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Model 657
Steve Bruzonsky Review Continued


Tube CD Player

Solid State CD Player
650 SS CD



The analog output in Analog Direct sounded much better than the digital output in Stereo (WOW! Months before, prior to the tube section, the analog/digital using the CB2's Superior balanced DACs sounded very similar.) I also liked Analog Matrix (this mode is an analog stereo bypass, with analog to digital conversion only for center and surround channels and subwoofers).

I tried using the analog output, then converting in the C2 to digital using Circle Surround, but the extra analog to digital conversion step really degraded the sound. YUCHHH!

But I have played this CD a lot. Don luved it Analog Direct, using only the front left and right speakers, because that's way easily the best sonics. But me, I'm used to hearing the Circle Surround version with matching sonics from each speaker/vector and I missed that. (Now that two weeks ago I upgraded to Theta's Xtreme DACs for my CB2, that may well no longer be an issue, just listen in Circle Surround digital all the way through!).

NOTE: After this demo I immediately listed my Sony SACD player for sale on Audiogon and sold it within a few days, and the buyer has a fantastic two channel system and just luvs his new Bybeeized Sony SACD player. He previously had a lesser Sony 333 SACD two channel player which he says had nowhere near the sonic quality of his "new" Sony 777.
It didn't make sense for now to keep money in the Sony 777 player, when if I want I can have a Granite Audio tube CD player on which regular CDs will sound better than SACDs.
(I appreciate and yield that SACD is technically superior sounding to redbook CD, provided that I buy a $20,000 or more SACD player like Accuphase - that's too much moola even for me. At some point, I'm sure SACD players will improve for the money, but right now, either the 777 just ain't as good as everyone says, or Don's really got something going, or I need that lobotomy badly yesterday.)

PART III: To come within the next week hopefully, Granite Audio tube CD vs Theta CB2 Xtreme DACs. This will be a good one!!!!

Price: Don's solid state CD player retails at $1,500.  Adding the tube analog output stage, and a better power supply, etc. and labor and development will add to that price. But heck, even if the price doubles, this could be a real bargain to some two channel afectionadoes. And even to current Theta Casablanca 2 owners with Superior or Standard DACs with no plans to go Xtreme! Don is shortly going to set his retail price for the tube CD player.

POSTSCRIPT: As I sold my Sony SACD player, within about five days after the last demo, I brought it over to Don, and he listened to it again for two days in his system, vs his tube CD player. And I came by just before we shipped it out to the buyer, and I also listened to a few SACDs vs CDs, and the result in his system was quite similar to in my system.
I suggested to Don that it was important that this be tested in his system, too, as he doesn't have all those crazy tweaks that I do, and as a manufacturer I think one wants to know how it sounds without the tweaks.

Just like with James Loudspeakers, this is the first written or web review on this product. I pick it as another big winner, as I did James Loudspeakers, and before that, the PS Audio Power Plants!

Don and I have scheduled to do the shootout between his new tube CD player and my new Theta Xtreme DACs this Thursday!!!

This will be a good one! I know just from listening to a few music CDs that musically the Xtremes are appreciably better than were the Superior DACs. But Don's tube CD player, on some of the best recorded SACD cuts, was better on regular CD, across the board, than SACD via the Bybeeized Sony 777 at least in my system (and his, too); and SACD alone was already then lots better than CD in my system. So this will be interesting. Don has a marvelous tube CD player. Its amazing how much better it sounds using the analogue outputs from its tube section, rather than just its regular non-tube analogue outputs or its non-tube coaxial digital output.

I had planned to have one of Don's tube CD players in my system for now permanently - but that was before the Xtreme DACs from Theta came on board. Now, if the Xtreme DACs are as good or very close to Don's tube CD quality, it might not make sense to keep Don's tube CD player in my system.

We'll see (I mean hear)!

Ahhhhh - the Theta Xtreme DAC demo vs Granite Audio tube CD player. Here it is!!

