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Accustic Arts I Mk2 CD Player Review

Constantine Soo checks out Accustic Arts' latest top CD player: the $7,700 CD Player I Mk2

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Accustic CD I MK2 CD Player

Accustic Arts of Germany not only produces an entire audio system of electronics, speakers and cables, it also runs a professional recording studio, thus is uniquely positioned to harness a wealth of knowledge from aspects of audio engineering. Coordinated by Martin and Steffen Schunk, the sons of the company’s founder, Fritz Schunk, the company’s tremendous scope of operations since its founding in 1996 has progressed with a level of energy and resourcefulness seldom seen in the industry, culminating in the ongoing introduction of advanced and carefully priced amplification, digital products, loudspeakers, and a full line of high-end audio accessories.

According to Brian Ackerman of Aaudio Imports, Accustic Arts’ U.S. Distributor, audiophile’s demand for the company’s invincible triangle of digital products, namely the CD player I, Drive I and DAC I Mk3 has been especially robust in the past few years, effectuating shipments of hundred of units of the DAC I Mk3 alone. Breaking news from a few months ago of the company’s re-launch of the DAC I in a Mk4 edition, therefore, has generated sweeping enthusiasm among its customers and retail partners in web forum threads in mere weeks, far before the company was prepared to make official announcement.

The much-anticipated DAC I Mk4 is not the company’s only digital product garnering considerable spotlights. In this 10th anniversary of Accustic Arts’ founding, the company has also launched its latest CD player, dubbed the Mk2 of its CD player I, the subject of this review.

On Accustic Arts’ “Mk2” and similar coining of latter generation products, Martin Schunk, who oversees hardware manufacturing, explained that the new CD player is christened “Mk2” as it is a result of continuation of refinement efforts based upon the original CD Player I. The CD Player I shares the same technological platform as the similarly priced Drive I; but the player is integrated with a DAC section that, though less advanced than that in the upcoming DAC I Mk4, is designed and voiced to perform at its optimum with the new Cirrus Logic chipset.

Per Steffen Schunck, the son that handles the professional studio operations, the Mk2 was part of Accustic Arts’ ongoing efforts in creating a one-box solution that can impart an authentic reproduction of the studio masters, and although the company employed Burr Brown’s PCM1728 24-bit/96kHz chipset in its CD player’s Mk1 iteration, the company’s experimentations with Burr Brown’s 24/192 chipset within the same player platform did not yield satisfactory results. Instead, Accustic Arts found its answer in the IC chipsets from Cirrus Logic.

Shedding lights on this particular development of the Mk2, Steffen offers the following comments:

“To create a new player that can surpass the performance and value of our Mk1 player, we put a lot of time and effort in designing the DAC board for this new MK2 version, resulting in the use of new DACs.

Instead of the Burr Brown from the Mk1, we now use a D/A converting IC from Cirrus. Through vigorous testing and prototyping, we found this D/A converter to generate a very warm and vinyl-like sound.

The fundamental criteria for us in creating our D/A converters is to not only adhere to strict performance parameters as supported by empirical measurements, but also to pass a huge number of listening tests within the company and with our external network of sound engineers from our professional field of music production. This is done over and over again until we finalize the layout in search for the best sound. In addition to that, all components are carefully selected to achieve strict, maximum accuracy.

Let me give you an example: most capacitors available on the market are able to perform at an accuracy of 20%. We select capacitors that can yield an accuracy of 1%. This means lots of work and increased cost, but also, this is our credo, and the primary reason why we feel the ACCUSTIC ARTS products represent true value.

While the D/A converting IC is the focus of our R&D efforts, in the end it is only one of many parts and components used in the unit, which, in combination with the right layout of the strictly selected parts and components, makes the Mk2 the sonic miracle that it is.

For a considerable period of time, we held back the decision to go for an 192kHz upsampling scheme in our CD player until we have the right configuration and components that will make it sound better than its 96kHz predecessor, the CD PLAYER I – MK 1. The resolution is finer, of course, with a 192kHz unit, even though the mere number 192kHz doesn’t say too much. I personally heard many units working in 192kHz upsampling that simply sounded horrible.

