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Product Review
 

Creek CD50 mkII CD Player

September, 2004

Arvind Kohli

 

Click on Photo Above to See a Larger Version

Specifications:

● Frequency response: 1 Hz – 20 kHz
   
± 0.25 dB
Output impedance: 50 Ohms
● Output level: 2v at 1 kHz, 0 dB
● S/N: >96 dB
● THD: > -97 dB
● Dynamic range: >117 dB
● Remote: Included
● Dimensions: 2.4" H x 17.2" W x 9.2"
    D
● Weight: 11 pounds
● Finish: Brushed Aluminum
● MSRP $1,500 USA

 

Creek Audio

www.creekaudio.com

 

USA Distributor

www.musichallaudio.com

Introduction

This review is the first in my series on disc players, with a focus on two-channel playback of the CD format. The primary objective of the series is to compare the Redbook performance of several multi-format and CD-only units. The basic impetus is to establish a landscape of levels of performance among players of various prices and format capabilities.

The Design

Details on the manufacturer (Creek), founder, and designer can be seen in my review of the Creek 5350SE Integrated Amplifier. The CD50 mkII CD Player is currently the only disc player in the Creek product lineup, soon to be joined by a higher end model. The CD50 mkII replaced the CD50, with a number of changes, making the new model inherently different from its predecessor. Unfortunately for owners of the CD50, they cannot have that unit upgraded to the mkII.

The changes include a ROM drive, replacing the Philips CDM12 transport. The data are fed into an ATAPI bus; this is said to provide a virtually jitter free signal. Also, a 50ms digital buffer (FPGA) stores, converts, and feeds the data to the digital outputs and a Crystal CS4396 Delta Sigma 24 bit / 192 kHz DAC. The CD50 mkII does not feature upsampling, but the upcoming higher end model will. Per Mike Creek, “The buffer is not intended to be a shock prevention device, but can help to eliminate the effects of microphony and damaged discs”.

This revised model also claims a symmetrical layout, shorter signal paths, and better measured performance due to “. . . the distributed power supplies with seven digital and five analog low noise voltage regulators, plus low-noise resistors. A higher frequency clock oscillator is synchronized with the micro controller and buffer clock to minimize internal interference. Two separate high current power transformers are used in the CD50 mk2. The voltage to the digital and analog circuitry, LED display, and ROM drive are kept completely separate for maximum immunity from any interference that could degrade the purity of the musical signal.”

The following is Mike’s response to the component choices and the salient reasons for change: “The choice of a DVD ROM drive was to eliminate the frustration of having to totally redesign the transport circuitry every couple of years as DC transports are often replaced or changed. In fact, now there are only a few left and they are not as good as they used to be. Hence changing to an industry standard DVS product that produces a pure digital output. This cannot be used in a CD player, so we extract the useful digital information with a Field Programmable Gate Array (FIFO, First in First Out device) which buffers the data and converts the signal into the correct formats for SPDIF out and that suitable for being input to the DAC directly. We currently re-clock this data to make the waveform as accurate as possible and especially to reduce the level of jitter significantly and therefore when clocked with a good quality, low jitter, master clock oscillator, the signal is recovered with as little loss as possible by the DAC. The CD50 mk2 uses the standard sampling rate of 44.1 kHz. At this price level, we feel no improvement can be made with up-sampling techniques. If it to be used it must be done properly and that would significantly increase the cost. Our soon to be announced up-market model will have up-sampling and other special techniques to wring the last ounce of performance out of the signal.”

The unit is designed to allow for future upgrades by adding modules to the motherboard and software upgrades to be delivered by replacing the EPROM chip. These upgrades will enable remote control and serial connection of the player with next-generation Creek equipment or proprietary room controllers. Unfortunately, these upgrades are not intended to allow for future playback of hi-res formats (more on that below).

The CD50 mkII is currently only available in a brushed aluminum finish. The front panel buttons include Play, Stop, Pause, Open/Close, Skip Forward, Skip Back, Search Forward, Search Back, Shuffle, Repeat, and Standby functions. In the middle is a display window, with green characters, most of which are legible across a room. The remote is a full-function plastic affair that was well designed and laid out, without becoming an objet d’art. The rear panel has a power switch, detachable IEC input, a pair of gold-plated RCA, two control jacks, a coax, and optical digital outputs.

The remote control was about average. Usable, but nothing special.

On the question of why a CD-only player in this day of multi-format and universal players, Mike Creek gave me two reasons: performance and economics. Below are his thoughts on the subject.

“A universal player, which will play SACD/DVD-A formats, will compromise one or other, due to the conversion that is required to achieve compatibility. However, it will not be optimized to play CDs as well as a dedicated CD player. Try it yourself and you will hear that it is so. Try another analogy; Would you use a SUV to perform as a Sports Car? The word Sport is in there, but that is where the similarity ends. Let us hope this format war ends soon, with a clear winner. Until then, I would much prefer to listen to and make a good CD player, rather than an average or bad SACD player.

The economic reality is very important. To manufacture CD Players, a company must pay Philips/Sony $25,000 for a licence and 2% of the sale price as a Royalty. To own a licence to make DVD's costs an additional $5,000. Not so bad, but add the multi-channel licenses and the DVD-A and SACD ones to it and you're talking upwards of $100,000. I am not that rich, or concerned to make these products that I will pay that fee. Not to mention the additional cost of replacing my 22 year collection of CDs with something that really doesn't actually guarantee an improved performance.”

