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Positive Feedback ISSUE11
SCD-2 SACD/CD player
as reviewed by Victor Chavira and Jim Merod
My objective in this brief review is to inform readers about the sonic merits of the Xindak SCD-2, an SACD player with a tube output stage. I am an SACD novice, though I do have considerable experience with tube CD players, having been the owner of an Audio Electronics CD1 for many years. Refer to Bob Levis review of the SCD-2 in the last issue for technical details. I can confirm that it exhibits a high level of design and build quality. The SCD-2 was powered with a Nordost El Dorado AC cord, which was connected to an Audio Magic Stealth power conditioner.
As a SACD player, the Xindak certainly delivered on the promise of the new medium. Listening to a borrowed copy of Diana Kralls Look of Love was an intoxicating experience. The presentation was the most like analog that I have ever heard from a digital source. The difference between the Super Audio and standard CD layers was similar to the experience of listening to a master tape versus a copy. The music on the Super Audio layer was saturated with color and depth. Absent were the annoying digital artifactsthe stressed "s"es and flat soundstages. Although the CD layer was of very good quality, it made music sound less convincing. Bass sounded less realistic, cymbals tinny and lacking the appropriate brassy harmonic overtones. I got the impression that SACD is digital done right.
As an experiment, I purchased three SACDs of music I am quite familiar withPoncho Sanchez recently released Out of Sight, which was recorded in surround, his Conga Blue from 1996, and Cal Tjaders La Onda Va Bien all from Concord Records. Out of Sight is an enhanced CD that features a performance video and an interview with the group. This recording is heavily influenced by rhythm and blues, but includes the obligatory cha cha, mambo, and descarga in 6/8 time. The number titled "Sing-a-Ling" showcased Ponchos powerful conga playing and the SCD-2s superb musicality and dynamic punch. Conga slaps were viscerally reproduced, with startling speed and harmonic structure. As Poncho demonstrates on the video, the conga has only one note, but there are numerous ways to produce that note, and the Xindak rendered each technique with striking realism. Vocals in the coro section were equally brought to life. The layering of voices was incredibly palpable and dimensional. For the Cal Tjader recording, I had the LP to compare. Once again, the SCD-2 performed admirably, matching the LPs warm liveliness and musical timing without the surface noise.
As a tribute to the Xindaks roots, I listened to Symphony 1997 (Heaven, Earth, Mankind) by Tan Dun on Sony Classical, in CD mode. This symphony was commissioned to commemorate the transfer of Hong Kong from Britain to China. The music features full orchestra, choir, and the ethereal sound of ancient Bian-zhong bells from the 4th century BC. The SCD-2 recreated a wide vista of stirring sound. The tubes did not impart a heavy scent on the music. Rather, they complemented the Xindaks polished output like a dab of fine perfume behind a womans ear.
For all its refinement and value, the Xindak SCD-2 was not without a few flaws. For example, the unit would not read my wifes favorite new CD, Home, by the Dixie Chicks, a new disc that had played well on other players. Nevertheless, the Xindak SCD-2 is a highly musical and engaging product. As a CD player, the SCD-2 rivals other units in its price class. Considering its tube output stage, its SACD performance, its balanced capability, its headphone jack, and its high value, and the SCD-2 becomes an undeniable winner. Victor Chavira
Dave Clark, that guru of fine sound and madcap humor, knows that I have a fondness for the musical loveliness tubes can lend our favorite recordings. Until now, there has been little competition between the sound of well-recorded albums on vinyl and on disc, but recent advances in digital recording24-bit and SACD as well as DVD-Audiohave closed the gap. Digital discs now carry more listenable music than could be found in the immediate post-vinyl era, and we ought to follow the lead of those whose hard work and good sense puts us closer to the sound of real music in real space.
Enter a new generation of digital playback machines. Sony's enormous push to republish not only their own catalog, but classics from other labels, in SACD format (sometimes expanded with bonus tracks and revamped liner notes), has lead the way toward enhanced musical pleasure. Sony's highly anticipated, well received, and carefully reviewed SACD players have been followed by "universal" disc players from Linn, Pioneer, and (soon) Conrad-Johnson. I could suggest, without hype, that this is a harbinger of "better sound forever" or some such sardonic but affirmative mocking of the original blather that pulled folks away from vinyl. Tens of thousands of valuable records got junked in that carefully coordinated marketing campaign, a triumph of ad imagery over good sound, good ears, and good judgment. The other side of that loss is the boon that befell many vinyl enthusiasts who, never doubting the superiority of analog to digital sound reproduction, made out like bandits in the fire sales that broke out in the wake of "perfect" sound's entry into the marketplace.
The entry, now, of boxes like Xindak's SACD/CD player is truly a good thing. The question for many people who own hundreds of compact discs, and are now contemplating an upgrade to their sonic lives with DVD-audio and SACD discs, is simplewhich unit to purchase? A universal player that allows compatibility with the slow emergence of DVD-Audio alongside the explosion of SACD albums, or a unit like the Xindak, which unabashedly stakes its claim on SACD and CD formats alone? I am rooting for DVD-Audio to fully come of age, but the issue may have been settled already. Sonys blizzard of reissues in the SACD format not only puts that audio standard well out in front, but may have preempted the possibility that DVD-Audio will ever find its legs.
