Review: TRL CDP Modified Sony DVP-NS900V CD Player

Category: Digital


Another member was kind enough to bring over his friend’s $18k Meitner CDP. Did I say $18k? We all need more friends like this. We compared it in my system to a Sony DVP-NS900V SACD/DVD player modified by Tube Research Labs (TRL).

The Meitner is a huge, impressive & handsome 2-box affair. I don’t know much about it because this was my first exposure with it in person. Ed Meitner is an old acquaintance. In the mid-late ‘80s we met several times at CES & socialized together. I liked Ed. He is like a normal guy only much smarter. He likes to laugh. He has a good sense of humor. He lives in Canada. I believe my friend said Ed invented DSD. Ed designs & manufactures some of the most advanced DSD recording systems in the world. He has done a lot of engineering work for Sony. I guessed there were about 200 Meitner SACD/CDP in existence & asked the member if this was about right. He thought that was a reasonable estimate.

Ed introduced us all to the concept of CD jitter. The earlier Meitner transports employed a Philips SACD 1000 CD mechanism. (As most know by now, there are probably no SACD1000’s in use in the field any more. A particular chip was found to have a virtually 100% failure rate. A properly designed replacement chip was never made available & probably never was built. I owned at least three SACD1000’s. All three failed. It was weird having The Good Guys give me 100% cash refund because it could not be repaired & there was no appropriate replacement piece available about 1.5 years after purchase. The warranty was two years-woops Philips & Good Guys! GG is gone now. It’s interesting that my ’04-‘05 $125 Pioneer DV563 universal player sounds better playing CD’s than did the originally $2k SACD1000. But I digress.)

Latter Meitner transports including the unit I sampled employed a latter Philips SACD mechanism. Philips apparently has since stopped manufacturing transport mechanisms for audio use. The transport & DAC are connected by an elaborate junction of optical digital cords (at least three) whereby the clock in the DAC syncs the clock in the transport, thereby allegedly minimizing jitter.

My friendly AC member had been using the Meitner for some time & had never turned it off. It took us about 5 minutes of trying to load & read a CD for the transport to finally lock in & play music. For the aforementioned 5 minutes it kept making a chirping sound like a belt on a mouse’s treadmill was slipping. I asked if the owner had fed the mouse lately, but he was not amused. I think I would have responded similarly if the roles were reversed. I officially apologize.

TRL used to make insanely expensive tube amps in the $100k range. They now state their affordable SS amps beat the most expensive tube amps they ever made. Their SS amps are about 225W & only cost about $5k (don’t quote me). They also make a non-remote integrated. One dartZeel owner said the early SS TRL amp was not quite as good in the midrange as the dartZeel. He believes the current TRL amps equal or beat his dartZeel.

My TRL CDP is very plain looking, almost drab. It looks like a stock Sony except for a little TRL strip that looks like a Dymo-label reading, “modified by Tube Research Labs”. It has no tubes. All the modifications are silicone. (Is it time for TRL to change their name to “Transistor Research Labs”?) I paid $450 for the stock Sony & about $800 or so for the mod. The mod was delivered 3/06. This mod has several upgrades vs. the earlier models & TRL states the upgrades are significant. I believe them. If you heard an earlier model I’d not judge it equal to this one.

There is now a further upgrade costing about the same amount again: A rechargeable battery pack. TRL says it’s well worth it.

All the OEM Sony video circuits are kaput. Only the stereo front channels remain. It does still play SACD. I have few SACD discs & don’t listen much. CD’s on this sucker sound probably better than SACD anyway, which have some amusical quality I can’t describe. Sorry.

My TRL was auditioned first. I listened to the main theme from the Sabrina movie (remake) soundtrack by John Williams. When we first heard the Meitner after the TRL I was disappointed. There was no doubt the TRL was better throughout & in every way.

We of course decided the Meitner needed time to warm up. We played music at moderate levels, sometimes listening closely sometimes talking. We then got back to more serious listening. The staging & breathing dynamics opened up considerably. The Meitner has about the largest staging you are likely to ever hear. In that single regard it may well be the best available. It has a very impressive breadth of presentation & very good macro dynamic contrast. Around this time we heard the wonderful "Sera Una Noche" by the MA Company, disc MO52A. Utterly huge natural hall effects.

Here’s where the TRL exceeded the Meitner: Musicality, emotional reaction to the music, more distinct image outlines & differentiation of fine & faint musical lines.

Most telling when it was over is that the friendly AC member thought the TRL was a closer fit for his musical tastes vs. the Meitner. If that’s not saying a lot I don’t know what is. The member’s system is comprised of Avant Garde Duo’s & tube amplification. He has experience w/ well-sorted systems costing well over $100k.

I heard that one owner of the Reimyo CDP (similar price to Meitner) traded for the TRL. I know of one owner of a Marantz SA-1 with about $5k worth of mods who thought the TRL (earlier vintage vs. mine) blew away his Marantz.

I still say the TRL is a true giant-killer. Too bad there’s not an optional extra-cost high-class OEM natural-color aluminum TRL faceplate. I’d like the remote & faceplate to not have all the now-useless video & programming functions.

My 2c; YMMV.

Associated gear
TRL CDP 3/06, Pathos Classic One Mk3 control & ribbon array amp, Jack Elliano recipe speaker-to- line attenuator, ATI 1802 bass amp, VMPS RM30C new 8/06 Supermax OXO BH5 CDW TRT MLS seamless piano black, Stan Warren wire recipe throughout, bass-ceiling soffit equivalent to $8k ASC system, Room Tunes, symmetrical boundaries/furnishings, dedicated 20A line, hospital outlets, protected by Bay Alarm Co...

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Great review, Spkrplus! I also own the TRL Sony 900V mod and was very impressed with it initially. After talking to Paul at TRL, I decided to send it back for a battery powered upgrade. With the battery powered mod, the unit sounds even better than the standard mod. Unfortunately it didn't last long as my player stopped working (from a bad power surge?) It's back at TRL for repair. I suggest you should get the battery powered'll be very amazed by what it can do.
Excellent review.
I earlier owned TRL moddded Sony SACD2000ES - which replaced a more expensive Arcam CD192 Player - earlier I had Bel Canto DAC2. TRL Sony 2000ES was better in all areas than my previous digital play back. I had a fellow audiogon member come to my apartment to pick a couple of items he wanted to buy from me. After listening to my system - he said my system sounded better than his much more expensive system - which included a used CD player for which he paid $3000.

Now I am going for all TRL system. At some point I'll get the Pre-amp modded too. Currently all cables are TRL. BTW - I realized what what CTL Power Cord was doing when I took it out of my system! When I replaced CRL cable with some other cable - the "magic" in my system was gone - gone was the air, the immediacy and lifelike nature of the system.

What does Paul do - yes we all know the details are his trade secret but one thing he tells everyone is that he drops the noise floor and gets rid of RFI and EMI. He does that to the CD mod too.

Since then I have upgraded to TRL Sony NV900. Apparently the battery powered Sony NV900 player is even better - it gets formidably close to the orignal recording tapes.

May be it is good thing that not so many people believe that TRL's relatively cheap mod can get you closer to the musical nirvana then a mega-buck system ;)

Cheers. Enjoy the music!