I’ve recently been the beneficiary of an embarrassment of high-end riches. This happy bit of serendipity has allowed me to evaluate loudspeakers from ATC and DALI, and electronics from Plinius (most notably, the CD-101 CD player). At their respective prices, each of these components has significantly redefined issues of musicality and resolution. Although this string will eventually play itself out, I couldn’t help wondering if the Accuphase DP-57 CD player—a beauty with a brushed champagne front panel—might keep the streak alive.
As it turns out, the $4900 DP-57 is a paradigm of sonic elegance and sophistication. Leaning gently towards the lighter, airier side of neutrality, the DP- 57’s soothing treble and sumptuous midband impart a warm romanticism to any music. The Accuphase naturally illuminates images on the soundstage and seamlessly integrates both instruments and venue. Its dynamic envelope is wide in the macro sense but it is wider still at the lowest levels, where the finest microgradations often left me at the edge of my seat in anticipation of the next note. Rather than soften transients or overtly etch them, the DP-57 restores music’s swooping contours and curves. Harmonic structure, the perfume in the air of a performance, is reproduced with an opulence and golden bloom that I’ve rarely heard from digital. The key lies in this player’s distinct lack of digital brittleness, coarseness, and grit; even sibilant recordings seem more palatable though the DP-57.
The reproduction of instrumental images in acoustic space and of ambient information is as complete and unbroken as I’ve heard from a digital source in my room. The preternatural quiet of most CD players generally results in an antiseptic, vacuum-like silence that swallows up the larger acoustic environment. The Accuphase demonstrates that the silences are never really soundless, that the ambient world of the concert hall is always alive and breathing. As a result, the DP-57 will probably be most appreciated by the classical music aficionado whose recordings most fully express in a natural acoustic music’s range of tonal colors. Take, for example, the Zander/ Philharmonia reading of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony on Telarc. Orchestral images are incredibly specific— from the growl of the bass viols, to the rattle of a snare, to the shimmering triangle nestled at the back of the stage—demonstrating time and again that the DP-57 doesn’t know the definition of “homogenize.” The soundstage is as wide and deep as I’ve ever heard it, yet when the prominent upstage piccolo dies away in the second movement, the Accuphase easily holds onto the distinct timbres of the bass drum and bassoons that were doubling it.
A good pop-music example is Elton John’s “Talking Old Soldiers” on Tumbleweed Connection [Island/Rocket]. Anchored by its superb reproduction of the vocal and piano tracks, the DP-57 brings out the song’s natural timbres and harmonics, much like a wood restorer reveals the rich patina of decades-old wood. The piano doesn’t just make sounds, it seems as if it’s being played—hands traveling along keys, idiosyncratic variations of hammers striking strings, the dynamic shifts matching the emotional expressions of John’s vocal. And during Jennifer Warnes’ “Way Down Deep” [The Hunter, Private], individual percussion instruments—congas, shakers, sand blocks—have a high level of detail. Each impact is made more explicitly physical so that the strike of a palm or fingertip is heard as a discrete part of the performance.
It’s the little things that make the difference. And what makes the Accuphase stand out is its skill at recovering low-level information, a characteristic I usually associate with SACD, not Red Book CD. Perhaps the best illustration of the DP-57’s resolving prowess is the “simplicity” of the solo horn as heard in James Levine’s Pictures At An Exhibition [DG]. On lesser CD players, a single sustained note from this instrument sounds utterly ordinary and synthetic. Transients usually lack the feeling of “push” from the musician’s embouchure, while minute volume changes and delicate vibrato also go missing. The DP-57 brings the complex tones of the horn to life, complete with the natural variations of the performer’s breath control.
Curiously, and in comparison to blockbuster orchestral music, rock is not as electrifying on the DP-57. While beautifully integrated in most mixes, vocals are also not quite as forward as I’ve come to expect. It might have something to do with the player’s spatial dimensionality, which tends to push back from the front edge of the stage. There’s also a slight softening of large transient and dynamic swings that can be heard during Dire Straits’ remastered “Private Investigations” [Love Over Gold, Warner]. And in spite of its spot-on pitch, the DP- 57’s bass extension could be improved. Not that it plays “small.” The DP-57 can pound out the head-throbbing, thigh-shaking disco beat of Cher’s “Believe” with the best of them [The Best of Cher, Warner].