Conditioning, no matter how strong your will, is hard to defy. As a former Oracle Delphi owner, I learned the true meaning of 'love-hate relationships' over a period of many years. No matter how utterly gorgeous the device, no matter how sublime the sound, the Oracle was - purely and simply - a pain in the arse. And if you think I'm having a tough time resisting sexist analogies about high-maintenance women, you're absolutely right.
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So it was with recognition I received the Oracle CD2500 CD player and DAC1000 converter/pre-amp for review. I knew, to my very DNA, that this would be the digital equivalent of The Prettiest Turntable In The History of the Known Universe. And that it would frustrate me as much as did its analogue forbear. Oh, sure, the guys from RPM set up the Oracle components with the deft swiftness needed to install headphones, but, hey, the review sample was already configured and run-in. They couldn't fool me.
Maybe sodium pentothal would have gotten them to admit to some long, drawn-out set-up procedure, about springs and damping material and imbalances and scored knuckles and cursing and frustration. No matter how much they may deny it, the CD2500 floats on a suspension derived from that of the record deck. And if I never have to assemble another Oracle Delphi, I wouldn't feel cheated of any audiophilic bliss. It made a Hadcock look like a Rega.
But here's why Oracle still sets hearts a'fluttering: the CD2500 and its matching DAC/pre-amp are so dazzlingly beautiful that they shame all others. The original Delphi is, a quarter-century on, the most handsome record spinner of all time, the one that truly broke the wooden-rectangular-plinth mould. And it performed. It just needed constant readjusting, while its owner needed infinite patience. I suspect that the CD player/transport has evolved beyond that, but I felt my sphincter tighten the instant I saw the dreaded spacer tool for levelling the pillar suspension.
Be that as it may, I would expect the dealer to suffer this, given that the CD2500 costs a heady £7699. For that, they should also throw in a kilo of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee and some Advil. Once it's up and running, there are only two twinges in the tush to contend with, and I would put up with neither, the first because I cannot abide top-loaders.
It's not enough that the Oracle uses a puck. It also has a separate domed cover to prettify what is already the Ava Gardner of CD players. You can leave off the outer lid when you play a disc, but not the puck. And it is a fiddly little bastard to use.
Pain No. 2?: You have to memorise the five buttons across the front, because Oracle chose not to provide icons identifying them. Call me a complete moron, but even after a couple of months, I found myself hitting disc re-set when I wanted stop. And play is second from the right. Bloody French (Canadians).
Beyond that, there's not a lot to worry about with the player. (It's also available in a transport-only form as the CD2000.) The outboard power supply connects with a computer-style plug, and outputs are limited to a pair of analogue outputs via Cardas rhodium-plated RCA sockets, and a single digital output in the form of a 75 ohm BNC socket. Oracle uses Philips' CDM 12.4 Pro turntable mechanism, which they selected because, '...of its ease of upgrade to next generation technology, and of course its sonic capabilities.' To commend Oracle, the Delphi was always upgradeable if you had the fortitude, and this carries over to the digital players. The DAC? A Cirrus Logic Crystal one-bit chipset.
I ran the analogue output of the CD2500 into the McIntosh C2200 pre-amp for standalone assessment, alongside the DAC1000. I also fed the CD2500 into the Marantz DAC-12 and the Musical Fidelity X-DAC V3, for comparison with the DAC1000. This, of course, is much more than a mere DAC, and is something of a bargain at £4199. You see, it's also a full-function, remote control two-channel pre-amp.
Its DAC section upsamples to 192kHz/24-bit, its heart is a true 24-bit Delta-Sigma DAC with sixth order low pass digital filter, and it offers fixed or variable Cirrus Logic CS3310 volume control with 120 steps for direct connection to a power amplifier. The front panel controls deal with input selection, record selection, upsampling levels of bypass (44.1kHz), 48kHz, 96kHz and 192kHz, volume up/down and standby, while the remote adds mute, display functions and brightness.
Specification is typically impressive: harmonic distortion 133dB; dynamic range 142dB; signal noise to ratio 120dB; dynamic range 110dB; distortion 0.003%, 10kHz;
frequency response 10-55kHz. Inputs and outputs are more than ample for even complex installations, although you might crave more analogue inputs.* For digital inputs, there are two AES/EBU XLRs, two coaxial and two Toslink optical, while digital outputs include one AES/EBU XLR, two coaxial and one Toslink.
Analogue input is handled by one RCA unbalanced stereo and one XLR balanced stereo, with an RCA unbalanced stereo and an XLR balanced stereo analogue output . Additionally, the rear panel contains pair of inputs to allow the DAC1000 to integrate with a multi-channel home theatre system, a 12V trigger and a switch to choose between fixed and variable output. The 12kg DAC1000 occupies a space of 480x100x400mm, and you can site the CD2500 on top of it.
Once you've stopped drooling over the pair, you can settle back and assess its style. The CD2500 is clearly aimed at the user who just can't break away from the topology of vinyl records, and you enjoy a frisson of that procedure every time you use it...despite my reservation about top-loaders. This player is functional sculpture that simply arrests the viewer. So, too, the DAC, which shows that rectangular chassis needn't be ugly. The sides swoop into the centre, not unlike Tim DeParavicini's flagship Yoshino preamp, and the brushed satin finish, protected by a clear lacquer, is worthy of a fine wristwatch.Read more about the DAC 1000/CD 25000 on Page 2.