional cabling, digital and analogue outputs and a plethora of options in the onscreen menus, having to rely on two instruction manuals (one for the processor and the other for the disc transport, which are likely from separate manufacturers) can only make matters worse. Fortunately, the RT-10’s User Guide, although lengthy, is well organized and clearly written, so that most people should be up and running in no time. I found the onscreen set-up menus to be quite familiar, since the RT-10, which is based on reliable and tested Pioneer OEM components, also utilizes its onscreen set-up menus and functionality.
Beginning with the audio, I connected the RT-10 to my preamp via the six RCA analogue outputs. These outputs would be used exclusively for DVD-Audio and SACD. Since the major record companies have yet to agree on a universal high-resolution output standard, listening to high-resolution music is only possible via the 5.1 analog outputs. While admittedly I am aware of no high-resolution audio player that is upgradeable once a standard becomes clear, it would have been nice for Lexicon’s engineers to have been more proactive here and provide for a potential future upgrade of the RT-10. At the very least, they could design and provide a proprietary digital connection to the MC-8 and MC-12 controllers, much like Denon, Pioneer and Meridian have done with their products.
I also chose to connect the RT-10 to my processor through the balanced XLR digital audio output, using a Transparent Premium AES/EBU 110 Ohm Digital Link. Setting up the RT-10 in this way employs the digital-to-analog converters and processing capabilities in the Proceed AVP2 for music and movies and not those in the RT-10. This was a personal decision and one that you must reach through experimentation. I find the D/A converters and signal processing in the AVP2 with their silky smooth sound, incredible detail and full bottom end, to be superior to most on the market. Since most potential buyers of the RT-10 will be attracted foremost to its ability to play both DVD-Audio and SACD formats, my favoring the digital-to-analog conversion and processing capabilities of the Proceed AVP2 over the RT-10 for listening to compact discs and movies should not be construed as a criticism of the latter.
As far as video, I connected the RT-10 directly to my Fujitsu Plasmavision display via the BNC component video output. I did not test the S-video and composite video outputs, as most people who can afford an RT-10 will likely have a preamp, outboard processor or display with component video inputs. I did most of my viewing in progressive video mode directly to my display, but also tested the unit through my reference video processor, the Faroudja NRS-DVI. All the audio and video cables used in this review were from Transparent Cable.
Two Channel Music
At this point, I was ready and excited to give the RT-10 a vigorous workout. I began my evaluation with one of my favorite compact discs, Cake’s Fashion Nugget (Capricorn Records). People not familiar with Cake have no doubt heard their lively rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 disco classic “I Will Survive,” which the RT-10 delivered with notable clarity. One of the most enjoyable things about Cake is lead singer John McCrea’s unique voice and singing style, which sounded great through the RT-10. As I listened to “Open Book,” I was amazed by the accurate placement of the tambourine, which seemingly sat out in space, neatly placed just off the left speaker. The RT-10 delivered Fashion Nugget as well, if not better than I have ever heard it before.
I decided next to spin the 30th Anniversary Edition compact disc of King Crimson’s Discipline (Virgin Records). Simon Heyworth and Robert Fripp have been remixing and remastering many of King Crimson’s albums, commemorating the band’s 30th anniversary in 24-bit and HDCD. With each reissued compact disc that I purchased, the improvement in sound quality and dynamic range over the original release was so striking that I since have given away many of my King Crimson compact discs to friends and replaced them with Anniversary Editions. You can easily understand why I was disappointed that Lexicon did not include HDCD decoding in the RT-10.
In my opinion, Discipline is King Crimson’s best modern work. Listening to “Frame by Frame” and “Matte Kudasai,” Adrian Belew’s vocals were gripping and placed squarely in front of the instrumentation, which took on an airy quality, leaving me nothing short of ecstatic. Throughout these tracks and the rest of the album, the RT-10 did an exceptional job articulating the attack of Bill Bruford’s acoustic and electric drums, as well as the tonality of other various sounds and rhythms. It is no wonder the album’s back cover simply refers to Bill Bruford’s instrument simply as the Batterie. The RT-10 did Bruford great justice in this regard. The RT-10 was very strong on the title track, “Discipline,” where the complex guitar and stick bass arrangement was easily heard with no muddy or blending effect between instruments in the arrangement. All I can say is that after listening to Discipline, the RT-10 left me eager to spend time getting to know my Crimson collection all over again.
