Considering the fact that tube digital-to-analogue converters are virtually non-existent in the high-end audio product offerings from corporate entities with full engineering compliment, such as Accuphase, Esoteric, Sony, Wadia, Meridian, Luxman, et cetera, it will seem to indicate a certain philosophy, or even insistence, among them to avoid promoting tube DACs. Whether it is a decision by necessity or by philosophy, these companies have put their reputation at stake effectively by developing solid-state DACs exclusively. Historically, these companies have done well pursuing their goals.
Among the aforementioned companies, Accuphase is one of today’s most high-profiled Japanese companies known for their steadfast focus in developing products strictly for the high-end audio market. It has remained the same company since its founding in 1972 (See The Accuphase Culture), and the company’s amplifier and preamplifier product offerings have always been its forte among rivals. Soon after, the company became one of the forerunners of high-end digital audio products in 1986 with the introduction of its DP-80/DC-81 2-chassis reference compact disc playback system, while Sony, the co-inventor of the format, introduced its own CDP-R1/DAS-R1 2-chassis flagship in 1987.
The Accuphase DP-700, the subject of this review, is the latest top offering in a single-chassis SACD player from the company. It is second only to the current 2-chassis DP-800 SACD transport ($22,000) and DC-801 SACD DAC ($20,000). While the company’s previous generation flagship SACD transport, the DP-100, adopted Sony’s top-loading SACD transport also featured in the popular Sony SCD-1 and SCD-777ES, the Accuphase DP800 flagship SACD transport now uses a proprietary “SA-CD Transport Mechanism”. The same transport mechanism is also at the heart of the DP-700.
The D/A converter section of the DP-700 is also a scaled down version of the DC-801, featuring the same eight Analog Device AD1955 SACD chip sets in each channel in an industry-exclusive arrangement dubbed the Multiple Double Speed DSD, or “MDSD”. This technique utilizes the SACD chips in seven sequentially delayed steps to create a summed, highly precise signal. For all intents and purposes, the $26,000 DP-700 is the combination of the penultimate DP-800/DC801 SACD system. Thus, the DP-700 is the ultimate one-box SACD player by Accuphase supposedly.
In the preceding 12 months, I auditioned several digital systems of both tube and solid-state designs, including the Ypsilon system that Jack Roberts reviewed, and tube-based DACs had consistently sounded texturally rounder and less fatiguing. In fact, many smaller, specialty European companies choose to traverse the tube route in their digital machines to minimize the artificiality in digital sound; good examples are Audio Note UK and Ypsilon DACs with their extravagancy in using expensive and exotic materials for the sole consideration of sonic perfection. Most other larger operations, on the other hand, have consistently stayed on the cutting edge and showcase their products imbedded with the latest technologies. They apply the latest chip sets in a textbook example of economy of scale, developing for mass production the solid-state style. The AKM 32-bit chip sets and the Esoteric D-05 DAC that incorporates them, are prime examples.
The Analog Device AD1955 SACD chip is the most advanced chip set manufactured by the chip company, and Accuphase’s utilization of eight of them in each channel harkens back to the company’s illustrious milestones, such as the DC-91 DAC which used 16 of the 20-bit, Burr Brown DAC chip per channel in a precocious 1992. That colossus of an engineering feat relegated the three transformers, along with fourteen power supplies to the far left of the unit’s interior. It even weighed around 50 lbs, a full 5 lbs heavier than its companion DP-90 CD transport. Now eighteen years later, the DP-700 is the first one-box player from Accuphase with the exact DAC chip set compliment as the flagship separates, weighing in at around 60 lbs, and sounding uncharacteristically smooth for a solid-state player. Its transport mechanism was arguably the smoothest I’ve heard and felt. Precision CD transport mechanisms are costly to develop and manufacture, and Accuphase is one of two top Japanese companies manufacturing its own exclusive designs for use in its top products. The superbly quiet action of the transport during opening and closing gave the feel of a precision German automobile in its exacting ruggedness and super massive mass. Current Accuphase owners may be spoiled and not appreciate my sentiment as much, but for the rest of us out there operating the Accuphase transport for the first time until at least the thousandth time (that is only 1,000-CD worth of listening), I can attest for myself that I continued to be enamoured by the workings of the flawless mechanism. It’s a guy thing.
While all of Sony’s current SACD player offerings are multi-channel, and Esoteric has a full-house of both stereo and multi-channel machines, Accuphase, by offering only stereo players, is obviously not feeling the necessity to embrace the multi-channel capacity of SACD, clearly expressing its belief that two-channel music reproduction is of first and foremost consideration to its clientele. Judging from the extraordinarily long life cycle of its players, such as the seven years’ run of the DP-100/DC-101, the company must have a considerably loyal clientele base to draw its business support from. Retrospectively, in the absence of new technologies that empower speakers wirelessly, the sight and expenditure of five or seven audiophile-grade, thick speaker cables commandeering a listening room in a multi-channel setup, much less when accompanied by an equal compliment of room-filling speakers, is prohibitive. The only multi-channel setup I would consider is the latest offering from Niro of Nakamichi fame, which demonstrated 5.1 surround sound in a home theatre setup as produced by a single speaker, but that is another story.
