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The AudioCom "Superclock" CD Player Replacement Clock

[Italian version]

Product: AudioCom "SuperClock"
Manufacturer: AudioCom - UK
E-mail: Enquiries to AudioCom
Price : 160 UKP - approx. 260 S$
Price inclusive fitting: 195 UKP - approx. 315 S$
Reviewer: Thorsten Loesch

[S-Clock closeup]
The S-Clock...unveiled!

CD-Players. They are there. They will remain for a long time to come. Yet from the beginning they where plagued by mediocre sound and generally found to sound unacceptable by many avid music lovers. The problems leading to this situation may have been in technical implementation of Player or the format, in the end it matters little. From the get go many companies have striven to improve on the basic sound. Changes in DAC's, analogue stages and many other things steadily improved the sound of CD-Players since their introduction.

In recent time's attention has turned to a phenomenon called Jitter and the precision as well as stability of the Clock signal that governs the whole fundamental workings of the Player (and DAC if used). In the last five years or so an increasingly large number of replacement clocks have been offered for improvements to CD-Players. The reasoning is that often the internal clock generators in CD-Players and transports is not optimised for low Jitter.

Having tried some of such replacements (which shall remain nameless here) I found that these Clock modules did indeed change the sound of the Player or Transport they where fitted to. However often the improvements where small or indeed, in certain well-optimised players fitting such a clock module made the sound worse not better. A long outstanding project of mine was to develope a clock replacement that would actually allow consistent improvements.

In the last few years I never really got around to do it and normally I get excellent results from other approaches to tweaking CD-Players, so I never pursued this avenue in earnest. I was rather sceptical when AudioCom approached me and offered me their entry into the market of replacement clocks for evaluation. However, after I reviewed their Literature I felt that possibly here was finally a really useful clock. You see, the design feature of this clock module where very similar to those in my concept study for a replacement clock.

Alice, the Rabbit and a Clock in the DVD Player

For those technically inclined I suggest that you review the Product literature on AudioCom's Web-Site. Sufficient to say that that this clock was designed ground up and that as far as I can see no compromises where made in terms of component choice or Circuit Design. Not only are three separate high precision regulators on the PCB, a large number of Sanyo Os-Con's and Black Gate's latest Capacitors support the Circuitry. The Board uses more than just the usual two layers and everything has been optimised to the highest degree possible. This extends to the Wiring on the clock output that is high purity Silver, chosen over coax cable after extensive tests.

I fitted the Superclock to a Pioneer DV-505 DVD Player to which previously a number of other modifications had been made. To briefly cover these, C37 Lacquer was used extensively on both transport and PCB's, Chips where shielded using copper-foil and the analogue output stage had been replaced by a purely passive arrangement.

Now to fit the Clock. AudioCom did provide a sheet with information how to do this. While this was sufficient for me (with over 25 years professional and DIY electronic experience) to get the job done, I do not feel that the average Hobbyist would have been equally successful. I do not know how the instruction for fitting to other Players are, however, if they are similar I cannot recommend to you to fit the Superclock yourself. That said, all was just dandy and playing well on the first attempt.

Dave, Joe, Paul and Eugene, some Time Out and the Superclock

I will have to explain that. I feel that one of the Key drawbacks of most CD Replay equipment is around timing. This now does not really mean the timing of the clock itself (though there seems to be a relationship), but rather the "timing" of the music. This is this little interplay, usually led by Drummer on music with strong percussion. It is hard to describe, but if the timing of the music is destroyed, the musicians sound almost like drum-machines, mechanical, going trough the motions.

One of my test recordings for timing is the Dave Brubeck Quartets seminal 1959 record "Time Out". I have both a pretty loveless mastered Re-Issue of this record on Vinyl (1970's I think), several of it's tracks on a very well mastered and pressed 1968 "best of Dave Brubeck" CBS/Columbia LP and the recent Sony/Columbia Legacy CD re-issue in "Gold-CD".

Prior to the S-Clock I always thought the CD could not time for a dime. The music sounded limp, not very involving. Now switch to the "not so good" re-issue and the jazzy funkiness of the rhythm on these tracks invades your feet. There is a joyous playfulness' about this. Try the classic "Take 5". Dave Brubeck said about it "Take 5 was not meant to be a hit, it's supposed to be a Joe Morello Drum Solo!".

Now on LP Joe works his shooting match like he is on a caffeine infusion drip.... The rhythm sweeps you along; you cant help it. On CD one tends to say "nice playing" and lifts sophisticatedly the cup of tea, the little finger stuck out.... So immediately after fitting the S-Clock I dropped "Take 5" into the drawer.

