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DVP-NC875V universal player
as reviewed by Ed Kobesky
You canít have your cake and eat it, too. Case in point: the Sony DVP-NC875V. I'd love to tell you that itís not only a great SACD player, but a good CD player. I can't, but itís no surprise. If the past five years have taught me anything, itís that you canít have two for the price of one. I had similarly high hopes for Toshiba's SD-6915, which is a good CD player and a very good DVD-A player, but only partly successful with SACD. (Itís also an ergonomic nightmare, but thatís another storyósee Issue 18.)
I'd love to tell you that upping your budget to $500 or $600 will improve matters. As I found out with Denon's DVD-2200 and Pioneer's Elite DV-45a, itís simply not true. You need to spend at least $1000 to break the curse, and for some people thatís out of the question. Itís true that you can buy the DVP-NC875V, together with a nice CD-only deck from NAD or Cambridge Audio, for around $450 plus interconnects, but youíll need the rack space and a tolerance for lots of wire.
I can only give the DVP-875V a conditional recommendation. What it does well, it does really, really well. Itís also handsome, well built, and includes a sturdy (for the price) and extremely well thought out remote control. Unfortunately, its CD playback is unexceptional, so it falls short of being an all-rounder unless you happen to have a good DAC lying around. Many of you probably do.
With SACDs, you wonít be disappointed. Going from the CD layer to the SACD layer on a hybrid disc is like flipping the nitrous oxide switch on your street racer. Everything becomes superchargedóimaging, soundstaging, low-level detail, and overall smoothness. The improvement was particularly evident on discs like Bucky Pizzarelliís Swing Live (Chesky 223). On the SACD layer, there was a sense of air and spaceóof alivenessóthat the CD layer couldnít begin to capture.
Sony does SACD better than anyone, and the DVP-875V continues that tradition. Maybe theyíre keeping some trade secrets to themselves. Like Sonyís first entry-level SACD changer, the long-discontinued SCD-CE775, the DVP-NC875V is smooth and detailed, reminiscent of quality analog. Even SACDs that I suspect come from PCM, not DSD, sources, like Johnny Cashís Silver (Sony CS 86791), sounded good enough to make me want to abandon my LP collection. Itís too bad that so few SACD titles are available.
When I first heard SACD back in 2001, it seemed impossible to screw up, at least on the playback end. My theory was that it would sound good no matter what, becauseólike a great LP played on a mediocre turntableóthereís just so much information on the disc. Iíve been proven partly wrong by players like Pioneerís DV-563a (now replaced by the DV-578a), which converts DSD to PCM, thus robbing SACD of some of its magic. Even the excellent Toshiba SD-6915 doesnít quite do as well as this Sony.
The moral, of course, is that despite the proliferation of affordable hi-res players, you still need to choose carefully. The situation is even more perplexing if, like most people, your collection is mostly made up of Redbook CDs. The simple solution is to plug the Sonyís digital output into your outboard DAC. Good ones are available on the used market for as little as $100, and they take up very little space. Another option is to use a more forgiving interconnect for CD playback. The DVP-NC875V includes two sets of outputs, one mixed and one 5.1. Using the remote, you can switch between two-channel and multi-channel operation, so thereís no problem running the front left and right outputs from the 5.1 array to one pair of inputs on your preamp for SACD playback, and the mixed outputs to another pair for CD playback. If you donít accept that cables act as tone controls, try switching from the Audioquest Diamondback to a MonsterCable Interlink 200. Youíll probably notice, as I did, a softer treble, with far less harshness and a gentler but fuzzier midrange. Itís not an ideal solution, or an elegant one, but it does allow the Sony to function as an effective Redbook player.
On the plus side, the Sony is functionally excellent. Unlike most DVD players with SACD or DVD-A capability, you donít need a TV to use it. Most commands are accessible from the remote, not buried in on-screen menus. Sony insists that you connect it to a TV for the initial setup, but after that, your preferences are saved. While itís not a true universal player, you can play DVD-As (at 24/96), and I found that they sounded very goodóbetter than Redbook CDs. The DVP-NC875V sounded particularly rich with Classic Recordsí new DAD releases, which feature one side for playback on DVD-V units and another for DVD-A players.
The controls on the DVP-NC875V are intuitive and quick to respond. The LED display (which is actually embedded horizontally inside the transport drawer and reflected by a mirror) is large and easy to read. The only problem I encountered was with the indicator lamps for SACD and multi-channel mode. To say that theyíre overly bright is to put it mildly. Even in a sunlit room, they are like twin lasers aimed square at your retinas. Youíll hate them.
Those same lights offer a telling insight into the Sony mission. When you insert a disc, both the SACD and multi-channel indicators light up. If the Sony detects that the disc is not an SACD, light one goes off. Then, after a second or two, light two is extinguished. Itís as if the player is chafing at the bit for a hi-res disc, and when it doesnít get one, settles sullenly into low-res mode to play your CDs. I almost felt sorry for the little guy.
Though itís not quite a universal player, the Sony DVP-NC875 offers stellar SACD playback, acceptable CD sound, and can handle the occasional DVD-A with aplomb (in DVD-V mode, naturally). Though best used with a dedicated CD player or DAC, it can stand on its own as your sole digital source if need be. You canít have it all, but for $155, the Sony DVP-NC875V is an unquestionably solid value. Ed Kobesky