Pioneer Elite DV-58AV universal player review
Mar 31, 2008 at 4:09 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 15

dcstep

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Ok, I now have over 150-hours on my modded Pioneer Elite DV-58AV, so it's time for a review.

Delivered, a new, stock 58AV will set you back around $400, give or take 40-bucks or so. As modder Ric Schultz describes, this new player has a separate power supply section for the analog stages, tons of Rubycon low impedance caps, Elna Audio caps, latest generation current out Burr-Brown DAC, super short digital path, extra plate underneath the chassis, good video picture, a "Pure Audio" button that turns off all video, digital outs and displays for better sound.

One thing that impressed me is the focus on two-channel audio and ease of use as a two-channel source, which I’ve found unusual with universal players which are more oriented toward video and surround sound.
On my Oppo, when I play a multi-layer SACD, for instance, the player doesn’t assume that I want to hear the two-channel SACD layer, despite my having set it up as a two-channel player. More often than not, the Oppo tries to play the CD-layer and I have to toggle blindly (because the display assumes that it’ll be hooked up to a TV, which it’s not) trying to find the SACD layer. The Pioneer assumes that I want to hear the SACD layer in two-channel, because that’s the way I set it up. Wow, what a concept.

Oh yeah, this thing plays just about anything you can throw at it; CD, SACD, DVD-A, CD-R/RW, DVD-R/RW, MPEG, WMA, AAC, mp3, etc., etc. up to 24-bit/192kHz. That’s not bad for $400, give or take.

Ok, some are upset that I didn’t take time to take delivery of the stock Pioneer, burn it in for 150-hours, write a review, then send it to Ric Schultz so that he could swap out a bunch of parts and add parts, then get it back, burn it in again and then write a review as modded. It would have actually been easy for me to A-B the stock vs. modded unit since I have a Korg MR1000 that records in 5.6MHz DSD, enabling truly astounding and revealing recordings. Unfortunately for you, I didn’t take the trouble to do that, instead I had the retailer send it directly to Ric.

My system is built around my Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand speakers. They’re driven by a Conrad Johnson CA200 control amplifier through Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8 cables. I’ve got both an analog front end and digital. The analog front end uses Pro-ject’s top turntable, the RM10, with a Sumiko Blackbird cartridge. I’ve got Pro-ject’s Speed Box SE and a Tube Box II to boost the Sumiko’s signal and apply the RIAA equalization curve. The total cost of this analog front end is just under $4,000.

Prior to the arrival of the Pioneer an Oppo 981HD universal player handled most of the digital duties at my house. I’d gotten an Oppo as an up-converting DVD video player to feed my Sony Bravia 46” HD/LCD. TV. When my PS Audio Lambda deck and PS Audio DAC crapped out (after 15-years of service) I stuck the Oppo into the 2-channel and left it there. It gave me access to SACD and DVD-A. Yes, on CDs it didn’t give me quite the transparency of the old Lambda, but its sins seemed small.

Still, I started realizing that my analog system was my system of choice, even when I had superior software in the Oppo I wasn’t as happy with digital. Whenever I got a new part, like new cables or new headphones, I found myself listening to analog. When I listened critically I could hear a hint of glare on high pitched content, like close-miked whistling, certain trumpet recordings and the high keys on very dynamic piano pieces. The low end wasn’t Johnny one note, but the richness of overtones didn’t match my analog system.

When I called Ric Schultz about modding my Oppo I asked, “If I didn’t already have the Oppo and wanted you to build the best possible universal player for me, what would you suggest?” Without hesitation Ric pointed to the Pioneer Elite DV-58AV. He was impressed with its stock performance and friendliness to two-channel, audiophile users. Also, the box had ample room, making it conducive to modding. So, I decided to buy a new Pioneer and have t shipped direct to Ric for full-boat mods.

