Looking for a reference quality digital source that is MUSICAL can be eXtremely challenging… a digital source that you can enjoy all day long without becoming fatiguing??? A common audiophile goal is to find a digital front end that sounds natural… emotionally pulling you into the musical performance; one that doesn’t sound analytical or “digital”… characterized b having excessive soundstage compression and an “edge” or overly aggressive top end. Most of us want our digital playback to sound like a very good analog vinyl rig… very open and natural sounding… with a correct tonal balance and PRAT (pace, rhythm and timing) – but perhaps with a bit more dynamic punch.
After auditioning many digital sources in my system… I am excited to say that I have found a very special SACD/CDP… the Tube Research Labs (TRL) modified Sony DVP-NS900V… that excels in dynamics, resolution, soundstage height, width and depth, 3-Dimensionality, air and overall musicality… serving up a natural presentation with a neutral tonal balance… IMO getting us much closer to analog. The best news is that the TRL/Sony is affordable and within reach of most all audiophiles… and can be obtained… with a little searching… for approximately $1,150 ($750 for the TRL mod and $300 – $400 on the used marketplace).
I have had the opportunity to listen to some very fine sounding tweaked CDPs in my reference system… modified players that included the following:
· APL modified Denon 3910
· Reference Audio Mods modified Ah Tjoeb
· Reference Audio Mods modified Marantz SA-11S1
· Reference Audio Mods modified Denon 3910
· Reference Audio Mods modified Esoteric DV50
· Reference Audio Mods modified Samsung
While I have owned the RAM modified Ah Tjoeb silver transformer coupled CDP for years... the other above players spent only a very brief time in my system... long enough for me to get an initial impression. As with any CDP… each of the above players has its individual strengths and weaknesses… where some players were not suited tonally for my system… others didn’t provide the utmost in transparency to make my Dunlavy SCIV speakers (which I previously owned) completely disappear… which is usually indicative of a soundstaging limitation (not throwing a huge, tall, wide and DEEP soundstage).
Overall, after very brief listening sessions with the above players (although I have had extended sessions with the modified transformer coupled Ah Tjoeb which I own), I was left with the impression that I was listening to a very good hi-fi system… and they did not recreate the illusion of a live event. I was left wanting. The TRL/Sony is a whole different animal.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I intentionally wrote the review to describe my satisfaction with the xtremely musical and affordable TRL/Sony DVP-NS900V... and not to criticize players I have had in my system for a brief listening session many months ago. The modified players from RAM and APL... as I have mentioned in several prior forum posts... are great players in their own right.
I just decided to purchase the TRL/Sony as it dramatically bettered my silver transformer coupled Ah Tjoeb... sounded exceptional at our CES room... did everything right for me on my current system... especially with respect to tonal balance, dynamics, resolution, soundstaging, openness and musicality. And the fact that one can get that type of sound for $1,200 or less was the clincher... a no-brainer if you will. Thanks Paul and Brian Weitzel of TRL!!! :)
2006 CES Show…
I first learned about the TRL/Sony by calling Paul and Brian Weitzel of Tube Research Labs when we were looking for a reference quality digital source for our VMPS/Bruce Moore/Xtreme Cables/Xtreme AV 2006 CES listening room. He told me that they had just completed a new mod… the Sony DVP-NS900V SACD player… that had become their best sounding digital player to date beating their regarded TRL/Marantz SA-14 reference player.
Brian agreed to loan me his own TRL/Sony… and I received it 2 days before I was to drive out to Las Vegas for the CES. He mentioned that the mod was relatively new… and still needed 100 – 200 hours more for break-in. So I hooked it up and ran it 24/7 on repeat for the next 48 hours… knowing that I still needed quite a bit more break-in time to sound optimal. Oh well, we would have to get as much time on it as we could once our room was set up.
