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Aurum Acoustics Integris CDP CD Player

Part VI

April, 2006

Jason Victor Serinus

 

The Sound

After fuse changes, after clamp changes, and before Derrick Moss dares make a single additional change to his player, it is time to describe the sound of the Integris CDP.

First and foremost, this player is beautifully extended on top. In my reviews of the McIntosh MDA1000 and the previous iteration of the Muse Universal player (which, judging from the sound of the recently upgraded unit I heard at CES 2006 that was equipped with its optional analogue module, is now a far better player), to name just two of the products I've reviewed in the last year or two, I've noted a lack of extension and openness on top. Not so with the Integris CDP.

Take, for example, the excellent recent recording of the Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin performing transcriptions of works by J.S. Bach (Harmonia Mundi). The Academy's authentic instruments resound in space beautifully, just as they would in a resonant, real-life setting. Or listen to how the triangle at the start of Valerie Coleman's "Umoja" on Imani Winds (Koch) rings in space, resonant and free.

As I played different recordings and focused on the entire frequency spectrum, from the highest reaches I could hear to the lowest bass, the only thing I missed was the last iota of midrange richness and bass heft. Midrange and bass are most certainly present with the Integris CDP, in a manner that will synergize wonderfully with speakers or amps that tend to be heavy in those areas. But in direct comparison with the Theta Gen. VIII/APL Hi-Fi modified Sony transport combo, the Aurum Acoustics Integris CDP offers a somewhat lighter presentation in the midrange and bass.

Let's return to the Bach. Even though one doesn't normally choose recordings of original baroque instruments to check out bass response, weight and bass extension are easily discerned, not only in the sound of the contrebasse and bassoon, but also in the undertones of the higher instruments. There's simply more substance to the sound with my reference combo (which, if you add in the price of the additional Nordost power cable and digital cable I use to get the most out of it, costs a good $7000 more than the Integris CDP).

My reference is also somewhat more nuanced when it comes to micro-tonality. Returning to the aforementioned triangle on the Imani Winds track, there's more complexity to the sound with my reference. Clearly there are different levels of resonance and overtones caused by the interaction of the triangle with the room, and the Theta does a better job of picking these up. That's not to suggest that the Aurum Acoustics makes it sound any less beautiful, pure, and free. But its beauty derives more from the exceptional quality and transparency of the presentation, rather than from the sheer amount of information conveyed.

Touching the Heart

The ultimate test of piece of equipment is not whether it reproduces "X" a shade better than does another product, but whether or not it can reproduce music in a manner that moves you emotionally. For such a "test," if we must call it such, I chose the recently released London Symphony Orchestra SACD of Mstislav Rostropovich conducting Shostakovich Symphonies 1 and 5 (LSO Live). Even though, after hearing Rostropovich conduct the very same symphony in Davies Symphony Hall, I realize that the LSO engineers failed to capture the top-end extension and brightness that help make Shostakovich's strings and brass so impactful, and have glossed over a significant amount of detail, the recording packs a deep emotional wallop.

I decided to listen both to the brooding, despairing third movement and the thrilling conclusion. That's a good 27:30 minutes of non-stop listening. Plenty of time to settle in and see where the music takes you.

I was stunned by the gravity of the Fifth's third movement, largo. Under Rostropovich's baton, the sense of loss and sheer emptiness left me virtually numb with grief. Any conductor who can manage to wring such feeling out of an orchestra, especially one that is less than optimally recorded, qualifies as great in my book. After going through the emotional wringer, the contrast between the funereal third movement and the rousing last movement, with its mixture of irony, militant finality, and triumph blew me away.

Listening to the same recording on my reference combo, I discovered that, despite the extra weight to midrange and bass, the Theta/transport combo moved me not one iota more. Had I not known that more midrange and bass was available from the recording, I would not have missed it. That's how well the Integris CDP can reach into the heart of a piece of music.

I listened to many more recordings: the new SACD reissue of Leontyne Price singing Verdi and Puccini (RCA/BMG), with her voice in pristine condition; the aforementioned Sangam percussion/saxophone tour de force; and the superb Nuove Musiche multi-tracked journey from Rolf Lislevand and cohorts (ECM) that is climbing to the top of amazon.com's charts [see review in the March 2006 CD review set]. In each case, I was deeply moved by what I heard. Yes, I could hear more depth from my reference combo, occasionally greater soundstage width, and even more air. But what I could hear was so compelling that I could do no less than applaud Derrick Moss for his achievement.

Conclusions

The Aurum Acoustics Integris CDP is the finest one-piece CD player/preamp I have auditioned in my system. Listening to the unit makes me wish that I had a way to review the entire Aurum Acoustics system. Clearly, when matched with the right speakers and amplification, the Integris CDP can reproduce music in a most compelling and rewarding manner.

- Jason Victor Serinus -

Associated Equipment

Digital Front End
Theta Gen VIII DAC/Preamp
Sony 707ES transport heavily modified by APL Hi-Fi

Amplification
Jadis DA-7 Luxe with GE 5751 Jan and Jan Philips 5814A tubes

Loudspeakers
Talon Khorus X speakers MK. II (with 2005 upgrade and Bybee filters)
Hsu VTF-3 HO Subwoofer

Cabling
Nordost Valhalla single-ended and balanced interconnects
Nordost Valhalla balanced digital interconnects
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Nordost Silver Shadow digital interconnect for DVD-V
Nordost Valhalla Power Cables
Elrod EPS-2 Signature

Also on hand and sometimes used:
Interconnects: WireWorld Gold Eclipse 5 and Gold Starlight 5 digital, Harmonic Tech Magic One, Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II balanced, and Nirvana BNC-terminated digital.
Power cables: Elrod EPS Signature 2 and 3 plus EPS 1, 2, and 3; WireWorld Silver Electra 5, PS Audio X-treme Statement, Harmonic Tech, and AudioPrism SuperNatural S2.

Accessories
ExactPower EP15A equipped with outlets from Jim Weil
PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with MultiWave II
Ganymede ball bearing supports under all components and speakers
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks and Corner Tunes
Shakti stones on amp, Theta, and transport
Stillpoints ERS EMI/RFI sheets on most components
Bedini Dual Beam Ultraclarifier, Audioprism CD Stoplight,
Marigo Signature 3-D Mat for use atop CDs, Ayre demagnetizing CD.

Room
25.5' deep, 37' wide opposite the speakers, 21.5' wide in the listening area. There is a large archway leading to the dining room next to the right speaker. Ceilings are 9'2" high with heavy wooden cross-beams. Heavy curtains cover windows behind the soundsystem. Floors are hardwood and carpet, walls a combination of plaster and wood.

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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