Ric replaced the whole analog output stage on the two front channels with a custom discrete single-ended, class-A, all-fet current-to-voltage stage and wired it directly to the output jacks through a nude damped Blackgate cap bypassed by a Wima .1 poly cap. All the stock op amps and output stage parts are eliminated. He added the “Superclock 4” and a separate linear power supply. Finally, he added three discrete regulators and a muting circuit that eliminates turn off and turn on DC surges. I understand some of that, but not all of it, so address any specific questions to Ric.

The price for all the mods is $1050, bringing the total cost in under $1,500 for the new player plus mods. You can buy several of the mods separately. If I’d been a paid reviewer I might have had Ric do each mod, one at the time and then reported on each step, but I’m only a consumer and I bought what I thought would be the best value for me. I’m sure that Ric would love to do such a step-by-step build up if one of you wants to do it, just realize that it’ll mean about 600 to 800 hours of burn-in cumulative as you burn-in the new parts after each step.

Before critical comparisons began I equalized the outputs of the Pioneer and Oppo using the 1kHz signal from the Stereophile Test CD. To achieve an 86dB measurement at approximately one meter from the left speaker, my Conrad Johnson’s step-attenuator was set at “55” with the Pioneer and “72” with the Oppo. That’s a huge difference since each step is .7 dB according to C-J. If C-J is correct, then that’s almost 12dB of output difference. Yes, I made sure that the volume control on the Oppo was set at its max.

The first cut I listened to was “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” on “All-star Celebration of Cannonball Adderley – Cannon Re*Loaded”. Among the all-stars is Marcus Miller on five-string or greater electric bass. In this cut he uses all the strings and varies his attack from finger-tip to side-finger to popping with the side of his thumb. The resonant character of his very full bass sound varies in response to his technique. This is way more evident with the Pioneer than the Oppo. The bass was more solid and had more “pop” not because it was louder, but because the note fundamentals were rendered more distinct from the overtones. You could hear this separation of harmonics with the Oppo, but it was more dramatic and more transparent and distinct with the 58AV.

Jennifer Warnes’ 20th Anniversary Edition of “famous blue raincoat” is full of interesting details that the Pioneer easily highlighted. I particularly enjoyed comparing “If It Be Your Will” because it had subterranean bass rendered by synthesizer contrasted by Warnes’ very clearly recorded voice. The bass synth has way fewer harmonics than Miller’s bass, but, perhaps due to there being fewer, what’s there seems more important. With the Oppo the harmonics were slightly smeared together, so that you heard the character of the notes, but not as much of the richness and detail.

“Isn’t She Lovely?” from Livingston Taylor’s “ink” SACD from Chesky offers a test of high frequency smoothness. This cut starts with someone, probably Livingston, whistling into a mic at very close range. With my Oppo I was hearing significant glare and edge in that part of the track. With the Pioneer that was all gone, replaced with delicacy and detail of the highs. With the Oppo the high harmonics were compressed together and lost their character, while the Pioneer separately displayed each layer. So the Pioneer passed my first “glare test” with flying colors.

Next up was the SACD of Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms”. I’ve always loved the title cut, but it’s very densely layered with synthesizers, Mark’s overdriven guitar, percussion and numerous effects. I felt like the Oppo rendering was no better than my old PS Audio Lambda, unfortunately unable to participate in this comparison due to worn out CD-tray gears and other foibles that put it at the back of a closet. The Pioneer showed me all I was expecting from the remastered SACD. It was open, organic and rich with harmonics. Knopfler’s plays his amps in their sweet spots producing overtones from the darkest “grind” to the most soaring, searing highs imaginable. The Pioneer was so much better that I double checked to make certain that the Oppo wasn’t playing the CD-layer instead of the two-channel SACD layer. It was playing the SACD. Everything was there with no fuss or strain.

I wanted to compare the Pioneer to a higher reference standard than the little $200 Oppo, so I brought out the big gun Pro-ject turntable system described earlier. This is a $4,000 system that has been my standard for midrange accuracy, transparency and “organic” feel to my music. No digital piece in my house has matched it so far.

