ONLINE - ISSUE 6
"I Don't Drive Stock!" A Tale of Two Tweakers: Richard Kern's Sony
SCD-1/SCD-777ES Transport Mod & Dan Wright's Tubed Output for the Sony SCD-777ES and
Philips SACD 1000
(All photographs and image processing by Robinson)
Well, it had to happen sooner or later. I just knew that if I invited Richard Kern of Audiomod and Dan Wright of ModWright up to listen to the Meitner DAC6, they would set themselves the goal of further improvements to their already excellent set of SACD modifications. No surprise... that's exactly what they've been doing! As I promised, and as part of our ongoing coverage of SACD technology, I need to give PFO readers a report on these significant improvements.
Richard Kern has been over a couple of times to hear the Meitner Philips SACD 1000/DAC6 combination, in comparison with my Kern-modded SCD-1. After listening, he set himself the task of increasing the transparency of the SCD-1.
Richard Kern in his listening room with his modded SCD-777ES
Kern has come up with two mods recently. After being mightily impressed by the Meitner DAC6, Richard told me that he was determined to find a way to impart a greater measure of transparency to the Sony players. The one that I've had installed and have been listening to is a mod to the transport electronics of the SCD-1 or SCD-777ES.
Some PFO readers who also browse with the good folks over at Audio Asylum's Hi-Rez Highway (http://www.audioasylum.com/forums/hirez/bbs.html) have heard that Kern's transport mod is available, but are confused as to what it actually is. Right up front I can tell you that it is not a replacement/tweak to the transport/optics itself... the Sony SCD transport is quite a piece of work, mechanically... but is instead a cap upgrade to the transport electronics system. After examining the electronics of that subsystem, Richard decided that a set of Black Gates could enhance the playback performance of the SCD-1/SCD-777ES, and so did a series of upgrades.
Boy, did I hear from him immediately thereafter!
He was convinced that he had moved the SCD series players closer to the crystalline quality of the Meitner DAC6. To check this out, I had Richard install his transport mods in my reference SCD-1. (Readers should note that these mods are not Audiocom modifications; Kern has developed these as his own custom package. If you're interested in these, check with Richard Kern directly not Audiocom.)
Richard Kern's highly customized SCD-777ES
I warmed these up for a couple of weeks, and then did some listening comparisons on my own. Richard and Brooks (a good phile phriend of his) also stopped by to do some listening to the two SACD sources.
In a nutshell, my conclusions, which I think I can say Richard and Brooks agreed with, are pretty straightforward:
The Meitner DAC6 remains the reference standard, without question.
Nevertheless, the Kern transport mod did move the SCD-1 noticeably closer to the performance standard embodied by the DAC6.
The gains that the transport-modded SCD-1 showed were in the areas of transparency, a slight widening of soundstaging, and a somewhat larger gain in soundstage depth. Kern's brilliant mod of the transport electronics, which he prices at a very reasonable $300.00, provided the biggest "bang for the buck" that I'd heard since the Superclock II... and it isn't far behind it in total value. As a matter of fact, I would really say that if you're going to send your player in for Richard to do the Superclock II, you really owe it to yourself to have him do the transport mod, as well. You'll not be hearing all that you can from the Superclock II, otherwise.
Not that the transport mod was able to catch the Meitner. Compared to the Meitner DAC6, the transport-modded SCD-1 did not have the ultimate in depth and width, and the bloody incredible transparency, detail and quickness that the DAC6 does superlatively. As I'll be commenting in the near future, the DAC6 is simply the best I've ever heard a comment that I don't make lightly, or often.
On the other hand, a modded SCD-1 will not cost you the estimated $11K-$12K that you'll spend for the Meitner system. As always, you pays yer money; you takes yer choice. The budget-conscious audiophile will find that he or she gets a substantial piece of Meitner-like sound quality for perhaps half the cost, depending on the modifications installed.
A Change in Robinson's SCD-1 Modification Hierarchy
Those of you who've been following this series know that I've made some evaluations on the kinds of modifications you can make, and their sequencing, based on my rough mental calculations of cost-benefit results. Previously, I had recommended the following modding/hot-rodding sequence:
Since hearing the new Kern transport mods, however, I have changed my recommended modification hierarchy:
There is absolutely no doubt of this in my mind: the combination of the Superclock II and the Kern transport mods for the SCD-1 and SCD-777ES are very reasonably priced, and provide a new "sweet spot" for price/performance in hot-rodding your SCD series SACD player. Any audiophile who owns an SCD-1 or SCD-777ES must consider doing these modifications to their player. If you are running a stock player, you simply have no idea of what you're missing if you haven't done these modstake my word for it!
Since doing the listening sessions with the Kern transport modification, Richard has informed me that he is experimenting with another very interesting area for SCD series mods: it has something to do with power filtering... no details yet, and it looks to be under development. I haven't gotten this one installed yet, but will be doing so shortly. I'll keep you informed as to the results.
For Current Pricing and Further Information:
In Which Dan Wright of ModWright takes the SCD-777ES and the Philips SACD 1000 to the "Absolute Truth Mod" Level...
I've been needing to update PF Online readers on the great things that I've been hearing from another very gifted Portland area modifier, Dan Wright of ModWright. Dan has been doing some extremely promising work with both the Sony SCD-777ES and the Philips SACD 1000, both in improving internal parts quality, wiring paths, power supplies, and taking the radical step of re-directing the output stages of these units to tubed output sections.
