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Old 6th March 2004, 09:45 PM   #1
diyAudio Member
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Default High End CD Player Comparison

I run the Audio Guild, Melbourne(formerly the Lowther Club of Australia and New Zealand). Recently we compared the DCS, Mephisto II, Copland and Shanling CD Players. I think the findings could be of some interest to members of this forum. Please see attachment for details.

Well I am not able to get my Word file with charts into a format that I can attach. Some advice will be appreciated.


Audio Guild (Previously known as Lowther Club of Australia & New Zealand)
Thursday 12th February 2004, 1930hrs
Listening to High End CD Players
It has become customary for us to delay the commencement of each meeting. On this occasion it was the Mephisto, the last CD player to arrive. None of the Players tested here were new out of the box. All units were well run-in and in use for more than a month. Evaluation was not conducted under strictly controlled conditions.

There were 25+ audiophiles present including some very experienced (in component evaluation) members from the Melbourne Audio Club. With the exception of one younger member, all others were in the 30-60 age group. CD players used for this subjective evaluation are:

Copland CDA 288 (Owner: Emile)
DCS System consisting of Transport Unit VERDI, Upsampler PURCELL and the DAC ELGAR (Steve Adis, Reference Audio Visual, Melbourne)
Mephisto II (Trevor, Trevor Lees Audio, Melbourne)
Shanling T100 with valve output stage (Owner: Ian)

Other components:
Varkeylabs Control Amplifier (Mohan, Australian Electric Valve Importers, Melbourne)
Varkeys Power Amplifier (Mohan, Australian Electric Valve Importers, Melbourne)
The preamp (417A/5842) as well as the power amp (417A+6AS7G/6080) are wide bandwidth designs and have DC coupled inputs. There is a single output coupling capacitor in the preamp. The power amp is a DC coupled two-stage design and the only reactive component is the output transformer. Frequency response of both units are 25Hz-100kHz –1.2dB.
Alfredo Horn designed by Chris Powers/Alf Lepp with Lowther PM7C driver
(Mohan, Australian Electric Valve Importers, Melbourne)
Shiniata Speaker cable made a definite improvement to the sound quality of the system.
(Steve Adis, Reference Audio Visual, Melbourne)
Grand PriX Equipment Stand, visually appealing, excellent engineering and decoupling mechanisms (Steve Adis, Reference Audio Visual, Melbourne)
Various Interconnects

Factory 2, 22 Michellan Court, Bayswater, VIC 3153.
Conference Room 6.5m long, 5m wide with 2.4m ceiling. Rear wall, Front wall and ceiling have cedar panelling. Sidewalls are brick with curtains covering glass windows. Floor is carpeted.

Playback Levels:
Normal listening level is 83dB at 3.5m with the power amplifier using 0.06Wrms driving the Alfredo Horn. For this evaluation, average playback levels were around 83dB. On recordings such as Cantate Domino and Carmina Burana it is possible to measure +20dB peak SPLs at 3.5m with little or no evidence of increased distortion, compression or clipping.

Program Copland DCS Sys Mephisto Shanling
Isao Suzuki Trio: BLACK ORPHEUS:TBM 2563 Manha De Carnaval Notplayed
Miles Davis: KIND OF BLUE: CK 64935Freddie Freeloader
ORFF: CARMINA BURANA EMI CDC7474112Si Puer cum puellula, Veni veni venias
Loreena McKennitt: WB 4509952962The Mystic’s Dream
DOUG McLeod: AQ-CD1046Unmarked Road: Lost like the wind at night

Subjective evaluation started at 2000hrs and concluded at 2245hrs. Each track in the program was played on Shanling, DCS, Copland and Mephisto in order and members were requested to rate each player (1-10 in order of preference). Members were also requested to be saints and to rate each CD player on its performance and disregard all other (such as appearance, cost etc.) factors that could influence more earthly audiophiles.
Mephisto was given the opportunity to warm up a little and so the first track in the program “Manha De Carnaval” was not played using the Mephisto.

As the evaluation and the evening progressed, my conference (listening) room became warm, some members had to leave early. These are reflected in the total scores in the chart below.

The first track (Manha De Carnaval) in the program was not played on the Mephisto. Scores for this track are not included in the above chart. Total scores for this track are shown below.

