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Audition impressions: Pathos Endorphin, BAT VK-D5SE, Electrocompaniet EMC1

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Stopped by a local dealer today to audition a few high-end CD players with my HeadAmp BHSE and Stax OII MKI, my current highest-end equipment. My motivation for doing this was twofold: (1) to discover some new-source sound quality for a change of pace from my own CDP, the Plinius CD-101, and (2) to find out how far the OII/BHSE can scale (assuming that at least one of the CD players was better than my Plinius).

CD players:
- Pathos Endorphin
- Balanced Audio Technology VK-D5SE w/ SuperPAK mods
- Electrocompaniet EMC1

Evaluation CDs:
- Alison Krauss & Union Station - Live [Disc 2]
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos
- Massive Attack - Heligoland
- Megadeth - Countdown To Extinction [Mobile Fidelity]
- The Ditty Bops - Moon Over The Freeway

For my convenience, the dealer set up a private listening room for me in advance - two identical 4-shelf equipment racks placed next to each other, one of them empty (for the BHSE and PSU), and the other with the 3 CD players. No power conditioners were in use, all components were plugged directly into the wall. The dealer also gave me a pair of 2M Tara Labs Zero XLR interconnects (I would've brought my own but they're only 1M, too short to cover the distance between the equipment racks). The listening room was also partially soundproofed to minimize sound interference from an adjacent room - so it was also really quiet, almost ideal for a very critical listening session on headphones.

I allowed the amp about an hour to warm up to a nominal temperature before starting any listening.

Pathos Endorphin

I started with this CD player and thought it sounded good - compared to my own Plinius CDP, I couldn't tell that anything was significantly missing. It was a slightly different portrayal though - the Pathos seemed to be "smooth" while that's not a word I would use to describe my Plinius. Or to put it another way, the Pathos had a straightforward sound with a very fluid mid-range, but not much of a spark to it. It seemed to lack "excitement" for lack of a better word, which is an aspect that I routinely get from my Plinius CDP. I spun a few more CDs before deciding that my listening would be more fruitful if I moved on to the next CDP, so I did.

BAT VK-D5SE w/ SuperPAK mods

There were 3 things that immediately caught my attention with this CDP: (1) a nice shot of treble energy, as the Pathos had less quantity in comparison, (2) a reduction in soundstage width & depth, and (3) sonic excitement! I liked the added treble at first but it quickly wore thin once I realized that this CDP was more about treble than it was about mid-range. Granted, it did satiate my treble fix, but the mid-range didn't properly counterbalance for enough body & weight. Bass seemed to be in greater quantity than on the Pathos and also a bit deeper, with more power. The soundstage aspect also bothered me with this CDP - it was just too small and narrow. Voices were practically in-your-face and most of the intentionally displaced layers lost their spatial effect.

Electrocompaniet EMC1

This CDP delivered some knock-out punch with the Megadeth CD. Compared to the BAT, this one had a nicely filled-in mid-range, along with plenty of mid-bass. It also provided plenty of authority & power over the bass in general, which was actually a nice change, though it seemed obvious that this was a deliberate coloration. If there's one thing the Electrocompaniet impressed me with, it was its overall direct and filling sound. It was also nice to recover a properly-sized soundstage on this CDP, though even then it still felt a bit small overall. There were two minor things that bothered me though: (1) less than ideal treble quantity, and (2) a slight loss in dynamic range contrasts between soft & loud volume. It almost felt like there was a volume preset at medium/loud with only slight volume variations.

I also found it interesting that the Electrocompaniet had the highest output voltage of the three CDPs, as it was the loudest at any given volume setting. Loud enough that I had to actually dial back the volume a few steps coming after the BAT.

Pathos Endorphin, revisited

And of course I had to go back to the Pathos to re-evaluate it after hearing the BAT and Electrocompaniet. On this second session, it actually impressed me more than the first time. The soundstage opened up even more than on the Electrocompaniet - it was extremely wide, wider than anything I've heard before. Left and right channel pans were really highlighted on this CDP. It was also fairly deep and allowed for natural acoustics of the live performance of the Alison Krauss CD, for example. I still couldn't help but notice the "smooth" sound again, it was nice though and not in any way a negative aspect. This CDP did have the least bass quantity of the three CD players, but it was still plenty of bass and very nicely grounded - firm, tight, & low.

Back at home with the Plinius CD-101

As I'm writing this I'm listening to my Plinius to re-assess its standing after hearing the three other CDPs today. All things considered, I think I prefer the Plinius the most - it's certainly not a perfect-sounding source, but it has more qualities that I like over the other three CDPs, which include its speed response to fast music, its overall frequency balance, its low & fast bass, and a treble that can be easily highlighted without being harsh.

But I could definitely pick a second favorite which would be the Pathos. While its main fault was a lack of sonic excitement, I also thought it sounded really good, fantastic even, and a great match with the BHSE/OII. I'd call it the ultimate match for non-offensive sound and although I've never really heard analog, I suspect that's what it might sound like.

I also liked the Electrocompaniet for what it was - a fun, full-sounding CDP that was also really good in most aspects.

I was only really underwhelmed by the BAT, I just didn't think it sounded very good and considering it packs the TI PCM1704 as its DAC, honestly I was expecting more. I guess you can't expect every source component with the PCM1704 to sound good. (I was also previously disappointed with the Primare CD31 when I auditioned it almost 3 years ago, which also uses the PCM1704.)

My curiosity towards source components remains and I will probably listen to more with my BHSE in the future. As many as I can get hands-on time with!
post #2 of 6
Terrific write up of some primo digital source components. Thank you.
post #3 of 6
Outstanding work. Thanks a lot for sharing.
post #4 of 6
It is good to compare and then realize the gear you have at home is as good or better. At least this time you wont be spending money.
post #5 of 6
Nice writeup, I suggest next time try searching for a dealer that stocks Accuphase. In cd players, nothing, nothing has impressed me more than their DP-700. To bad I cannot afford it without a divorce
The DP-600 and 500 are very close and way "cheaper".... My dream digital source is their DC-801 dac, if I were to own it, I could consider parting with my analogue setup, not that I would....
post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 
The dealer does carry Accuphase, but no models were currently in stock. I also previously owned the Accuphase DP-500 which I wrote about here: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f7/arc...-500-a-268730/
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