But back to the sound itself, whether via DVD movies or audio CDs. The TAG clearly aspires to accuracy and neutrality rather than romance. There are no euphonic lies, no 'tuned' colorations. It is, by any measure, a precision tool rather than a musical instrument. And for many - those who are immune to valve amps or LPs - as it should be. Given that it is a digital playback device, I have to agree. There is no scope for anything else (with apologies to those making belt-drive CD players), because the output is digital, too; there's no need for analogue chicanery here.
Perhaps it's a by-product of DVD movies, but the TAG (like one or two other 'audiophile' DVD players) excels in two key areas. Not unusually, they are even more crucial to convincing movie soundtrack playback. The DVD32FLR's bass extension, control and slam are nothing short of 'exciting', whether reproducing Kodo drums or the thuds and explosions in . The other area? Dynamic swings from soft to loud are swift and smooth, with no unnecessary overhang, no hesitation. Coloration is just about impossible to detect and the soundstage is, as you'd expect, Cinemascopic.
So what you actually hear, and that means anything that veers from the truth, will be caused by the components in your system AFTER the TAG. If ever a DVD player suggested 'reference quality', even at a time when the format is in turmoil thanks to DVD-Audio, Blue Laser and other distractions, it's this one. (And, I grudgingly admit, its top-loading sister.) So, despite its almost clinical mien, I have to describe the TAG with a truly apt, non-technical German word: . For those of you are reading this for free in Smith's, I suggest you wander over to the dictionary department and look it up. For the rest of you, that means 'magical'.
TAG McLaren Audio 0800 783 8007 www.tagmclaren.com
SIDEBAR: TROUBLED MINDS IN HUNTINGDON
There are some minor but disturbing concerns which contradict, if not quite undermine, TAG McLaren Audio's fanatical attention to detail, inconsistencies which baffle me. I was assured that everything about the DVD32FLR was performance-related, but that doesn't explain why TAG would spend money on an enamel F1 label badge packed in every carton, or why it would colour the sorbothane feet inserts red when you'd only see them upon turning the unit upside down...and then fit a cheap'n'nasty tray.
Certainly, TAG does care about ergonomics and ease of use. The company figured that the best place to ensure that you'll find your owner's manual when you need it would be to make it CD-sized, so you can put in on your CD shelf. The set-up wizard is foolproof, with lucid instructions and a battery of useful tests via its own test pattern generator to help you to optimise colour, tint, brightness, sharpness, contrast, convergence and geometry in a manner as painless as true Plug'n'Play devices on post-USB 2.0 PCs. But why would TAG fit a superlative all-metal front panel, and then finish it so that it feels like plastic? Maybe the Mercedes-Benz connection is too close: that firm is known for using real wood in its cars and making it seem like the kind which came from a test tube.
But there are aspects of the DVD32FLR's form and behaviour which keep me from dubbing it the one I would take with me to an electrified desert isle. Keeping in mind that the only points of physical/tactile contact between a user and a DVD or CD player are the remote control, the front panel buttons and the tray, TAG blew it on two out of three. True, this has nothing to do with performance, and Herr Doctor Zucker has every right to tell me that what follows doesn't matter by his standards. But I say it does, especially if you're handing over three grand.
While the tiny buttons of the front panel are a joy to use, the tray is possibly the cheesiest I've seen on any player above 200. In my system, beneath the DVD32FLR, is a 700 Sony SACD player with a tray which feels as if it's carved from solid. Now I don't want to hear that Sony has as many factories as TAG has employees, and can afford such things thanks to economies of scale. All I know is that for 2995, a flimsy tray is an insult.
But it's the remote which really fries my arse. TAG uses a generic learning remote which - I simply can't believe this act of idiocy - combines the left/right/up/down cursor functions with stop, pause, FF and rewind. (Think about it.) I have now found discs which it can barely navigate, e.g. Paul McCartney's , and others which require much stabbing of the set-up/menu button to toggle between the functions. You try to go down the menu, you tap the down arrow. The disc stops. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
To date, I have used in excess of 50 DVD players. Never have I found one which couldn't navigate even the most poorly-conceived disc menus, nor one which was so unintuitive. It goes on and on: There's no zoom facility. There are two FF/rewind speeds, one too slow and one too fast. (A 750 Rotel gives you a nice rotary with something like eight speeds.) Yes, I agree: these are NOT performance-related details. But you do have to live with such operational vagaries, and even after two months and some 75 DVDs and countless CDs, I still hate the remote. In other words, could you learn to enjoy a Porsche or Ferrari if someone swapped the brake and clutch pedals?
Let's put it this way: if TAG replaced that shitty tray with something more substantial, and produced a bespoke remote with separate buttons for the transport and cursor functions, I would be the first to call it the 'best DVD player money can buy', even the DVD32R. How so? Because I hate top-loading even more than I loathe cheap plastic trays.
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