Which brings us to the nub of the question; which CD-77? For in truth this is six players in one. However, I can make things somewhat simpler than that. AMR are firm advocates of their digital filterless outputs, dubbed Digital Master I and II, and I concur. In comparison I find the over and up-sampled outputs (especially the 192kHz filter) more detailed, more focused and transparent – but also thinner and lacking in the sense of surefooted tempo and coherent musical sweep that comes from the un-filtered outputs. There’s a presence, body and engaging momentum to the latter that won me over immediately. Of the two settings, DM I sounds sweet but slightly heavy and shut-in. The analogue filtering employed on DM II adds air, light and energy to the top-end, balancing the weight and substance at low-frequencies making the most of the player’s expressive coherence and sense of musical involvement.
But there’s a coda here. Experience shows me that I value a well-executed filterless DAC just as surely as I tend to shy away from up-sampling, but not everybody agrees. I spent considerable time listening with both the 192kHz and the 4x over-sampling filters, because I really wanted to be sure that my preference for the DM II output was a stable, long-term judgment. Along the way I learnt that despite the subtle synthetic sheen that I detect with up-sampling, along with the temporal disturbance and lack of natural flow in the music I also expect, these artifacts were significantly reduced with the AMR and certainly far less intrusive than I’ve ever experienced before. The bottom line? Don’t assume that just because you are a listener who values the transparency and focus that comes with digital interpolation that the CD-77 isn’t for you. Unlike many machines the different yet exactingly engineered choices on offer here are both genuine and legitimate. I prefer DM II: those troubled by brighter systems might find DM I the perfect panacea while the listener looking for the sort of precision that delivers detail without dismantling the music might well reach straight for the 192kHz output. Each choice is individual and equally valid. The important thing is that the AMR allows you to make that choice rather than simply living with the designer’s preference.