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Product Review
 

Adcom GDV-850 DVD-V, DVD-A Player - Supplement to the Benchmark Review

November, 2004

Arvind Kohli

 

Specifications:

● MFR: 2 Hz - 88 kHz (DVD-A), 2 Hz - 20 kHz
    (CD)
● Output Impedance: 50 Ohms
● THD: <0.004%
● Remote: Yes
● Size: 3.6" H x 17" W x 15" D
● Weight: 17 Pounds
● Available Finishes: Black Case with Silver or
    Black Faceplate.
● MSRP $1,000

Adcom

www.adcom.com

Introduction

Adcom was founded in 1979, and has produced many products that have become standards well known to audiophiles. In 2002, two employees, Matt Lyons and Dan Donnelly, bought out the company. Dan was the President and Chief Engineer at the now defunct California Audio Labs (CAL), and is currently the VP of Engineering at Adcom, while Matt is the President. It seems like Dan brought over most of his team from CAL with him to Adcom. The link to CAL is significant to this review, because the team there had built quiet a reputation for digital products.

Regarding the DDV-850, I had to ask the essential question, which in my mind begs to be asked of all limited-format disc players today, “Why not a universal player?” Well, the answer was very similar to the one Mike Creek gave me when I interviewed him for the previously published Creek CD50 MkII review. Adcom would rather not make a universal player, than make a compromised one. To make a universal player to the satisfaction of the folks at Adcom, you would need two chipsets; one for PCM (Redbook CD, DVD-Audio) and one for DSD (SACD). This would disproportionately add to the complexity and cost, and that is why they have built a player with PCM processing only, and recommend an SACD player for playback of that format. Matt further explained, "There are hybrid chips available that can handle both PCM and DSD, but those chips simply convert DSD to PCM first and then to analog".

(That may have been true a year or so ago, but I believe there are chips now available that discretely convert DSD and PCM without format conversion, such as the Burr-Browns in the new Denon universal players.)


The Outside

The GDV-850 is a fairly large and handsome looking unit, available in black or silver.

The left front face has a large round switch to turn the unit on and off/standby. The disc drawer is in the center of the unit, under the display window. Six buttons on the right side control stop, play, pause, eject, forward ,and rewind. Sorry, no headphone jack.

Aside from video and control connections, the rear panel has one set of RCA analog jacks for stereo output and one set for 5.1. Digital outputs are provided via coax and optical jacks (naturally, they do not output DVD-A or SACD signals). There also is a switch to select between 120 and 220-volt operation, and finally a rocker-style main power switch and an IEC AC input.

The remote is replete with the standard audio and video commands. However, it does not have the ability to control other Adcom products or be programmed to control other devices, and is not backlit. Some day soon backlit programmable remotes will become standard issue with devices at any price point.

The Inside

The technical details provided here are based on my interview with Matt Lyons.

The audio formats compatible with the GDV-850 are Redbook CD and DVD-Audio. The player was designed around three Crystal 4396 chips, each of which handles two channels. According to Matt, the GDV-850 is not a rebadged player from one of the larger brands, but instead is designed ground up from the chipset, with particular attention to the layout and power supply. To that end, the circuit boards were designed in-house and custom built to Adcom’s specifications. The output stage is an op-amp biased into Class-A operation.

This player features a separate power supply for the digital, analog, and video sections. The power supply includes a toroidal transformer, filter capacitance, and a bridge rectifier. As you can see in the pictures of the inside of this unit, the two toroids, heat sinks, and several capacitors are as generous as I have ever seen in a disc player. Matt was quite emphatic about the importance that power supplies have in the quality of playback. And indeed the components inside the box back up his words. Matt explained that a common (and cheaper) alternative is a digital switching supply, the easiest way to recognize which is the ring-box shaped transformer instead of the donut shaped toroid. We shall see in an upcoming review that a player costing multiples of the Adcom is using a switching power supply. One of the problems of a switching supply is that it can introduce RF into the signal path.

While it is very satisfying to know that this product was not just thrown together on a whim, the layout was not compromised by the layout of off-the-shelf circuit boards, components were not scrimped on, and it is not simply a mass-produced player rebadged with some minor namesake changes. In the end it is the sound that matters, and we shall see the results of that below.

The Sound

As always, all listening test were done after the comparative components were matched for a variety of sound levels using a reference tone and a Radio Shack SPL meter.