Xindak's SCD-2 is a relatively straightforward machine that makes life easy on the family wanting to hear enhanced sound without the learning curve that sometimes plagues unwitting purchasers of new gear. First, Xindak's approach is to upsample the data stream to 24-bit/96kHz resolution. Good. Second, it employs small tubes at its analog output stage. Good. Third, it allows for balanced and unbalanced analog output connections. Excellent. Fourth, it offers both toslink and coaxial digital output connections. Again, excellent. At $1695 msrp, the unit is not overpriced. It cannot be thought of as a bargain, but it is not in any sense a ripoff or a push into the twilight of consumer gullibility.
Xindak's SCD-2 gives honest audio bang for the buck because it sounds terrific. It makes great music, and there arent scads of such devices out there on showroom floors. When you listen for an extended period of time, as I have, and push the SCD-2 with every imaginable output connection, music software option, and acoustic challenge, this box stands up. It sounds great no matter what you want to hear, regardless of the route out of the box you choose. My dedication to jazz as an art form nudges me to listen carefully to reproduction equipment. My dedication to recording demands that I listen more meticulously than that. I began by letting the Xindak deal with the classic Miles Davis Columbia 1956 session, 'Round About Midnight.
It galled Thelonious Monk, the composer of this haunting ballad, that Davis corrupted his song titleMonks title was 'Round Midnight no About. Davis, true to his appropriative nature, revised the title for his breakthrough albumcomplete with his brooding cover image, dressed with shades and trumpetas a way to broaden the album's aesthetic scope. The idea was to suggest infinite moodiness, and the concept succeeded. The album is both moody and profoundly ruminative. John Coltrane, under orders to keep his playing restrained, stands alongside Davis as the perfect foil for the Prince of Darkness' brooding intensity. The entire set of performances constructs a loose suite, as if Davis had a capacious vision for jazz in its post-bebop, post-cool (post-hard bop) regeneration. The idea was to create a lingering sense of intimacy, a concept that Davis had perfected across the set of albums he crafted on a shoestring budget for Bob Weinstock at Prestige Records. The difference at Columbia was the technical sophistication of the midtown Manhattan studios that trumped Rudy van Gelder's modest recording capacity. Davis saw Columbia as a cash cow, with an enviable technical infrastructure that allowed him the chance to experiment with sound.
Soundbig sound, intimate soundis what Davis received on 'Round About Midnight, and that is what Xindak's tube-warming box gives you, too. The interesting thing about an album such as this one, remastered by Sony/Columbia as an SACD, is the degree to which one feels in the midst of the performance itself. The original recording was not "in your face" so much as it was "you are there," with a difference. The difference is Miles' immediacy. He is in the center of the action, right in the middle of your two-channel setup. Miles predominates. Even 'Trane's husky tenor sax is ever so slightly recessed and to one side, the quintet's rhythm section sonically depreciated to being lyrical supporters of the album's main dramaMiles dancing across classic musical lines, with Trane's sparring partner efficiency limited to one chorus where formerly it would sprawl across several (and would soon again, beyond that, on his own recordings). Van Gelder's Hackensack recordings also bring you close to the session, but the dynamic slam that Columbia achieved with its compression modules, and subsequently with its underground reverb chamber, is evident on 'Round About Midnight. It becomes more startling yet on the following Columbia (Sony) album, Milestones.
Xindak's SCD-2 puts you exactly into this remarkable session. A nearly vinyl-like warmth and texture exudes from your speakers, if you have the right amp and preamp receiving its caring signals. Album after album, one SACD disc following anotherthe great collaboration of the Ellington and Basie orchestras, First Time (Columbia), Sonny Rollins' wonderful Saxophone Colossus, Chet Baker's all-star session with Pepper Adams, Chet (Analogue Productions), Monks Straight No Chaser (Columbia) ; Bill Evans Waltz for Debby (Analogue Productions), and so onpay enormous musical dividends via Xindak's brilliant sonic integrity. I cannot remember being so pleased with the sound of a one-box digital playback unit since the long foray I had several years ago with Linn's state of the art CD-12 compact disc player ($20,000).
The one drawback of the SCD-2 is a tendency toward fussiness. Sometimes, with CD-R discs that do not skip on other playback boxes, the SCD-2 misreads or outright refuses to read the disc. On occasion, its remote balked. It may be that the review unit made its rounds through various hands, with all the bumps and jostling that multiple shipping and handling entail. Whatever the reason, I found myself occasionally wishing for a somewhat less resisting, more unhesitant piece of gear. I suspect that this is a minor flaw, easily corrected. I mention such slight blemishes only by way of accuracy in reviewing, since with a unit that costs more than a few of one's hard-earned bucks, one wants nearly flawless reproduction. This minor quibble aside, the Xindak stands proud as a music-making piece of audio equipment whether you throw conventional 16/44 (upsampled) or higher-resolution SACD discs its way.
I enjoyed every session I had with Xindak's refined creation. I was the beneficiary of sweet musical happiness. There is a gentle and genuinely analog-like sonic quality to the SCD-2 that makes it worth your serious consideration. In an audio world in which megabucks can buy highly-defined sonic "accuracy" thatteasingly, irritatinglydoes not please one's soul, any piece of gear that does not gouge an unsuspecting purchaser, and also delivers seductive, enchanting, unendingly musical days and evenings is deserving of kudos. If I could live with it for a long, long time, I'd welcome it without reserve, and with full expectation of musical beauty each time I turned to it. Jim Merod
Xindak SCD-2 SACD/CD player
Chengdu Xindak Electronics Co., Ltd.