POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 47
CD3 CD player
as reviewed by Guido D. Corona
When I added the GamuT suite to my itinerary file on my PDA during RMAF 2009, I was not yet focusing on the CD3 Redbook player. Rather, the opportunity of listening to a state of the art system, consisting entirely of GamuT components, starting from the latest iteration of the CD3 Redbook player, continuing with the D3I preamplifier, the M250I monoblock power amplifier, up to a pair of S9 reference level full range speakers, all connected by GamuT's own wiring, including a pair of Wormhole prototype ICs, intrigued me. After all, in a high end industry where product specialization appears to be more and more ‘de rigueur', companies that offer a full range of products are a minority, and among them, those which do it supremely well are somewhat of a rarity. Thus, crossing the threshold of Evergreen Ballroom A shortly after the opening bell during the 1st day, where KT Audio Imports—GamuT's US distributor—was showcasing the latest production of the Danish company, I was curious yet somewhat skeptical. More than a little, I feared I would be regaled by yet another etched-sounding overpriced system, where a sadly moderate amount of musical detail would perhaps be buried in grand yet fizzy intermodulating sheen, while company spokespersons would be extolling the fantastic but difficult to perceive virtues of their electronic goods with a verbal virtuosity that would make the haberdashers in the Grimmian tale of the Emperor's clothes blush with undisguised embarrassment.
Yet, I need not fret. Tom Vu of KT Audio Imports and Lars Gollers of GamuT had assembled an impressive all GamuT system, which even at the very beginning of Lars's 3 days of subtle yet unrelenting tweaks to speaker placements, was yielding hints of true greatness. I was indeed experiencing glimpses of Arthurian visions of a soon to come sonic Grail.
Ever apologetic about some minor room reverberations, which were spoiling the remarkable coherence of the GamuT sound, Lars would be tweaking the placement of his speakers, until by Sunday he would finally control the wildering acoustic of the large suite.
Hence, when on Sunday afternoon, upon my 4th visit in 3 days, Lars's setup gaining in refinement at each audition, I finally experienced J. S. Bach's monumental Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major BWV 564 performed by organist Wolfgang Rubsam (Organ Chorales from the Leipzig Manuscript Vol. 1 - Naxos 8.550901) with a musical and transparent grandeur that left me—for once—speechless, I asked tom if he would let me review the newest iteration of the GamuT CD3 player, the digital front end of that magnificent system.
When the single chassis CD3 Redbook-only CD player knocked at my doorsteps after a few weeks, I encountered unexpected lightness: I lifted the carton without effort, and carried it upstairs without pinching the proverbial nerves in my lower back. The entire package, consisting of CD3 inside its sturdy double box, held in place by well designed urethane inserts, and finally sheathed into a rain-proof vinyl bag, weighs a modest 25Lbs.
CD3 is quite Scandinavian in its svelte form-follow-function elegance. An outwardly conventional underlying Aluminum sheet metal chassis is covered by a 3mm (millimeters) thick Aluminum hood, handsomely finished with a rugged black powdered coat. A fine metallic mesh protects a series of generous ventilation openings, which spell the GamuT company logo in large laser-cut characters towards the front of the hood, while further ventilation slots towards the back outline 2 large triangles of almost IBMish shutterbars. The 10mmm inch thick silvery front fascia of anodized Aluminum bears an understated GamuT logo etched into its top right edge. 6 large control buttons mounted on hidden neoprene pads frame a mirrored display panel, with the CD tray door opening in its center.
