POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 49
Pro-2 Vacuum Tube CD player
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
Finally and at last, here is a CD player under $2500 I can unabashedly recommend for analog music seekers and lovers! Hallelujah! With four mighty 6922 Tesla Tubes in its output stage, both balanced and single ended outputs, and a price of just $2395, the LA Audio Pro-2 vacuum tube CD Player is a sure thing for those with major CD collections and no wish to bet the bank right now on either Sooloos or expensive separates. Plus, with a bit of tube rolling, you will go miles toward closing the performance gap between the much more expensive ModWright Sony designs and the E.A.R. Acute CD Player.
Forget about mass market CD / Universal players with all solid state outputs, they will not give you the involving sound, the mellifluous-ness, the dynamics, and the smoothness of the Pro-2. I heard it for the first time in an all LA Audio system with the new Isophon Speakers distributed by KT Audio Imports and run by the friendly Tom Vu. I thought he was playing a turntable then realized it was this brand new LA Audio Pro-2 CD player from Taiwan. It gets so much right that criticizing it is tough!
On the back, nicely placed, are six analog outputs: two tube-powered balanced, two tube-powered on RCAs, and two solid-state outputs on RCAs. Outputs also include a Toslink and SPDIF digital. A detachable AC input is included. I tried the solid state outputs several times and found them inferior to either set of tube outputs in ALL important sonic parameters. [You like less musicality, glassy-ness, and less definition? Feel free to use them.]
The RCA and XLR tube outputs sound the same. The XLR outputs are a bit louder. That's it. The circuit is fully balanced with dual DACs on board
The Controls and Construction
With a well-built and flexible remote control included [without a pause button however,] nearly all functions can be accessed. The front panel includes a brightly lit display, buttons for all the usual CD controls, a headphone jack with volume control, and a mysterious button marked tuner. I tried the tuner button and it jumped the CD to track 7? The manual says, "CD broadcast control pressed key." What?
The player has a tough robust aluminum case, nice hefty Philips transport, Burr Brown 20 bit/96khz chips, and is either an up-sampler or over-sampler. The instructions lead you to believe it's an up-sampler. The display often says "over" in red so it may be an over-sampler. To me, it sounds like most up-samplers with lots of airy ambience and sweetness up top. With over 100dB signal/noise ratio and a frequency response 10-25kHz, it must surely up-sample. I recommend 100 hours break-in. The review sample had 125 hours on it before any critical listening.
You may most certainly use the very nice Tesla tubes included with the Pro-2. They yield a somewhat bombastic sound with lots of definition. The soundstage is somewhat narrow and the instruments lack a bit of body with the Teslas. The musical timbres are spot on! [The timbres are the benefit of tube designs!] Imaging is excellent. The overall sound is smooth, never etched, and musically delightful. The Teslas are quite good, but good is not quite good enough for me. Pull them and replace them with Mullard 6922s from Upscale Audio in Upland, CA. That will cost you about $300 for a quartet. Now, the real fun begins!
With a set of Mullard 6922s on board, left to right and front to back dimensionality expands dramatically! Instrumental and vocal colors are richer and more real. The frequency balance is much more even from top to bottom. The images are more sophisticated and in the room.
The highs are delicate and very extended. The mids are slightly warm, highly detailed, and snappy. The bass is super extended and beautifully integrated into the mids. The presentation is involving and entertaining. The dynamics are very SACD like with giant bursts of musical energy when called upon. Other tube choices may yield even better results.
We are now talking performance only slightly outclassed by the much more expensive ModWright Sonys and within say 15% of the Acute's tonal accuracy. There is just more overall definition on the 2.5. However, if your system is not state of the art, the differences between the Pro-2 and the Acute are certainly reduced. I listened several afternoons to nothing but the Pro-2 and never felt short changed. It's that good.
The LA Audio Pro-2 has a certain solidity of presentation and precise musical hues that will lead you to think it cost twice or more what you actually pay for it. I wish all audiophile gear did this.
I was so enamored with the Pro-2, I just had to try to push it to the max! I tried it with $11,000 Jorma Prime RCA interconnects and $5250 Jorma Origo balanced interconnects. I played it with Kubala-Sosna Power cords including the Elation and Emotion. I placed a Townshend Seismic Sink under it. I tried the Marigo Mystery Feet. Plus, I added a matched quartet of Mullard 6922's! This adds up to nearly $15,000 in ancillaries for a $2400 CD player!
The performance of the Pro-2 in this environ is high class for sure. I reviewed a $22,000 CD player from Metronome in 2004. It was less detailed and less musically realistic overall than the Pro-2 is now! Just like I said, "Hallelujah."
Your Questions Answered in Advance
You might ask if there's any one box alternative to the Pro-2, I may have heard at CES or wherever, which is as good for less money? No. Is there a solid state CD player this musical for twice as much? No. Can I recommend an outboard DAC this musical for twice as much? No. Can I recommend a universal player this good with CDs for up to twice as much? No. How about recommending a tube CD player in the same price range? No. Twice as much? No. How about British CD Players up to $4000? No. You see why I am so excited about the LA Audio player? It has the performance/price ratio that was missing from the market!
New to these shores from LA Audio comes their Pro-2 Vacuum Tube CD Player at a performance busting price of under $2400! Winning and musical as is, just roll the tubes and you'll meet the performers in your listening room. Best with top notch interconnects and AC power cables, you will spend a ton of time enjoying the sound. The Pro-2 will just get better and better as you enhance your gear. My investigations into CD playback have revealed you cannot spend a penny less or up to twice as much than the Pro-2 and get comparable CD sound. Beats the performance of some units costing over $20,000 just six years ago! The LA Audio Pro-2 CD Player makes superb music from CDs most any audiophile on the planet Earth will enjoy. Welcome to the USA to LA Audio. Most highly recommended. Robert H. Levi
Pro-2 CD player
KT Audio Imports