Please note that this was not a strictly controlled evaluation program. I would rather call this a friendly evaluation program. It may be possible to arrive at a different outcome under more controlled conditions. However I would consider such an outcome a remote possibility.

Where a member did not record his score for all the CD Players the score for that recording for all the players was ignored. One member placed a “0” for the DCS. His entire score card was ignored as this was extreme prejudice for reasons known only to him. None of the CD players evaluated here deserve such treatment and he should examine his conscience.

One Man’s opinion:
All four players evaluated here are better than most members’ Sony, Pioneer, Cambridge, Meridian etc., that I have listened to over the past few years. Almost an hour following this evaluation, (after all the CD players were packed and gone) I could not listen to my Sony CD Player.

Both the Copland and the DCS were in a class of their own. These two players had a similar presentation; wide bandwidth, excellent definition on instrumental and vocal passages, lots of inner detail, air and dynamic contrasts.

The DCS is very similar to some of the finest LP systems that I have listened to. It reminded me of my first encounter with Koetsu Rosewood in the early eighties. Smooth, lush, dynamic and lots of finer detail. All other CD players do not have this full, rich texture most noticeably in the lower midrange-upper bass range. This is my player of choice.

The Copland on occasions surpassed the DCS in its dynamic (foot tapping rhythm and pace) and imaging capabilities. Aside from a slightly leaner lower midrange-upper bass range this CD player had the wide frequency response and authority of DCS. This is my second choice.

Mephisto received higher scores than the Copland and was clearly preferred by many over the Copland. However, to my ears, it had a very euphonic tonality that found favour with many. I feel that this is a matter of personal preferences. This type of sound is somewhat similar to the vintage amplifier sound of the sixties and seventies. I must admit that there is a part of me that has grown up with this sound. The Mephisto has a very seductive sound and has excellent sound staging capabilities. One member noted that the Mephisto improved as the evaluation progressed. In other words it needs an extended warm up period.

Shanling was less dynamic than all other players. It has a similar euphonic trait as the Mephisto but not as refined and dynamic as the Mephisto.

Well that is my opinion.

Any one who attended this evaluation is most welcome to contribute his opinion of the players and such opinions shall be forwarded to all members.

Mohan Varkey
15th February 2004

Second Man’s opinion:

Well Mohan
Seeing as you are soliciting opinions I will say something. I essentially agree with your "One Man's Opinion".

The DCS system was clearly the best. Every time it was playing I was aware of more detail. I was also impressed with the evenness of its performance, both in terms of not appearing to favour any part of the spectrum (except perhaps the upper midrange by a very small degree - something I always forgive) and also by not appearing to change character with loudness. The DCS sounded a little mechanical to me earlier in the night, but became more musical (or I got used to it) as the night rolled on.

I still like the Copland very much. However, it did not present as much detail as the DCS and was not as even - in particular it tended to become shrill as loudness increased. Perhaps this is a failing of its analogue section. Who knows? It was an absolute bargain for what it cost Emile.

I also liked the Mephisto, but not as much, although I noted comment around the room favouring it. I was next to Steve and he though it was the most musical - in fact that we were playing the units in order of increasing musicality. I commented that it was interesting that Trevor was selling it as it sounded like something he would have designed. As the night progressed this impression strengthened - great midrange clarity (reminded me of the Otis he likes) and great musicality. However, the treble had that euphonic/sumptuous/lush character that I now associate with the 70's and find detracts from the naturalness of a performance. That is not to say that I wouldn't buy it from Trevor if the price were right! I am used to living in an imperfect world.
The Shanling was playing when I arrived and sounded OK to me, but it was very apparent after the first round of comparisons that it was not in the same league as the others. Ian should leave the gloves off when he takes it back to Encel's.

I can't afford the DCS, but I am sure that the price for such a performance will drop dramatically in the next few years. I understand that SACD is selling better than expected and I was happy with the SACD disc I heard on the night. Maybe audiophilia does have a future.

Regards ... PeterJ

Third Man’s opinion:

Evening Mohan,

Sorry I didn't call you this evening. There just are not enough hours in the days right now it seems.

Thankyou for the evening last week. My pick was the DCS. The Copeland exuded boundless energy and had a great soundstage that I found engaging, but it was muddy at times and that quite disappointed. The Shanling and the Mephisto was a little 16 bit sounding I thought. But I did only listen to one track and it was far from warmed up.

Thanks again, RedM
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