Suffice to say that our room sounded very well… as it was standing room only for most of the show. We had many visitors… and repeat visitors… who just sat back and enjoyed the music! In addition, we had many reviewers stop buy (Dave and Carol Clark, Roger Gordon, Clement Perry, Frank Alles and Dick Olsher) that commented favorably in person about our overall sound… and you can read their 2006 CES show report about our room by visiting the following link:
To view a detailed list of Audio Components used in our 2006 CES room… please visit the following link:
In addition, our room did have an analog playback system… consisting of a very good sounding Michell Engineering Gyro SE MKII turntable with a Michell Techno arm and Sumiko Blackbird cartridge… all going into the excellent Bruce Moore Phono Stage of their new Nomad Preamplifier. In most all direct A/B comparisons in our room that day…the analog rig was slightly more open and a bit smoother… but the TRL/Sony player held its own and was a bit more dynamic. In the end, one wasn’t disappointed at all with the analog and digital presentations… and could easily be pulled into the music by either setup.
And it wasn’t just me or the audio reviewers who were impressed with the TRL/Sony’s performance… as all of our CES room co-exhibitors… Brian Cheney of VMPS Audio, Bob Bergner of Bruce Moore Audio Designs and myself of Xtreme Cables and Xtreme AV all purchased a TRL modified Sony DVP-NS900V for our own reference systems… and so did Positive Feedback reviewer John Beavers!
And over the past few weeks… three local audiophiles came over to the house at different times to audition my cables, QuickSilver GOLD™ and reference system… and each of them commented that “it doesn’t get much better” than what they were experiencing. And during the beginning of a listening session… one person even asked “where is your turntable”? To which I responded “the source is not analog… but digital… and this TRL modified Sony is the closest thing I have found to vinyl… all for less than $1,200!!!” And to think some people feel you need digital rigs in the $10k – $20k ranges to get this type of sound. I now know better.
Listening Evaluation & Material…
I am a big fan of huge, open airy soundstages with exceptional depth (front to back image layering), but at the same time, I need life-like dynamics and instrument weight… where there is also an immediacy or instrument-in-the-room quality to the presentation to make one believe they are listening to a live event in the comfort of home. And yes, depending on the recording, it is possible to have awesome soundstage depth, dynamic immediacy and exceptional transparency at the same time… provided that the source, cabling and associated electronic components are resolving enough and can accurately transfer the low level information throughout the chain.
I am also a believer in using only very well recorded material when I do critical listening and evaluation… to see how close to “live” a system and recording can get. From the following list… you can see that I really am into Hawaiian surfer singer/songwriter, guitarist Jack Johnson… and would recommend it to anyone looking for EXCEPTIONAL recordings; fresh, uplifting melodic music; and clever lyrics – and each of his CDs is packed with so many amazing songs!!! IMO, Jack Johnson is one of the most talented singer/songwriters to arrive on the scene in years… and it is hard to find such exceptional recordings.
Inaddition, all of my listening has been with Redbook... as I had no need to own any SACDs as my previous player (the Ah Tjoeb) was Redbook only. I am in the process of getting a couple of Patricia Barber CDs so I can do A/B comparisons to my Redbook originals... and will update the review when this is completed. Suffice to say that the TRL/Sony sounds phenomenal with Redbook CDs. And with SACDs... please give me a week to comment... although owners of the TRL/Sony DVP-NS900V perhaps can share their experiences until I can do the evaluation.
Please keep in mind that I am not by any means a professional reviewer… but I have a vast amount of experience developing reference grade audio cables and the universally loved QuickSilver GOLD Contact Enhancer. That being said, I do believe that I have an accurate and revealing system… very good ears… and an elevated reference point enough to know what is bad, good, great… and realistic sound.
1.) Jack Johnson “Brushfire Fairytales”: I like to listen to Track 5, “Flake” to listen to Tommy Jordan’s steel drum hits in the opening 18 seconds. What is amazing is the TRL/Sony’s ability to throw an expansive soundstage with exceptional front-to-back image layering. Also noteworthy is the dynamics of the snare hits throughout. Track 11, “F-Stop Blues”, is a wonderful song to hear male vocals… as the TRL/Sony makes it sound so real… so lifelike. And Track 13, “It’s All Understood” is one of my favorites showing how tight and articulate the snare hits sound… with also such a pure and natural piano. Also, prepare to be blown away when you listen to Track 8… “The News”.
