For those of us who are not quite willing to get rid of our CD players in favor of a single component capable of DVD and CD playback, perhaps a solution has finally appeared. While certainly not in the "budget" price category, the new Thule Space 250B/II, appears able to do everything that a true audiophile could ask for and a spectacular job of playing DVDs as well.
The extremely elegant and well-thought out player is sure to fit nicely in just about any surrounding. Care was taken to lay out the front panel so that the only controls are those most used; the rest of the controls are found on the remote. In fact, in some ways, it might look more like a higher end CD player then a fully functional DVD player when you first take it out of the box. However, after you put in your first movie, you will find that the 250B/II can do far more than just make beautiful music.
Unique Features - The Space 250B is the at highest end of the Thule line of DVD players. It includes not only standard unbalanced stereo outputs, but adds balanced outputs as well. For those who have a system that accepts the balanced inputs it is indeed a welcome feature, allowing the player to use a technology that can cut down on the amount of noise generated from the component to the preamplifier. It also adds another way of connecting the player with the preamplifier, if required.
To make the player even more attractive the 250B/II replaces the standard 24/96 DACs with an upsampling 24/192 board. For those of you not familiar with this process, it takes the sound information stored on the format and, through advanced technology, creates a more detailed version of the original. The end result is that your CDs will sound far more like the newer SACD and DVD-A high fidelity formats then you might ever have thought possible. However, if you still prefer your outboard DAC, the unit has a standard digital coaxial and optical connection.
The CD playback mode of this particular player even allows for the storage of up to 100 tracks over a variety of CDs. This makes it possible to select favorites and store them so that the next time you pop in your favorite disc you are whirled directly to your favorite track rather then having to flip till you find it. If, like me, you happen to exceed the limit, it deletes the least used selection from the list, a feature that keeps the most used tracks in memory rather then only the most recently entered. What a difference a little feature like this can make when you really don't want to do more than put the CD in and listen.
The move from the audio CD world to the digital world of DVD is painless. If you didn't happen to catch the indicator on the front of the unit, which tells if you are playing a DVD or CD, you might not even know. In fact, the player even uses a dedicated dual laser drive, one of DVD and the other for true audio discs, making the speed of reading the different types of discs far more rapid than many other units sold in today's marketplace.
The video can be transmitted in a variety of formats, composite, S-Video, component and RGB. While the component output is only available in interlaced format, the 10/80 video DAC makes it visually impressive. In fact, with few exceptions, I found its picture to be equal or better then many players boasting non-interlaced video output.
One other unique feature of this player is its two-second anti-scratch/shock function. I found that, although it might take a moment longer to begin playback, even on a severely scratched disc that other players wouldn't accept, it did a fairly good job of not only reading the disc, but playing it back as well. This was true for both CD and DVD formats.
Click to Page 2 for Installation, Evaluation, and the Final Take.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - The setup of the 250B/II couldn't be simpler. Once the video output is connected, the menus for both video and audio are basically the same and easy to use. Most of the options are pretty self explanatory such as digital out, TV shape, and auto play. About the only option I found that wasn't intuitive was one tided stereo which toggles between stereo, Dolby surround and 3D, but once you fiddled with it, you could tell what it did to the sound output, and make your selection accordingly. Personally I left the selection on Stereo since it really is the most true to the music itself; I am a bit of a purist.
Other selections you can make during the setup process will center the Thule logo on the screen, setup parental controls and enable the FTS (favorite track selection) for audio CDs. After that it's a question of hooking up the audio and digital outputs.
Final Take - One feature that drew me to this particular player was the upsampling capabilities of the 24/192 DACs in the unit. I was certainly not disappointed. My first selection was a new release from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, Low Budget by the Kinks. Without sounding like the poster child for this particular album, I found its CD layer to be almost as good as the SACD version that is also included on the title. That was before I heard it on this particular player. After a few moments I found myself more involved with the music then I had been even with the higher fidelity format. It was as though the music had become far less constrained and the Zu Druid 2 speakers that I was using to sample the stereo reproduction were allowed to achieve their full potential.
After moving the component into my home theater system, I first tested the DVD playback capabilities. Like the audio playback, the DVD playback was exceptional as well. I need to mention from the opening menus on the superbit version of Heavy Metal, I began to wonder why I it was so important that a DVD player have non-interlaced capabilities. In fact, there were parts of the movie that until watching on this player, I had let go unnoticed. The only video faults I could find were on the menu where a selection caused a momentary blur of the picture, and the end credits wording appeared a little jagged.
DVD-Audio playback was equally impressive. I not only found myself becoming more engrossed in the soundtracks of my reference movies, including, Lord of the Rings, but discovering passages I felt otherwise uninteresting become new sources of enjoyment. Something that again makes me cite the strengths of the playback system.
In short, the Space 250B/II might well represent one of the best choices on the market for an audiophile who wants to have a DVD player in their system. While not totally without its issues, it nevertheless is a contender in my mind for top honors in the market's current offerings. I can tell you that if I were in the market for a new player and sound was chief amongst my requirements this would be the
component I would include in my system.
Thule Space 250B/II DVD Player
Dimensions: 420mm wide X 300mm deep
X 90 mm high
1-year limited warranty