Last issue, in the first part of the review, I spoke mainly of the Vivaldi as a two-box CD player and what a profound improvement it was on the four-box Paganini system I had grown so accustomed to over the past couple of years. Using just the Vivaldi CD/SACD transport and the DAC, driving power amplification directly and without a preamplifier could never be considered a low-cost option but, if CD replay is required, it is the cheapest way into the Vivaldi system. It showed me in no uncertain terms that many of the sonic artefacts I had always associated with the format either vanished or were greatly reduced. Soundstage width and depth, bass articulation and pitch, shuddering dynamics, a massive reduction in the compressed space between instruments and their range of tonal colour were all of a different order. But it was really the improved sense of musical communication and involvement that was the most persuasive. Put simply, I had better and longer listening sessions, finding myself involved the musicianship and recordings on a deeper and more fascinating and personal level.
The Master Clock is a far more precise way of synchronizing the musical flow through the Vivaldi components. It sits outside the signal path regulating the beating heart of the system by performing all the clocking in one place (when just the transport and DAC are in use the former is slaved to the clock in the DAC). This locks all the digital operations within the three other boxes to the single, highly accurate master clock that is orders of magnitude more precise than those built into each component.
When the Master Clock arrived I was expecting a greater sense of precision and sharper timing and an enhanced feel of the music being more solidly planted with perhaps better strength. I certainly got those, but it was the other directions that the music moved that were so interesting.
Incorporating the clock into the transport and DAC system produced some barely believable results. Yes, the music is more direct, powerful and better grounded and the anticipated feeling of stability throughout the bandwidth is certainly undeniable, but the clock removes as much as it adds and it is what it leaves behind that is so significant. Once again the system moves further from sounding anything like a conventional CD player. What we have come to accept as the ‘digital sound’ or should I say, the ‘sound of digital’ recedes even further. Harshness and the spiteful leading edge that so many CDs seem to be embedded with, falls away. Voices, in particular are less artificial, more open and much sweeter. The bitter compressive squeeze that surrounds so many vocal harmonies is replaced by a much more natural feel entirely where each individual part is far better expressed. Everything that the two-box Vivaldi did so well is even further enhanced with the addition of the clock. There are no downsides. It can show you musical threads and harmonic possibilities by removing so many characteristic CD-type colourations that it simply allows you to relax into the music. This was something picked up at a very early stage by Chris Binns when he came round to listen and was only reinforced as the weeks passed. By allowing the music more room to breathe, the Vivaldi grows ever more expansive with the clock in place. So much of what I had always assumed to be studio ambience and digital reverb vanished and while the music certainly seems ‘drier’, it grows enormously in texture and becomes much more ‘real’ and touchable. Once again and like the initial two-box set-up, it made me question and re-evaluate so much of what I had taken for granted about CD replay and by definition, what I had always accepted as some of the limitations of home audio.