Lyngdorf CD-1 Player Reviewed

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If any of you doubt that CD will remain the dominant playback source for the foreseeable future, the CD-only player before me should rattle your cage. It comes from one of Europe's canniest operators, retailer extraordinaire Peter Lyngdorf; you know his manufacturing efforts from the truly pioneering TacT digital amplifiers and processors. TacT has now metamorphosed into the eponymous brand that produces the CD-1, and - trust me - Lyngdorf wouldn't have OK'd a player this sophisticated if he had any insecurities about the format. Instead, he would have badge-engineered some Pacific Rim poo-poo and left it at that. No, the CD-1 is a statement of intent. And it's audiophilic intent, too, for this is one seriously fine-sounding silver-disc spinner.

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Being about as European a brand as it gets, Lyngdorf Audio has to take the home continent into consideration. Equally, it is also painfully aware that many of the diktats that come from the Assholes of Brussels can have detrimental effects on sonic performance. Among the CD-1's design considerations was a 'good mains filter at the input.' But Lyngdorf UK's David Rapoport pointed out that, 'Normally only very small mains filters are seen on CD players - for meeting the EMC requirements. But we are concerned about the influences on sound quality as well.'

To avoid compromise, Lyngdorf felt it was, '...worth the money doing better filtering than required to make sure there is a minimum of noise entering the player. Grounding is optimal, and the entire chassis connected electrically. The back panel is electrically conductive (as with all our products) and if you note the side panels and top panel, the oxide layer in the anodisation has been removed to make them conductive as well. The design around the Holmgren toroidal transformer and the linear power supply is also well-regulated, filtered and decoupled with different supplies from three independent secondaries.'

To be frank, I have yet to use any player above dreck-level - with the exception of some lunatic-fringe valve players - that exhibit even a hint of noise, but there seemed to be something palpably hushed about the Lyngdorf. Here's how the CD-1 behaves in a powered-on, but not-playing state: it reminded me of systems using either mains regenerators or overkill filters, from companies like PS Audio or Isol-8. If silence can have a quality - sorry to go all Lewis Carroll on you - then it's one of Stygian totality in the CD-1. You'd be hard-pressed to tell that the CD-1 is on until the music issues forth - even if you turn the volume way up with nothing playing - and the net result is a deliciously pure canvas against which to display the music.

But silence is not what we're here for: it's the playback that matters. The CD-1 is built around a Philips audio CD mechanism, 'designed for audio,' Lyngdorf emphasises, not a universal or CD-ROM mechanism. 'The reason for designing for CD rather than DVD/SACD is obvious from a musical point of view. All DVD/SACD drives are based on video designs and clocks, and the output is re-sampled (uncontrolled) to audio output clocks. So our preference is simpler and better: a good audio drive, a clean clock on the drive and external optimisation. We have chosen to get the signal [off the CD] as cleanly as possible and do the last final cleaning based on our precision clock system close to the output stage.'

Lyngdorf's experience with all-matters-digital is vast, not least because of the aforementioned work on true digital amplifiers. Without nods to false modesty, the company says, 'We know what clocks are supposed to do and what they don't do, so we have taken the best clock we have found, from our work with the Millennium digital amplifier, and implemented it within the CD-1. The key here is low phase noise in the audio band.'

Lyngdorf has no doubts about the benefits of upsampling the output. Rapoport continued, 'First, we use the sample rate converter, the best on the market, for attenuating jitter to a very low level on the output. Secondly, we enhance the audio quality by upsampling to 24 bits at a higher rate. You can be assured of the differences just by listening to the output - and getting the output frequency away from the 44.1kHz input can do very nice things to the sound. But the best is that some people prefer 48kHz, I actually prefer 96khz finding it delivers more colour and flow, while Peter likes the 192kHz, which to his ears sounds smoother. But I have not met anybody preferring the 44.1kHz output.'

No argument here - I found it the same with other upsamplers I've tried, including the Musical Fidelity kW 25...but then I've still got a warm spot in my heart for one or two players that date from the era before upsampling or high bit rates, so Lyngdorf's inclusion of user-selectable rates is another 'fun area' for inveterate tweakers. To look at it another way, surely the ability to play around with sampling rates is the CD surrogate for user-adjustable impedances with m-c phono cartridges? And don't you dare tell me - if you're a vinyl user such as I - that you haven't had many hours of gleeful pleasure fiddling phono stage switches.

