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Product: CD player
Manufacturer: Yamaha - Japan
Price: app. $580/Euro 600
Reviewer: Dejan V. Veselinovic
Reviewed: January 2001
With about 150 years of experience with musical instruments, Yamaha of Japan can boast a heritage few others, if any, can match. Today, this company is a major player in quite a number of sectors, from straight stereo, via professional audio, to PC audio, and in home theater, they are one of the leaders. Yet, for all that, Yamaha is basically a low key company, which does not use bombastic ad campaigns, but rather seems to rely on its undisputed expertise.
CDX-993 is their top CD player in the down-to-earth price class. It is not cheap, coming in at around $580, but then again, it is very cheap compared to the likes of Wadia. It does not make any bold claims, but does nevertheless use several technical aspects not commonly found at this price, or considerably higher for that matter. No doubt their volume buying clout comes into play here, as well as the fact that this unit has been put together in Malaysia rather than Japan, thus saving on expensive labor.
Looking at it, you'd easily assume it costs three or four times its actual price; it boasts very clean, streamlined lines, with very little in sight; most of the usual command buttons have been relegated to a place beneath a flap, an almost trade mark move by Yamaha, spread across their entire range of products. My test sample was finished in titanium, a greyish finish, but the usual black finish is also available at no extra cost.
I couldn't help noticing something I never saw before - beneath the flap, you'll find a digital optical input, alongside its counterpart on the usual back of the unit. Handy for quick tryouts, no doubt.
Yamaha says this unit uses their "Pro-Bit" technology. As far as I could determine, this boils down to a form of interlacing or upsampling, where a 16-bit signal is changed to a notionally 20-bit signal. This is supposed to provide a better musical waveform due to higher resolution. Unfortunately, I could not come up with more detail on exactly how this is done.
They also claim their base is made up of composite materials, with the objective of reducing vibration, or if you like, improving the damping.
The inside of the Yamaha is extremely well thought out. The compartment with two power transformers is completely shielded, in fact offering a box within a box. One of the transformers has a printed circuit board attached with two complete full wave, discrete diode rectifiers, feeding two pairs of 6,800uF/56V capacitors; this yields a total capacitance of 27,200uF, more than many a budget integrated amplifier. On the main PC board, one will also find many types of audiophile grade caps, such as Elna Silmic, Nichicon Muse and Elna Precision series, liberally sprinkled all over.
While the I/V and low pass filter section appears to use a pair of JRC 5532 op amps (tweakers, take note!), the actual output amplifier section uses discrete transistors only, and a total of 42 of them, as well. No cost-cutting here, that much is obvious. The board itself is well laid out, clearly marked and so orderly and logical, it is a joy to behold. The output stage is said to run in pure class A.
Too bad most of it is hidden from view by the wide side-to-side reinforcement bar (roll bar?), whose job is twofold: 1) it completes the top side of the cage containing the two power transformers, and 2) it makes the case much more rigid, and therefore less susceptible to airborne vibration. That, the two transformers, their shielding and a double, composite material bottom all add up to a very healthy weight of some 9.6 kilos (app. 22 lbs).
On the back, you'll find two sets of RCA Cinch outputs, one variable and the other one fixed; Yamaha suggests, and I wholeheartedly agree, that in normal use you connect to the fixed output. Less electronics along that route. The variable output is useful if you want to drive a power amplifier directly, as that becomes your only method of lowering volume. Both sets of jacks are fully gold plated.
You will also find an S/PDIF coaxial and a second optical output (the first being located beneath the front flap). Speaking of the front, the outside looks exceptionally clean with the flap up - juts four buttons in view, Power On/Off, Open/Close, Play/Pause and Stop. All the other controls are hidden below the flap, all 25 of them, comprising of the usual functions, plus the odd one out - optical digital input. I've never before seen that implemented on the front of any CD player, but there is a certain logic to it.
All controls on the front panel are duplicated on the remote, plus some which are available on remote only, such as display normal, dim and off. The remote control is Yamaha's usual handy, clear and well thought out affair, something we've come to expect of them, after all these years, so this is just another job well done.
At low levels, what you notice at once is the depth of the soundstage. Width is not much of a problem in general, but depth is, and many a solid player fail or do not satisfy on that one point. Not so the 993 - it has depth, and more of it than any other player I've heard anywhere near its price class.
Another thing you notice is the ease with which it plays music; strain seems to be a term it never heard of. Pop, rock, classical, ambience, folk, jazz, you name it and the 993 will play it as if it were waiting for just that. It's an effect which strongly reminds me of the best of power amplifiers, this feeling of limitless power, or absolute freedom if you like, as if there's nothing in the world that could make it stumble. I just love that feeling.
The overall tonal balance is somewhere between excellent and outstanding - nothing pushes, nothing pulls, but it's all there. Even at low volume, you will not be able to miss that deep, deep bass, clean and clear, no overhang, no muddiness, but no hesitation either. Good as it may be, the mid range is just as good, with bags of detail, all the ambience there is on the CD. Plus that sound stage depth, which adds so much to any and all music. The high range is very un-CD like, almost (but not quite!) as if some tubes were at work rather than transistors; I assume it's the discrete output which is responsible for this, as it probably does run in pure class A (as very small currents are involved, anyway).
Turn the volume knob up and all you'll get is a good thing but louder. Due to our psycho acoustic limitations in hearing, louder will only serve to show up the details more explicitly, but still without any obvious faults. In fact, playing louder will only serve to underline its considerable virtues.