The DP-700 was inserted into my system in which the 47 Lab 4704 PiTracer CD transport and Audio Note UK DAC5 Special constituted my reference source, the Pass Labs X0.2 my preamplifier, the XA100.5 monoblocks the amplification in driving the Rockport Mira Grand II. The Feastrex Makoto loudspeaker provided additional insight. Being a tube DAC owner, I see no reason a tube aficionado would consider the DP-700 initially; but if one is to base his purchasing decision on sound alone, the DP-700 is a resounding surprise.
I am a digiphile, and I listen predominantly to digital music via the compact disc medium from a disc player and the digital music files from a laptop computer. I also believe that the future of music as our cultural and civilization heritage lies in digital form. The contact medium of vinyl is for the hobbyist among us, and putting aside the highly fragile nature of the vinyl medium and the complexity in process required for its use, the large-scale migration of audiophiles from the medium to compact disc in the 80s and 90s is testament to everyone’s sentiments in an overwhelming desire to uproot what they had for decades and adopt a new format that is cheaper, easier to use and less susceptible to destruction. The vinylphiles among us, of course, will have much to say to the contrary. One such person is Dagogoan Phillip Holmes, for instance, a steadfast vinylphile, who will voice what he deems as deficiencies of the compact disc format in an eye-opening new article. This is a hobby, and we are all in this to our heart’s content. What matters the most after all is that we all enjoy…. you get my drift.
Although a digiphile, I have quite a collection of LPs that continues to grow intermittently, not because I listen to them more than CDs. Rather, considering the controversies the digiphile and vinylphile camps continue to generate, the LPs, along with a Kyocera PL-910, a Yamaha PX-2, a 47 Lab Koma turntable system that I am reviewing, and several phono stages, not the least of them included an Accuphase C-27 phono stage, provide the perspective I need in my reviews. The Accuphase DP-700, in a nutshell, provided a sound closest to my vinyl experience.
The vinyl sound is characterized by a continuity that is less specific and less analytically presented than the digital sound. When I listen to LPs, for the 20-minute-minus duration of one LP side, I sit back and relax. With digital, I sit up and listen for a good hour or until the symphony is finished, and it is hard to dismiss elements emerging that weren’t there before. Then there is the vinyl smoothness that vinyl connoisseurs with Koetsu cartridges and the like can never live without. Of course, with the 47 Lab Miyabi/47 cartridge in my vinyl setup, which just came back from a fresh review by Dagogoan Jack Roberts (to be published), the smoothness, though not as pronounced, remained prevalent as a hallmark of vinyl finesse. The DP-700 demonstrated that analogue-like smoothness in spade, sounding strikingly close to the Koetsu cartridge.
For instance, the promotional Telarc hybrid SACD demonstration disc that came with the Sony SCD-777ES that I once owned contains one track called “Let Yourself Go!” that continues to be unsurpassed for demonstration suitability in its dynamic contrasting and dimensionality. I would imagine audiophiles who bought the Sony SACD player never surrendered this disc when they finally sold the player. Neither did I. That track, along with 2 others, performed by Eric Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops, was later released in 2000 on That Nelson Riddle Sound (CD-80532). The Sony presented the SACD sound as large, dynamic and reverberating, whereas the redbook CD layer sounded compressed and diminished. The same redbook CD layer sounded bold again via the Accuphase, while the SACD layer sounded slightly more expansive, inching out more noticeably in the textural richness, and a slight improvement in reverberation.
But even the minutely jaded texture rendering of instruments of redbiook CDs by the Accuphase was an unforgettable experience. The bulk of my listening was on CDs, and while I wouldn’t dismiss the fact that the $40,000 Audio Note DAC5 Special with its tube circuitry was superior in every way, I must also inform our readers that I had never heard another solid-state player to produce such supple richness in tonality. On every CDs that I put through it, from early 80s recordings to the latest, there was this analogue-like roundness intertwined with tonal sophistication that was at once addictive. Simply put, it attained the most masterful level in reviving the sumptuous nuances embedded in the pits, laying out the intricate inner workings of each track as formulated by the artists and the recording engineers.
If your digiphobia has no boundary and has never known any cure, the Accuphase DP-700 may just be the only option in the digital landscape. Conversely, if you have never known digiphobia and you listen to digital music exclusively, then the Accuphase’s flexibility as independent transport and DAC, along with the variable volume functionality, is simply a world of audiophile fun. Put a superior power cable to it, such as the Isoclean Super Focus, and not only the player’s overall performance will take off, its transport and DAC sections will also provide reference calibre performance as a separate DAC or transport.
With my reference system being the PiTracer and DAC5 Special, the DP-700’s DAC sounded even more distinguished when used with the PiTracer. By comparison, the DAC5 Special was comparatively less dynamic and three-dimensional with the DP-700 as a transport as a matter of course. In retrospect, the potential of every CD transport, DAC or CD player with digital output that an owner of the Accuphase puts through sounding better is very real, and basically a matter of course. Couple the Accuphase to a system with higher efficiency speaker system, the Accuphase’s 2.5 volt output will be dandy and you won’t even need a preamp. The fact that the Accuphase is the most majestic-looking piece of an SACD player is a good thing, too.
Even with the PiTracer and DAC5 Special at my side, I was slowly inching toward an exploration of today’s vinyl after several decades of hiatus, and this digital player from Accuphase harkened me back swiftly into the silver-disc landscape, but this time with a sound so magnificent and a performance so assuring, it makes the whole digital experience an incredibly luxurious privilege. A classy act.
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