It is not that simple just to use a 24bit/192kHz D/A converting IC to create a good unit. There is much more involved to accomplish the objective.”

Hence, in the empirical sense, the performance parameters of the CD Player I Mk2 surpass that of the Mk1 in the following areas: a) THD+N is -100dB, versus Mk1’s

While the transport mechanism continues to be the Philips CDM Pro-2 cast metal with mechanical decoupling, the toroidal transformer has been upgraded in size by 25% from the Mk1’s 75VA variety to a 100VA unit, which is further fortified by Panasonic capacitors of 35kμF in total capacity. Aside from these upgrades, the same, attractive adornments, such as the blue lit Accustic Arts logo that floats inside the top lid’s glass layers, as well as the two big, chrome knobs, continue to distinguish themselves visually.

The CD Player I Mk2’s top-loader reminds me of that from CEC’s TL1 that I owned, differing in the raised interior center bridge inside the compartment for an ingeniously conceived disc handling experience. No fingers will ever need touch the velvety interior. On the rear panel, there is a pair of WBT® RCA analog outputs and a pair of Neutrik® XLR analog outputs, which are active concurrently and are also transformer- coupled. There are also an RCA and XLR digital output for the player to be used as a transport.

Refer to Dagogo’s Accustic Arts CD Player I Review for more interesting details on design aspects common to both Mk1 and Mk2.

Readers who have purchased the Mk1 can upgrade his Player I to the Mk2’s DAC board for $1,295. Contact Brian Ackerman of Aaudio Imports to make arrangements.

Lastly, answering my unceasing inquiries, Martin explained that the company will drop the “Mk” designation on a product when the time comes for implementation of completely new technologies and design layout in it, be it a CD player or DAC, as it will warrant new electrical compliance testing and certification as well.

Audition

The sound of a burnt-in Player I Mk2 cast a gargantuan contrast to its sound prior to the process. After a rigorous burn-in period of no less than 300 hours, the Player I Mk2 transitioned into a machine of considerable finesse.

Eighteen months have passed since I reviewed Accustic Arts’ CD Player I Mk1 in December 2004, and although Audio Note’s 95dB/8Ω AN-E SEC Silver loudspeaker that was used in the first review remained the principal reference for this new review, Accuphase’s $10k E-550 integrated amplifier provided powerful and refined perspectives.

Furutech’s new e-TP609 AC Distributor augmented the CD player in 50% of the review with a pair of the accompanying Power Reference III AC cables running between the AC outlets, the e-TP609 and the Player I Mk2. RCA and XLR versions of Furutech’s Audio Reference III interconnects alternated in linking the Accustic Arts to the Accuphase, while two pairs of Furutech’s single-wiring Speaker Reference III speaker cable ensured the bi-wiring operations. Isoclean’s SuperFocus AC cables provided definitive augmentation to amplifications.

The Player I Mk2’s analog output level was the highest among CD players and DACs I’ve used, making it an even more fitting candidate for coupling to integrated amplifications. Under such arrangement, the $20k AN-E SEC Silver loudspeaker was driven to produce picturesque tonalities, amidst swifter transients and gratifying dynamics.

Newfound clarity in the German CD player’s upper midrange accorded my favorite RCA Victor’s SWR- Studio recording of the Chopin 24 Preludes with a level of realism equaling that of the company’s own $6,000 DAC I Mk3, as the spectrally encompassing string instrument was infused with abundant minute nuances in the hands of Evgeny Kissin. Fortissimos were particularly striking in the sustenance of bass notes as competently reproduced by the new CD player.

