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Anthem CD 1 - CD player

[Anthem CD 1]

[Italian version]

Product: Anthem CD 1 CD changer
Manufacturer: Sonic Frontiers - Anthem - USA
Approx. price: 1699 US$

The tube industry is enjoying a renaissance these days, especially in the audio field. Tubes are in - and for good reason! So it is no surprise that manufacturers of audio equipment, and especially high end audio, are incorporating tube technology in their designs.

Enter Sonic Frontiers Innternational. This Canadian success story shows that the electronics industry in Canada is alive and well. Despite the fact that labour rates in Canada are much higher than in Asia, good electronic equipment can be designed and built right here on Canadian soil.
Started by a group of partners, Sonic Frontiers was recently bought by another Canadian success story - Paradigm (a manufacturer of speakers).

The Anthem line is a vacuum tube based component system geared towards the connoisseur of music, but without the sticker shock of very high end components.
The Anthem line is designed and priced for everyone. It is a way to introduce the public to vacuum tube audio compnents at a reasonable price point.

The CD 1 comes in a large box with styrofoam packaging to protect the unit. The vacuum tube is packed outside the unit. A cotton glove is provided for installing the tube - a nice touch, and clever marketing. A Fuller screwdriver for removing and installing the Philips screws on the case is even provided.
Sonic Frontiers has thought of everything! To make installation of the tube easy, the unit is shipped from the factory with only several screws holding the top to the chassis. The remainder of the screws are provided in a plastic bag to be installed by the user after the tube is set in place.

[CD 1 front]The CD 1 player is a large unit (48cm x 33cm x 13cm) weighing in at 11kg. This is heavy for a CD player which is good because it imparts stability.
The unit has a beautiful large front made of aluminium. The front is available in silver or black. The enclosure is thick metal painted black. The sheer weight and use of metal impart a feel of strength.

The only design concept which I wasn't particularly found of was the connection of the power switch at the back of the unit inside with the push-button on/off switch on the front panel by a long plastic rod.
I believe it would have been better to either place the switch right behind the push-button (thus eliminating the need for the rod), or using a metal rod as the connector. The plastic rod could break if it got jammed or loose.

The CD changer is the stack variety. It will hold six CDs at a time. The changer is manufactured by Sony in China. The CD 1 is beautifully manufactured inside with attention to the smallest details.
The components are mounted on the circuit boards in a very neat fashion. The wiring harnesses are routed elegantly and braided neatly. The unit uses Burr-Brown (PCM 1702P) 20 bit D/A converters in the circuitry.
A Pacific Microsonic PMD-100 HDCD filter/decoder is used in the CD 1. Pacific Microsonic make fantastic chips and this adds to the CD 1's ability as a CD player.

[CD 1 inside]Some Solen capacitors are used on the main circuit board. Solen is known for producing great sounding capacitors in audio applications. The board appears to be populated with high-end components.
A Sovtek 6922 vacuum tube is utilized in the output stage as opposed to solid state devices. The premise is that vacuum tube technology will soften the rough edges of CD sound produced by solid state circuitry.
This is equivalent to running a pure solid state CD player into a vacuum tube preamplifier. But in this case, the vacuum tube circuitry is incorporated into the CD player itself.
A "Made in Taiwan" remote control is provided. The back of the unit has two RCA output jacks for analog output. In addition, a coaxial RCA digital output jack is provided, as is a AES/EBU XLR connector. An infrared stereo jack is also present.

Frequency response is listed at 5Hz-20kHz +-0.25dB (the CD 1 manual lists this correctly, but the Anthem literature incorrectly lists it as 5Hz-20Hz). THD is listed at <0.01% for 10Hz-20kHz. S/N ratio is stated as >-115dB for 10hZ-20kHz. Intrinsic jitter is stated to be <140ps RMS for 10Hz-40Khz.

Listening test

Listening tests consisted of two phases. In phase I, the CD 1 was played through a Yamaha RX-750 stereo receiver feeding into a pair of Paradigm 11se Mark II speakers. This is my reference solid state stereo system.
For comparison purposes, the CD-1 was compared to a Parasound C/DX-88 CD player which is part of my reference system. The Parasound CD player was Parasound's early entry into the high end CD market, and continues to thrill me with its fantastic sound. This comparison through the solid state system allowed the effect of the 6922 tube in the Anthem product to be examined.

In phase II, the CD 1 was connected to my reference vacuum tube system. This consisted of a Dynaco PAS 3 preamplifier, a Dynaco ST-70 amplifier, and the Paradigm 11se Mark II speakers. With the tubed CD 1 and my reference system, a truly 100% vacuum tube pathway was created.

Four different types of music were listened to - classical, rock'n'roll, country, and easy listening. For classical music, I chose the Living Stereo reissue of Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition (BMG 09026-61958-2) with Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. For rock 'n roll, I listened to Soul Asylum, Let Your Dim Light Shine (Sony Music CK 57616), and Tears For Fears, Songs From The Big Chair (Polygram Inc 824 300-2). Shania Twain, Come on Over (Mercury Records 314-536 003-2) was the country selection. Finally, for easy listening, I chose the Cranberries, everybody else is doing it, so why can't we? (Island Records 314-514 156-2).

It was a nice luxury to have a CD player which could accommodate six CDs at a time, especially when I have been used to my CD player which was a single unit player.
The thing which I liked about the CD 1 was that the multi-disc transport mechanism took up no more room from the front than a single disc player because the CD 1 was a front loading unit (as opposed to the more ubiquitous top loading players for multi disc systems).

