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Model 657 Review
By Steve Bruzonsky

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Review by Steve Bruzonsky,
AV Science Forum Moderator.


FINALLY REVEALED.
WHY I SOLD MY SONY SCD-777ES!!


Time to let the cat out of the bag!!! I sold the Bybeeized Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player -- because -- two demos with a prototype of the new Granite Audio tube CD player, using its stereo analog output, revealed that regular CD on the Granite tube CD player clearly sounded better about 15 to 20 percent across the board than SACDs on the Sony player in my system!!! This was very, very unexpected. I am doing a full review on the Granite tube CD player in a separate thread.

And to clarify, I'll take a congrat for doing the review - but I have nothing to do with Granite Audio and Don, other than having become very good friends with Don, and luving his cabling and power cord products in my system! I may be a genius (woops - you all know better) with words but that's as far as it goes.

Right after this demo I found out about the new Xtreme DACs for my Theta Casablanca 2, which have been burning in now for about two weeks! This begs the question of how the Xtreme DACs will compare to the Granite Audio tube CD player in my system - within a week or so I should have this review here in the Granite tube CD player review thread, too!

Here's the deal. Get ready for a story.

Remember the other month, back about August 19th, I did a review here of Steve Huntley, Great Northern Sound's, Passive Audio Signal Isolator. This demo was done with my then reference Bybeeized Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player. Don Hoglund and I, and a few friends who were also over, did that early a Sunday afternoon. Then we watched a movie. Then my friends left, Don and I went to dinner, and then we came back, and -- Don had also brought over his prototype tube CD player, which he was ready to demo.

Obviously, I was more interested in demoing the Passive Audio Signal Isolator, because we did this first, and we simply put the tube CD player aside when Don came.  But that Sunday evening after Dinner we managed the strength to demo Don's tube CD player, the first demo of it outside Don's Granite Audio rock solid system.

I had previously told Don that if he wanted to demo his prototype tube CD player, we could do it confidentially if he desired. I figured maybe it would be a bit better than his solid state CD player, but certainly it just couldn't be as good as my Bybeeized Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player, could it? So having a formal review might be sort of embarrassing. Also, Don mentioned that as it was only a prototype, he didn't want any formal review published until he was actually ready for production - until a new product is actually past final design and testing and has actually been produced, its better not to have customers start ordering the product only to be told it's still unavailable.  So I agreed to this reasonable request.

We ended up doing two demos at my place, that first Sunday evening, then again the following Saturday afternoon. I promptly wrote a review each time and have simply held them, until now, as Don gave me the ok to print today!!! Ever since these two reviews were done Aug. 19-24, 2001, Don has gone through a process of obtaining parts for the initial run, of course now being ready to build more easily. This includes circuit boards,  volume controls, power supplies, etc. And Don runs a comprehensive burn-in of each CD player, because he says 95% of problems will occur during initial burn-in and this saves customer inconvenience, shipping costs, etc. 

So here's the reviews:

PART 1 from 8-19-01:

I previously demod forum member's Don Hoglund's Granite Audio solid state CD player. Nice, but I thought my Theta Voyager was a bit better in the bass, close call. (Note that the Granite Audio CD player only plays redbook 16 and 20 bit CDs, but it does upsample from 16 to 20 bits. It doesn't play 96-24 DVDs.)

Then I purchased a Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player, which had better midrange and highs on CD than my Theta Voyager (using digital coaxial output on Sony, Single Mode optical on Theta Voyager), although the Voyager may have been a bit better in the bass. I just luved my Sony SACD player, for both redbook CD and SACD. So much that I went to the trouble and expense of internally Bybeeizing it with eleven internal Bybee devices, soldering courtesy of Master Solderer Joe Straceski way on the other side of Phoenix from me. I dropped off the Sony SACD player with Don of Granite Audio both before and after the Bybee mods, with Don confirming that yes, in his system, SACD was appreciably better than redbook CD (Don has both his Granite Audio 650 CD player and a Cal Audio Labs CD player, which he likes to use as an industry reference for demos), and that post Bybee mods but prior to much burn-in he thought it sounded somewhat better even than  before the mods.

I admit I was tired and lazy, it was Sunday nite after dinner already, and after having friends over and demoing the Passive Audio Signal Isolator that afternoon. So we did the demo by what I thought was the easy way. The Sony SACD player was already on top of a four Symposium Rollerblock with Grade 3 (the best) Rollerballs on top of a Symposium Ultra platform, on the top shelf of the equipment rack.

Using a Granite Audio 10 guage power cord out of a Bybeeized PS Audio P600 (set at SS1 Multiwave). We simply would listen to stuff, take out the SACD and replace it with the Granite Audio tube CD player, and repeat the process a number of times that evening. We listened, unless otherwise noted, using Analog Direct or Stereo, as applicable, using only front left and right speakers for purposes of the demos.  And we ran the front left and right speakers full range, with all subwoofers disconnected/off.

First up was regular CD. We played a few cuts and determined that Don's tube CD player in redbook regular CD sounded better than redbook CD on either the Sony SACD player or Theta Voyager. Really, no surprise here, as Don's CD player was very close soundwise to those players prior to the tube analog output stage revision.

The surprise was - damn, his tube CD player on redbook CD sounded better than my Sony SACD player playing SACD! NO SH--------T!!! We played several custs from "An Introduction to SACD" ("Will It Go Round In Circles" by Christy Baron, "First Time Love" by Livingston Taylor, "Spanish Harlem" by Rebecca Pidgeon, and some cuts from the SACD/CD "The Vivino Bros Blues Band". These are all dual layer SACD/CD.

And the tube CD player just seemed so much more -- ANALOG, natural, like the singer and the instruments were playing in the room with us. I found myself wanting to stay and listen more and more with Don's tube CD player and not being interested at all in SACD. I thought that perhaps SACD might have had a bit sharper detail, but it didn't feel as natural, as right, that SACD sounded somewhat - DIGITAL - comparison to redbook CD with Don's tube CD player. I really noticed how natural the tube CD player's redbook CD's voicing was, that the voicing/singing of the SACD just wasn't near as natural/pleasing/relaxing. We also listened to some Patricial Barber, and heck, Don's tube CD player sounded like I could just about reach out and touch her!

PART 2 from 8-24-01:

Don and I decided to do a second demo. I was concerned:

1) We had demod the Passive Audio Signal Isolator much of Sunday afternoon, so the Sunday tube CD demo was an afterthought. I didn't want to hassle much so we just played one player, then took it out and used the same cables/cords and Symposium Rollerblocks and Ultra platform for the other player, repeating this process a number of times. Problem is we couldn't accurately match volume this way without direct A-B comparison.

2) Also, my Sony SACD player has been "off" for a day or two. I should have turned it on and played it some prior to the Sunday demo. We did play it some for the PASI demo. Then it was off during the movie and dinner, and back on for the tube CD player that evening. And I knew that the Sony SACD player on SACD seemed to lack, especially on voicing, compared to Don's redbook tube CD player, but that's not really what I remembered subjectively prior to the demo.
Could it be burn-in and warm-up? Had I even burned-in the Sony SACD player enough as Bybeeized to have a fair faceoff?

For the next number of days I pretty much had the Sony SACD player going around the clock in SACD mode, thinking we might do another demo.

So the next Saturday afternoon, we decided to do the demo "Symposium less", and in "A-B" fashion. I took out the Symposium Rollerblocks and Ultra Platform, instead placing both the Sony SACD and Granite Audio tube CD players each on their own top shelf of an equipment rack. Each player used a Granite Audio 10 guage power cord plugged into a PS Audio P600, set at 60 Hz sinewave for the demo. The same P600 powered my Theta Casablanca 2 with all Superior DACs. 

Granite Audio Model #470 silver interconnects 2M used for analog connection from each player to Theta Casablanca 2. Note the interconnects used for the Sony SACD player had been well burn-in, the interconnects used for the Granite Audio tube CD player had hardly been used! Again, we used only the front left and right Aerial 10Ts full-range, with all subwoofers disconnected/off.

We started out with Don attempting to measure the voltage output of both players so we could equalize their volume, by using the volume control on the back of the tube CD player. Problem is we didn't have a SACD test disc with test tones. And this was very time consuming. And the first selection turned out that the measured volume was off quite a bit from what our ears told us, because on these mostly Sampler CD/SACDs different cuts recorded at different volumes.

So we decided to subjectively by ear/brain set the volume for each cut that we listened to and compared with both players. I would sit in the front center chair, which Don would characterize as sounding great but a bit closer to the band; and Don would sit in the rear center chair, which Don would characterize as perhaps more of a normal prefered listening position. Each chair is simply a bit of a different audio vantage point. I would switch between the players and equalize the volume manually using the Theta Casablanca 2s volume control, to determine the matching volumes of the respective players. We did this for both redbook CD and SACD. And each time, Don noted that once I set the level, I asked him what he thought, and he would agree that they were matched levelwise!!!

We tried to use demo SACD/CD dual layer and match that with the same label/album/song CD that we had, usually the artists' dual layer SACD/CD. So we could play both at the same time in both players, with both Don and I hitting the "Play" button at the same time to start each cut.

If my memory serves me right, we had variations, using the Granite Audio tube CD player as a reference, of -5 dB to +3 dB. We found that for the dual layer SACD/CD on the Sony SACD player, that the cuts in SACD or CD were the same volume when played on the Sony player. That was interesting.

We would first play the CD part of the dual layer SACD/CD disc on the Sony SACD player, and the matching CD on the Granite Audio tube CD player. Also, for CD with the Sony, we initially tried the five digital filter settings and frankly, they all pretty much sounded the same, except we didn't care for #2, and we did the demo for CD with the Sony filter at Standard setting.

Here's the cuts we compared:

From a Chesky Demo SACD/CD, Christy Baron "Will It Go Round in Circles", and the matching Chesky CD (not dual layer) track.

From the same above Chesky Demo SACD/CD, Rebecca Pidgeon "Spanish Harlem", and the matching Chesky CD (not dual layer) track.

From a Sony Demo SACD/CD, Manfredo Fast "Aguas De Marzo", and the matching CD track from his dual layer SACD/CD.

Also from the above Sony Demo SACD/CD, Stockholm Jazz Orchestra "Nostalgico", and the matching CD track from their dual layer SACD/CD "Tango".

On Christy Baron, SACD vs. CD, I noted that the tube CD sounded a bit better, somewhat more dynamic, that the drum seemed to have a more natural overhang to it, but both sounded great. For tube CD vs. CD, the tube CD was smoother across the board, more dynamic, more musical.

On Rebecca Pidgeon, SACD vs. CD, again the Granite by a nod, the bass strings a bit cleaner and deeper, piano a bit more like a real piano, but otherwise remarkably similar sounding. For tube CD vs. CD, again the Granite tube CD was a little smoother and better sounding all over the frequency range.

On Manfredo Fast, tube CD vs. SACD, bass a bit more like real string bass, bit more dynamic, piano a bit more like real piano, just like a tidbit of a veil lifted, all in favor of tube CD player. But again, I'm somewhat nitpicking, absent critical listening the players were remarkably similar sounding, tube CD vs. SACD. For tube CD vs. CD, again the tube CD a bit smoother, like a veil lifted, at all frequency ranges, with the tube CD being more dynamic, more real bass.

On Stockhold Jazz Orchestra, tube CD vs. SACD, and tube CD vs. CD, my observations were pretty much the same as for the other cuts above.

*****SUMMARY: Granite tube CD a bit better, but close, than Sony SACD in SACD mode. And Granite tube DC appreciably better than Sony in CD mode.

We also played on the Granite Audio tube CD player a Circle Surround CD, "Platinum Memories" by Thom Rhotella, some great jazz! We tried it two ways: 1) Coaxial Digital output to Theta CB2 (doesn't use tube section); and 2) Analog output to Theta CB2 (uses tube section).

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