Soliciting negatives about CD from an audio audience is too easy a way to start a pub-level row. Do it at a hi-fi show, in a shop on a Saturday – wherever hi-fi nuts meet, it's as good a way as any to start fights and establish sides. I'm offering, as this month's 'friendly row' topic, the hoary old chestnut about CD removing the fun from hi-fi because it's not as 'hands-on' and involving a format as LP. It deprives us of much of the lunacy which made hi-fi so amusing. But I didn't allow for the likes of Yves-Bernard Andre of YBA, a man who could tweak a bowling ball. And his YBA CD 2 is about as tweaky a player as I can name, despite its almost prosaic looks.
As with Naim, Krell and a few others, this is a top-loader. (Top-vs-front loading is another great debate issue...) And that's where the fun starts. Why? Because this machine can be tuned infinitely, according to whether or not the lid is shut or how far you closed it, since the lid slides manually and you can leave it anywhere. Mess around with the lighting in your room, then fiddle with the sliding door and you can imagine why Settlers sales will shoot through the roof should the YBA sell in great numbers.
Not that any £2999 CD player will move in the hundreds, let alone dozens. And this one does have all of the ingredients (besides novelty) which justify such a lofty sticker price. It has an outboard power supply as well as a power supply on the main chassis, so the CD2 needs two mains outlets – one for the transport and the other for the digital circuitry. The on-off switch is disguised as the badge, but that's only the stand-by switch; there's a main switch underneath. The nicely-machined toggle switches have minds of their own, with multiple modes you'll never remember. You have to clear memory banks just to skip tracks. You must use the supplied puck. You must use YBA cable. You must polish your discs in a fleur de lys pattern with the supplied cloth. It goes on and on. So it's a natural for those macho Boys' Own types who thought that cueing levers were for wimps.
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Underneath the audiophile lunacy is a TEAC-made transport using a triple-lens laser mounted on two low-friction metal rails, driven by a linear induction motor. The magnetic puck clamps the disc and adds to the stability. YBA designed the digital circuitry in-house, using dual 18-bit DACs; there are coaxial and TOSlink digital outputs if you want to use this just as a transport. Which kinda negates the work performed on the digital circuitry. But then this unit is aimed at non-conformists.
Given that using it is as big a pain in the butt as LP and open-reel tape ever were, it should offer special appeal to the very same people who would agree with the contentious remark I made above regarding the loss of involvement. Me? I figure that if you're going to sell out and use CD at all, you may as well go whole hog and opt for full 'ease of use'. Which – believe it or not – is also part of the YBA experience because the comprehensive remote control is so sane, so ergonomically complete that you could be working with a 200 Japanese mid-fi player. Which then strips away the main reason for considering the CD2. This is Jekyll-and-Hyde stuff, a real-world CD player from France that thinks it was made in some part of California where the sun shines on unprotected skulls.
Not that the sonics are compromised by the surfeit of facilities. This player, like the Primare, attempts to sound analogue, as do most of the ones made by people who understand music. And all of the better players succeed in lesser or greater degrees. Where the choice comes in is: do you want CD which really sounds like analogue, or (deep down inside) are you a sucker for the sound of digits?
The YBA will fool you up to a point, two aspects of its performance letting you know that it's not a turntable. For one thing, it sounds small. This device creates nicely holographic images and a well-proportioned soundstage, but you get the impression that you're in the balcony of a concert hall with a tiny stage at a point off in the distance. Then there's the bass, which is light, crisp and dry like a glass of Muscadet. Swing over to the Primare or the Vimak pairing and you wonder what happened to the bottom octave.
But what's left is small and perfectly formed, a miniature, a scaled-down impression of the musical event, a precious little Fabergé egg of a performance. The YBA CD2 is an objet d'art, a player for iconoclasts who aren't happy with 'just the sound'. This is hi-fi for the incurable audio casualty who must have a réle in the playback procedure. The CD2 has a lot of competition at the price point, but none of it is direct because this player has too much Gallic charm.
Say 'Bonjour!' to the Citroen DS of hi-fi.