Review: Consonance CD-120 Linear CD Player
Review attempt #2
First off, thanks to all at A'gon as I would never have brought my system up to its present level without this site. And thanks for getting me back in debt.
Now to the Consonance CD-120 Linear. Its a beautiful unit in an understated way. All brushed aluminum with six buttons, three vertically arrayed on either side of the drawer and display and that's it. Even the product description: 'cd 120 linear high-end compact disc player' is printed on the lower right in very small lettering. Nice. Weighing in at 10k, it has a substantial feel but not overbuilt to the point of a bank vault as seems the trend nowadays. At back are gold plated outputs and an IEC jack, as it does benefit from a better power cord.
My tastes have gone to world music, light jazz, vocals of any sort and acoustic. I find them to be involving and satisfying in a way that rock, alternative and the like fail to do for me now.
To my ears, balance is key as I don't want any part of the frequency spectrum to dominate. That and I don't want congestion or homoginizing of sound, making it difficult follow the music. Well, balance this unit has and it excels in unraveling the music. At first, it seems a bit polite until you realize that everything in balanced and has a full and natural presentation. You can follow any and all parts of the music and end up reveling, gestalt like, in the whole. I find myself picking out various lines, styles, and interplay that was not possible before. I can even tell when an engineer plays with the recording as background level changes become very apparent but this is not to the point of distraction. It just goes to show how utterly revealing this CDP is. Unraveling music to the point of a natural recording venue is quite a feat and this unit does it in stride.
Highs don't make you wince. Cymbals shimmer and decay in all directions, Even long, high notes decay well into the music as it plays: its soooo easy to discern and follow. Vocalsist sound quite real as you can hear the notes forming in their chest and throats. There's more anatomy to the singers making it more realistic. Drums have ther own distinct, separate, tuned sound making them more 3-D. Drumkits are spread out before you. Guitars are sublimely rendered. Plucking, fingerplay, strumming with the base of the fingers or nails are easily discerned. Cellos have that initial bite followed by the pull of the wand. You can folow the intensity of that pull to the end. Spooky good. Piano has that crisp tinkle of the intial hit, no matter how soft or hard. Good recordings allow you to hear the interplay of the adjoining strings as they vibrate in sympathy. Foot pedals are heard as they play on the notes. But all of this is not to the point of distraction. Its just more realistic.
Norah Jones had overstayed her welcome in my rotation until the arrival of this CDP. Its like hearing her for the first time. Her voice is so sweet and tender, powerful and frail when called for. To hear her trail off and vary her voice to the end, followed by that last breathy exhale makes her appear to be in the room in front of you. The same goes for Diana Krall. Yes, her voice is sexy and husky, but not as much as my old Rotel RCD-971 portrayed. She has softness and delicacy and she, too, can play her voice as it trails off, giving that illusion of being there. It seems that anything that is on the recording is going to come out upon listening. I can even hear the breathing of a guitarist, taken in large amounts, spaced apart. as he plays difficult passages. It makes for a very real presentation.
I can't really comment on soundstaging as I listen in the nearfield. Suffice to say that I can detect music about two feet outside the speakers and the soundstage is at least 7' tall, down to the floor, when called for. Image don't waver and are very stable.
If I seem to concentrate on detail and delicacy over forcefulness and ham-handedness, this is due, in part, to my speakers and my preferences. My speakers are Decware 1.5s and they complement the Consonance very nicely. The main driver is an inverted cone that fires up and outwards with only the ribbon tweeter (3000Kz and up) facing the listener. The sound is difuse yet alive when it reaches my ears and I now prefer this to the 'in your face' that most other speakers portray. Instead of muscians being in your lap, you are at the venue. So my descriptions may make this unit sound effete and poilite but that would be a big mistake. Dynamics and transients are powerful and handled with aplomb. There's just no exageration. Maybe its because there are no digital filters, opamps, up, and over sampling to round out and approximate the sound. Maybe this is closer to a 'master tape' sound. I can't really say although I like it alot. I've never felt the need to replace my Rotel as I found the sound of the units I've listened to, in my price range, to be just different, not better.
As for how this fares against SACD, I going to go out on a limb state that this player, on Redbook, is on par with SACD. Granted, my exposure to SACD is very limited but what I heard didn't impress me much. I recently got a Sony DVP-NS90V dvd player that has SACD and it sounds like crap compared to the Consonance (the video is fantastic by the way using the HDMI hook-up). The sound is noticeably weaker and closed in. I know this is not fairly representative of SACD but I'm keeping to my price point and realize that there are SACD units out there that will give this unit a run for the money. but, again, at what cost?
My only caveat is a drawer with a mind of its own. In the first week or so, it would close right after opening about a third of the time! Now it meerly amuses me when it occasionally happens.
In my search for a new CDP I had hoped for someone to take the success of the stand alone 16 bit DACs and incorporate it in one box CDP and it took Opera Audio to do it. Bravo Opera Audio! I know that Audio Note did it before but not for the masses and at a price they could afford. It seems the Chinese wre content to follow and not inovate and here they lead with the Consonance CD-120 Linear. One only hopes that others will follow since this is better sounding and less costly to build.. This unit set me back $800 and its money well spent. It's music to my ears.
By the way, I got this from Quest For Sound and Stephen was a pleasure to deal with.
TAD moddified Cayin CA-30 tube intergrated
Decware 1.5 speakers
Maplesahde Ultraribbon interconnects
Mapleshade Golden Helix speaker cables
Herbie's tenderfeet, Grungebuster 2 CD mat, Halo tube dampers
older version Tube Audio Design Cryo'd power cord for CA-30
GTT Group power cords for Consonance CDP & Cypress sub
Silclear on all connections
Lotus Groups cryo'd Pass & Seymour 5362 outlets