Stockfish Records of Germany recently issued a D2D recording of The Bassface Swing Trio, which is a surprisingly good piano trio playing standards. The recording of the piano, bass and drums are sonically as good as it gets, in my experience. The kicker is that they include an SACD, made by taking the D2D two-channel mix straight to 2.8MHz DSD, which is then down-converted to SACD. So you get the same feeds in a great recording in both D2D analog and hi-rez digital format.

I highly recommend this LP/SACD to anyone interested in an analog to digital comparison. The LP pressing is A++ and the SACD production is top drawer.

This LP and SACD have some really heavy double bass, recorded closely. The Pro-ject front end handled it well, but the modded Pioneer was a clear winner here. Of course, when I pushed the SPL up near 100dB, then universal player showed its almost total immunity to feedback, when the cartridge howled "uncle" just over 100dB, despite being isolated in an armoire and sitting on top of two very good isolation devices (I think airborne sound got to the cartridge, given the high frequency of the initial howl). When I kept the volume low, bass was almost equal, until the dynamics got loud, then the turntable’s cartridge couldn’t keep up, adding a touch of opacity. I never experienced a total mistrack, but the focus and detail got lost when the cartridge was stressed.

Mids were glorious on both the turntable and the Pioneer, with lots of details and harmonic richness. The Pioneer equaled the Pro-ject against the Pro-ject’s strength. There was no feeling of congestion with Pioneer, while the Oppo did let me feel it’s “digitalness” with less detail and a slight feel of congestion in the sound vs. the turntable and the Pioneer. (Once again I checked to be certain that the Oppo was playing the SACD layer).

My final test was to listen to piano played loudly at the upper end of its range on the Stockfish recording. This can clang and glare, which it did on the Oppo; however, with the Pioneer and Pro-ject it was smooth and loud. The Oppo slightly smeared the overtones, while the Pioneer kept them separate. There was no electronic sounding artifact produced by the Pioneer, just pure, musical sound.

I’d probably have to double my expenditure on a turntable to equal the Pioneer and then only at lower levels, unless I moved it to another room. The Schultz-modded Pioneer is clearly a top level universal player.

Oh, I almost forgot, after I finished the draft of this I review I was sitting relaxing listening to the title track of Karrin Allyson’s Concord CD “Azure Te’”. I love all of Karrin’s releases, by the way. This cut has harmonica, nylon string guitar, bass and drums, among other things. What I almost forgot was the delicacy. You hear fingers and nails, but only as part of a larger tone. Those little details come across delicately, with micro-dynamics that enrich the listening experience. It’s all very relaxed and very alive and organic when played through the Pioneer.

One other thing, I did the entire review with the “Pure Audio” function engaged. This turns off the LCD screen, all LEDs and operates only the two-channel components. I think it’s a great idea, but I’m not certain that I heard any difference. If I did, it was very small. I’ll listen more over the next few weeks to see if anything becomes apparent, but today I wasn’t able to identify a difference.

Hopefully over the next several months I’ll get a chance to compare the Pioneer to more expensive players than the Oppo. As I do, I’ll add addendums to this review. Still, I can conclude that it’s an excellent value at under $1,500.

See Schultz’s site at Pioneer DV-58AV mods
Dave
 
Mar 31, 2008 at 5:44 AM Post #2 of 15

Jon L

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Interesting review. When did you have the conversation with Rick about the best universal mod?

It seems like Ric currently is very enthusiastic about Oppo's modded with AK4397 32-bit DAC chips transplanted instead of the stock DAC..
 
Mar 31, 2008 at 1:47 PM Post #3 of 15

dcstep

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Jon L /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Interesting review. When did you have the conversation with Rick about the best universal mod?

It seems like Ric currently is very enthusiastic about Oppo's modded with AK4397 32-bit DAC chips transplanted instead of the stock DAC..



Last week Ric told me that he thought that the Pioneer still sounded better, but he wasn't finished with the 32-bit DAC on the Oppo.