CAUTION: Past three weeks, Theta Casablanca 2 on all the time. But if not watching/listening, generally on 1/3 normal listening volume. Only played Voyager DVD or CD while sleeping, about 8 - 9 hours per day, as don't want to burn up its mechanical mechanisms. I expect more burn-in and better sound will result from Xtreme
DACs over next few weeks, just my educated guess based on experience with Theta products.

Remember, my Theta Voyager is over double Symposium Rollerblocks blocks with the Tungsten Carbide ball Series 2 sandwiched inbetween; with a Symposium Ultra platform underneath. The Voyager has two internal Bybee devices on AC. And Voyager has a 20 pound Bright Star weight on top.

The Granite Audio tube CD player placed on shelf above, over set of Rollerblocks with Tungsten Carbide balls Series 3 (not sandwiched), on top of Symposium Ultra platform.

Each player has Granite Audio #560 10 guage power cord to Bybeeized PS Audio P600 set at PS1 Multiwave.

We only used front left and right Bybeeized Aerial 10T speakers run full range, no subwoofers used in demo at all, no other speaker used in demo at all.

Before each CD track, I would sit middle front row, Don at Granite player adjusting manual volume on its back, per my direction, and then Don would sit middle back,l and we both would verify approx same volume.

Again, we had multiple SACD/CDs and/or CDs with same tracks so we could cue them up on both players at same time, and all I had to do was switch using CB2 remote doing instantaneous A-B testing. And I let Don blind test, as I would mix and match, having one player A, one player B.

And Don consistently identified which player was which, in that he consistently identified his Granite tube CD player as a bit better, just a wee bit, throughout the demo. Although I wasn't blinded, as I did the switching, I determined that the Granite tube CD sounded as good or just a tad better in each cut demod.

Preliminary tests, with Don at rear row middle listening chair: Don agreed Voyager sounds better, a little cleaner across the board with a bit tighter bass, in Single Mode Optical than AES/EBU, so we did the demo in Single Mode.

Playing Manfredo Fest "Aguas De Marco", Don felt that the tube CD player sounded clearly somewhat better on Rollerblocks than resting bare on the Ultra platform - so we used the Rollerblocks for the demo. I then put a ten pound Bright Star weight on the tube CD player, Don noted bass a bit tighter - then added a second 10 pound weight, Don felt sounded a little darker and heavier - and without weights Don felt sounded a little lighter, airier, more microdynamics. But Don really wasn't sure about the weights, whereas he was about Rollerblocks, so we went with Rollerblocks but no weights. Don felt more extended listening would be necessary re using any weights on top of his tube CD player, that just because something sounded different didn't make it better. Don did this listening, because I was placing the Rollerblocks and then placing the removing the weights thereafter!

One more preliminary, comparing digital coaxial from tube CD player (but digital output doesn't go through tube analog output) vs Theta Voyager Single Mode, using Theta Casablanca 2 Xtreme DACs. Playing Rebecca Pidgeon's "Spanish Harlem".  They were virtually identical sounding. We used the Voyager digital for the rest of the show as its in my system already and wondering if its gonna be replaced for CD!!!???

For the demo cuts, for A-Bs of the Granite tube CD player using its analog output played back by CB2 in "Analog Direct", vs. Theta Voyager Single Mode Optical played back by CB2 in "Stereo".

Demo cuts used were Rebecca Pidgeon "Spanish Harlem"; Christ Baron "Got To Get You Into My Life"; Sara K "Brickhouse";

Manfredo Fast "Aguas De Marco"; and Stockholm Jazz Orchestra "Nostalgica". Don may have been blind, but from the very start he identified his tube CD player as being ever so slightly better sonically on each cut. With tube CD stringed instruments were a little more real, at times he could hear the initial pluck and then string vibrate and decay more so than the Voyager digital output. I frankly had more difficulty hearing any differences here - I was able to pick up what Don was talking about, but it was frankly very subtle. I was happy listening to either player, period.