Dan Wright of ModWright showing off the ModWright Philips SACD 1000 in the listening room at PFO River Citythe tubed section is to the left
The results are quite striking, and show that there's more than one way to enhance the sound of SACD playback at the analog section level. Dan's approaches include the following (see photos
Approach #1 (SCD-777ES): separate custom power supplies; in this case the ModWright SCD-777ES unit shows off its "Absolute Truth Mod" power supply
Approach #2 (SCD-777ES): 5687-based tubed output stage eliminates the problems that poor quality solid-state components can introduce
Approach #3 (SACD 1000): Add 5687's to the output section of the SACD 1000, AND improve internal components (note the Auricaps) and wiring paths
Approach #4 (SACD 1000): Make sure to "triple up" the DACs in the SACD 1000, converting a 6 DAC = 6 channel system to a stereo unit with 3 DACs per channel and take the tap directly from the outputs!
On two different occasions Dan and I have gotten to listen to his designs, though not in extended sessions. The first session was with his custom power supplied, 5687 tubed output SCD-777ES; the second session, several months later, was with his SACD 1000 featuring 5687 tubed output.
In both cases, I was very impressed with the improvements that Dan's modifications brought to the sound of the players. My good audio friend Jennifer Crock has been singing the praises of the 5687 for quite a while, and Dan is in agreement: this is a very linear, very stable tube, with the ability to bring excellent gain without bad habits. The combination of superior capacitors (Dan likes the Auricaps a lot, and works with Bybee filters, the Audiocom Superclock II, and other parts upgrades), custom power supplies (the ModWright SCD-777ES has a power supply that is extraordinary for a source component like this), excellent artistry with the re-wiring, superior connectors, and the 5687's have produced magical results with both the 777 and the 1000.
The handsome two-box setup of the ModWright SCD-777ES; the "Absolute Truth Mod" power supply is the small black box to the rear
Readers should note that ModWright has three levels of modification for the Sony 777 series (XA and SCD) and the SCD-1: a basic parts upgrade; a more extensive parts plus Superclock II plus filtering level; and the proverbial "no holds barred" investment that Wright calls "the Absolute Truth Mod," which includes the external power supply (transformers by Elliano and company down at Electraprint) and the 5687 tube, with circuit design assisted by Jennifer Crock of JENA Labs. All of this reference level kit is custom done by Dan, and is really point-to-point (check out those photos again!) I haven't heard the first two levels of his work, and cannot comment on them; it was only the reference level products that Dan brought over to demonstrate.
My listening impressions are limited to a few hours at these two sessions and some of that was warm-up, of course so my observations are provisional, and cannot be detailed. Nevertheless, I was quite taken by the combination of clarity, spaciousness, good tonal rendition, and noticeably improved soundstaging over the stock sound of these players. After it had run-out for an hour or so, instead of the somewhat dark, rich sound that a stock SCD-777ES normally has, the ModWright model was quick on its feet, detailed, yet with a lovely satin-like feel.
The ModWright modded SACD 1000 does not have an external power supply, and the tubes are integrated into the chassisthe sound is wunderbar!
The Philips SACD 1000 did not have the separate "Absolute Truth" power supply... as far as I know, ModWright hasn't released that yet... but the sound on SACD was clean, free of grain, lively, and easy on the ears. Dan and I listened to a number of the new UMG and Audio Fidelity SACDs in this session, and had a truly great time auditioning, chatting, and comparing his work with that of the reference Meitner DAC6.
I also find it to be quite intriguing that different fine audio artists are getting marvelous improvements out of SACD playback through such different approaches. Kern's work goes in one direction; Dan Wright's goes in another. One is strictly one-box, solid-state; the other prefers two-box, tubed output.
"Different tweaks for different phreaks," I say.
It just goes to show that audio creativity is alive and well in the
Dan Wright getting into the music in the PF Online listening room... and the sound of his ModWright SACD 1000's tubed output!
The ModWright SACD 1000 sits to the left of the Meitner SACD 1000 on the right shelf (three shelves up); the Meitner DAC6 is on the fifth shelf up on the right, just above the Linn CD-12. The Accuphase transport is on the fifth shelf to the left; its separate DAC was temporarily removed to allow the ModWright SACD 1000 to be auditioned.
While the Meitner DAC6 remains my current reference for SACD playback, I believe that the ModWright modifications represent significant value for the audiophile without the means to pursue the Meitner standard, especially if you are predisposed to prefer tubes as output devices. If you already have a Sony XA-777, SCD-777, SCD-1, or a Philips SACD 1000, you can take them to an entirely different level for about $3K.
I'm very enthusiastic about the brilliant audio achievement that Dan Wright has accomplished at ModWright. Enough said!
For More Information and Current Pricing:
Upcoming Attractions with Richard Kern and Dan Wright
Taking advantage of the fact that River City has two of the best SACD modifiers in the biz living right at hand, I've done some very interesting interviews with both Richard and Dan. PF Online is having these transcribed; when they're ready, they'll be appearing here. Modders, stay tuned!
I've been asked a number of times about the issue of the Meitner DAC6 vs. the highly modded SACD players. My answer is purely empirical, based on very long and careful listening experience with both types of playback systems: the Meitner DAC6 remains king of the SACD hill for those who are looking for the current SACD reference playback standard. This playback system is not the most expensive SACD playback system in existence, but it is certainly the best that I've ever heard, and simply towers over other alternatives. (There, that's a clue to what my forthcoming Meitner DAC6 review is going to say in greater detail... )
But those of you who have a Sony SCD-1 or SCD-777ES and cannot afford the DAC6 can get a great deal of the excellencies of the Meitner DAC6 for a smaller chunk of change by having your player modded. Given the progress that I'm hearing from Kern's and Wright's ongoing effortsinspired by the Meitner!you'll undoubtedly be pleased with the results.