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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime, Yamamoto YDA-01, Raysonic Audio CD228 [on loan], April Music Stello CDA 500 [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03
Amplifier: FirstWatt J2
Speakers: ASI Tango R
Cables: Complete loom of ASI Liveline
Stands: 2 x ASI Heartsong 3-tier, 2 x ASI Heartsong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters, Advanced Acoustics Orbis Wall & Corner units
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail: €3,500/pr within the EU, certain offsets to be expected due to different VAT rates

Thorsten Loesch had been very active in British DIY circles and was a contributor to Brian Cherry's DIY Hifi Supply in Hong Kong when in 2001 he was drafted as contributing engineer for the newly formed Abbingdon Music Research company. This brought to the firm his prior research into the 'King of Multibit' new-old-stock TDA 1541A Philips chip to neatly coincide with parallel work by Pat Wayne, another of the company's four principals. It led their team to AMR's first product, a seriously heavy, seriously big CD player with a top-loading custom transport and valved outputs which ran off the same discontinued 1985 chip that Zanden Audio had reintroduced into the ultra high-end realms by the Millennium.

Unlike Zanden however whose Kusonoki-style nonupsampling filterless sonics embraced its innate treble softening, AMR had authored six user-selectable digital filter options. Their proprietary Master II became a 'pure NOS plus' mode which retained the analog sonics Zanden championed but also compensated for their small treble depression to appeal to both vintage and modern listeners. My review and many subsequent opinions had hailed the CD-77 for making good on its ambitions at rather less financial pain than the highly acclaimed Japanese precursor.

Now forward nine years. Today AMR's original 77-Series includes a matching integrated amplifier, an ambitious phono stage and equally ambitious 2-way ribbon monitors for a four-square Reference product offering. The newer 777-Series already stocks a down-sized CDP and integrated amplifier. Downsizing implies half the price of the 77 siblings, less than half the weight and smaller simplified enclosures. What remain for the player are the general cosmetics, AMR's top-loading transport (a combination of Philips CD-18 servo and and Sony K-series laser), a multi-bit DAC*, a tube-powered current buffer and the elegant touch-screen remote control.

If the cost-cutting losses seem mild, the CD-777 even introduces a feature the 77 lacked - S/PDIF i/o ports. And it retains the absolutely vital USB socket as interface for streaming files. The CD-777's converter thus remains accessible from the outside for both legacy and PC sources and the 'DAC' command on the remote disconnects the machine's transport from the outputs to instead activate the external inputs.


* The CD-777's chosen DAC is a Philips UDA1305AT multi-bit chip set which from AMR's analysis of the design and sonic performance of converters is the closest to the TDA 1541A. "The UDA1305AT is also superior to the TDA1543 and TDA1545. An added bonus is that this chipset has been off the radar and until now never been used before in a high-end CD player. Amongst its features are a continuous calibration concept, fast settling time to enable 2, 4 and 8 times oversampling (serial input), adjustable bias current for maximum dynamic range, internal timing and control circuits, I-squared-S bus input format (time multiplex, two’s complement, TTL up to 384KHz), no zero crossing distortion, low power consumption and low total harmonic distortion. Full-scale output is 2mA, THD at 0dB is -90dB, A-weighted S/N ratio is -101dB and current settling time to ±1 LSB 200ns."

Further differences to the CD-77 are 2 valves vs. 6; three transformers of the EI-core kind to four of the C-core sort; no choke filtering; and a plastic vs. aluminum remote. The project brief for the CD-77 had been competitiveness with top turntables. For the CD-777, AMR wanted competitiveness with digital machines up to five times the price of theirs.

Shown above is the matching 60wpc AM-777. That is a purist 2-stage stereo integrated with bridge-to-mono capabilities into 2 ohms, USB input, software-driven volume, zero-feedback voltage gain based on the same two (rollable) triodes as the CD-777 and a bipolar current buffer.

Its digital output** converts the CD-777 into a quality transport for the unlikely customer whose dedicated outboard converter eclipses what AMR has built into their integrated machine with "direct mastering"—AMR's take on non-oversampling with their anti-sin analog filter— 2/4-times oversampling and 96/192 upsampling. The opamp-free analog output stage runs 6H1n-EV triodes as delivered but can be rolled with ECC88, E88CC, 7308, Cca, 6dJ8, 6922 or 6H23n-EV for numerous personalization choices. AMR expects its dealers to assist with this as part of their customer service.