Getting to DVD-Audio, I listened to Steely Dan’s Everything Must Go (Reprise Records). Upon loading up the disc and navigating the menus via Lexicon’s comfortable and well laid-out remote, I quickly made two discoveries. The first positive was a video ON/OFF toggle button on the top of the remote control. One of the great things about DVD-Audio is the accompanying pictures, lyrics and artwork on the disc to be enjoyed on your television while listening to the music. Unfortunately for those of us with plasma displays, these are still images and I was grateful to be able to shut them off from the comfort of my couch in fear that if I left those still images up too long they could burn my delicate screen. Many enthusiasts claim that it is also an advantage to shut off the video circuitry of the transport in order to avoid possible interference when listening to audio, although I have never been able to hear the benefit. The second discovery was that the RT-10’s remote interfered with my Proceed AVP2. Initially, this was shocking, given that both Proceed and Lexicon are technically manufactured by Harman International. Several buttons on the RT-10 triggered the Proceed AVP2 into the main set-up menu, toggled the input selector or adjusted the balance of the main speakers. Lexicon indicated that the RT-10 remote was designed to control two players in the same system and that there was an alternative set of remote codes in the Advanced Setup Menu. After locating the simple instructions in the User Guide, I was able to successfully change the frequency of the remote and the RT-10 and eliminate the problem.
Walter Becker and Donald Fagen have been entertaining audiences and making great music for over 30 years. I have been a big Steely Dan fan for a long time and while this album is in no way close to their best work, it is easily one of the very best recordings and mixes I have ever heard. Listening to it on DVD-Audio through the RT-10 gave me chills. It was one of those rare feelings you get when the experience is just right. The balance of the multi-channel surround mix on “Things I Miss the Most” was perfect. The background vocals, piano, trumpet and tenor saxophone in the rear channels clearly demonstrated the exceptional (read: near-reference) quality of the RT-10’s DVD-Audio capabilities. What struck me the most about the RT-10 went way beyond the silky smooth sound of the music and the incredible separation and placement of every instrument; it was the effortless nature of the presentation itself. The opening chimes on “Godwhacker” moved around the room naturally and transparently, a testament to the imaging capability of the RT-10. The tone of Walter Becker’s solo bluesy guitar had a roundness and fullness in the front speakers that added a sense of depth to the mix. Finally, Everything Must Go has fantastic bass. The RT-10 was able to squeeze the most out of my Sunfire True Mark IV subwoofer. Bass was deep and textured throughout the entire album. This DVD-Audio disc showed off the very best qualities of the RT-10 and is one I will keep handy for future DVD-Audio product reviews.
I later decided to spin Chicago’s second album, Chicago (Rhino), which is now widely known as Chicago II and was originally released in 1969. Needless to say, as it is almost 35 years old and recently released on DVD-Audio, Chicago II would be a great test for the RT-10, and what better place to start than with Robert Lamm’s classic “25 or 6 to 4”? The song has a lot of energy and I was immediately struck by the vast increase in dynamic range and clarity over the original record. The driving beat of Daniel Seraphine’s drums, the thickly vocaled choruses and signature brass came to life with extraordinary vigor through the RT-10. Terry Kath’s guitar solo, with its dark tone and nimble, bluesy riffs, was delivered with exceptional clarity and I was able to hear every note with precise detail. On the short but catchy “Wake Up Sunshine,” the beautifully arranged vocals took on a natural feel and I was inclined to listen to it several times, hearing new nuances in the music with each listen. Finally, no self-respecting Chicago fan can write about Chicago II and overlook “Make Me Smile.” The staccato horns in the opening moments were punchy in the front and rear channels and the tambourine was placed accurately in the left channel. It was at this point that I found it hard to imagine how any player at this price or even for thousands more could have made Chicago II sound any better as did the RT-10. The music certainty made me smile.
It was time to give Santana’s Abraxas SACD (Sony Music Entertainment) a spin. This two-channel stereo SACD is Santana’s most popular album, and for good reason, despite the critical backlash for the 5.1 CD mix that was created from an old quad mix of the record. I began my listening with the forever popular “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen,” where the percussion was thick, Santana’s signature melodic guitar was clear as a bell and the vocals had remarkable transparency. While much of this is in the quality of the recording and the mix, the RT-10 brought out the best in the music, leaving nothing between Santana’s emotional message and my ears. I must admit that listening to Abraxas in two-channel stereo was slightly disappointing as I kept imagining how remarkable a multi-channel remix would sound through the RT-10. The opportunity for an aggressive mix featuring percussion in each distinct channel is seemingly endless with music this full of life and texture. And this could be no truer than on “Oye Como Va,” which is nothing short of a rhythmic masterpiece. It is one of my all-time favorite Santana songs. Right from the beginning, the mood is set with the organ placed slightly off center, congas to the right and percussion to the left. The RT-10’s canny ability to cleanly image with precise detail was demonstrated here. The song returns to this familiar groove throughout the track, including during the organ and guitar solos, always maintaining a balance and fullness that I enjoyed. My impression of the RT-10’s SACD capability was excellent, and I give it very high marks for this.