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Reimyo CDT-777 & DAP-999EX - 6moons maj 2009

Reimyo CDT-777 & DAP-999EX - 6moons maj 2009

Reviewer: Marja & Henk Sources: CEC TL5100, Audio Note tube DAC; Philips DVP 5500S SACD/DVD player; iPod Video; Thorens TD 160; Thorens TD124
Preamp/integrated: TacT RCS 2.0 room control system, modified Audio Note Meishu with WE 300B (or AVVT, JJ, KR Audio 300B output tubes); Tri TRV EQ3SE phonostage; Trends Audio TA-10; Qables iQube; KingRex T20U and Slap; Yarland FV 34 CIIISA
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega; Avantgarde Acoustic Solo in HT 2.0 setting; Podium Sound Podium 1 [on loan]

Cables: Audio Note AN/Vx interconnects; Siltech Paris interconnects; Gizmo silver interconnect; Qunex 75 reference interconnect; Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Reference interconnect, CrystalDigit S/PDIF RCA/RCA and RCA/BNC, Y-cable, Crystal Cable Piccolo iPod to XLR, CrystalPower Reference AC-Eur/IEC CrystalSpeak Reference; Audio Note AN-L; Gizmo silver LS cable. Nanotec Golden Strada #79 nano 3; Nanotec Golden Strada #79; Nanotec Golden Strada #201 nano3; full ASI LiveLine set; LessLoss DFPC [in for review]
Power line conditioning: none

Equipment racks: Two double sets of Solid Tech Radius; Acoustic System amplifier shelf Sundry accessories: IAR carbon CD damper; Boston Audio graphite CD damper, Denson demagnetizer CD; Furutech DeMag; Nanotec Nespa #1; Machina Dynamica Magic Box; TacT RCS calibrated microphone and software; Exact Audio Copy software; Compaq server w/Windows Server 2008 and XP; ; wood, brass and aluminium cones and pyramids; Manley Skipjack; Boston Audio Design TuneBlocks; ASI TopLine Room treatment: Full apartment treatment by ASI with Acoustic System Resonators and Sugar Cubes; Gizmo's Harley Davidson cap
Room size: ca. 8.0 x 4.70m with open extension to a 2.20 x 2.40m A/V bay and open kitchen. Ceiling height is 2.50m, reinforced concrete walls of 45cm, reinforced concrete floors and roof of 30cm. Room has on one side a large glass bay.
Review component retail: €8,900 CDT-777, €8,990 DAP-999EX, includes 19% VAT

Over the past half year, we have first been intrigued and later become very interested in the differences of perception between various social and cultural groups in our global society. One of the reasons for diving into this matter is directly linked to our audio hobby. When listening to reproduced music in a mixed cultural environment with music lovers of Western and Asian descent, we noticed on numerous occasions a clear possibility for making an educated division. This division was quite strong and focussed on the perception of music. Reproduced music of course is a completely different animal than live music. In all the years we have been interested in reproduced music, we never suffered the hallucination of listening to the real thing. No matter how elaborate and fine the recording and production was, no matter whether the reproduction system was big or small, budget or unaffordable, the sensation of a real performance you get already when passing an open window from behind which someone is playing live we've never had. In our experience, even a beginner's violin behind that open window is never met by recording or playback systems.

All music lovers we've had this discussion with agree that reproduced music is intrinsically different from live music. Some compare a sound recording to what a photo is for the visual arts. A photo is an artistic capture of a part of the scene's reality, a clipping of the whole the photographer saw before he cropped the image into what she thought the essence was of the scene. For the viewer of the photo, it is recognizable as a scene and the viewer remains aware that it represents only a part of the greater reality the photo was taken from. The photographer manipulated reality by leaving out certain parts (or added others in Photoshop). Blemishes on a model's body or the scrap yard next to the idyllic scene are retouched just like certain features of said model are enhanced and the sky in the scene is made more dramatic. All in all we as onlookers know that the photo is different from reality even though we can enjoy it tremendously.

