Simaudio Orbiter Universal Player Reviewed

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Sim_audio_orbiter_universal_player.gifSimaudio is one of those great companies that inevitably focuses on excellent audio quality and cool design. When they announced a universal player, I jumped on the chance to actually review one, and they were generous enough to send one out to me.

The Orbiter is styled to resemble the rest of their home theater line, with a red LED and front "nose" that makes the player look vaguely like Darth Vader. This unit's build quality is not only excellent, but the uniqueness of the Simaudio look is attractive to many buyers.

Additional Resources

Unique Features - Although SACD and DVD-Audio have lost some momentum, there are still many great high resolution discs coming out, making a good universal player very desirable. The amazing, detailed resolution of these recordings, combined with the lack of a digital link (making the need for a good analog audio stage acute), makes a player such as the $7150 Orbiter something every audiophile with a serious system should consider.

The video section of the Orbiter can output a 480p signal via either a component output or a DVI output. This player is based on the Pioneer transport, but the deinterlacing duties are handled by the Silicon Image Si1504, a well acclaimed chipset. Although SDI is an available option for $1000, a DVI output is standard.
The one thing that is becoming commonplace on many higher-end players is upscaling to 720p and 1080i but, unfortunately, this is not available with the Silicon Image chipset. Still, this setup is an excellent start for a video subsystem. Where Simaudio's true specialty comes into play is the audio section. Burr Brown
PCM1738 24 bit/192 kHz DAC's are used to decode audio for both two-channel and 5.1 output. One of the nice things about the Orbiter is that it does not convert DSD to PSM, so it handles both streams natively.

One of the reasons that the Orbiter is so expensive is that it has eight power supplies: two each for analog video, analog audio, digital audio and video, and the transport. It is rare to find such construction detail in a universal player, but this makes a significant contribution to the Orbiter's excellent performance.

Connectivity is full-featured, with three different choices for digital output, component, composite, S-Video, and DVI outputs, RS-232 port, and 5.1 single-ended audio outputs.

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - The Orbiter was set up in my system which consists of a 50" Fujitsu plasma, the Anthem Statement D1 processor, the Halo A51 amplifier, Krell DVD Standard, Monster HTS7000 balanced power unit, and KEF Reference 207/204c/201 speakers. Subwoofer duties were handled by my REL Strata III. Interconnects used were by Wireworld and AudioQuest, and speaker cables were the Wireworld Silver Eclipse 5.

The back panel is, thankfully, clean and uncluttered, with lots of room for connections. I would love to have seen balanced outputs, but I have yet to review a universal player that has such.

Read more on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Simaudio Orbiter Universal Player

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The menu system is actually quite good, with easy to understand graphics, and a very straightforward setup. Although there is an initial setup "wizard" (the Setup Navigator), I preferred just going into the menu and doing it myself. After letting the Orbiter run in over a period of time, I calibrated the picture controls using Video Essentials.

Bass management appears to be, in basic form, similar to many other universal players, but I set all of my speakers (KEF Reference 207/201/204C to Large. The remote is standard plastic fare. I wish it was as special looking as the Orbiter itself. It does function well though, and has a handy jog dial for changing playback and slow motion -- something that is handy and rarely found anymore.

Final Take - First up for testing was picture quality while watching movies. The picture quality is clean, crisp, and smooth with the DVI output. De-interlacing is excellent, and the overall quality of the picture compared favorably with my reference Krell DVD Standard, but was not quite as good. The Krell just seems a bit sharper, a bit crisper, and a bit cleaner. Although I have seen some minor improvements with upscaling to 720p, when the video player is of high qualitylike the Orbiter, the picture quality leaves little to desire. Good video performance is an important feature of this, as many universal players in the past had good audio or good video, but rarely both.

The real essence of this player is audio, and it is in this area the Orbiter simply excels. Starting with DVD-Audio, the sound was very neutral and smooth. In fact, this is one of the few players that actually sounds neutral, with a very smooth, clean and detailed top end, a midrange that is not laid back or thrust forward, and an excellent, crisp, non-exaggerated bass response. There is excellent delineation of instruments, lots of space around them, and the soundstage thrown is large and deep. In the world of audiophiles, this is praise of the highest order. In many ways, this player is so neutral that some people may actually find it a bit too laid back, but I happen to disagree.

SACD is handled with similar verve, and there seems to be little difference to my ears with this player's capabilities with either DVD-A or SACD. A significant number of universal players sound different for DVD-A and SACD, and usually handle one better than the other. The Orbiter does not have this problem; it is equally clear, crisp and neutral with SACD also. The performance on both of these formats is among the best that I have heard from a universal player.

Two channel CDs are also handled very well, and the Orbiter throws up a nice wide, deep soundstage. Again the sound is very smooth, non-fatiguing and neutral. This player is very accomplished audio wise, and I simply enjoyed it immensely. There is also a front panel switch to turn off the video section while using the audio in case of intereference -- my humble ears could not tell the difference, but it is nice to have.

The player does a wonderful job as a transport and has TosLink, S/PDIF (BNC and RCA) and AES/EBU digital outputs. For the 5.1 analog audio outputs, only single-ended RCA connections are provided. I would have loved to see balanced outputs, if only for the front two channels. There is the aforementioned SDI output, which may not be a bad idea as the signal can just be transferred straight to a video processor, and even the DVI output can do the same with certain processors today.

So what's the downside of spending $7100 on this player? Mainly, the huge, smoking hole it leaves in your bank account, but little else. I wish the remote was a little more special looking and laid out better. I would have liked to see up-scaling and perhaps just a slightly crisper, cleaner video performance, but now I am nitpicking. Lastly, the aforementioned lack of balanced outputs, which are very uncommon on universal players anyway. This piece is an audiophile's delight, and if you want one of the best universal players that money can buy, the
Orbiter should be on your short list and I do highly recommend it.

Additional Resources

Simaudio Orbiter Universal Player
Signal to noise ration: 117dB
Formats: CD, SACD, DVD-V, DVD-A, VCD,
Silicon Images SiI504 video scan converter
10-bit/54MHz video DACs
Internal DTS, Dolby Digital decoders
Three Burr-Brown 1738E 24-bit/192kHz audio
DACs with 8x-oversampling digital filter
Defeatable video circuit
Dimensions: 19"X/ x 6.5"H x 16.5"D
Weight: 33 lbs.
MSRP: $7,150

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