My first conversation was early March and the new 32-bit DAC came in near the end of March.

If you're on the fence, I'd wait a couple of more weeks to see which he prefers after he's had more time with the new DAC and the Oppo.

I may get my Oppo modded with the 32-bit DAC, if he thinks it's anywhere near as good as the Pioneer.

Dave
 
Apr 1, 2008 at 3:21 AM Post #4 of 15

infinitesymphony

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Very nice review, dcstep. Pioneer seems to be an underrated brand, especially in the U.S., no doubt due to the proliferation of their lower-end lines throughout big-box retailers. I've had great luck even with their budget gear.

It seems like a lot of modders really like using the Pioneer design as a platform. After all, the audiophile brand Goldmund sourced the majority of parts for their ~$11,000 player from a $200 Pioneer DVD player.
rolleyes.gif


I have the Pioneer Elite DV-45A, which was the first in the line-up that led to your DV-58AV (DV-45A, DV-46AV, DV-48AV, DV-58AV). Each model added a few significant features over the previous model. I didn't know that the DV-58AV had a "Pure Audio" mode, as I think that feature has been absent since the DV-45A, which called it "Video Off". As far as I know, they all use Burr-Brown PCM1738 DAC chips, one per channel pair. That chip was Burr-Brown's first top-of-the-line "advanced segment" converter, and was their flagship DAC at one point. I've heard that even the higher-end Elite DVD player line (DV-47Ai, DV-79AVi, DV-59AVi) use the same DAC.

Factor that in with all of the modifications, and you've no doubt got a very good-sounding player.
biggrin.gif
 
Apr 1, 2008 at 3:38 AM Post #5 of 15

dcstep

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Thanks infinitesymphony.

Yeah, when you know the cost of DACs, clocks, circuitboards, etc. it's hard to pay $10,000 to $20,000 unit using the same pieces packaged in an aluminum billet chassis.

Dave
 
Apr 2, 2008 at 2:22 PM Post #6 of 15

teros1

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Great review, Dave.

My DV58A was Ric's "test mule," and has had a variety of clocks, PS mods, and so on gracing its innards. While I waited for it, an Oppo 980 (!) served as my CDP/DVDP. As you'll hear shortly, I also run an external DAC for Redbook duties.

I recently had the pleasure of having three experienced audiophiles over for an intensive listening/review session. In particular, we compared the Pioneer playing out its RCA's to the Pioneer as a transport for the DAC's. For this comparison, the source material was all Redbook CD.

The results:
  • Oritek DAC
  • Lavry DAC
  • EVS-mod Pioneer
  • Benchmark DAC

The Oritek was the clear winner on most material, but the Lavry bested it by a small margin on several cuts. The EVS-modded Pioneer was in the same league, but ever so slightly out of the money. The Benchmark was a distant 4th, sounding analytical, thin, and a bit rough to all listeners.

(In a separate listening test on a different system, the Pioneer and Oritek DAC tied on Redbook material.)

Everyone agreed that the Pioneer made an excellent transport, in 3 of 4 cases bettering the owner's home system.

We then played SACD through the DV-58's analog outs, and 3 of 4 listeners proclaimed it the best sound of the day. I conjecture that the Superclock-4 really comes into its own on higher-rez material - esp in the treble.

I am very happy with my DV-58, esp with Ric's thoughtful mods. But I also remain happy with my Oritek DAC (full disclosure).

A note to DV-58 owners: The "Pure Audio" setting is the real deal. Be sure to engage it when listening to audio - with or without Ric's mods.

Lastly, Ric is a very knowledgeable audiophile, a "tier-1" modder, and a great guy. And his prices can't be beat. Highly recommended.

The same goes for Ori. Talk with either of them, and you'll learn something - every time! And their work is excellent.

Final note: these comparisons were made using my loudspeaker system, where the source feeds a custom Oritek preamp, ASL (845) SET monoblocs, and Usher Dancer 3-ways. All components modded, of course. <g> Cables are Oritek X-2's throughout.