As with the 5350 SE integrated, it is obvious that Mike Creek has spent a lot of time and effort evaluating every component choice and design aspect. If nothing else, it can be said that Creek products are not the result of whimsical choices, but deliberate and painstaking thought is put into every component and design feature.

The Sound

I could take the easy approach and write about the sound of this player without comparison to other players. But being the glutton for punishment that I am, I insist on creating a ridiculous amount of work for myself and compared the review sample to two other units.

All comparisons were level matched for each combination of CD player, speaker positioning, and listening levels of 60, 70, 80, and 90 dB as measured at the listening position with a Radio Shack SPL Meter and a pink noise tone recorded at –20 dB. The units used in comparison were the Adcom GDV-850 CD/DVD-A player (MSRP $1,000) and Sony DVP-NS755 CD/SACD player (MSRP $250).

I used one of my favorite tracks to test for imaging and detail "General Image and Resolution test" (Chesky Jazz and Audiophile tests Vol2; Chesky; JD68). The Sony fell far short of the Creek by a wide margin. At the start of the track the musicians seemed trapped in the right speaker, and the instruments were not very distinguishable in space. Played on the Creek, the sound seemed to emanate from a source far and clear from the speakers, and the individual instruments were easily identifiable in tone and separated in space. Also the images from the Sony were not as stable or defined as on the Creek. Further on in the track when the musicians are circling the microphones, with the Creek, I could track the location of the drummer in space and heard him circle around me as it is intended to sound (only with the speakers in a nearfield setup), but with the Sony it seemed as if the circle was smaller and entirely in front of me.

The first test was sufficient to establish the wide rift in performance levels between the Creek and the Sony players. But, I wanted to see if my findings would repeat on another track. Playing "O Grande Amor" (Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto; Getz/Gilberto; Verve; 314512414-2) the Sony definitely had a narrower soundstage, placing the sax almost center stage instead of halfway between center stage and the right speaker. The wider stage painted by the Creek is likely due to better channel separation. Focusing on the sax solo, the Creek laid bare a lot more detail than the Sony, and made the Sony sound veiled and dark in comparison.

For a fairer comparison, I switched in the Adcom GDV-850, which at $1,000, retails for $500 less than the Creek and offers more function as a DVD and DVD-A player. On "Havana Café" (Paquito Rivera; Chesky Jazz and Audiophile tests Vol2;Chesky;JD68), the Adcom presented a little less detail than the Creek. The soundstage on the Adcom was comparatively a little pushed back, almost distant, while the Creek’s presentation was more up-front, intimate, and warmer sounding.

A much more revealing test was "Coming of the Mandinka" (V.M. Bhatt, N. Ravikiran, Taj Mahal; Mumtaz Mahal; Waterlily Acoustics;WLA-CS-46-SACD), perhaps due to the impeccable quality of the recording.

The stage on the Creek was much narrower, which is a likely indicator of poorer channel separation. However, the Creek’s presentation was more forward and intimate and much more preferable to me. The resonance of the sympathetic strings on the Mohan Vina was more prominent and richer sounding on the Creek. While the resonance was audible on the Adcom, it was less pronounced and thin sounding in comparison.

I have listened to this track many times, but for the first time I noticed a very high-pitched resonance from the Chitra Vina at about 4:15 into the track. It actually sounded like feedback, or the sound you get by circling the rim of a wine glass with a wet finger. A quick call to Kavichandran Alexander of Waterlily Acoustics confirmed that sound was due to the extreme excitement of the sympathetic strings. This high-pitched sound was definitely more pronounced on the Adcom, and was rendered from far stage right. With the Creek it seemed almost center stage and less noticeable.

I had a good estimate of the differences between the two players, but I wanted to do one final test before rendering an opinion. On 'Rimshot' (Eryka Badu; Baduism; Universal; UD53027) the Creek considerably outperformed the Adcom in terms of detail and punch with the very low synthesizer notes, and sounded warmer and more detailed on the delicious vocals from that vocalist.

So, basically, the Creek just plain ran circles around the Sony. It had more detail and warmth in the midrange, as well as more extension and detail in the bass compared to the Adcom. The Adcom had a much wider stage, a farther and distant presentation and a balance more tipped to the higher frequencies. Other than the wider soundstage, I much preferred the Creek to the Adcom.

Conclusions

To answer the basic questions:

Did the $1,500 Creek sound better than the $1,000 Adcom and the $250 Sony? Yes, except for a wider soundstage with the Adcom.

Were the differences significant? Yes, they were consistently identifiable on various tracks. But, differences between these disc players are small in absolute scale. Probably closer to the magnitude of differences you would find in amplifiers with the same price differences as seen in these players.
 

- Arvind Kohli -

Associated Equipment:
Speakers: Dynaudio Contour 1.3 MkII
Triangle Electroacoustique Titus 202
Subwoofer : ACI Force
Amplifier: Cayin 265Ai (integrated)
Digital Source: Sony DVP-NS755; Adcom GDV-850
Power Conditioner: PS Audio P300
Cables: Self Designed

 

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