I love things stripped to their essence: a Bach partita, a Hemingway sentence, a Matisse drawing, a Margherita pizza. All are simple, uncluttered, and effective.
Certain audio components also express a minimalist vibe—a Rega turntable, the Quad electrostatic, and, perhaps most emblematically, the old Levinson ML 6 preamp, a monoblock unit adorned with but two front-panel knobs—one for source, and one for volume.
Although they may not be quite as barebones, Teac’s new PD-H600 CD player and AG-H600NT stereo receiver strike me as being minimalist in all the right ways. Each unit is roughly two-thirds the size of a standard 17**-wide audio component; each is clean of line and unembellished by any unnecessary knobs, functions, or inputs, and each delivers high degrees of musical performance for impressively modest sums of money ($999 and $1499, respectively).
Sitting atop Teac’s Reference Series, both components utilize technologies found in Teac’s high-end Esoteric line, which has garnered plenty of praise in this and many other audio publications. Given that, it should come as no surprise that premium-grade touches abound. First, and critically, the chassis that house the working parts are remarkably robust at these prices—milled from solid quarter-inch-thick aluminum, with elegantly rounded front corner insets. It’s evident that the Teac engineers wanted their electronics to rest within rigid enclosures.
Likewise, the CD player’s drawer is impressively solid and smooth of operation, and the tray is notably free of resonance. Burr-Brown 24-bit/192kHz Delta-Sigma DACs are employed, as are ELNA electrolytic capacitors and resistors. Teac America’s Randy Taylor took particular care to emphasize the hefty power supplies employed in these units, which use toroidal transformers. “Both have quite impressive low-end performance,” he assured me.
He was right, as I’ll discuss shortly.
But before I describe bass performance, or the receiver’s 21st century features and attributes, I’m going to offer up special praise for the CD PD-H600 player, which has set a new standard for me in what a thousand-dollar player can do, even when compared to the very fine Arcam FMJ CD17 I reviewed in issue 198.
On the “Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia” from Peter Grimes, on Reference Recordings’ new release, Britten’s Orchestra (to be reviewed next issue), this Teac player came across as immediately engaging, musically speaking, surprisingly transparent, and exceptionally easy and refined in overall character, tone, and, for lack of a better word, control. It rendered a fine sense of the hall’s depth and breadth, and a strong impression of the orchestra’s “presence,” with very good air and a precise focus that never sounded etched or “digital,” in the bad sense of the word. And yes, the bottom-end response was indeed impressive—taut, yet tuneful, controlled yet not artificially tight sounding, viscerally powerful, and quite airy. Dynamic range was also quite good, though not as finely tiered as the very best.
“Open, easy, and refined,” are the words I again wrote describing the Teac on the Rubinstein Collection, Vol. 76 [RCA], as I marveled at the intricate interplay between the late great pianist, Pierre Fournier’s cello, and Henryk Szeryng’s violin on Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 1. If chamber music remains one of the most telling genres to gauge a component’s (and system’s) authenticity, and I believe it does, then the PD-H600 must be considered a notable success.
Yet when it needs to let loose and rock, the PD-H600 can, as proved by Jeff Beck’s blistering “Brush with the Blues,” from Who Else! [Epic]. While it starts as a traditional slow shuffle, with a simple but intensely weighty electric bass and monster-sized drum accompaniment, the middle stretch of the song finds Beck doing things to his Stratocaster that can best be described as controlled mayhem—something you wouldn’t wish on anyone or thing except, perhaps, this guitar in Beck’s capable hands. It’s thrilling stuff, and the Teac rode the dangerous bits with composed assurance.
Returning to that excellent Arcam FMJ CD 17 as a way of checking my enthusiasm and memory: As good and musically compelling as it is, the Arcam, by direct comparison, sounds a mite out of focus, bright at the very top edges, and “shouty” with vocals, such as Leonard Cohen’s on the remastered Songs of Love and Hate [Columbia], or Captain Luke’s on “Rainy Night in Georgia” (Came So Far [Music Maker]).
In short, it seems that the PD-H600 has in fact benefited from the technologies Teac applies to its far more costly Esoteric brand. Let me hasten to add that I’m not sneering at an “only thousand dollar” CD player. Today, especially, that represents a serious chunk of change for most people. No, from my perspective what makes the PD-H600 such a delightful surprise is that I never found myself grousing about what it doesn’t do, only enjoying what it does so well. In my experience, this is a CD player to be reckoned with.
The AG-H600NT stereo receiver is none too shabby, either. And though two-channel receivers are a relative rarity on today’s market, the H600NT announced its modernity by being an “AM/FM/Internet-Radio Stereo Receiver” that also comes with wired and wireless PC streaming capability and offers an optional DS-20 iPod docking station, which also sports composite and S-video outputs. (For iPod audio playback without video pass through, the DS-20 docking station is not required).
And yet, unlike too many of today’s multimedia electronics, the H600NT doesn’t infuriate with overly complex functions or a manual that has one brushing up on infrequently uttered profanities.
Rated at 75Wpc into an 8-ohm load, with a relatively modest 90Wpc bump into 4-ohms, the H600NT’s utilizes Class D amplifier technology. A small row of top buttons selects source, tone direct (defeat), tuning mode, memory, and info; a multi/jog/enter button tunes stations and selects menu parameters, while the display, headphone jack, and power button, and volume control complete the simple front-panel controls. (Like some car audio controls, you push in the volume control to access the tone and balance settings.) All in all, a nifty package that also manages to be intuitive to operate.
Sonically speaking, the receiver shares many of the traits of the CD player, if not, to these ears, quite its level of excellence. While the CD player is warm and easy up top during the “Four Sea Interludes,” the receiver displays a hint of wiriness. And as transparent to the source as the CD player sounds, the receiver is slightly opaque. Vocals, too, are not quite as focused and coherent, and the bottom end is quite powerful but not quite as airy or tuneful. None of this is particularly obvious; nor do these flaws take away from the unit’s basic musicality, which, through all sources, was consistently pleasurable and satisfying.
Blame it on the PD-H600 CD player, which by the way, outside of my external mc phono preamp and analog rig, offered by far the best listening experience through the receiver. Yes, it’s that good.
For those looking for a $999 CD player, I recommend this Teac model with the unbridled enthusiasm the Teac engineers have earned for it. And for those looking for a flexible all-in-one-receiver of near, if not identical excellence, the AG-H600NT stereo internet receiver handily fits the part.
Specs & Pricing
PD-H600 compact disc player
Compatible discs: CD-DA, CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA
Outputs: RCA analog, coax digital
Dimensions: 11.5** x 4** x 13.3**
Weight: 11.9 lbs.
AG-H600NT stereo internet receiver
Power output: 75Wpc into 8 ohms, 90Wpc into 4 ohms
Inputs: CD, iPod, AUX, mm Phono
Outputs: AUX, 5-way binding posts, LAN, wireless LAN, security
Dimensions: 11.5** x 4** x 13.3**
Weight: 15 lbs.
DS-20 Docking Station
Audio output: 1
Video output: Composite, S-video
Dimensions: 4** x 1.5** x 4**
Weight: 14 oz.
TEAC AMERICA INC.
Reference Series Products
7733 Telegraph Road
Montebello, California 90640
TW-Acustic Raven One turntable; Tri-Planar Ultimate VII arm; Transfiguration Orpheus moving-coil cartridge; Artemis Labs PL-1 phonostage and LA-1 linestage; Arcam FMJ CD 17 CD player; Esoteric MG 10 and Kharma Mini Exquisite loudspeakers: Khama MP-150 monoblock amplifiers; Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and AD-10B Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks