February 1, 2004
Reimyo CDP-777 CD Player
The first thing I noticed about the Reimyo CDP-777 CD player was not its sleekly solid appearance nor, when I hit the Play button, its big, full, transparent sound. It was the price tag of $17,000 USD. Thats 17,000 big ones. Or 1700 $10 bills. Or 850 twenties. Or, if you dont like carrying duffle bags crammed with greenbacks, 170 hundreds.
In short, thats a lot of loot for a single-box CD player without SACD or DVD-Audio capability, much less the rest of the alphabet soup of new media options. Yes, theres upsampling, but no external power supply or other visible accoutrements common to upper-tier high-end equipment.
But sticker shock is something we audiophiles are used to in the rarified reaches of our hobby, and the Reimyos not even at the top of the food chain. Burmesters CD turntable-DAC combination goes for $57,000; the dCS Elgar DAC and upsampler are $23,000; Krell offers a $25,000 one-box CD player-preamp; and a handful of others weigh in above $17,000, including a Goldmund DVD/CD player-DAC combo whose $65,000 price should make it a popular item among Colombian drug lords.
The Reimyo and its pedigree
The CDP-777s high performance is the result of a collaboration among three powerhouses of Japanese audio who came together in something called High Tech Fusion. JVC contributed the transport mechanism and Extended K2 Processing, the signal-processing elements that subject 16-bit/44.1kHz, "Red Book" CDs to a 24-bit, 4x-oversampling D/A conversion rate to yield 705.6kHz. Design and assembly are by Kyodo Denshi, maker of high-precision measuring instruments. And Kazuo Kiuchis Combak Corporation contributed its resonance-control processes.
Kiuchi is one of the high ends great gentlemen -- a diminutive, softspoken innovator with whose work Ive been familiar for many years. His array of tuning devices was laughed at when they first landed on these shores. That was when distortion-causing resonances were thought best controlled through massive construction and/or expensive, space-eating panels strategically (and intrusively) placed on or in front of walls and furniture. His quarter-sized stick-on dots were thought to be off the wall until people put them on their walls (and their equipment) and discovered that they worked.
My first audio equipment review was of Kiuchis Harmonix RFA-78 Room Tuning Devices. That was back in 1993; for several years -- until my wife decided she no longer wanted her living-room walls to look as if they had measles -- the RFA-78s were both conversation pieces and a remarkably effective way to rid the listening room of unwanted resonances.
Most of the CDP-777s parts, including the power transformer and circuit, were designed specifically for the player. The Reimyo package doesnt come with an AC cord (what do you expect for $17,000?), but Combak recommends using the Harmonix X-DC Studio Master power cable, loaned to me for this review. A 2m length will run you only $1305; theres no need to run to your local hardware store to get a Belden.
I mentioned the CDP-777s "sleekly solid" looks. That description extends to its well-laid-out remote control, with a silver finish that matches the faceplate of the 777, whose black side plates and top are broken by a centered window that slides back to reveal the disc bay. After a disc is slipped over the drives thick shaft, its secured with a neatly finished silver puck. Close the window and play. Forget the puck, and nothing will happen other than a bright "Err" notice on the display.
The front panel is logically laid out, with all the usual suspects in their usual places, but with the added convenience for armchair dwellers of LEDs above key buttons that light up when that function is turned on. The display indicates not only track number but index number as well, harking back to digitals early days, when tracks were often subdivided. And despite the units thick chassis and rigid aluminum plating, its 33-pound weight shouldnt cause undue back or groin strains.
Having recently spent time with CD players that triple as video and SACD players, I found the CDP-777s rear panel refreshingly clean. In place of the puzzling multiple-choice hookup options are balanced and unbalanced analog outputs, digital coaxial and BNC output pins, and the power-cord receptacle. The CDP-777 also comes with a manual thats as well-thought-out as any Ive seen. In text and diagrams, it tells you all you need to know about operating the unit, and its in understandable English, with none of those ugly translations that drive party humor ("Listen to this line, guys . . . "), and no tech gibberish that only a PhD candidate can figure out.