The back panel is equally simple: CD3 sports a set of Neutrik XLR balanced output connectors, matched by a single pair of Neutrik RCA unbalanced output sockets. A small rocker switch enables and disables an RCA coaxial digital output through a 75 Ohms resistor. A 15 Amp IEC female connector completes the back's uncluttered layout. Unable to locate the master power switch on the front panel, I was confused when it was equally missing from the back panel. A close inspection of all 6 planar surfaces revealed the master switch to be a small rocker, mounted on the base plate of the player, near to the front right corner of the unit. Initially befuddled by the less than high-endish look, feel, and position of the switch, I was soon convinced by the graceful GamuT ergonomic solution to power switch positioning: by holding the bottom right of the unit, my middle finger falls naturally onto the small protrusion of the invisible rocker. Interestingly, Lars explained in a long and informative phone conversation that the positioning of the master power switch on CD3 is quite deliberate. CD3 is meant to be left on at all times. The slightly unusual position of the switch is thought to discourage frequent power cycling, while still remaining in an ergonomically desirable position. According to Lars, break in time of a brand new CD3 extends to several hundred hours. My findings of significant sonic unlocking for the first 300 hours of operation, and subsequent slower settling, with eventual complete stabilization at about 700 hours of playing time, are commensurate with GamuT's own guidance on this device. Once break-in is complete—Lars added—CD3 should be turned on and left to play at least 2 hours before any significant listening. Interestingly, the player reaches its glorious peak performance after at least 24 hours of continuous playing time.
Less convincing is CD3's plastic remote, sporting a plethora of identically shaped small buttons, whose function is suggestive of its dual application to the matching GamuT D3I preamplifier, in a rectangular matrix arrangement, whose layout and occasional misfiring appears to be defying my attempts to long term memorization. In the end, eschewing the vagaries of CD programming in favor of complete album playback, I much preferred to operate CD3 by accessing the elegant ergonomic simplicity of its front panel.
The plastic tray of the Philips OEM drive—opening in the middle of the mirrored surface of the display panel—is another indication that GamuT prefers to concentrate its engineering genius on functional refinements rather than on statement level curb-side High End appeal. GamuT has suspended the transport mechanism with special elastomer cushioning to the CD3's chassis for optimal mechanical isolation.
Internally, and totally unseen to the user, a steel enclosure relegated to the middle section of the player isolates and segregates all potentially noisy components, including all control and display circuits, which are powered by a dedicated power supply. In the CD3 version under examination, this has been upgraded to a regulated switch mode power supply (SMPS), which GamuT prefers sonically to the original supply. To the right is CD3's front end, sporting a regulated high output and low impedance toroidal power supply, which serves the signal path. On the left side of the chassis, situated as far away as possible from the power supply, is the sensitive analog output section, where the unbalanced audio signal of CD3 is split before conversion to balanced mode for the XLR outputs. CD3 utilizes a single Burr Brown 1792 DAC for each channel. For sonic and musical integrity reasons, GamuT fixed The DACs upsampling rate to 192 KHz—a setting they prefer over the 1792's 176 KHz available alternative. The musical signal is then processed through anti-aliasing filters, selected by the GamuT engineering team for their regularity in the time domain, audible resolution, harmonic structure and integrity, and overall musical gracefulness. All internal wiring utilizes Van den hul cabling. Gollers pointed out that while the GamuT team conducts initial designs with strong adherence to engineering principles and technical specifications, ultimate decisions on the choice of electronic componentry, circuit designs, voicing, and execution are based on the considerable cumulative listening experience of the group. He observed that a sound product development process must seek a correlation between objective measurements and the subjectivity of the listening experience: useful measurements must relate to audible performance, or their validity becomes more than questionable. During CD3's design, the team performed significant analysis work in the time domain, modeling the regularity of reproduction of simple pulses on a scope, and thus track and eliminate abnormalities. Yet, Lars added, if the measured results could not be positively correlated to qualitative and desirable audible findings, the considerable engineering effort for developing the Redbook-only CD3 would have been for naught.
During break-in process and critical listening, CD3 was connected to my reference system, consisting of a TEAC Esoteric X-01 Limited, JRDG Criterion preamplifier, JRDG Model 312 power amplifier, and Vienna Mahler V1.5 speakers. Cabling and power cords alternated monolithically between 2 suites of Furutech's wires: the excellent custom wires dubbed High End Performance by the US Furutech importer, and the recently introduced and quite stunningly looking Furutech LineFlux/PowerFlux flagship line. At all times, CD3 and X-01 Limited were supported by identical ICs and power cords. My Furutech monomania continued with power conditioners, where power distribution duties alternated between the Furutech Daytona 303, and my favorite: the Furutech ETP309.
