Chord Electronics Blu Mk2 upsampling CD transport

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Chord Electronics Blu Mk2

Listening to an old favourite CD of mine, Haydn Symphony No 77, Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, the difference between the three oversampling/upscaling options is not small. Starting with the minimum oversampling rate, which reads as 88.2 kHz on the DAVE, I get a pleasant presentation, fluid and coherent, but not the deepest of soundstages. Changing to the maximum oversampling immediately improves imaging and increases soundstage depth, while creating much greater space between the instruments in the orchestra. It’s almost as if you have pressed a button marked ‘3D’. There is also a sense of what happens when you move back five rows in a concert hall, a hint of the concentration of the intensity and colour of the sound being slightly diluted. On this period instrument recording, I miss a bit of weight in the bass; it is true that period cellos and basses make less grunt than the modern equivalents, but it is noticeable nonetheless. Contrasting the Blu with my Esoteric K-05 CD player, used as a transport only, playing through the DAVE via a Chord cable, the latter seems to have more grunt and there is more of a sense of the bass driving the harmony and the music than with the Blu Mk2. It doesn’t, however, have the effortless sense of space that the Blu Mk2 has, or indeed the litheness of its approach to making music. 

Next I moved on to an astounding recording made in 1959 – Von Suppé Overtures, and in particular ‘Pique Dame’ by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Paul Parry [Living Presence]. This was recorded with just three microphones, and that shows up some really interesting things. On this most organically recorded of discs, upsampling seems to extract every last detail of the orchestral image beautifully. It is as close to a purist ideal as you can get (I suppose the engineer could have used only two mic’s!). Compared with my Esoteric feeding the DAVE directly, I can hear the amazing separation and phase information on the Blu Mk2 being extracted by the upsampling, and it is highly impressive. Interestingly, where the kettle drum sounds a bit loose and flabby with the direct version, the upsampled Blu Mk2version reduces its role, but makes it tighter and better controlled. The moment of impact of the stick to the drum skin is better defined. The Blu Mk2/DAVE combination really does make greater sense of this recording. 

On to the Grieg Concerto, a vintage Philips recording, Stephen Bishop with Colin Davis. It is fascinating to see how this rather magical recording, which through the Esoteric and DAVE sounds good, but old! It’s on the tubby side, an old-fashioned with slightly congested sound. Through the Blu Mk2there is a radical transformation: the piano sounds less muffled, more incisive, more lyrical, and less lard-like; the orchestra (which doesn’t have a detailed presence) suddenly appears like it’s been snapped by a camera with a lens that has just been cleaned. Again a little less bass, but it sounds like a recording from several decades later. The piano sounds most different, because the start of each note has greater clarity, so that the tone sounds very different and much more lifelike. More Steinway, less Bösendorfer!

Turning to some rock music, I tried Madonna’s Ray of Light album [Warner], and the Frozensoundtrack [Disney].  As previously with the Blu Mk2 on maximum oversampling the components in this electronic and acoustic mix are blown backwards and expanded detail-wise, the top end is sweetened (that is, made less shrill), but some of the drama of the track is sacrificed for this cause. The bass is slightly less present, it seems as before not to be driving the music but playing with it. the Blu Mk2 makes real sense of the violin section, instead of a bland blancmange texture, heard raw through the DAVE, I’m aware of a mass of violins, and their weight. There is more of a sense of how the mix is stuck together: The drums have a different acoustic to the singer and the orchestra, and you can sense the booth in which the drums were recorded.

There seems to be a common thread. Upsampling carries with it certain positives, as well as the occasional less-than-positive. It really is almost like a complex DSP function, which alters the sound in a way that may be very useful, depending on the characteristics of your system. For music, or a system that has a tendency to be too forward, the upsampling tendency to push the performance back a few rows is a positive thing, as is of course the increase in space, and accuracy of the imagery yielded. The quality of the bass seems to improve, and there is a more accurate beginning to notes, which is particularly evident when pianos and drums are involved. The quantity of the bass is lightened in the process, which could help certain systems, but could also hinder in the case of rock music. 

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