I wasnt prepared for a long break-in period for the CDP-777 -- its importers, May Audio Marketing, said the sample on its way to me had been in use for a while. But the time that unit spent in transit, then sitting snug in its carton waiting for me to finish another review, meant that, once installed in my equipment rack, my review sample sounded decidedly underwhelming, its tonal balance tipped up with a shrill mid-treble. Continuous run-in brought it closer to expectations, and supporting it on Harmonix footers yielded an improvement that was later trumped by installing the Harmonix power cable, which eliminated any system noise and further tamed the treble.
I listened to the CDP-777 through the Wyetech Opal preamplifier, Jadis JA-80 monoblock power amps modified with Siltech internal wiring, and the Von Schweikert VR4 Gen II speakers, replaced in mid-review by the latest model, the VR4 Gen III SEs. Wiring consisted of the Siltech Classic SQ110 interconnects and LS188 speaker cables, which have proven outstanding in keeping noise below audible levels and delivering well-balanced sound with flawless timbral integrity.
My listening sessions consisted of a variety of CDs new and old, ranging from vintage historical reissues to state-of-the-art audiophile favorites, and included a wide range of classical music, jazz, and blues. I spent considerable time just getting accustomed to the CDP-777s sound; only after I felt thoroughly familiar with it did I move from listening for pleasure to focusing on selected items, pen and notebook in hand.
The first thing that caught my attention was the wall of sound thrown by the Reimyo. This player projected life-sized images. When I played JVCs CD reissue of the 1959 Mohr-Layton RCA "shaded dog" LP [LSC-2341] of Saint-Saëns Symphony 3 [JMCXR0002], the Boston Symphony had a tactile, wall-to-wall presence in my room. That huge orchestral picture was staggering; so, too, was the way the Boston strings positively glowed with warmth in the poco adagio, and the heretofore unsuspected range of organ colors in the last movement. There was no exaggeration of the organ vis-à-vis the orchestra, and as the movement progressed, the passage with two pianos was well-detailed and scaled just right -- the pianos embedded within the orchestra, not in front of it.
If the Saint-Saëns sounded a bit better than my 1S/1S copy of LSC-2341, JVCs new reissue of Solti and the Chicago Symphonys recording of Stravinskys Rite of Spring [JVCXR0225] turned out to be far superior to the London LP [CS6885]. This analog fancier found JVCs XRCD transfers equal to or better than the original LPs without falsifying the originals, and in this instance the Decca bass is still not ideally defined (though improved over previous releases). But what this disc drove home was the Reimyos ability to reproduce complex orchestral passages with unusual transparency and detail. I could also clearly hear the different microphone techniques employed by the RCA engineers and their Decca counterparts.
Being able to hear more deeply into the music can change ones estimation of a performance. I used to think Soltis Rite exciting but not among my favorites. I had to revise my judgment after hearing the JVC reissue through the CDP-777, with its huge dynamic range and transparency. For the first time, I was able to connect with Soltis Rite on an emotional level.
That kind of visceral involvement was also present as I listened to a superb performance of Shostakovichs Symphony 5 thats in danger of being overlooked because its on a small import label and performed by a conductor and orchestra known to few on this side of the ocean: Oleg Caetani leading the Giuseppe Verdi Orchestra of Milan on a well-engineered CD [Arts 47668]. The CDP-777s tight, extended bottom end did justice to the extraordinarily realistic balances captured by the engineers. Finally, in a Shostakovich recording, the cellos and basses hold their own against the violins, precisely as they do in the concert hall. Again, the Reimyo reproduced massed string sound that was warm, but with ample bite in the violins.
What convinced me that the CDP-777 was a truly special musical instrument was a brief passage in the Britten Violin Concerto [EMI 57510]. Theres a moment in the Vivace when Maxim Vengerovs violin sings in its highest register; then, at about the three-minute mark, its joined by a solo flute for a brief duet. Through most CD players and/or systems it can be difficult to tell that not one but two instruments are playing; even when they go their separate ways, one needs to listen closely to distinguish them. But with the CDP-777 there was never any doubt -- the players separation and transparency allowed me to hear an effect I had previously heard only in the concert hall, one too often muddled even by good systems.