2.) Jack Johnson “On and On”: The recording quality is amazing… and is one of my favorite Jack Johnson recordings!!! Track 16 titled “Symbol in My Driveway” brings the ocean surf into your listening room… demonstrating once again the TRL/Son’s ability to throw a huge expansive soundstage… with amazing front-to-back image layering. Prepare to get wet!!! I also use Track 12 titled “Cookie Jar” for the interesting guitar strum-work throughout… and I have never heard decay coming off of a Tom drum that sounds so real. And the reverb and decay sounds awesome as well.
3.) Jack Johnson “In Between Dreams”: I like to listen to Track 3, “Banana Pancakes”, to evaluate soundstage openness and soundstage depth. In the opening 20 seconds… the music is layered over a background of rain hitting the pavement… so natural and real that I feel I’m getting wet!!! With the TRL/Sony… be sure to wear your galoshes when listening to this cut!
4.) Patricia Barber “Modern Cool”: While there are many great cuts on this CD, I like to use track Number 7, Autumn Leaves, as a reference that allows me to evaluate how holographic and 3-Dimensional a CDP can be. All I can say is that with the TRL/Sony, the stand-up bass solo of this track was presented in a manner that was spookily real… the air around the musician… the sound of the creaking wood… the finger work on the neck and strings… the difficult breathing of bassist Michael Arnopol. All I can say is that the TRL/Sony did the most holographic and convincing job of any player I have ever heard… bringing Michael Arnopol into my living room!
5.) Diana Krall “Live in Paris”: Of course no evaluation would be complete without listening to some sultry female vocals, and exceptional tickling of the ivories, such as that displayed on Diana Krall’s popular “Live in Paris” audiophile recording. Audiophiles know that piano is one of the most difficult instruments to get right… with all of the complex harmonic overtones, note decays, sustain pedals, etc.
Piano doesn’t get much better than this… and the TRL/Sony takes Diana Krall to a whole new level. Her sexy and often deep vocal performance, combined with the tight bass, drums and percussive musical delights… is a feast for the ears. Prepare to be transformed to the small club in Paris (no French fries served here), as the ambient retrieval of this recording played on the TRL/Sony is so real… it is scary.
Diana Krall’s solo of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”, Track 11, is sure to send you body into “goose bump city”. Track 4, “The Look of Love”, is one of my all-time favorites… as Diana’s seductive and dynamic vocals, combined with her brilliant piano performance, and John Pisano’s beautiful acoustical guitar work… makes me a Burt Bacharach convert (at least for this song). And Track 12, Billy Joel’s “Just the Way Your Are” is a romantic delight… as Diana’s sexy voice and skilled piano playing… interesting percussive treats… with a beautiful tenor saxophone accompaniment and solo – so natural, warm and full. I must admit that my spirit gets transformed and dreams of the days of courting my wife over 20 years ago… and then I wake up to reality. At least I can still dream about it. And of course one must listen to Track 10, “Fly Me to the Moon”, and take in everything… Diana’s masterful vocals and piano playing; the accompanying drums, bass and guitar work in an exceptional recording that captures the ambience of the club.
All I can say is that if you don’t have this CD… buy it today!!! The TRL/Sony is definitely an extraordinary top performing CDP that will do this recording justice… and will make Diana come alive in your listening room (although I personally would prefer that she came alive in a different room of the house). :)
6.) Jazz in the Pawnshop: I have the FIM XRCD version… and use Track Number 1 on Disc 2 titled “Lady Be Good” for evaluation. The TRL/Sony provides such spectacular ambient retrieval and realism… transporting you to the actual venue or club setting. The background conversation, coughs, phone call, and drink-making sounds are so real and in the correct dimensional perspective that you listening room gets transformed into a bar. The saxophone sounds dynamic and real… with proper weight… and not exceedingly bright or screechy. The xylophone solo is also a treat… and the key strikes, impact and note decay sound correct… as if someone was playing a xylophone in you home.
