Review: Raysonic 168 CD Player
Before I jump in, a little bit about my system, and methodology for selection, and equipment setup. I'm not one to change audio equipment with the frequency I change my underwear and socks. I generally spend a fair amount of time researching an audio product, before even auditioning it. Once acquired, I'll spend a lengthly period of time determining if it's aligned with my sonic preferences, while achieving my desired goals. At which point if I'm smitten, I'll hang on to it for a while. With the exception of a few cable changes, and this most recent change, a Raysonic 168, which is the subject of this review, my system has remained unchanged for the last year and a half. Current set up consist of, a pair of Selah Audio Excelarray's, which I've lived with for about five years, an Accuphase 65v cd player, run directly into my amps, which resided in my system for about 6 years, (now sold), and a pair of Channel Island D-200 mono block amps, which I've had for about a year and a half. As simple as most high end equipment is to operate, power cord, on/off switch, connect interconnect or speaker cable, I would not consider any of it, simply "plug and play". Each piece of equipment needs to be broken-in a proper length of time, and synergistically matched with necessary accessories and tweaks. Furthermore, because each piece of equipment has it's own sonic signature, some fine adjustments with speaker placement are usually in order.
I first became aware of the Raysonic about a year ago, when the 128 came out. Several things caught my attention about this player. Besides it's beautiful ascetics, it had balanced outputs, a tube output stage, and was very reasonably priced, I became immediately interested. I was looking for a possible upgrade from my Accuphase 65v, but also wanted the feature of a built-in volume control. Now a year later, the Raysonic 168 hit the market, with true differentially balanced outputs, and a built-in volume control. Although the 65v was getting on in it's years, I was still pretty happy with it's performance, and actually preferred it to the next model up, in the Accuphase line, the 75v, for which there have been many reviews. I've always been partial to the Accuphase sound, which favors organic coherency, and musicality, over players that fell into the other camp, which seem to favor hyper detail and transparency. Never the less, I was looking for an upgrade, and had my sights on the Raysonic 168.
When I first acquired the 168, it had about 200 hrs. on the RCA side, and hardly any time on the XLR's, which was how I was running it, so it was far from being fully broken-in. Although I knew it wasn't time for any serious listening, I was still very impressed with what I heard. I was expecting a looser, woollier sound with a tube output stage, but what I heard sounded very close to the tonal balance of the Accuphase, which was very neutral, yet natural and inviting, without any flab in the bottom end. I preceded to let the player burn-in for another 250 hrs. before settling into any critical listening. At the time of this review, I probably had about 300 additional hrs. on top of the 200 that was originally on it. Two things happened at this stage of the listening process, one, the question as to whether or not digital had made any significant advances in the last 10 years, was immediately answered, and two, I knew for certain that my beloved Accuphase 65v was going up for sale. I don't know exactly what contributed to the Raysonic's stellar performance, whether it was the tube output stage, or advances in D to A converters, which utilize up sampling, or both, but this player has swept me off my feet, and satisfied my nit picking analytical audiophile mind to boot. The first thing that struck me, was the liquidity and ease at which the notes and voices caressed my ears. Take for example Diana Krall's cd, Love Scenes, the first track, All Or Nothing At All. The leading edge of her voice through the Accuphase, sounded a bit hard with a slight bite to it, which I assumed was part of the recording. Listening to the same track through the Raysonic, had absolutely none of these negative traits, and instead, flowed with such grace and ease, as to leave me in a puddle on my listening chair. In combination with a more relaxed, and analog like sound, I would also add that her voice was now more fleshed out, with greater palpability and harmonic accuracy. Now if you're getting any ideas that this player may not possess extraordinary detail retrieval, P.R.A.T, (pace, rhythm and timing) bass authority, and dynamics, you would be absolutely wrong. These were the areas that I held a preconceived notion, that the Accuphase might've beaten the Raysonic, being that the Accuphase had a solid state output stage, vs. the Raysonic's tube output stage. Not just detail, but resolution was vastly superior through the Raysonic. There was a tremendous wealth of newly discovered musical information, that made listening to every cd placed under it's magnetic puck, and beautifully sculptured aluminum and plexiglas lid, a new and exciting experience. And talk about boogying, this player does it in impressive fashion! Pace, rhythm and timing, where at least on par with the Accuphase, but bass authority, bottom end extension, and dynamics were all bettered by the Raysonic. The Accuphase's bass may have