The evaluation of the CD format was done by comparing with the previously reviewed Creek CD50 MkII ($1,500). These findings were published in that review, but I have repeated them here for easy reference.

Havana Cafe (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 pulled-in, intimate, and warmer sounding.

Coming of the Mandinka (V.M. Bhatt, N. Ravikiran, Taj Mahal; Mumtaz Mahal; Waterlily Acoustics WLA-CS-46-SACD)

This was a much more revealing test, perhaps due to the impeccable quality of the recording. The stage width 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.

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 delicious vocalist.

The final set of comparisons was done against the $700 E.Sound CD-E3 (review upcoming).

Coming of the Mandingo (V.M. Bhatt, Tag Mahal; Mumtaz Mahal; Waterlily Acoustics;WLA-CS-46-SACD)

Differences were difficult to pick out on this track, but were there nonetheless. The E.Sound had slightly better dynamics, especially noticeable in the ‘woah’s and ‘hey’s that Taj Mahal shouts out. I might not have noticed a shortcoming with the Adcom by itself, but when directly compared to the E.Sound the difference was evident. The vocal peaks seemed higher and more natural on the E.Sound; only in comparison did the Adcom seem like it was compressing the peaks a bit.

Yesterdays (Dave Bruebeck; Nightshift; Telarc CD83351)

The E.Sound had a lot more detail in the higher frequencies. The resonance of the piano notes seemed to last longer and were slightly better separated from each other. The Adcom made the piano sound a bit more distant and smaller in size, compared to the upfront and expansive instrument the E.Sound painted. Here personal taste probably matters more than an absolute edict.

Comparing the DVD-A format playback on the Adcom to that on the Lexicon RT-10 ($3500, review upcoming) universal player, revealed a big surprise. I expected to have perceived larger differences on the CD format and smaller differences on the hi-rez formats (DVD-A in this case). I found the opposite to be true, the differences between players on the DVD-A format were much more obvious and easier to spot.

The Four Seasons – Autumn, Allegro (Antonio Vivaldi, I Solisti Italiani, Sonic Boom, Denon COZ17156).

Listening to this track on the Lexicon made me realize how much tactile low-frequency information a string section can generate, I could feel the bodies of the larger instruments in the section resonating from where I sat. With the Adcom that experience was muted to the point of omission. On the other hand, the Adcom did seem to have more detail in the mid and high frequencies, but it is not that easy to make that determination. Often, when a component is weak in a certain range of frequencies, it seems to shine in the rest of the spectrum when compared to units with a more balanced presentation, and it is easy to be fooled into that conclusion. Re-examination of the Lexicon revealed that it seemed to present all the mid and high frequency detail that the Adcom did, but seemed less obvious since my ears had to share that detail with more low frequency material. The Adcom did present me with a much wider and deeper soundstage. I had experienced this strength of the player in the CD format when comparing to the recently reviewed Creek CD50 mkII. In the DVD-A format, that difference seemed significantly larger, when compared to the Lexicon.

Whirly Bird (Count Basie Big Band, Sonic Boom, Denon COZ17156).

To settle the detail issue touched on above, I picked a track without a lot of low frequency information to distract my ears. To my surprise the Adcom trounced the Lexicon here. The detail seemed to be about equal in both players, and reinforced my findings above. The Adcom again pulled off its awesome soundstage, being wider and deeper than the Lexicon. The real surprise was in the macro-dynamics; the Adcom was superlative and significantly better than the Lexicon.

Conclusions

We have a bit of a mixed bag here. The price point of the player, especially considering the outstanding performance of the entry-level Panasonic units, did not justify the previously evaluated video performance.

The CD format playback more or less justified the price point compared to the Creek, but was no comparison to E.Sound. But then again, that upstart from China has surprised us all in this series.

The DVD-A format playback compared to the Lexicon was excellent in terms of soundstage and dynamics, but lacking in bass response. Keep in mind the Lexicon retails for three and a half times more.



- Arvind Kohli -

Associated Equipment:
Speakers: Dynaudio Contour 1.3 MkII; Triangle Electroacoustique Titus 202
Subwoofer: ACI Force
Integrated Amplifier: Cayin 265Ai
Digital Source: Creek CD50 mkII ; Sony DVP-NS755; Lexicon RT-10
Power conditioner: PS Audio P300
Cables: Custom

 

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