The TRL/Sony DVP-NS900V is one exceptionally fine sounding MUSICAL player – getting us much closer to analog. It is excels in most all of the audiophile categories… resolution, neutrality, soundstaging, dynamics, transparency, instrument weight, ambience, image placement and separation, etc. Listening to your reference system will be a treat… as it emotionally pulls you into the music… allowing you to see past your stereo and enjoy the musicians’ performance. I strongly recommend this special player! And at $1,200 or less… it’s a no-brainer!!!
The bottom line… if you find a Sony DVP-NS900V… buy it!!! Then get it modified by the folks at TRL. You will not be disappointed. And if you find two… please call me… as I want another one. I am being serious here!!!
I ended up purchasing Brian Weitzel’s personal TRL/Sony that we used in our CES room.… and sent him another Sony DVP-NS900V so he could modify one for himself (I wouldn’t give his loaner back to him). The only problem is that once I gave it a home in my system… I became so engrossed in the music … wanting to listen to all of my reference CDs again and again… that I didn’t get back to work building cables for nearly 2 weeks!!!
And it gets even better… as Brian and Paul shared with me that they developed an upgraded AC and battery powered version of this Sony player (add another $750 mod cost for the battery version) – which takes the player that I now love to a whole new level!!! I can’t wait to hear it… and am going to have mine upgraded soon. The only problem is that I hate to be without my musical TRL/Sony… but Brian Weitzel assured me that he could turn it around in a week. Will keep you posted as to when I get my newly modified AC/Battery powered version… and will definitely update this review over the next 4 weeks or so.
TRL/Sony DVP-NS900V Modification Information:
Tube Research Labs
Brian Weitzel or Paul Weitzel
Phone: (509) 263-9177
Brian Kyle’s Xtreme Audio Reference System Components:
· Digital Source: TRL modified Sony DVP-NS900V SACD/CDP
· Preamp: Atma-Sphere MP3 with all current updates
· Amplifiers: Atma-Sphere MA1 Mk II.3 Silver Edition OTL Monoblock Amplifiers
· Speakers: VMPS RM-40s… tricked out with all the VMPS options… plus Xtreme Cables hook-up wire and Cryo treatment… the best RM40s Brian Cheney has ever built!
· Power Conditioning: Richard Gray Power Company 400 in parallel on one AC circuit
· AC Receptacles: Oyaide SWO-GX Cryo Treated Gold Plated Receptacles
· Accessories: Xtreme AV’s QuickSilver GOLD™ Audio & Video Contact Enhancer… an essential for all cable connections, fuses and tube pins; Ultra Systems Silver Filament Ceramic Fuses; and Xtreme AV’s Maple Cable Supports.
· Isolation: Acoustic Dreams Dead Balls on the TRL/Sony. Black Diamond Racing Cones under the Preamp and Amplifiers.
· Audio Cables: Xtreme Cables throughout! X5 Gold/Silver Hybrid RCA IC set from TRL/Sony SACD to Preamp; X2 Copper/Silver Hybrid XLR IC set from Preamps to Amps; X4 9.25 AWG Copper/Silver Speaker Cables; X2 11.75 AWG Copper/Silver Hybrid Speaker Cables; X2 Silver/Copper Hybrid 9.75 AWG Front-End Power Cable on the TRL/Sony SACD/CDP; X3 Copper/Silver Hybrid 10.0 AWG Universal Power Cable on Preamp; X4 Copper/Silver Hybrid 8.5 AWG Back-End Power Cables on Amplifiers and RGPC 400.
If in the Southern California area… we invite fellow audiophiles to come over and listen to this extraordinary TRL/Sony in my VMPS/Atma-Sphere/Xtreme Cables/QuickSilver GOLD system. Prepare to be amazed.
Enjoy the Music… and Video!!!
Xtreme AV QuickSilver & QuickSilver GOLD
Dana Point, CA 92629
Enjoy the Music... and Video!!!Associated gear Click to view my Virtual System