The same is true for reproduced music. Of the live performance, a cropped image is made either on purpose by the engineer or due to limitations in the recording equipment - but it is always only an image. Further down the line the image gets more processed until at the end, it gets the final processing in the home as we listen to it. And we enjoy the reproduction in its own right just as we do the Ansel Adams poster on the wall that's not even the original photo!

So we agree with many others that we have fun with a cropped manipulated image of an event. On top of that, the original event was witnessed only by a very, very few people. Trying to fully recreate that event would mean we have to manipulate, again. But manipulation of the time-space continuum necessary for that recreation is still somewhat troublesome. For now we stick to the hifi credo.

Back to our interest in the differences between perception of various cultural backgrounds. Though there is no such thing as a Reviewer's College, our reviewing habits are of course influenced by other reviewers. Most if not all reviewers in the printed press follow certain rules to describe the audible issues of a piece of audio equipment. Using the same vocabulary has its merits of course as it makes comparisons easier and helps to create a mental picture of the item under review.

Now in discussions with friends and music lovers of Asian backgrounds, we learned that when we compared impressions on something we'd just listened to together, we were not on the same page. Many discussion partners did not notice any emphasis in the mid treble nor a depression in the upper bass range or at least did not express a perceived imbalance in that fashion. When verbalizing their impression, they talked of the whole picture and not a detail of the already detailed-out -- cropped -- image of the original. As this happened more than once, it made us think on why our Asian friends did not focus on the details as we and most others certainly did and do.

Our quest led us to many interesting publications and lectures on the differences in perception between cultures and we were captivated by the diversity and implications of the ways of looking at the world as we know it. In order to explain this a little, it is easier to revert to the optical media. People in Western cultures tend to engage in context-independent and analytic perceptual processes by focusing on a salient object (or person) independently from the context in which it is embedded. On the other hand, people in East Asian cultures tend to engage in context-dependent and holistic perceptual processes by attending to the relationship between the object and the context in which the object is located. A test has been described in which a group of Chinese and American children were asked to group two objects together from a picture with a man, a woman and a baby. The Chinese children would group the woman and the baby together whereas the American children would group the man and the woman together. The first grouping was based on the rationale that a woman takes care of the baby while the second rationale was that the man and the woman were both grownups and hence belonged to the same group.
Something similar was tested with a picture of two groups of stylized flowers and one singular flower. The task was to add the single flower to one of the groups. To make the task representative for the study, the single flower shared features with both groups of flowers though more with one group (like the rounded petals as well as a leaf) while the other group only shared a pointed stem with the single flower. In this study, Americans tended to add the single flower to the group that shared only one feature, the pointed stem. Asians tended to add the single flower to the group that shared most the features. In this study it was clear that Asian people tended to look more at the whole than a detail like the Americans did. In accordance with this and other studies, our daily environment is changing. At least in the West, details are presented with ever increased hype. Look at what's happening to traffic light intensity, flashing and animated advertising    
signs. TV screen almost burn your retina and are called 'high definition'. Where not long ago a lawn even in the West was observed in a holistic way, now each individual blade of grass begs for attention presented in HD 'quality'.

So what's all this got to do with a review of the Reimyo CDT-777 and DAP-999EX? More than you might think. Reimyo is the physical manifestation of Kazuo Kiuchi's ideas. Kiuchi-San founded the Combak corporation that manufacturers several brands of audio or better, music-related accessories. The most widely known accessories are the Harmonix tuning devices. With this line of products, the Japanese designer focuses on the effects the listening room imposes on musical enjoyment. As we all know, the listening room is responsible for more than 50% of the perceived sound. Mr. Kiuchi's ideas work very well and with the Harmonix products, a listening room can be adjusted such as to be more harmonious with the music played. Changes in the acoustical parameters of a room are subtle and the tools used are the results of years of development and above all, listening.
With the success of the Harmonix room and equipment tuning devices, the urge became stronger to offer a complete musical system. That meant all the necessary hardware to enable the most satisfying musical experience in the home. Kiuchi-San once again looked at the whole and not the details as he contacted the JVC and Kyodo Denshi companies to help him realize his vision. Kazuo Kiuchi had a clear 'mental' image of what his line of digital sources, converters, amplifiers and loudspeakers should sound like. First off, the 16-bit 44.1KHz Red Book CD format was the ultimate source to the mind of the Combak president. For him the format by no means had been developed yet to the ends of its musical capabilities. It became a matter of extracting the most in the best way. JVC added their K2 digital signal optimization technologies to the joint venture which would enable the resultant product to perform at its peak. Kyodo Denshi is specialized in memory systems such as optical disks and has built up huge expertise in this field. Together with the musical ideas of Kazuo Kiuchi, the Reimyo by Harmonix line of products came to fruition.

