Having said that, let’s get back to my preference and the considerable enjoyment I’ve extracted from the CD- 77 in its filterless mode. Comparing the ultra-purist, zero-filtering option of Digital Master I to the analogue only filtered Digital Master II is interesting indeed. Both settings (switchable, along with the other filter options via a single button on the remote) deliver substance, weight and a sense of natural flow to the music. The first thing that strikes you is the extra air and space, the lighter balance of DM II, but the more you listen the more musically fundamental the contrast becomes, the analogue filter offering a lighter, quicker and more agile reproduction, with a natural sense of position and separation between instruments, a greater sense of pace and momentum in the music. In comparison DM I sounds dull and actually rhythmically restrained, slowing the tempo in the music. Julia Fischer’s recent Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (on Pentagram, and just as good as RSF claims) is the perfect example. Switching from DM I to DM II infuses the music with a lightness of touch and energy that underlines Kreizberg’s control of tempo, the restraint he’s imposing and the tension he creates before the first solo entry, a palpable anticipation that’s carried forward on a burgeoning orchestral swell that totally escapes DM I. Fischer’s opening phrases are equally telling: slow and measured on DM I, switch settings and they gain a sense of fluidity and grace, a slowly increasing tempo emerges that adds drama to their obvious lyrical qualities. It’s about letting the music speak and DM II simply allows the musicians a greater vocabulary, a greater range of expression and as a result, far more dramatic performances.
Overall, the sound of this player is engagingly lively, pacey and substantial. I suppose comparisons with Audio Research’s top-loading, valve output CD7 are inevitable, especially given its “ever-present” status around here. Indeed, in many respects the players are more alike than different – no bad thing for the AMR. Used directly on a finite elemente rack the CD-77 sounds at once solid but somewhat homogenous, images and instruments bleeding into each other to create a single, compact block of sound. There’s also a subtle but persistent glossy hollowness to its midband tonality. Compared to the ARC, the British built machine lacks the expansive soundstage and sheer range of texture and colour conjured by its American counterpart, but offers better bass definition and transparency whilst sharing the sense of easy, unimpeded musical momentum.