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Positive Feedback ISSUE 23


Vacuum State Electronics, Inc. - the Level 5+ Upgrade for Sony SCD-777ES and SCD-1 players
by Karl Lozier


Much of the background and other pertinent information are in the preceding review of the VSEI Level 5 upgrade of the Sony DVP-9000 CD/SACD/DVD player (read that here). In that review, I mentioned that with the two heavyweight model Sony players, the SCD-1 and the SCD-777ES, the Level 5 upgrade was not able to eliminate (bypass) an "extra" processing chip. The combination of the SACD signal and the standard "Redbook" CD signal both go through that integrated processing chip. However, only the CD signal has to go through that chip, not the SACD. As would be theoretically expected, going through that chip should affect/alter the SACD signal to a certain extent. Allen Wright's investigations proved that true. By taking the signal before the chip, he was able to obtain a very pure SACD signal to feed his now well-known VSEI Level 5 upgrade. He used an SCD-777ES and listened to SACD that way for many months—the negative side to that situation was the loss of regular "Redbook" CD signals.

In effect, his modded Sony SCD-777ES player became a SACD only player, a specialized player with probable limited commercial appeal. He and his company worked out an elegant and relatively simple solution, the "+" in Level 5+! Requiring no extra effort or thought on the part of the user/listener, the "+" modification takes the SACD signal before it goes through the aforementioned processing chip and automatically routes that clean signal to his upgrade Level 5 module (then known as a 5+ upgrade) for even better results! The rest of the signal (the plain CD signal) goes on as before—through the chip—with no change to the regular Level 5 upgrade. As someone (even better known than me) once said, "Let me make this perfectly clear". Only the SACD signal is affected and improved upon by this neat change to a Level 5 upgrade. The CD signal and the CD sound quality are not affected and therefore are not improved further over the regular Level 5 upgrade. The slightly different input design of the Sony DVD-9000ES model gave it a theoretical advantage (and with Allen Wright's listening evaluations) and an audibly, yet slight, listening advantage/improvement—most noticeable in the middle and upper audible ranges when using SACD recordings. With the new Level 5+ upgrade (only applicable to models SCD-1 and SCD-777ES), the theoretical and audible (according to Allen Wright's and my personal evaluations) as heard on the Sony DVD-9000ES SACD are available as well. That upgrade and advantage is, to repeat, only available with SACD use and only with the SCD-1 and SCD-777ES models.

Listening evaluations were done by directly comparing the VSEI Level 5 VSEI upgraded Sony DVP-9000ES player to the VSEI Level 5+ upgraded SCD-777ES player. The upgraded Sony DVP-9000ES had rather quickly become a reference CD and SACD player, but its mid and low bass response was merely somewhere between good and very good. Clearly, isolation devices and platforms would and did help, and mass loading probably helped by damping chassis resonances. Even so, bass punch, power, and palpability would no doubt not satisfy most audiophiles. On the other hand, music lovers would be content with the overall smooth, sweet, and extended detailed response. I was, and remained happy even while tweaking its bass range.

Now the VSEI's Level 5+ Sony SCD-777ES model enters with its excellent overall bass—from upper through mid and down to the bottom of the lowest or deepest. As with other players, it too benefits from a proper set-up. Coupling (spiking) is seldom the answer; really solid and deep bass can get almost any and every thing vibrating. Isolating from those things is usually better than connecting or spiking to them. Connecting to the isolation platform can be okay, but do not try to further isolate the component by isolating it from the isolation platform—think about that situation. Reviewers are infamous for over simplifying bass response evaluation. It is not a simple chore—never try to evaluate bass quality, extension, or quantity using only a couple of recordings.

The overall tonal balance of the upgraded Level 5+ SCD-777 ES was more forward, with a very strong and full midrange with substantial presence. This was particularly noticeable compared to its sibling—the DVP-9000ES. By direct comparison, the DVP-9000ES was very subtly softer. The comparison with well recording classical music was as if I had moved about six rows back from the previous seat around row eight or ten, as heard with the SCD-777ES Level 5+ player. This very slightly (and relatively so) distant perspective is much preferred by many concertgoers. This change of perspective is not, in any way, meant to be a negative. After all, none of us really knows the perspective that was captured by the microphones, and how that might have been tweaked before commercial release.

The slightly more forward and stronger presence quality of the Level 5+ model simply seems to very slightly emphasize the improved dynamics and detail apparent with the Level 5+ upgrade of the Sony SCD-777ES. Much of these differences, if not all, should be regarded as technically and audibly distinct improvements. Adding to or supporting these improvements is the notably solid bass foundation, offered, in part by the 777's heavy and relatively non-resonant construction.

My guess is that all audiophiles would prefer the qualities found with the Level 5+ model. Music lovers might split just as they do when offered seating in a concert hall. The even richer bloom and fullness might help tilt them to the qualities of the upgraded Level 5+ if the greater expense of obtaining a SCD-777ES (or its even more expensive sibling the SCD-1) was not a factor. What a superb performing player this Level 5+ upgraded Sony SCD-777ES is! At a minimum, it is an almost unbelievable value. Is there anything anywhere near or at double its price to consider for musical enjoyment? Is any single box/chassis player comparable? Is any manufacturer of one of those rather rare ten to twenty thousand dollar exotic players willing to send one for comparison?

Do not forget the even more moderately priced combination offered by using the Sony DVP-9000ES with the VSEI Level 5 upgrade. It offers DVD video in addition to CD and SACD audio and a more common slim line styling, lighter weight, and with front panel disc loading. In any event, simply enjoy. Obviously, the VSEI upgraded Level 5+ Sony SCD-777ES becomes both a new reference SACD/CD player. Once again, SACD offers higher quality and greater musical enjoyment.

North American Sony owners should contact one of the following U.S. installation agents for current pricing. It varies slightly with the exchange rate as VSEI is based in Switzerland.

East – Bill Thalmann, Music Technology, Inc,
5418 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA 22151
TEL: email address:

West – Warren Gregoire
229 El Pueblo Place ClaytonCA 94517
Toll free TEL: 1-800-634-0094
email address: