August 15, 2005Duevel Shuttle Disk CD Player Duevel is a German company best known for its omnidirectional speakers. Founded by electrical engineer Markus Duevel in 1987, the company is now expanding its line to include electronics. The Duevel Shuttle Disk CD player ($5800 USD) is the latest addition to a stable that includes the well-received Shuttle integrated amplifier; a tube power amplifier is in the offing.
Duevel never managed to enlighten me about where the "Shuttle" moniker comes from, but importer Ted Lindblad (HighEndAudio, LLC) says he associates it with the Space Shuttle, which has high-tech associations.
The Shuttle Disk does live up to a space-age image; its a finely detailed, precisely engineered product that offers interesting twists on the usual CD-player formula. It better had -- its a contender in the crowded $5000-$6000 price range, and a "Red Book" player in a market where SACD, DVD-Audio, and other, still-unlaunched high-resolution media are supposedly in the ascendant.
Inside and out
The Shuttle Disks exterior is tastefully understated to the point of minimalism. The front of its otherwise simple black box is partitioned into three sections by thin white outlines; the leftmost and longest section encloses the logo, two of the four screws that hold in place the protective Plexiglas cover, the operating pushbuttons, and the disc drawer. In the middle section is the LED display, and in the third the other two faceplate screws. The white lines, screw heads, and buttons contrast nicely with the black background.
The player itself has only the most basic controls: Open/Close, Play, Reverse, and Forward. These are repeated on the compact remote control, which includes plenty of others, among them a numerical keypad, Time, Repeat, and Volume Up/Down. But the remote has no Open/Close control, which may dismay the terminally lazy, or any way to reverse phase, which will frustrate the tweak freaks. The minimalist approach informs the rear panel as well, which has the AC receptacle, a pair of RCA output jacks, and a coaxial digital out jack for connection to an outboard DAC. The barely noticeable fuse holder and an On/Off rocker switch are part of the AC input box. At Duevel, neatness counts.
It counts for the players insides as well. The Shuttle Disk is beautifully made, with enough unique features to separate it from the herd. Most obvious of these is that its driven by a sealed, supposedly maintenance-free lead-acid battery, to avoid anomalies common in the AC hash supplied by your friendly local power company. Duevel claims the battery has a life of "almost ten years," given proper handling. "Proper handling" here means leaving the Shuttle Disk on all the time; the automatic circuits that charge the battery also disconnect it to prevent discharge when the player is turned off via the rear-panel switch. Turning the player on puts the player in a standby mode that preheats the critical electronic components. Hitting Play turns everything on -- which also means that its an hour or so before the Shuttle Disk is ready to operate at peak performance.
Another feature of interest is the built-in green LED near the laser lens. The theory is that green light absorbs and cancels out the lasers refracted red light, thus optically isolating the direct focus of the beam. This supposedly results in greater accuracy to the original source, providing "a more relaxed and harmonic reproduction of music." I have no way of knowing how true that claim is, but Ive come across enough off-the-wall audio theories that have worked well enough not to dismiss them out of hand. If youre into painting the borders of your CDs green, with the Shuttle Disk you can retire your felt pen.
Duevel says it uses only the finest internal components with a minimum of resistors; a single-ended, no-feedback, class-A analog amplifier; and four separate power supplies to minimize interference between the digital and analog sections. Plates of carbon foam inside the steel chassis provide damping to cut down on high-frequency digital noise. The disc transport mechanism is a Philips CDM 12.65.
All in all, the Shuttle Disks build quality, attention to detail, and features such as its battery operation make it an intriguing product. But the real test is how it sounds.
The Shuttle Disk fed my Wyetech Opal preamplifier, modified Jadis JA-80 monoblock power amplifiers, and Von Schweikert VR-4 Gen III SE speakers. Siltech and Nordost cables connected everything, and the accessories included my favorites -- Vibrapod Isolators and the new, wider-tipped Vibrapod Cones -- along with Harmonix footers, Audiotop cleaning fluids, and the Bedini Ultra Clarifier. I compared the Duevel with Metronomes T-20 Signature CD transport and C-20 Signature DAC and used it as a transport with the Reimyo DAP-777 DAC. As the Shuttle Disks manual recommends, I kept the units 20-step internal volume control at its maximum (LED readout: MAX) and made finer adjustments through the preamps stepped attenuator.
I began by playing some tried and true recordings Ive often used to review components, because they help me get a quick fix on any new piece of equipment entering my system. Some are deeply flawed, most are brilliant examples of state-of-the-art recording technology, but all tell me what the gear is doing. At this stage, the Reimyo DAP-777 was still in the system. Intensive comparisons between the Shuttle Disk as a standalone player and as a transport source for the Reimyo revealed a lot, much of it not to the Duevels advantage.
One thing I found was that the Duevel sounded best at high volume levels. At my normal listening levels -- room-filling enough for my wife to occasionally suggest that I turn it down -- it tended toward a polite, somewhat veiled sound. Kicking up the volume on the preamp liberated the extension and dynamics; highs now had more bite, and dynamics woke up. This shouldn't be confused with the Fletcher-Munson Effect -- the human ear's decreasing ability to accurately perceive frequency extremes at low volume levels -- because I made comparisons only after having matched the players sound levels. The only time Ive had a similar listening experience was when I heard the system of a friend who was hooked on passive preamps.
The radical jump from overly polite to biting liveliness was most obvious on the now-defunct Pope Music labels recording of Schnittkes Gogol Suite , whose Clerks movement takes you from a discreetly tinkling harpsichord far back in the orchestra to fortissimo blaring trumpets and hammering xylophones. Played at a modest but room-filling volume, the Duevel sounded gray and bottled-up. Higher notches on the preamps volume control yielded more body, excellent dynamics, and an overall livelier sound. When I played this disc using the Duevel as a transport feeding the Reimyo DAC, no such problem surfaced.
In general, the Duevel exhibited a smoothly extended top with more air around instruments, though with vocals I was more aware of sibilants. That upper extension revealed a heretofore missing suavity in Jascha Heifetzs recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto [Naxos 8.110938] -- the often shrill-sounding opening solo of the third movement sounded more natural, if still more penetrating than ideal. On equipment with less treble extension, the shrillness comes to the fore.
That top-end ease also came into play with the plentiful transients heard in David Cheskys delightful The Girl from Guatemala, as performed by Anthony Aibel and the Area 31 ensemble [SACD, Chesky 288] -- the plucked strings, bells, and handclaps came through with vivacious presence. At the works close, the cleanly recorded high soprano of Wonjung Kim at full volume had a welcome immediacy.
The Shuttle Disks bass was satisfactory at optimum volume levels but lacked the last degree of coherence, as in the Valse movement of Stravinskys LHistoire du Soldat, led by Paavo Järvi on a very-well-recorded hybrid disc [SACD, Pentatone PTC 5186 046]. The plucked double bass sounded softer and looser than Id heard it elsewhere, though the bass drum in the Offenbach-like corresponding movement in Stravinskys Suite No.2 for Small Orchestra had the required force and tonal depth.
The Shuttle Disks rendering of soundstage depth was acceptable, but orchestral recordings revealed that it insisted on limiting ensembles boundaries to between the speakers. One example was Maxim Vengerovs brilliant rendering of Benjamin Brittens Violin Concerto [EMI 57510]. Used as a transport for the Reimyo, the Duevel threw a wide, deep, fully populated soundstage extending slightly beyond the speakers. When I used the Duevel as a standalone player, that width shrank drastically. The players otherwise worthy transparency suffered as well, as the critical exchanges between the winds and the violins near the start of the second movement, crystal-clear through the Duevel-Reimyo combination, now were muddled.
The Shuttle Disk really showed its worth with recordings of smaller ensembles. It brought the four musicians on my favorite recording of 2005 -- the complete Mendelssohn String Quartets, brilliantly played by the Pacifica Quartet [Cedille CDR 082] -- into my listening room with startling presence. Violins never sounded hard, details emerged from middle instruments too often buried in ensemble recordings, and the cello was refreshingly present. (For both performance and sound, this is the Mendelssohn Quartet set to get, and far superior to the Emerson Quartets overrated collection on Deutsche Grammophon, released around the same time.)
I felt that immediacy most strongly with jazz recordings. Several new Blue Note releases sounded especially vibrant in my room. On the title track of Joe Lovanos Joyous Encounter [Blue Note 63405], Lovanos sax was depicted with all of its shadings and colors, and veteran pianist Hank Jones swinging piano was captured with all its impressionistic tints in the intro to "A Child is Born," and in his full-bodied, articulate chording in "Dont Ever Leave Me." And just listen to Terence Blanchards truthful trumpet in Flow [Blue Note 78273] for a fluent rendering of the full range of the instruments palette.
In a way, the Thelonious Monk entry in Blue Notes The Very Best series [Blue Note 77389] was even more surprising, given that its a monophonic recording from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Playing the outstanding transfer of "Thelonious," the Duevel made the absence of stereo almost irrelevant, rendering the piano with immediacy and accurately capturing Monks stabbing accents, stride riffs, and Basie-like noodling. And the tracks with Milt Jackson feature clearly defined vibe-piano duets that are startling in recordings made almost 60 years ago.
The JVC XRCD reissue of the famous Pablo duo recording of Oscar Peterson and Dizzy Gillespie [JVCXR 0219] conveyed similar thrills. Dizzys muted trumpet on the uptempo "Caravan" had a realistic pungency that enabled the Shuttle Disk to pass several audio tests: It proved its ease in the often troublesome mid-treble area, demonstrated its ability to truthfully handle complex microdynamics despite the obstacles presented by close-up miking, and its precise articulation stirred welcome joy when Peterson launched into his trademark hyperactive, note-happy solos.
As a transport
Serious listening for this review focused on the Duevel as a standalone player, but I also used it as a primary transport source for the superb Reimyo DAP-777 DAC. The Shuttle Disks manual says its digital output terminates with an internal resistor to minimize high-frequency hash inside the player, which would otherwise be audible as a "stressed," less smooth reproduction of the music. Importer Ted Lindblad suggested that this somewhat confusing construction probably means that most DACs would thus effectively cancel out the benefits of using a battery-powered source component.
Perhaps, but this contradicts what my ears told me when listening to the Duevels digital output fed through the Reimyo DAC. Fine as the Duevel was as a CD player, using it as a transport only through the Reimyo brought the sound to a far higher level of excellence. Rather than "stressed," the music sounded more relaxed and natural; instead of being less smooth, it sounded several degrees closer to the real thing.
It was unfortunate for the Shuttle Disk that its arrival coincided with the DAP-777s, for the Reimyo put the Duevel in the shade when I reverted to using the latter as most purchasers will: as a standalone CD player. That shouldnt put anyone off, however, because the Duevel did enable the Reimyo to strut its stuff, and once you factor in the cost of a quality transport and interconnects, the $5200 Reimyo is in a different price category.
Well-made, innovative, and handsome, the Duevel Shuttle Disk impressed me, though not to the extent Id hoped it would. That said, I enjoyed my time with the player and found that it held its own when compared with other high-quality CD players Ive heard in my system. Played at higher volume levels, it was more transparent, detailed, and extended than most, surpassing my Metronome transport-DAC combo in that regard, and it excelled when used as the Reimyos transport. The Shuttle Disk also stood up well when pitted against some more expensive single-box players such as the too-lean Ensemble Dirondo ($8900) and the more dynamic, tonally solid Gryphon Mikado ($11,000), even if its clearly not in the same league as the king of the hill, the Reimyo CDP-777, which is worth every bit of its throat-catching $15,500 price.
In its own broad price class, the Shuttle Disk faces heavy competition from such fine players as the very musical Cary 360/200 ($5000) and the less costly Classé Delta CDP-100 ($3500). I found the Classé, like the Duevel, more involving with jazz than with classical recordings, and the Classés significantly lower price suggests it might be the better value. The Cary cedes some of the Shuttle Disks transient snap and detail but more than makes up for these in natural dynamics and a warmly neutral sound thats closer to the rounded fullness of acoustic instruments in a good concert hall.
Of course, much depends on your own listening preferences. All ears are different, and all of us have different audio and musical priorities. That may be why I found the Shuttle Disk one of my most difficult review subjects in a long time. It does many things right that I admired, and I wanted to like it more than I did. But I found it wanting in some of my higher priorities, and it emotionally engaged me less than warmer gear, whether solid-state or tubed. I couldnt shake the feeling that something was missing; the words were there, but somehow they didnt quite fit the melody. This is the sort of subjective opinion that carries over to speakers and electronics as well, and in the case of the Duevel Shuttle Disk, some visiting Golden Ears disagreed with mine. So take your own listening preferences into account and hear it for yourself.
Duevel Shuttle Disk CD Player
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