During phase I, the music produced by the CD 1 was warm, and yet lively, with a nice balance between highs and lows. My Parasound C/DX-88 player was brighter in sound, but that it one of the reasons that I bought the Parasound - I liked the CD sounds to be bright. After extensive listening to the Anthem CD 1 I found myself starting to also like a not so bright player.
The CD 1 still provided all the bass and treble as my Parasound, but just wasn't so shrill at times - which is a good thing. Part of the difference was no doubt due to the fact that the Parasound was 100% solid state, whereas the Anthem CD 1 used a vacuum tube in the output stage.
The vacuum tube would soften the colder sound from a CD and take some of the harshness away from it.

Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition flowed beautifully in the CD 1. The sound was very life-like with full bodied realism. Notes had character and depth.
It would be hard pressed to get more real than this, unless you were at the symphony yourself! Dramatic would be a good word to describe the sound. You will not get tired listening to classical music on this CD player.

Rock 'n roll was very good on the CD 1, but I still found myself leaning towards the C/DX-88. Now I admit having a liking for harsh rock 'n roll, so that might explain my preference. The CD 1 softened the rock 'n roll, but in doing so took some of its punch away.
However, on balance, it should be noted that some people like rock 'n roll with a softened sound that is not too harsh. The sound was pleasant with good bass and treble.
Soul Asylum and Tears For Fears both rocked very nicely, but with a more methodical sound than more harsh sounding CD players.

The CD 1 was at home with country music. Shania Twain came out beautifully. The sound was balanced, melodic, and wonderful to listen to. Shania's voice shone through, and was very life-like. But, I admit to liking Shania Twain so I would find her voice hard not to listen to no matter which player was being used.

The Cranberries were really at home on the CD 1. This player suited their type of easy listening music very nicely. The sound was colorfull, lively, and laid back.
The sound of the Cranberries was presented in a balanced fashion on the CD 1. This player seemed well suited for easy listening music.

During phase II, the CD 1 was played through my 100 % vacuum tube preamp/amplifier system. Now the differences between the C/DX-88 and the CD 1 became less apparent. This could be explained by the C/DX-88 now being routed through a vacuum tube preamplifier (my Dynaco PAS 3).
In a sense, the C/DX-88 now could take advantage of a vacuum tube preamplifier section that the CD 1 had built into its circuitry. Of course this is oversimplifying things to a certain point because there is more to a CD players' sound than the output circuit.
But, nonetheless, the presence of a vacuum tube in the signal path does make a significant difference in the sound.

Using the vacuum tube stereo system, the CDs sounded less harsh on the C/DX-88 than when played through the solid state Yamaha. And the CD 1 was just as soft when played through the vacuum tube stereo in comparison to being played through the Yamaha.
The softening affect on the music was greater on the C/DX-88 than on the CD 1 when using a vacuum tube stereo system. This was to be expected since the CD 1 already had a built in vacuum tube in its circuitry whereas the C/DX-88 did not.
In general, the sound of a system is more greatly influenced by the sound source and/or preamplifier stage. So the presence of a vacuum tube amplifier has less of an affect than that of a vacuum tube preamplifier.

In the vacuum tube stereo system there were still differences between the CD players, but less so. This demonstrated just how important a vacuum tube is in the signal path. Add a vacuum tube in the path of a signal, and the entire sound is changed when compared to a solid state circuit.
Maybe this will be the start of a whole new generation of CD players - ones with a vacuum tube in the output stage.
It adds a little more to circuit complexity and cost, but I believe that it is worth it. I prefer vacuum tubes in audio circuits compared to solid state.

In summary, I really liked the Anthem CD 1. It is very well built, sounds excellent for all types of music, but more so for classical, country, and easy listening than for rock 'n roll.
This CD player would make a worthy addition to any high end stereo system, or to any stereo system for that matter. Sonic Frontiers has produced a robust CD player which has great sound. Plus it is built right here in Canada!

© Copyright 1999 Harvey Kader - http://www.tnt-audio.com

Manufacturer's comment (Chris Johnson - President - Sonic Frontiers)

Dear Editor:
First of all, we wish to thank Harvey and the entire editorial staff of TNT-Audio for the opportunity of submitting our ANTHEM CD-1 to the webzine and for the extremely positive review.

Sonic Frontiers International has consistently maintained that "properly designed" electronics should NOT impart their own unique sonic signature to the music it is controlling, routing, attenuating or amplifying.
Thus, tonal neutrality, lifelike dynamics, authoritative yet controlled bass and pinpointing imaging are the goals to which all our electronics aspire too...it is in these areas that we feel the CD-1 excels at...sonic attributes which Harvey concurs with it appears.

As well, it is important to note that audiophile consumers and music lovers alike can enjoy the CD-1 not only as a reference quality CD Player or Transport, but the Changer capability allows it to double as the perfect device for background music, party's, etc....it's nonaggressive, non-fatiguing presentation (an attribute of the tube output stage) makes the CD-1 particularly good for long listening sessions such as these.

Once again, we would like to thank Harvey for all the time he took to carefully evaluate the CD-1, and we look forward to future reviews of other Sonic Frontiers or Anthem products by TNT-AUDIO.
Chris Johnson, President - Sonic Frontiers International

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