** The CD-77 had no digital output because the AMR team at the time couldn't implement one without compromising performance. Newly available parts are said to diminish this compromise such that this feature now was viable for the lower-priced player. The present engineering team of AMR's total staff of 32 includes Emily Safin and Mark Hind (hardware design engineers), Trevor Lee (mechanical design engineer), Pat Wayne (hardware design engineer), Michael Naidoo (software design engineer), Kenneth Long (mechanical design engineer), Thorsten Loesch (hardware design engineer), Simon Man (software design engineer) and Jack Witte (quality design engineer).

Another of AMR's principals explained over the phone from the UK how their 32VA EI transformers for the digital and valve sections for the CD-777 are not off-the-shelf machine-wound items. Stressed Vincent Luke, "they're assembled by hand the old time-honored way and to our own quite stringent specifications." Other quality parts include silver-leaf, Sanyo Oscon, German film and AMR's own power supply polypropylene capacitors; precision wire-wound resistors; "zero-noise" Schottky rectifiers; and 70um gold-plated military-grade circuit boards.

(Besides their own capacitors, AMR today also makes a range of gold-contact fuses in the most common denominations so audiophiles can upgrade their equipment on the cheap.)

Specs for the CD-777 list an A-weighted S/N ratio of better than 100dB, channel separation of better than 90dB and an output voltage slightly north of the industry-standard 2V. Standby power consumption is a very EU-happy sub 1 watt. Operational draw is a rather higher 45 watts. Trim is either silver or black aluminum. Dimensions are 17.7 x 4.7 x 14.6" WxHxD (46 x 12 x 37cm) and weight is a still confident but rather more reasonable 25.4lbs (11.5kg) over the CD-77's colossal 62 pounds.

The simplified case work allows the owner to crack the vault and pluck tubes which for the CD-77 was more involved and nearly touchy. The 115/230 switch on the rear panel conveniently converts line voltages. Customers relocating across international borders need not call a service department to rewire secondaries or insert step-up or step-down AC transformers into the chain.

Remote control functions include:
RC1 - numeric track inputs
RC2 - track and all repeat
RC3 - A/B repeat
RC4: DAC input to activate the USB or S/PDIF digital inputs
RC5: Standby

RC6 - Fast rewind/previous
RC7 - Stop
RC8 - Play/pause
RC9 - Fast forward/next
RC10 - Cycles through six digital filter/sample modes

RC11 - Cycles through 4 display brightness levels including off
RC12 - Time display modes
RC13 - Track programming
RC14 - 10 or 30-sec scan of each track
RC15 - Random shuffle

The input and volume up/down commands at the bottom and five special touch-screen icons above them are reserved for the AM-777 integrated amplifier which can be controlled from the same back-lit wand.

3.500 euros certainly remain a considerable investment for any machine that's dedicated to spinning CDs the old-fashioned way. What elevates AMR's deck over the just reviewed Raysonic CD-228 and Metronome CD T One are those digital ports. They reposition the CD-777 from old-fashioned and passé to current and relevant.

To future-proof any presently sold CD player relies on being able to access its transport and DAC sections separately***. It's why the best of integrated amplifiers offer pre-out/main-in loops. It keeps them on the upgrade path rather than in the eventual classified ads or worse, the dumpster. And it's not as though second-hand demand for under-featured CD players was on the rise.

AMR's CD-777 gets it all loud and clear. Their team has done the necessary homework and one can proceed without complaints to build quality and sonics.

*** Endless hifi complaints are nearly trite, about the aging and thinning ranks of stationary sweet-spot listeners not being replenished because the prevailing mode of audio consumption has become mobile under the motto "anywhere anytime". I say trite because many manufacturers stubbornly continue to only serve that vanishing cadre.

This propagates the 'set on irrelevance and eventual demise' course many feel our industry is on. To support such makers and their products by granting them review space in these pages only reinforces and even condones this trend. I shall henceforth decline to review any more CD players which do not offer comprehensive PC audio integration.