The subject of our review is a partial system only, a sub system. It consists of the CD transport CDT-777 and the DAC DAP-999EX. We say partial as there now exists a full Reimyo and Harmonix system displayed on many show occasions where Kiuchi San plays his own recordings on a full set of Reimyo electronics, Harmonix cables, Bravo speakers perched on Dinosaur stands and with the room further treated with his Harmonix disks. That is the system as a whole and it brings that smile to Kiuchi-San's face as if a warm fire were burning inside. A happy person he is then.

Dutch distributor Daluso delivered to us two boxes with the player and DAC plus two Harmonix power cords. One of the boxes also contained a Harmonix digital interconnect to indeed make a complete subsystem. Our intension was to review these delivered components as such and not separate entities. As fortunately seems standard for Japanese products, the packaging was exemplary, double boxed with snugly fitting corner protectors and impact absorbers. The CDT-777 emerged from its cocoon 14 kg stout and thus substantial for a spinner. At 430(W) x 325(D) x 88(H)mm, the enclosure conforms to the 430mm standard width. However, it is a top loader so when placed in an equipment rack, it should sit on the top shelf. The standard foot print is discarded with four protruding outrigger footers angled at 45° at each corner. Packed separately were four adjustable spikes and matching footers. Once mounted, they made the CDT-777 look like a NASA space pod. The DAP-999EX converter is housed in a much more modestly sized enclosure of 430(W) x 337(D) x 40(H)mm without protruding arms or other visual exotica.

We installed transport and DAC with the supplied X-CD2 power cables and interconnected the two with the supplied yellow HS-102 RCA-to-RCA digital interconnect. In order to get the components acclimated, the combination was left under signal for 48 hours before we started listening. Our own reference system is quite microscopic in how it reveals the slightest timing errors or subliminal noise artefacts. This is not always a good thing as it intrudes on the musical satisfaction of a listening session. Compare that to an annoying concert goer some rows away and thus out of reach. Just as such an annoyance commands all your attention and makes you focus even more on the distraction, an ill-matched audio system becomes guilty of the same. The Reimyo combo fitted itself remarkable well into our customary combo of Audio Note UK SET amplifier and Avantgarde Acoustics horns.

We tried to listen to the system as a whole and not the details. With the Reimyo in the chain, that was no difficult task as the Reimyo 'sound' is distinct. We would be lying if we claimed that the combination of CDT-777 and DAP-999EX was neutral in the traditional hifi sense of the word. The Reimyo two-box combo is not hifi at all. Its rendering of what is embedded on a 16/44 disc is not a super or high denomination but musical. It extracts the emotion and passion from the bit patterns and hands that to the rest of the chain sans emphasis. Whether it is really unchanged or subtly enhanced is hard to say but what gets delivered into the room is musically coherent in timing and rich in timbre.

Compared to many other digital front ends, the Reimyo combo lacks what in digital photography is called sharpening, where details are enhanced and crispified. The Reimyo sound instead portrays a holistic musical image. Just like live music, the music reproduced in the home with these components maintains in-time integration. A side effect of digital sharpening that occurs with many other digital front ends is a loss of micro timing. It makes you feel that the musicians perform in different rooms and not really together. Of course many recordings are cut 'n' paste jobs of various sub tracks recorded all over the world and at different times, then overdubbed and patched together. Those recordings are heavier quilted patchwork and even the Reimyo set cannot alter that. It's less doctored recordings that make the difference.