It's worth pointing out here that this facility makes it more difficult to assess a player, because you can - literally - tweak it from disc to disc. Does the reviewer assess it at 44.1kHz to level the playing field? Or find the best setting per disc? What I did, to keep from going nuts, is listen again and again at various settings, eventually settling - as David did - on 96kHz as the best 'universal' position.

The input to the DAC section is upsampled to 96kHz, and that's fixed, by the way, '...but here the sample rate converter is also used for taking care of another drawback of modern DACs. The resampling for the DAC has a negative gain of -2dB, and the re-sampling filters take care of the inter-sample clipping problems (of which not many are aware) in a very delicate way.

'In modern CDs, the level is very high, and by analysis you will often find several "max" samples in a row indicating something is clipping, away from the original signal. With this kind of input most DACs sound very bad and their often fine specifications will suffer to a high degree in the conversion process. But in the sample rate converter the signal is treated differently: after attenuation, the output is low-pass filtered to reshape the signal. This eases the burden on the modulator in the DAC. This, of course, loses a couple of dB in dynamic range of the DAC, but is well worth it when you hear the result.'

The CD-1's DAC is built around the Wolfson WM8740. The company admits that it is, '...perhaps not the best performing DAC on the bench, but in our balanced design, with very fine audio op amps, the sonic quality is outstanding.' The analogue output can be attenuated from a high level, for matching the Lyngdorf amplifiers, to a lower line level; additionally, the analogue section can be powered down completely if the user wants to use the CD-1 as a transport-only, thus optimising its performance even further.

Housed in a sleek, 450x357x100mm (WDH) enclosure - those dimension including all protrusions - the CD-1 is a handsome device with a surprisingly clean, if not quite minimalist front panel. A comprehensive remote control helps here, a 36-button affair that also operates other Lyngdorf products. Also aiding the absence of clutter is the 'Skip Wheel' for play and select functions at the extreme right, which features a press button encircled by a press-ring that will be instantly familiar to iPod users, gamers and mobile phone abusers. For old farts, there is still an array of conventional transport buttons below the display, including a menu button for accessing the user-adjustable settings.

Naturally, it has a few of its own quirks to address, which - rather than upset you - should be regarded as evidence that Lyngdorf didn't simply badge-engineer someone else's design. For example, the remote might not operate the player unless the CD button is pressed. This only needs to be done once. David admitted that, 'I made this mistake and gnashed my teeth until my colleague pointed out the issue.' You have a choice of on/off or standby from two separate buttons on the extreme left. And you will certainly want to read the 21-page manual if you hope to get your money's worth out of the CD-1.

Among the facilities accessed by the menu button are: the variable gain to match the analogue output with the sensitivity of your preamplifier input; access to the user-selectable upsampling frequencies of 44.1, 48, 96 and 192khz; switching off analogue outputs for using the CD-1 solely as a transport; display brightness; repeat and random play; communications modes.

A varied selection of outputs will endear it to enthusiasts: both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (phono) analogue outputs, and transformer-coupled digital outputs - to eliminating earth loops - via Toslink optical, AES XLR and co-axial SPDIF. The CD-1 also has a pair of RS232-compatible R&45 sockets for connecting a PC for firmware upgrades, for linking it to all-Lyngdorf systems, for daisy-chaining components, or for incorporation into custom installations. Mains enters through a three-pin IEC socket.

What stood out above all the CD-1's qualities - apparent from the very instant I turned on an already-run-in machine - were the cavernous, open sense of space and the phenomenal retrieval of low level detail. And here, yet again, I expect to upset some of you: my first action was to play two copies of Candido & Graciela's Inolvidable (Chesky JD249), one treated by the Golden Sound magic chip. For whatever reason, this player responded even more vividly to the tweak, and it was most easily perceived with the disc's bass.

Inolvidable is rhythmic, flowing Cuban music and it's a challenge for any system. What the CD-1 pulled out was even greater atmosphere, more air, wider dynamics, but - as far as the lower registers are concerned - far better presentation due almost entirely to subtle, barely perceived clues at the best of times. Added mass, tighter transients, smoother decay: if you like your music to have a solid, palpable presence, and your speakers and room can handle it without going all woofy and woolly, the CD-1 will have you grinning from ear to ear.

Read more about the performance of the CD-1 on Page 2.

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HTR Product Rating for Lyngdorf CD-1 Player

Criteria Rating

Performance

4

Value

4

Overall

4

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