Playback of the Japanese flute from the Ondekoza XRCD Dotou Banri revealed the Mk2 player’s enhanced ability in not only rendering the microdynamics and swift transients of the most delicate of woodwinds nearly as good as the DAC I Mk3; but also a most competent reenactment of the ambience of the venue. Hence, the CD player’s reproduction of the masterful whiffing of the flute ushered out an expansive sonic landscape graced by the tiny droplets of tones, which lingered reverberantly and in concordance with the massive, accompanying taiko. Subjectively, while the German CD player conceded in the absolute dynamic and transient contrasts to the $20k Wadia 270se and 27ix v3.0 digital front end, I shall also concede to the fact that the Accustic Arts costs only $7.7k.

The CD Player I Mk2’s ability to reenact the dynamic swings of a full orchestra was also complimented by the Audio Note loudspeakers most cordially, and arising from this fortuitous arrangement was the CD player’s aptitude in handling climactic orchestral passages, one that is perhaps among the more gratifying of its traits.

In portraying the dynamics of a crescendo during the opening of Richard Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony (Deutsche Grammophon, Karajan Gold), the Mk2 navigated a dawning mist of subdued strings and woodwinds amidst the dormant brass with effortless imaging and soundstaging precision, and then rose to the full orchestral depiction of the bursting rays of a sunrise expeditiously by way of potent dynamics that were seemingly in constant and abundant reserve, complete with gratifying imaging and soundstaging solidity.

While the CD Player I Mk2’s bottom-end, as well as top-end delicacy and extension, were not quite on the same par with that from the DAC I Mk3, the CD Player Mk2’s top-end possessed a precious spaciousness in itself and, most important of all, a lack of overall dynamic compression, possibly contributable to the larger toroidal transformer employed plus an increased energy storage capacity, a phenomena that I’ve encountered only in the best of DACs.

For instance, the Accustic Arts demonstrated a consistent ability of producing dynamic footprints of trombones, bass drum and the aggregated strings of such expedition and immensity, that I was compelled to put on disc after disc of Beethoven’s and Bruckner’s symphonies, just to reap the sonic gratification. The very fact that a sub-$10k CD player was capable of delivering such dynamic and scaling excellence was literally unthinkable.

In such instances, the necessity of having powerful spectral extensions as accorded by GamuT’s $12k L5 loudspeaker became non-negotiable. While the supremely resolving $20k Audio Note loudspeaker allowed the Accustic Arts to display its suite of tonal finesse, the alternate system of Audio Note’s $10k M5 preamplifier, Linn’s $9k Klimax Chakra 500 Twin and the GamuT L5 provided an ideal platform to experience the Accustic Arts’ presentation of a top-end so pristine and a bottom-end so substantial that, when played through the GamuT at high volumes, the listening room’s walls almost seemed unable to contain the sonic amplitude.

The finesse of the CD player I Mk2 was further exemplified in its capacity as a transport in driving DACs. Whether it was via the $30k Audio Note DAC5 Special, or Accustic Arts’ own $5,700 DAC I Mk3, the presentation never failed to convey a remarkably clear and rich midrange through upper-end as accorded by the CD Player I Mk2, thus indicative of a fundamentally well-designed platform.

Having spent over two months with this CD player in both of its capacities as player and transport, I can’t help but become restless over the prospect of Accustic Arts’ upcoming new transport’s supposed superiority.

Conclusion

Accustic Arts’ latest CD player harnesses a level of sonic resolution and finesse that will make many readers’ purchasing decision an effortlessly obvious one. A quality digital front-end is the most important element in any audio system, and Accustic Arts’ CD Player I Mk2 is an over-performing, top-loading design that roars value.

Though priced at the midpoint between $5k and $10k, the $7,700 CD Player Mk2 is a decisively more refined design both sonically and technically than many similar contenders in the present marketplace, and is in a position to capture aspirations of audiophiles looking to invest into a state-of-the-art CD player.

At the Accustic Arts CD Player I Mk2’s level of sonic prowess, it has fulfilled every relevant performance criteria that can be appropriated from the category of integrated CD players. For any audiophile who has no plans to harbor the likes of a $10k+ CD transport and DAC system, the Accustic Arts CD Player I Mk2 represents an urgently critical and profoundly rewarding investment choice.

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