been a tad bit tighter than the tubed output of the Raysonic, but that was probably the only advantage held by the Accuphase player. Of course we're taking about a player that was released in 1997, which says a lot about the Accuphase. I haven't heard any of Accuphase's newer models, but I would suspect they have improved, but at a cost much higher than that of the Raysonic. I also doubt that any solid state player can match the sheer beauty, of the music which emanates from a well executed tubed player. Other sonic areas that appeased my audiophile tastes, where top end extension, soundstage depth, width and specificity, and delineation of complex musical passages. Top end extension was really brought into focus with the sound of cymbals, and triangles, which rang and shimmered with all the sparkle one would expect from a live performance. Generally speaking, the music was much more illuminated on the top end, which helped to portray a more realistic picture of the performers laid out before me. Soundstage depth, width, and specificity were quite a jump up from the Accuphase. This was one area that I seemed to have lost a little ground, when going from a Spectron Musician II, to my present Channel Islands D-200 amps. Now with the Raysonic as the source, the soundstage has really blossomed in width, depth, height and specificity. There is definitely a more well defined acoustic space of the venue. Listening to complex musical passages through the Raysonic was phenomenal! There was no problem separating a full orchestra of instruments from each other, everything was distinctly portrayed, never overlapping or becoming smeared. I can't over state this particular trait of the Raysonic, it really is quite uncanny how it keeps it's calm, no matter what, and continues to present everything with utter clarity.
As mentioned before, I am running the player from it's balanced outputs, directly into my mono block amps, and would like to comment on it's built-in volume control and remote. The Raysonic's volume control was completely transparent, and I did not detect any degradation in sound quality with volume attenuation. Although I didn't have a preamp on hand to compare the difference, I can say this player performs as well as the Accuphase when run directly. The Accuphase was known for having a top notch volume control, and I did compare it to many preamps. The conclusion reached, was that it sounded better than most preamps I had tried, up to about the $10,000 price mark. The remote also has the same build quality as the player, and is made from a block of aluminum, no cheesy plastic here. It also has some useful functions not found on other remotes I've used. Like mute, three different dim setting for the display, on/off button for the cool blue light which emanates from the top of the player, which added really nice ambient light when listening in the dark, that happened to match the blue lights on my Channel Islands mono blocks, random play, and introduction play, which will play the first 20 or 30 seconds of every song on the disk.
To tweak or not to tweak? While listening to the Raysonic during this time, I did try several tweaks. First up was a couple of different cd mats. The Herbies Black Hole CD mat, and the Audio Prism Black Light. Both of these tweaks did make a noticeable difference with the Accuphase player, but not the Raysonic. With the Accuphase, the mats helped produce a slightly smoother sound, with better low level detail. I suspect the reason the mats did not help with the Raysoinc, was because of the magnetic puck which claps down on top of the disk, making any additional mass loading a moot point. Next up, I tried some DH ceramic cones. These did make a very noticeable difference in the sound. The cones helped to tighten the bass up quite a bit, and also improved image focus and specificity. Lastly, I tried a Virtual Dynamics Audition power cord. This cord helped improve the sound of the Accuphase quite a bit, but again, not much difference with the Raysonic. I'm not exactly sure why that was, but if I had to take a guess, I'd say the Raysonic was affected less by RFI and EMI coming through the wall outlet, than the Accuphase was.
In conclusion, the Raysonic was definitely in harmony with my sonic preferences, while achieving my desired goals. I was looking for a more relaxed, analog like sound, with greater harmonic richness and texture, along with increased resolution, detail and soundstaging. On top of achieving those goals, the Raysonic has done so with sleek styling, impressive build quality, and at a price which seems far lower, than one would expect to pay for a cd player of this caliber. Although I haven't compared it to todays comparably priced players, or top flight contenders, I do have a friend, who's ears I trust, who also purchased a 168, who has heard many of them, a Cary 306 SACD being one of them, and who also has a top flight analog rig. He has mentioned to me that since purchasing the Raysonic 168, he hasn't played an LP. Not necessarily because the Raysonic is better than his analog rig, but because of the convenience of cd, coupled with the fact that it has come closer to matching his analog rig, than any other cd player that has passed through his system, which the exception of SACD's played through the Cary. Enough said.
Selah Audio Excelarray's
Channel Island D-200 mono block amps