(So unlike my redbook CD performance at the prior demo, when Don's tube CD player killed my players and I never wanted to listen to them again in redbook CD - that is, until I then upgraded to the new Theta Xtreme DACs, and oh what a difference Xtreme burned-in DACs do make)! Don heard this difference across the board, each cut. My notes indicate that on "Spanish Harlem", strings a tad better; on "Got To Get You Into My Life", strings a tad better, and tube CD a bit less grainy; on "Brickhouse", "Aguas De Marco" and "Nostalgica", I really couldn't discern any difference at all, except if I listened repeatedly and very carefully then yes I could sometimes discern it - but if I didn't know what I was lookin' for I would never have known.

**Now for a bit of a surprise. A few months ago with my prior Sony SCD-777ES SACD player, both Don and I heard a substantial dropoff in audio quality with the CB2 and my then Superior DACs using mode "Stereo" instead of "Analog Direct", and we did this with Manfredo Fast "Aguas De Marco". Today, we did this and - holy cow, BATMAN, both Modes sounded identical to both of us!! No sonic degradation from the additional analog to digital conversion step at all! Now we had demod for several hours and about had enough, but we tested one more cut, but I'm sorry, I forgot to write it down, but this time we heard a small amount of sonic degradation from "Stereo" compared to "Analog Direct". But it was a very small amount, one that I could consider living with if I had to!!! (This goes along with my comment on analog OTA UPN "Enteprise" last night, how it sounded better with analog to digital conversion this time around with burned-in Xtreme DACs.)

This is a shootout where both players, the tube CD analog outout, and the Theta CB2 brand new Xtreme DACs, are very close in sonic quality and both win big time! Both sound WAY better than redbook CD with the previous model Granite Audio non-tube CD player and WAY better than redbook CD using my prior CB2 Superior DACs. And as previously determined, the Granite analog tube output was by a small margin but across the board superior to a Bybeeized Sony SACD playing SACD in both my and Don's systems. So this is pretty neat!!

So what's the market for these two "Extremes", Theta Xtreme DACs and Granite Audio tube CD player???

For us Theta Casablanca/Casanova luvers: No question, Don's tube CD analog output is far superior on music in a high resolution system (mine! HA!) to the CB2 Superior DACs.
If your in it more for the music, getting the Granite Audio tube CD, ditching your Sony, etc. SACD, will get you superior sound on redbook CDs, you may well think you are playing SACDs. Unless you are willing to shell out more bucks for the Xtreme DACs, in which case in a high end home theater system like mine, it may not make sense to also have the Granite tube CD player, since the Granite only nodded by a small nod only on stringed instruments. But if you will connect the Granite tube CD player direct to your power amps, heck, this will even be the better sound (my Bryston 7B amps don't safely allow both a balanced and single-ended connection at the same time) and the Granite player is your nirvana, unless you've got the BIG BUCKS for Accuphase or something like that!

In our quest to achieve sonic nirvana, some of us are modding Sony SACD players, whether by Steve Huntley, Dan Wright, Jennifer White-Crock, Richard Kern, etc. I had Bybeeized mine improving its sound, yet it was still beat a bit across the board by the Granite tube CD in regular redbook CD playback. But how much can you afford to your stereo music???? So for some, a product like the Granite tube CD player I think will be quite appealing. (Especially with a thirty day money back guarentee if not satisfied).

And the Theta Xtreme DACs, what can I say? PLENTY - all good and great. And they allow me to fully utilize my CB2 digital bass management, which is important, so the Xtremes for me and other Theta luvers without direct CD player to amplifier connection are a large step for home theater and audio mankind.

I have heard at shows several time the Meridian 861, which I'd say was on par with the CB2 equipped with Superior DACs, and once several months ago the MC-12 with PSB speakers and that room sounded so sterile and lifeless (and frankly, the several times I heard the MC-1 before that were the same in my opinion); so the Xtreme DACs put Theta as King of the Hill sonically and easily, likely of course to rivaled by the even more expensive Levinson to be coming out soon!

I'm going to sleep.






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