This was going to be a problem review. I know things warm up, but out of the box the Consonance Reference CD2.2 Linear Mk 2 sounded dreadful. Put a hundred or so hours on the clock and the transformation is astonishing. Normally, you can hear the end result in a kind of raw form from the outset; the diamond in the rough just gets less rough with time. Not here ? hour one; Clark Kent. Hour 100+; Superman.
For those with long(ish) memories, the Consonance CD2.2 Linear scored a hit with Jimmy Hughes back in issue 46. Aside from adding a new all-black finish to the light and dark wood cover over a silver-front, the player looks functionally identical to its predecessor. The centre mount transport over the display and remote control eye, the two large knob-like multi-way controls that respond neatly to pushes and pulls from the user and the heavy, silver dimples on black remote remain almost disturbingly unchanged.
At first glance, not a lot has changed under the hood, too. It’s still a single-ended device, running a Philips TDA1543 DAC in 16-bit precision. The TDA1543 is a popular choice with the DIY brigade in their never-ending quest for the best sounding NOS (non-oversampling) converter, and in fairness Consonance has more than its fair share of NOS converters built into some of its players. Here, the player also gives the user a choice of upsampling frequencies, accessed from the remote handset. The original Reference CD2.2 gave the choice of just 44.1kHz and 88.2kHz sampling, this new player raises the game by adding a further 176.4kHz sampling frequency. Consonance also points to a revised super clock for lower jitter figures. The player retains the same 6H30-based tube output stage.
Outwardly, aside from the new black finish, the big change is the addition of a single coaxial digital input at the rear panel. Joining the coaxial digital output and the pair of single-ended analogue outputs, this switchable digital input has been designed for use with the company’s Transmitter Box 1.0 (not tested here), as well as a host of other digi-products with coaxial outputs. While not exactly turning the Reference CD2.2 Linear Mk 2 into a digital hub, the Transmitter Box is designed to potentially bring Wi-Fi to Hi-Fi, Consonance style. Whether you go for this box or not, an additional digital input has its uses in a modern CD player and this is a good upgrade.
With relatively mild changes to the Reference CD2.2 chassis and electronics, this is not the sort of alteration that would entail huge changes in the player, but what on earth gave it such a huge change over those first 100 hours? CD players sporting NOS circuitry (such as the Droplet 3.1 Linear, the Orfeo, the CD-120 Linear and the DAC16 from the same catalogue) are all notoriously long-winded in their warmup times, but even so, there’s nothing in the Ref CD2.2 Linear Mk 2 to make it so twitchy in its infancy, is there?
I suspect it is the lack of anti-aliasing filter. Or maybe the output stage. Or even the new clock. Truth is, finding definitive answers about such things is difficult in the extreme, especially as things like bedding in and warm-ups aren’t even the kinds of thing you could legitimately pick up from a measurement suite. Still, that hundred hour move from woe to wow is something to bear in mind; if you hot-foot it back and demand a refund after giving the player an hours run-in, you are doing yourself a great disservice.
There seems to be a move to make digital very ‘digital’ sounding in some audio quarters. By this, some designers seem to blur the lines between ‘detail’ and ‘brightness’ (this doesn’t just apply to electronics; there’s a rising treble permeating some high-end speaker designs too; the cynical might say it’s to compensate for the increasingly old ears of audiophile buyers). Fortunately, not everyone follows this line of reasoning and the Consonance Reference CD2.2 Linear Mk 2 represents the Loyal Opposition to the Brightness Party.
That doesn’t mean the player is warm and woolly sounding, just that it does ‘natural’ instead of ‘etched’. The information retrieval is all there, it’s a detailed player, but trades some laser-guided precision for a sound that’s dynamic and rather like what you might hear in a concert hall. I suspect this presentation ? without doubt the Reference CD2.2 Linear Mk2s greatest asset ? might be its biggest curse too, because the player’s character is not of the immediate gratification kind, and in a world where the demonstration room is being replaced by the e-commerce site, he who shouts loudest, wins. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case, because the sound of the Reference CD2.2 Linear Mk2 is eminently satisfying in the long-term, where the more shiny and bright sounding players are found wanting.
What it also has is air. A lot of air. Air around the musicians; not in the sort of pretty, yet musically diffuse way some products deliver, but just making musical instruments take their rightful places within a big and open soundstage.
The combination of that natural and airy presentation makes this one of the most refined players at the price point. How you react to that refinement largely depends on your take on the need for refinement in audio; do you look upon this as blunting the edges or smoothing things out? Once again, I don’t find this as musically-dependent, because the same things can be positive or negative to any musical genre; someone might listen to the Live Through This album by Hole and think that refinement helps cut the onslaught, or compromises its energy. It’s all relative.
All that being said, the Reference CD2.2 Linear Mk 2’s gentle softening and filling out of the overall sound does tend to lend it more to the mainstream jazz and classical end of the spectrum. Spiky punk-jazz noises from Polar Bear still work (indeed, because they are the lo-fi of jazz, a bit of extra smoothing helps considerably), but are best elsewhere. On the other hand, listening to the classic David Wilcocks/Decca rendition of The Nelson Mass is a remarkably satisfying experience, as the player ‘digs in’ and extracts the inner workings of the performance.
A lot of this comes from the player being incredibly adept at dynamic range replay. Not just the big majestic sweeps from ppp to ffff that you’ll get at the fireworks end of your music collection, but the more subtle dynamic interplays that frequently go unnoticed. The little shufflings and sighs and miscellaneous sounds that go to make up a live event are not pushed to the fore, neither are they hidden from view. They are just there, subtly explaining why a live concert can be a wonderful thing.
Curiously, what really swings it for the Reference CD2.2 Linear Mk 2 is the sound of applause. Often sounding like a form of pink noise, through this player you can hear proper applause, as if there are real people clapping. These people exist in a three-dimensional space behind the loudspeakers and aren’t just an amorphous mass of sound. That realisation has a lasting effect on the listener, who quickly discovers just how much detail and information is there and just how quickly that can be ruined by other systems.
I can see the Consonance player polarising opinion. There will be many who strongly dislike the player on the grounds of it ‘interpreting’ the sound. In fairness, accuracy freaks will find little to attract them to this player; tubes in the output stage and no anti-aliasing filter will pretty much stop this group in its tracks on principle. Some more open to the Consonance ideas-pool will try this player and find it absorbing, but not engaging. But some will find its musical presentation utterly addictive, discovering the musical meaning that can get lost in delivering the message with other players. Put another way, if you’ve lusted after a 47 Labs or Zanden player, or one of the big Audio Note DACs, here’s the nursery slopes edition.
Perhaps the biggest praise you can heap on the Consonance line is that the products don’t come up on eBay or Audiogon too often. This is no box-swapper delight, this week’s must have only to be passed from listening room to listening room as it ‘does the rounds’. This is the slow burn, the player that takes its time to show you how good it really is, and then never gives up. Give it more than a half-hour listening session, and you might just fall for it.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Non-oversampling, upsampling, filterless CD player with tube analogue output stage.
Tube Complement: 1x 6H30
Sampling Rate: 44.1, 88.2, 176.4kHz
Outputs: 1pr single-ended RCA
1x co-axial digital RCA
Output Level: 2.5v
Inputs: 1x co-axial digital RCA
Dimensions (WxHxD): 430 x 210 x 33mm