I often check on a new piece of equipments handling of recording flaws such as the relatively small one that slightly mars tenor Werner Güras Schumann song recital [Harmonia Mundi HM 901766]. Hes well-recorded, but theres a sibilance that can be bothersome in some songs, such as "Im Rhein," from Schumanns Dichterliebe, where s sounds, especially at the beginnings of words, sound disturbing through several models of CD player. Through the Reimyo, those sibilants were less intrusive -- and, as a bonus, Güras lovely lyric tenor was reproduced with greater weight and density, the voice surrounded by more room sound and air.
That observation held true for massed voices as well. A recent favorite is the superb set of Bachs Leipzig Christmas Cantatas led by Philippe Herreweghe [Harmonia Mundi HM 8017181/82]. My pleasure was greatly enhanced by the three-dimensionality of solo voices, the tonal colors projected by the chorus, and the CDP-777s transparency, which let me clearly hear each of the three high-voiced soloists in the "Suscepit Israel" section of the great Magnificat, and easily trace the lines of the fugue in "Sicut locutus," in the same work.
The CDP-777 displayed similar virtues with jazz and blues recordings. Playing Junior Wells Come On In This House [Telarc SACD-63395], it projected a wall of sound from the electric slide guitar, drum kit, and wailing small band. Listening through the CD layer, Wells piercing harmonica and gravelly voice were captivating, and the CDP-777s deep, firm bass was especially welcome on the shuffle blues "Tin Goat," in which the acoustic string bass and visceral power of the drums made it hard not to bounce along with the band. Our British colleagues are fond of referring to "slam" as a defining characteristic of a units rhythmic precision. The Reimyo had "slam."
It also had delicacy. Whether listening to Bill Evans live chamber jazz and delicate piano filigree on Sunday at the Village Vanguard [JVC JVCXR0051] or Sonny Rollins classic Way Out West [VICJ60088], I heard nuances I hadnt been aware of through other players. The sheer variety of timbres produced by Shelly Mannes cymbals and rim shots in "Im an Old Cowhand" amazed me, and at the same time confirmed the Reimyos speed and ease with transients. So, too, the warm, fur-wrapped sound of Rollins tenor sax in "There Is No Greater Love" confirmed the accuracy of the CDP-777s tonality. There as elsewhere, the Reimyos presence gave the illusion of watching Ray Browns fingers moving along the strings of his bass.
Any flaws? Perhaps just one, and its not really a flaw but an indication of the Reimyos extended frequency response and a neutrality thats uncolored, accurate, and at times ruthless. On some early digital recordings -- those peddled at a time when the suits bragged about "perfect sound forever" -- mid-treble peaks were closer to chalk on a blackboard than LPs ever managed. Well, dig some of those out of the closet and youll hear the harshness and glare that more forgiving units gloss over. What you get with the Reimyo is the complete, unfalsified, unsweetened truth. As we all know, the truth can sometimes hurt.
I love my music so much that any piece of equipment that reveals it in all its glories is worth getting excited about, and my time with the Reimyo was terrifically exciting if somewhat frustrating. The frustration came solely from its price, which puts it far out of my reach, even as its sound fed my fantasies of ownership. To paraphrase Mae Wests famous line about conscience, the Reimyos price was the only thing that hurt when everything else felt wonderful.
Except for those early CDs, or otherwise flawed recordings that often fare better on systems that roll off the nasties, the CDP-777 made every CD played through it sound better than Id heard it in the past. On great recordings, the Reimyos soundstaging, transparency, detail retrieval, and tonal integrity enabled natural, relaxed listening sessions characterized by my forgetting about audio and becoming fully involved in the music itself. Because of all that, my enthusiasm for the Reimyo CDP-777 is strong.
The importers website claims that the Reimyo CDP-777 is "the best-sounding CD player there has ever been!" I cant say that, partly because I havent heard them all; in fact, this was my first test drive of a five-figure CD player in my home system. But I can say of the Reimyo what a grande dame of the Gilded Age once wrote of a different pleasure: "A private railroad car is not an acquired taste. One takes to it immediately."
Price: $17,000 USD.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.
North American distributor:
Ultra Audio is part of the SoundStage! Network.