The CDT-777 is built around the Philips CDM-12 Pro optical disc drive and its controller. From there the designers followed their own ways inspired by Kiuchi-San. Instead of one big transformer, several smaller are employed to avoid cross impact. Much of what Harmonix learnt over the years with acoustical treatment and materials was incorporated and Reimyo does not shun any material. So plastic shows up next to various metals for the compartments of the transport. The front of the CDT-777 runs only the rudimentary standard controls and the back a single coaxial output. In Kazuo Kiuchi's vision, a balanced output for a digital signal is a compromise.

From that same philosophy stems the separation of converter from spinner. Electrical circuits designed for the transport can interfere with the delicate signal processing of the DAC. Hence the latter is separated and equipped with electronics dedicated solely for conversion. JVC's K2 technology not only filters out the clock and its jitter but also other non-musical noise components from the signal stream. The DAC converts the digital signal to 24-bit words at 8 times oversampling before passing it to the Burr Brown PCM1704U NOS chip. While Kiuchi-San sticks to an unbalanced digital output on his transport, the DAP-999EX welcomes balanced and optical input as well. Output options are balanced and unbalanced. It seems that the transport was meant for this processor while the processor itself is less picky with its partners. It even adds a polarity switch to the back.

As we could not determine any negatives with the Reimyo sub system in the rest of our room equipment chain, we  next investigated by substitution. First we swapped power cords. We had at our disposal cables by LessLoss, Crystal Cable and a prototype by ASI. We began with the transport and the conclusion was stark. Any cable other than the one supplied altered the musical end product.  One cable dulled the sound and slowed it down while another added emphasis at the frequency extremes. It was quite clear that the CDT-777 was designed or at least voiced with the X-DC2 cord.

While the transport was unhappy without its own power cord, the converter was more tolerant. Once again we assume that the DAC was designed for a broader audience of transports. Regarding the  digital interlink, the ASI LiveLine was the only competitor. All other cables degraded the performance. The French and Japanese cables are both non-conventional by using two separate legs whereas S/PDIF specs prescribe a coaxial geometry. We preferred the French cable which unleashed more timbral coherence in non-classical music where dynamic changes are abundant and intense.

Next we used the CDT-777 in combination with our Audio Note DAC. Both with the supplied power cable and interconnect, this combination was no real success. The transport was not able to 'drive' the music. As a result the performance softened. Lower register control -- we have to focus on details now as the whole collapsed -- grew sloppy and the higher frequencies missed their inner character. Slow is the best word to describe the situation. Altering the power cable and interconnect somewhat helped but an obviously ideal match remained elusive.

What a difference though when we used our CEC as transport and the DAP-999EX as DAC. In certain combinations, the CEC can be somewhat bold or daring. The Audio Note DAC without oversampling or  digital filter is well capable of controlling the transport's output. But the way the DAP-999EX handled this responsibility now was first class. Where the CDT-777 in conjunction with the Reimyo DAC is the mature deliverer of the signal, the CEC added some punk bravado to the picture which was wonderfully channelled by the DAC. With classical music one sat one or two rows closer to the stage and with dynamic Rock, the point at which the music truly grabs you and pulls you in was reached sooner. This converter on its own is a wonderful machine that warrants the best transport one can afford.

However, the two-box combination with all its ancillary feet and cables really is the match to aspire to. If you want digital playback at its best, this is one direct avenue. Kiuchi-San's ideas and the craftsmanship of his partners created a digital sub-system tuned so precisely that you only notice it at power up and while changing out a CD. Otherwise it recedes from attention and rests fully integrated in the whole which it helps to facilitate.    

Quality of packing: Double cardboard boxes of excellent quality.
Reusability of packing: Yes, many times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Brand new.
Completeness of delivery: Everything necessary including power cords and interconnects.
Quality of owner's manual: Effective.
Website comments: Combak's website is rudimentary.
Warranty: 1 year parts and labor
Human interactions: Friendly and helpful.
Pricing: Value for money.
Final comments & suggestions: The devil's in the details, divinity in the whole.

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