The D/A converter used is an Ashai Kasei AK4497 32bit 192kHz with upsampling, and the analogue output stage is based-around ECC88 double-triode tubes, 1 per channel. The output voltage is quoted at 1.5v, and unbalanced. It would have been nice to have balanced outputs as well, but – not a deal breaker... The 14DC+ features a USB digital input – 32Bit 384KHz (USB) with DSD up to 5,6 Mhz. However, I had difficulty getting the USB connection to work with my laptop, and so couldn’t really investigate this side of things.
The Roma 14DC+ is a full-size player measuring 410×390×95mm. In terms of features and facilities, the Roma is fairly minimalist. No variable output, no balanced output, no headphone socket, no switched normal/upsampling option, etc. But everything you might want is there, including a USB digital input. So, little or nothing important left out. It’s built on a steel chassis with a steel top sleeve, and a curved solid-aluminium front fascia plate (in black or silver) that’s 10mm thick at the edges and 20mm thick in the centre. During use, the player gets mildly warm to the touch, but that’s all. When switched off, the tube heaters remain on which keeps the player nicely primed and ready for serious listening the moment it’s switched on.
I was immediately struck by an overall presentation, which seemed clean, clear and focused, with good detail and definition. I noted almost instantly the Roma’s extra focus and precision. There was nothing coarse, loose, or wayward about the sound. Rather, it seemed focussed and controlled, with excellent clarity and detail. A truthful neutral presentation that sounded natural and real, with no hint of exaggeration or excess.
As someone who mainly listens to classical music, I place high emphasis on natural tonal quality and truthful timbres. For example – in real life, a violin often has a woody mellowness which most hi-fi finds very hard to replicate. The same holds true of an unamplified voice. It’s difficult to put this quality into words, but you know it as soon as you hear it. It manifests itself as a kind of effortlessness – as though the reproduction is being achieved without unnecessary struggle or effort.
The Roma delivered more of this ‘effortlessness’ than my regular CD player. It was clear and detailed, but slightly more refined and mellifluous – like a smooth well-oiled machine. It was akin to SACD; albeit, not quite up to that high standard in terms of resolution. As already mentioned, the Roma 14DC+ delivered a very beguiling sound, and proved extremely easy to listen to. It had a way of drawing you into the music and sounded detailed and clear without seeming over-analytical or ‘revealing’ in the negative sense.
Playing Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier [Sony], I was impressed by the manner in which Gould’s voicing of this very contrapuntal music stood revealed, allowing you to follow the interweaving musical narrative in terms of dynamics, and tone colour.
The 14DC+ is very good on human voice and seems to bring out lots of subtle mid-tones and warmth without emphasising harshness. I used the word ‘effortless’ before, and that sums up the smooth ease and flow of the music reproduction. But, don’t let this fool you. As with SACD, sometimes the results don’t seem overly impressive. Because there’s no fake drama, the end result can almost seem like something’s missing. I’ve sometimes had similar impressions at live concerts.
Un-amplified music sounds different to amplified music! Often, the latter is on sonic steroids, and the end-result sounds pumped-up and exaggerated. So, while there’s perhaps something slightly understated about the Roma 14DC+, it’s deceptive. Increase the volume a little, and the sound quickly blossoms and burgeons to fill the room. And because the Roma sounds so natural and refined, you won’t find the end result harsh or fatiguing when playing things a bit louder.