September 27, 2008

CDP and LP

The Aurum Acoustics CDP is truly unique among audio electronics. While there are some CD players with limited preamp functionality, the CDP takes this combination much further, adding a full complement of inputs and outputs -- analog and digital -- along with space for a very good headphone amp and a highly flexible phono stage. When I wrote a follow-up review on the CDP late last year, I talked mostly about some circuit upgrades, promising to revisit the phono stage once I had more experience with it. Well, almost a year later, I'm so there.

First and foremost, the CDP's phono stage boosts and equalizes the signal from moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges of essentially any output, due to a circuit that provides from 43 to a substantial 81dB of gain. Loading is also wide-ranging -- from 47k to 50 ohms. Even with its high gain, the CDP's phono stage is the quietest I've used, quieter even than the Lamm LP2 Deluxe ($7290), which is celebrated for its lack of noise. Quiet is especially good for analog playback, where the music can be carried by a signal a fraction of a millivolt. It not only makes for less apparent noise, it also shows off the cartridge's personality to best effect.

Hand in hand with this is an honest way with the signal, the music expressed with an obvious clarity. As my analog setup has changed -- grown is more accurate -- I've come to value the CDP's clarity for mono playback especially. The purity and immediacy of playing a mono LP with a mono cartridge aren't so much enhanced by the CDP's phono stage as allowed to shine in full view, unhindered by noise or any obvious sonic indulgence -- a bloomy midbass or sweetened treble. This is very much like the CDP's digital playback, which goes straight to the heart of the recording itself, euphony be damned. I love the Audio Research PH7 ($5995) for its big, billowy soundstage and midrange presence, but I have to admit that the CDP's phono stage is more neutral.

The Aurum CDP's phono stage costs $2500, putting it in the middle turf of high-quality phono stages and far below its formidable competition in my system. If you have a CDP, whose base price is $13,500, and have thought that only an outboard phono stage will keep up with the quality of its CD playback, the unit's internal phono stage will not only save you money but surprise you with its obvious and overwhelming fidelity.

...Marc Mickelson

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