I hope that this post doesn't hijack the thread in any way, but I thought the information relevant.

- Bob
 
Apr 2, 2008 at 5:03 PM Post #7 of 15

dcstep

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Thanks for the added input Bob. Any discussion of the Pioneer and/or Ric's mods belongs here so far as I'm concerned.

Ric said that he did one mod to mine that he didn't do to yours and that you were going to probably circle back and add that. Do you remember what that was?

Yes, I'm mesmerized with the SACD and DVD-A playback. I hope to do as you and compare it to other high-end CDPs and universal players. Did you run SACD or DVD-A through an external DAC? I'm not feeling a need to spring for a DAC just yet.

I AM very curious to see what happens when Ric loads that 32-bit DAC into the Oppo.

Dave
 
Apr 2, 2008 at 5:35 PM Post #9 of 15

teros1

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Dave,

Answers to your questions:
  • I'll have to circle back with Ric on the "missing mod." He said that my unit was "85% complete," but didn't elaborate.
  • Most DAC's do not support SACD, because of its proprietary nature. I don't have many DVD-A's to play, so I have little experience there.
  • Google "oritek" and he's the first URL.
I hope this helps....

Bob
 
Apr 3, 2008 at 5:14 PM Post #10 of 15

skullguise

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Very nice review, Dave. It's funny, as your experience almost mirrors mine, but a couple gen's ago. Ric modded a Pioneer DV-45A for me, and many of the qualities vis-a-vis the other player you note, I also noted. A good sign of consistent performance.

I've also owned a modded Sony from Ric, and his Millenium DAC (1A version). His work indeed is great, and not too expensive, especially for what you get.

I ALSO agree with Bob about Ori and his work. I have 2 OMZ's now, one with the discrete headphone amp. I MAY consider selling one, but only because I may try out a balanced system.

Two great modders, with excellent results. Don't want to minimize any others (I've also had a RAM-modded Toshiba, great improvements too), but these two are my personal favorites.

On a slight tangent, has anyone reading this tried Ric's interconnects? Looks pretty good, in the less-is-more category.
 
Aug 30, 2009 at 8:08 PM Post #13 of 15

Hellenback

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Quote:

Originally Posted by infinitesymphony /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Very nice review, dcstep. Pioneer seems to be an underrated brand, especially in the U.S., no doubt due to the proliferation of their lower-end lines throughout big-box retailers. I've had great luck even with their budget gear.

It seems like a lot of modders really like using the Pioneer design as a platform. After all, the audiophile brand Goldmund sourced the majority of parts for their ~$11,000 player from a $200 Pioneer DVD player.
rolleyes.gif


I have the Pioneer Elite DV-45A, which was the first in the line-up that led to your DV-58AV (DV-45A, DV-46AV, DV-48AV, DV-58AV). Each model added a few significant features over the previous model. I didn't know that the DV-58AV had a "Pure Audio" mode, as I think that feature has been absent since the DV-45A, which called it "Video Off". Quote:

As far as I know, they all use Burr-Brown PCM1738 DAC chips, one per channel pair. That chip was Burr-Brown's first top-of-the-line "advanced segment" converter, and was their flagship DAC at one point. I've heard that even the higher-end Elite DVD player line (DV-47Ai, DV-79AVi, DV-59AVi) use the same DAC.


Factor that in with all of the modifications, and you've no doubt got a very good-sounding player.
biggrin.gif



The DV-58AV uses the Burr-Brown PCM1796 DAC when using analog out.
 
Sep 1, 2009 at 11:00 AM Post #14 of 15

infinitesymphony

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Hellenback /img/forum/go_quote.gif
The DV-58AV uses the Burr-Brown PCM1796 DAC when using analog out.


Ah, very cool, thanks for the info! I see that the PCM1796 is the functional equivalent/replacement to the PCM1738, so that makes sense.
 

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