Electrocompaniet Prelude PC-1 CD Player Review 
Home Theater Audio Sources CD Players
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The last few months of 2009 have taken me on a lovely audio journey across Scandinavia, with stops in Denmark and Norway for a look and listen to accessories, speakers and amplifiers. I recently reviewed Norwegian audio manufacturer Electrocompaniet's Prelude PI-2 integrated amplifier, a new addition to the company's lineup offering budget-minded audiophiles a point of entry into the Electrocompaniet sound. The PI-2's Prelude companion PC-1 CD player ($2,499) proved my final destination within the Kingdom of Norway this year, and a fine one it was.

Features

Clean lines and little to clutter the experience are hallmarks of the PC-1, and all Electrocompaniet components for that matter. The PC-1 is almost austere in its design. Five buttons and a blue LED display adorn the front panel; the back panels boasts an AC in, one pair of balanced outputs, a pair of unbalanced analog outputs and a digital coaxial output. Twin audio op-amps control the unit's balanced audio outputs, which Electrocompaniet touts are the way to listen to this gear, and they were kind enough to supply a pair of XLR cables to connect the PC-1 to the PI-2. The inside features a tightly assembled brain made with surface-mount components, a cost-saving approach that reduces production labor yet still affords excellent end sound. There's not much to see, really, and it's no surprise that the player weighs less than 7 pounds – most of which is the chassis. Like many audiophile-grade disc players, the PC-1 sports a 24-bit/192kHz digital-to-analog converter. Musical data is read from disc and sent to the converter and then into Class A balanced outputs.

PC-1 Frony View- Left Side
Not Just a CD Player

Though its architecture is unassuming, the PC-1 is really two players in one, as it contains a DVD-readable transport that sits on a newly designed anti-vibration device. Obviously it reads CDs but also most DVDs. To my surprise, I was able to not only listen to audio from standard DVDs but DVD-Audio, too. The very brief (and not in a bad way) owner's manual offers no information about the transport or playing any discs other than CDs. When DVDs are loaded into the transport, the LED either displays “File” or “Root,” depending on the type of disc. By depressing and holding the remote's play button, I was able to listen to an astonishing range of recordings, including Neil Young's On The Beach (DVD-Audio at 24-bit/48kHz), Neil Young's Live At Massey Hall (DVD at 24-bit/96kHz) and Genesis' Nursery Cryme (DVD-Audio at 24-bit/48kHz) in PAL format! I tried playing a couple DVD discs recorded at even higher 24-bit/192kHz resolution, but the PC-1 recognized those as “Data” discs only and would not play them.

The PC-1 also plays Dual-Discs – a format that never really caught on – with ease. As mentioned, the DVD side comes up as “File” on the display, but by pressing and holding the Play button the DVD audio will start. The CD side offers no such delays. If you have a DVD loaded with MP3 or WMA audio files, the PC-1 can handle those, too. Out of curiosity I loaded an SACD-only disc into the player, which it read as “Unknown.” So, the PC-1 is not quite a Universal player but still much more than a redbook CD player. The PC-1 has one annoying characteristic: It is very slow to respond when prompted to open the tray. Completing such a command often requires pressing and holding the front panel's stop/open button for up to 5 seconds before anything happens. Oddly, there is no such problem with the “play” or other  commands.

PC-1 Front View - Right Side
Listening

Electrocompaniet recommends at 72 hours of burn-in before the PC-1 reaches sonic maturity and 2 hours of warm-up after being turned on thereafter. If you can't wait three days to listen, you'll still get very good sound from the first play; over time, the player opens up and sheds any milquetoast character. The PC-1 will turn itself off after a period of inactivity, so if you want to warm the system up but don't make sure the player is engaged. The PI-2 doesn't go into such mode, however. Like its Prelude companion PI-2 integrated amplifier, the PC-1 is a suave and nuanced performer. Because I listened to the two as a pair, it's difficult to separate the PI-2 from the PC-1, and I wouldn't want to.

Across multiple music genres, I found the PC-1 to offer warm, detailed and inviting sound. The player has supple bass, gloriously exacting midrange and pretty good treble and high-end. Extreme clarity and precision do fall off at the top, but that doesn't stop this player from being a sonic treat. Like the recently reviewed Marantz Pearl SA-KI SACD Player, I found the PC-1 to be imminently listenable and never fatiguing.


Dave Matthews Band's Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King is a return to form and a fitting tribute to DMB saxophonist Leroi Moore, who died in August 2008 after complications from an ATV accident. Big Whiskey is a wild musical ride: funky, intense, beautiful, savage and emotional, but ultimately one of redemption. The PC-1 lets the band's virtuosic performances and dramatic arrangements shine. Drummer Carter Beauford's playing is explosive and hearing Moore's horn work in the context is powerful.

Willie Nelson is proving to be the ultimate music chameleon and crossover artist, able to move seamlessly from outlaw country through jazz, pop standards and even reggae. So one wonders why it took so long for Nelson to hook up with Western Swing act Asleep At The Wheel for a romp across a landscape carved out by Bob Wills decades ago. The resulting album, Willie & The Wheel, is an enthusiastic and fun project that twinkles like stars in the West Texas night sky. I really like how the PC-1 captures the ragged joy in Nelson's voice and the music as a whole.

Perhaps in the next decade there will be a re-appraisal of the Electric Light Orchestra and the band's formidable contributions to popular music, particularly in the halcyon run through the 1970s. The 3-disc compilation Flashback offers up 53 songs and nearly as many reasons to revisit ELO. As much as I love the tunes, I've always found ELO leader Jeff Lynne's recordings to be a strange combination of “milky” vocals with desert-dry drums. Not necessarily strange magic, either. The PC-1 was able to move past these shortcomings and tighten the belt for a revealing look into Lynne's remarkable arrangements. Early cuts such as the towering “10538 Overture” and dream-like “Eldorado” had presence and impact without becoming mushy or shrill.

Amp and CD Player Combo
During a product review, I usually find one recording that seems to be perfectly matched for the component in question. This time is was Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, the first solo album by any Beach Boy and that received a long-overdue re-release in 2008. The way the PC-1 fleshed out Wilson's singular arrangements made for compelling listening. Check out the celebratory “River Song” or the touching “Farewell My Friend” for two different faces of Wilson's talents. Broad soundstaging and imaging and sleek transient response all come together here. While much of the world waited for Dennis' brother Brian's SMiLE project to finally bear fruit, they should also have been clamoring for POB. It's about time.

Switching over to classical and Chinese piano virtuoso Lang Lang's recording of Beethoven's Piano Concertos 1 & 4, with the Orchestre De Paris led by Christoph Eschenbach. The 2007 performance is noteworthy as the pianist's first Beethoven recording and for the sumptuous sound committed to disc by Lang Lang and the Orchestre. Although I find Lang Lang's execution of these works lacking soul at times, those moments were still delivered with sleek élan and polish via the PC-1.

Final Thoughts

Although Norway's black metal scene seems to dominate that country's music landscape, the real Norwegian black metal is wrapped around Electrocompaniet's Prelude components. These nordic exports are for everyone who believes in the company's slogan, “If music really matters...” And if this be entry-level, I'd love to go to the next level. Really.


System Setup

Electrocompaniet PI-2 integrated amplifier
Electrocompaniet PC-1 CD player
Davone RITHM loudspeakers
Tyler Acoustics D4M loudspeakers
RS Audio Cables Kevlar Starchord Power Cable (6 ft)
RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Loudspeaker Cables (8 ft)
Valhalla Technology VT Amplifier Feet 25
Valhalla Technology VT Spike Feet Deluxe





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