WOW. Now here we where finally cooking! The limp Rhythms suddenly where alive. The feet wanted to do their thing. I was swinging along, definitely new for CD. Okay, even with S-Clock fitted the DVD Player is no match for my Vinyl Set-up. However what the S-Clock managed was to elevate a pretty good but somewhat boring, overly polite CD-Player to one that can aspire to greatness.

I listened to more CD's, compared to vinyl and eventually just dug out some interesting stuff on CD to listen for pleasure. The post S-Clock DV-505 has more detail, better timing and a slight "delicacy to the touch" that is welcome. Playing a wide range of recordings, including rock, jazz and even the "Corrs" (Andrea Corr is definitely a knockout) the "S-Clock" effect was appreciable and not small.

Moreover, I perceived the improvement as consistent, for all types of music and even on pretty bad recordings. I have a "bootleg" CD with a Live recording of the "Chicago Transit Authority" from (I believe) 1978. This was obviously done with 2 Mic's in the middle of a crowd. The sound is muddy, ill defined, lyrics are almost indecipherable and when the guitar solos come in they drown out all else.

Rather than exposing the bad recording techniques used, the player post S-Clock seems to push away some of the muddiness' and allowed the musical performance to shine through what must be in the Top 10 for the worst recordings EVER.


After all this I was ready for the Big one:

(in the voice of a Wrestling Ring announcer)

Now for today's Main Event - the Fight you all have been waiting for!

Introducing first, hailing from the United Kingdom, the reigning CD Player heavyweight champion, the Acoustic Precision EIKOS!

In the challenger's corner, hailing from the land of the rising sun (and falling yen) Japan, the modified Pioneer DV-505!

Let the fight begin.

Okay, bact to a slightly more pedestrian view of things....

Listening to the DV-505 first there was a general agreement among the members of the pannel that this was indeed HIGH CLASS CD-Replay, worthy of praise. Switching to the EIKOS playing Mussogorskies "Pictures at an Exhibition" on Reference Recordings again, the EIKOS dug deeper, punched harder and was more agile. But not ALL THAT MUCH. I was startled more by the similarities than by the differences. This is perhaps not even surprising, seeing that both players use Pioneers Legato Link digital filter and similar DAC's.

Switching back forth between the two players showed the EIKOS on direct comparison notably superior. However, at the same time going back to the clocked DV-505 (with the other mods in place) was no gutwrenching experience. On the contrary, the losses where perceptible but there was no immediate "put the EIKOS back" reaction. Now that EXCEEDS the historical performance of the modified Marantz CD-67 I wrote about 2 years ago. Non too shabby, if I may say so myself.

Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man's world (ABBA)

Uhhh. Ohhh. That rather dates me and exposes bad taste. Yet it is the Key question. The Pioneer DV-505 is (more or less) a £ 400 DVD/CD Player. The S-Clock with fitting costs £ 195. That is 50% of the shop price of the Unit. Can I recommend the S-Clock as upgrade for this Player?

The answer must be a qualified yes. However, if the Analogue Stage is not substantially modified I feel much of the Improvement brought on by the S-Clock would be lost. So lest you implement the S-Clock as part of an overall upgrade or to use the DV-505 as Transport bypassing it's internal DAC entirely, I do not feel the S-Clock to be a very cost effective Upgrade. However, in the context of higher quality Players as possibly the Pioneer DV-717 (fundamentally similar to my 505) or indeed in high quality CD Players the S-Clock might very well be the Upgrade that makes the difference.

This is a bit of a quandary. The relatively high Price makes the upgrade of slightly questionable Value for most pieces of CD Replay equipment, yet making a cheaper version would likely not offer any significant performance advantage over using an unmodifed CD-Player.

For the DV-505 (and a wide range of similar DVD-Players from Pioneer) my personal calculation would be like this.... Would I really spend about £ 300 in upgrades (assuming a professionally carried out modification of the Analogue stage) on a £ 400 DVD Player?

I personally would. It plays Films. It plays CD's as good as any £ 700 CD-Player or DAC/DVDP Combo and then a good deal better.

I would also feel from this experience that the S-Clock is a worthwhile upgrade for any CD or DVD Player with "audiophile" persuasion but only conventional clock arrangements. The final call is however yours.

The System

The S-Clock was auditioned in my own System consisting of:

© Copyright 1999 Thorsten Loesch - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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