What was totally unexpected upon first sound, is that CD3 cold from the factory already sounds pleasing. Dreading the screech owl-like intemperance of a typical new digital player, I was surprised by CD3's perfectly listenable behavior, already moderately sweet and with good resolution. The confirmation that this player may be something special came when, while enchanted by a transcription of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, in a touching performance by Sofia Pettersson (vocal) and Tomas Hallonsten (trumpet) from the album Slow Down (Prophone PCD 066), my wife exclaims uncharacteristically: “This is a magnificent CD player!” This was a true first for her. She has never made, nor even admitted to, such a spontaneous declaration for any player until now.
The delicately intermodulating sough of air side-streams against Jean-Pierre Rampal's flute embouchure in the CBS Masterworks reissue of the 1963 recording of J. S. Bach's Sonata in E-Flat Major for Flute, BWV1031, is unexpected, as I do not recall it to emerge in such delicate evidence on my X-01 Limited reference player.
A new surprise expects me when I perform Jean Philippe Rameau's Pieces De Clavecin En Concert (Reference Recordings) on both players. Harpsichord and viola da gamba on CD3 seem a hair's breadth more extended from high treble to bass than on X-01 Limited, and a hint of more significant air around the instruments emerges on CD3 compared to what the Esoteric player delivers. Granted, its break-in still in progress, the GamuT still displays a touch of hash in the treble. Yet, the sonic evolution of CD3 is by no means complete. After another 50 hours of playing time, the Rameau recording has become a grand sonic tapestry. I perceive an almost palpable ‘air' around the instruments; The harpsichord, which only days earlier could still have been chided of being marginally tinny and forward, now projects a grand image, with a magnificently extended, and most of all relaxing and textured resonance. CD3's decaying harmonics between notes are more prominent than X-01 Limited's, while the virtual venue reaches me through CD3 with a hereto unheard presence. The final decay from the harpsichord at end of each piece is becoming harmonically textured, and appears to contain information from lower strings that may be resonating in sympathy with the accompanying violin and gamba.
Only with extremely dense musical material, like the Detroit Symphony's 1981 recording of Igor Stravinsky's Sacre Du Printemps under Antal Dorati (Decca), the single Burr Brown 1792 DAC per channel of CD3 appear to be at a relative disadvantage to the 4 Burr Brown 1704 DACs per channels of X-01 Limited. CD3 induces a 15th row listening experience, with the voices of woodwinds and brass choruses tending to merge into the total orchestral perception, while traces of strain blemish the more dynamic treble brass passages. Conversely, X-01 Limited is suggestive of a more upfront listening position, closer to a 4th or 5th row. The woodwinds parts in particular appear to have a moderate propensity to resolve into individual solo images, where Stravinsky's clever chamber-like dialogues sometimes emerge. The most dynamic brass choruses remain essentially free of Intermodulation strain in the treble region, while the orchestra maintains in most cases a 3-dimensional coherence slightly crisper than CD3. It is however worth placing this last group of observations into appropriate context: after all, X-01 Limited costs twice as much as GamuT CD3, and in so many other examples, I have found CD3 to equal, or even slightly exceed the Redbook performance of the Esoteric player.
Several times during the last few weeks I have reached for the remote control of the symmetrically balanced Rowland Criterion preamplifier. I have switched back and forth from input 1, which is connected to CD3's balanced XLR connector, to input 5, being fed from the player's RCA unbalanced output. Both outputs are connected to Criterion by 2 meter long Furutech LineFlux ICs. The volume between the 2 outputs seems largely the same, likely because of the gain normalizing effect of Criterion's transformer-coupled input structure. Yet, the sonic and musical result is clearly not the same. I much prefer CD3's balanced XLR output, which yields greater depth of the virtual image, a more textured resolution of the material, a sweeter presentation of the music. The RCA output conversely, appears to yield a very slight hard hash, which covers the music with the very faintest of hazes. During our Texas-to-Denmark long telephone chat, Lars Gollers confesses that he concurs with me: he also prefers CD3's balanced output for the very same reasons.
Sometimes after the 700 hours mark, I realize that I am completely relaxed into my listening seat… My analytical efforts have been reabsorbed by the totality of musical enjoyment. The simple truth is that, much beyond the significant resolving prowess of its balanced mode, the GamuT CD3 Redbook player is a magnificent reference-level instrument for grokking the magic of music, often edging above the Redbook performance of a player costing twice as much. Guido D. Corona
CD3 CD player