The bass will be as good as your amp and speakers can manage - my AR94s did just fine, thundering when required, showing delicacy when called upon to do so. The mid range remains clear and detailed, retaining its uncommonly good depth in addition to width - very impressive.
The high range will also be as good as your speakers can manage, and in my case, it was nicely rounded and totally free of any splash and grain, typical CD vices. I would not say an analog turntable was playing, but I would ask if the CD player had a different, much more name tag on it. One with a four figure price tag attached to it.
I did my usual torture tests, like trying to catch it out on speed, Vangelis, Enigma and Hevia doing the honors, but no go, speed is simply not an issue here. Better yet, speed there is a-plenty of, but without the usual compromise on detail, it's just all there, period.
While very good to excellent, the Yamaha CDX-993 is not prefect. It tends to slightly soften the high range, sort of round it off as it were. It does not lack speed or detail, nor warmth for that matter, but it is slightly softer than I would have thought of as perfect. On the other had, its bass quality is, to say the least, impressive, by any standard you care to name - it is deep, defined and with no trace of overhang or overshoot. The midrange is very clean, with a good 3D perspective, especially in terms of front to back. Easily the best in the sub-$1,000 class, at least regarding those models I have heard.
For the rest, well, it's all good news - it's heavy (good for improved immunity to vibration), it's equipped with an unusually competent and well endowed power supply, separate for digital and analog sections down to the power transformers (and I can't think of another unit in its price class which has that), it has discrete output sections which have obviously been well thought out, it is chock full of premium components, and its price, while not small, is in fact very modest in view of everything it offers.
Another question is how does it compare with its immediate competitors? The one that springs to mind is Marantz's CD6000OSE, which locally and elsewhere costs about 10-15% less. It also offers discrete outputs, but also discrete low pass filter and current to voltage converter sections, it also has a double bottom plate and a side brace bar, but it has a single, albeit upgraded, power transformer, and weighs in at some 5.4 kilos (app. 12.5 lbs), considerably less than the 993. There are others of course, but these two seem to be exceptionally direct competitors in many ways, much more than usual.
Well, between the two, I'd go for the Yamaha, despite the price premium. Its sound is somehow less digital and more analog to my ears than the Marantz offers, which remains a fine machine and hard to beat for the asking price.
So, to sum up: Yamaha's CDX-993 is in many ways an outstanding product, in view of its price. It is not perfect, and cannot compete with high class players, but its greatest singular virtue is the fact that one cannot find any fault easy to describe. Its opulent, warm sound may not be to everyone's taste, but it goes a long way in defying the common definition of "digital sound". Its sound stage depth is easily the best I ever heard in anywhere near its price tier, and I daresay it's better than quite a few much more expensive players I have heard. It is uncommonly solidly built and the materials used just don't get much better, yet it is a mainstream product, as witnessed by the two rather mundane op amps in the LPF stage It has stunningly good looks, conveying a feeling that it costs much more than it really does, it is well thought out, but white lettering on a titanium grey background are hardly very legible; thank God you can do everything with the remote control, which uses white lettering against a charcoal black background.
But for less than $600, I doubt you will do better anywhere - different yes, but better? Not at all likely. Yamaha has a winner on their hands, I think. Even if it is a little on the warm side.
Very good is nice, but how about turning very good to excellent? I refer to SoundCare spikes, which have given me such good results in the past. Of course, they are only one of many similar options and approaches, but in my view, they yield excellent results for a modest price, giving them an outstanding price/performance ratio (see review here on our site).
Remember that the heavier any unit is, the smaller benefits you can expect of them, but there will be some in any case. Typical benefits include improvement of bass definition, considerably better midrange and cleared-up treble, with an overall effect of better sound balance and improved definition and ambience. But how much of it is a moot point - sometimes very much, sometimes relatively little, it all depends.
Anyway, SoundCare feet are fortunately higher than Yamaha's original feet, so it was easy to try them out without permanently sticking them on. I was somewhat surprised to discover that the CDX-993 reacted to these feet in an absolutely identical manner as my H/K HD730. The bass cleared up, and from outstanding went into one of the best I ever heard at any price, quite comparable to players with very famous names and exalted price tags, the midrange gained some definition and ambience improved somewhat, while the treble cleared up a bit.
However, the overall balance was shifted and reasonably so, nothing outstanding, but quite noticeable. To my taste, it got better, the somewhat warm character, very pleasant but not wholly truthful, gave way to a more natural perspective. The CDX-993 lost a little, but gained more in overall balance, which from very good turned into a comfortable excellent. Of course I've heard better, but that better cost some 5-6 times more, and for a pretty modest improvement too.
Quite simply, it now sounded more natural to me, with a better overall balance. To use an analogy, it's like graduating from BMW Series 5 to Series 7, a good thing just becomes better yet, but with very little outward form. Yet nobody doubts you are enjoying an even better ride, and all know you had it good in the first place. In my view, the CDX-993 simply outgrows its price class and moves on to the next tier, the say $1,000-1,500 group. And all that for a modest outlay - locally, SoundCare spikes cost about $45, but prices do vary across Europe and the world, so you have to check with your local Electrocompaniet/SoundCare dealer.
Therefore, my advice is to give this CD player a serious listen, it's well worth it, but also to invest in SoundCare spikes if you're buying it, and upgrade right on the spot. A great deal will only become a fabulous one.
Copyright 2001 Dejan V. Veselinovic - http://www.tnt-audio.com
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