POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 31
DVD-S1700 DVD/SACD player
as reviewed by Teresa Goodwin
It was time to exchange my aging Toshiba SD-5700 DVD-Audio player for a player with DTS and a quieter motor. When I saw the Yamaha DVD-S1700 ($450) at a local hi-fi store, I fell in love with its sleek design, and when I put my ear up to the tray, I heard no spinning noise. I asked for a demo, and it sounded decent, so I bought it, although I realized that I wouldn't know how it really sounded until I got it home. I have now owned it for five months, and have discovered that it is a wonderful-sounding player in all formats, and it still makes no noise at all!
The DVD-S1700 features high-performance video (DVD) playback with digital audio output and 1080p video output via HDMI for the highest possible picture quality. I was not able to test the HDMI, as the highest-quality inputs on my 25- inch flat screen TV are component video. Using those connections, the video quality is the best I have ever achieved in my home, with very realistic skin tones, excellent image depth, and no visible artifacts.
As for the sound, even two-channel Dolby Digital sounds extremely good with movies, and better yet, this is the first player I've had that chooses two-channel Dolby Digital by default. My previous players chose the multi-channel program even when set for two-channel playback, so I had to go into their menus to choose two-channel Dolby Digital. Of course, the S1700 creates a multi-channel mixdown if the DVD does not have a two-channel program.
DVD-Audio playback on the S1700 is warmer than that of the Toshiba player it replaced, and the Yamaha has deeper bass. Unfortunately, the S1700's default setting is for multi-channel playback on DVD-Audio, as it was on my Toshiba. To choose the two-channel stereo mix (if one is present), I have to go into the menu. However, unlike the Toshiba, Yamaha's mixdown from multi-channel actually sounds good, so I am no longer afraid of DVD-Audio discs that do not have two-channel programs. Classic Records' 24/192 DVD-Audio discs sound almost as good as the best LPs!
I was not planning on getting an SACD player before I bought the S1700, as my previous SACD players, including the Sony DVP-S9000ES and the Xindak SCD-2, had TOC reading problems on hybrid SACDs. Both players read CDs and single-layer SACDs perfectly, but had difficulty reading hybrid SACDs. (The Xindak's transport was made by Sony, and was plagued with the same problems.) It was so frustrating that at one point I was listening only to single-layer SACDs.
In the five months that I have owned the Yamaha universal player, it has read the SACD layer each and every time on hybrid SACDs. As for the sound, SACDs sound better on the DVD-S1700 than they did on the Sony, but not quite as realistic as they did on the Xindak. Of course, the Yamaha costs about one third of the price of either machine. The Xindak has tubes, which I believe gives it the sonic edge, but I would say that on SACDs, the Yamaha has 95 percent of the sound quality of the Xindak, and that is saying a lot for a transistor unit! The best SACDs, especially those from DSD or high-quality analog master tapes, give me about 80 percent of the sound quality of my best LPs.
The DVD-S1700 may be the first player to mix multi-channel-only SACDs down to two channels. I own Telarc's The Big Picture (SACD-60437), which only offers multi-channel on the SACD layer and two-channel on the CD layer. The Yamaha plays a mixed-down version of the multi-channel DSD program perfectly. I confirmed the fact that no music was missing with Michael Bishop of Telarc, and the menu confirmed that I was indeed listening to the multi-channel program. Bishop told me to listen to track 6, "Apollo 13 Mission," and said that if I heard the NASA Ground Control communications leading into and through the rocket launch, I was hearing a mix. If there was no voice, I was hearing the left and right front channels only. I heard both the launch and NASA Ground Control communications: "T minus 25 seconds and counting... we have liftoff at 2:13... the other engines are go and... Houston we have a problem." The Big Picture is the only multi-channel-only SACD I own so far, but this is a very nice feature. With my other players, I would only be able to listen to the CD layer, and a high-resolution downmix is better than the CD layer any time!
One downside of the Yamaha is that it does not offer access to the CD layer of an SACD without going into the setup menu. I have always had to do this for DVD-Audio, but never had to do it for SACD—both my Sony and Xindak players had an SACD/CD button to change layers on hybrid SACDs. Could it be that layer changing is not good for the machine, and so the Yamaha requires a menu change to do it?
Speaking of CD playback, it took a giant leap in sound quality with the S1700. I did not hear more resolution in the traditional sense, but I did hear less of that quality that causes listening fatigue. So far, I have only heard this lack of strident high-frequency response from the best CDs, such as Telarcs. When I listened to CDs from labels like London/Decca, DGG, Philips, Harmonia Mundi, Mercury, and so on, they sounded bad, but this seemed to be because the original recording or the remastering was bad, not because of the painful artifacts of CD playback, as has been the case with every other CD player I have heard. If you tend to want to crawl under the couch to protect your ears from digital playback, this may be the player for you, but if you love traditional CD playback, it may not. For me, it makes CDs enjoyable, even ones that have been unlistenable for over two decades. In my book, that is a miracle!
The DVD-S1700 has two operational quirks. The first is that with all formats except SACD, when you push STOP, you can resume play from the point at which you stopped, but if you push STOP when you're playing an SACD, the disc will start over from the beginning when you push PLAY. Of course, if you want to stop playing an SACD and start again at the same point, you can always press PAUSE. Still, this is bizarre, as I have always used the PAUSE command to stop playback for a few seconds and the STOP command to stop playback for minutes or hours.
The second quirk is that the Audio Direct button turns off the LCD display and bypasses the video circuitry, which is great when listening to music. However, unlike my previous players, it is impossible to turn off the display when playing a video disc. The display is totally unneeded when watching a movie, and can be a distraction from the action on the screen. With really involving movies, I seldom notice the display, but I would have liked to have the ability to turn it off when watching a movie.
I'm an analog lover through and through, but this Yamaha universal player has finally allowed me to make peace with digital. It is my hope that the Yamaha DVD-S1700 will bring me many decades of enjoyable music and movie watching. And I love the screensaver, with its picture of the inside of a Yamaha piano. Teresa Goodwin