Reviewer: Jules Coleman
Sources: Well-Tempered Reference/Reference Arm/Shiraz cartridge; Redpoint Testa Rossa XS/Triplanar Arm/Ortofon SPU [for review]; Brinkmann Balance/Brinkmann Arm/Brinkmann Modified EMT [for review]

Preamplifier: Shindo Catherine full function dual mono
Amplifiers: Shindo Sinhonia monoblock, Shindo WE300B Ltd monoblocks; Cr Developments Artemis Gold monoblocks; Mark Pearson-built EL-34 monoblocks
Speakers: Hørning Agathon Ultimates [for review]; DeVore Fidelity Silverback [for review]; Hørning Alkibiades
Equipment Rack: Harmonic Resolution System M1-R with M3 Isolation Bases
Cables: Stealth Indra; PGS, MLT Hybrid speaker cable; Extreme Phono phono cable; Audience Au24 phono cable, interconnects and speaker cable; Audio Note Kondo copper speaker cable; Stealth, van den Hul Mainstream and Shindo power cords
Accessories: Harmonix feet, Vibrapods, Black Diamond Racing Cones, ERaudio Space Harmonizers
Review component retail: $3,950 for stock player and Exemplar Audio modifications including Siltech wiring

This is the story of how the unassuming but wonderful Denon/Exemplar Audio DVD-2900 universal player saved my life. No - that's a bit strong though it is arresting. Let's try again. This is the story of how the unassuming but really quite wonderful Denon/Exemplar Audio DVD-2900 Universal player saved my sanity. That's better. In fact, it's pretty much the truth. Read on if the story interests you.

As with everything else, the story begins on the basketball courts of my native Brooklyn.
I enjoy listening to music on compact discs. It wasn't always thus. Even when I didn't enjoy music on the silver disc, I listened to it - more often that I would care to admit.

When I was a kid, I was proud of the transistor radio I listened to while riding my bike to play basketball on the then-legendary courts of Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn. I was a good but not a great basketball player. The fact is, I sat on the sidelines during a lot of the 'high end' games dominated by players like Lew Alcindor (aka Kareem Abdul Jabaar). I got into my share of these games and no doubt will someday tell my grandchildren (if and when I have them) that I played in a lot more of those games than I did.

But I sat on the sidelines a fair amount, watched others play and listened to my pocket transistor radio. I listened to "Cousin Brucie" on the local ABC affiliate and to "Murray the K and his swinging soiree" on 1010 WINS, New York. The sound of the pocket transistor radio was undeniably awful but the songs were great. And if you loved the music, you didn't pay much attention to the sonics. Heck, I was happy if the station came in.

That's roughly the way I felt about the silver disc for the longest time. I listened to my CD player -- whatever CD player it was -- because that is where the music was. I made excuses about the player, told lies to my analog-adoring friends about how often I listened and in the interim built up a substantial CD collection. I bought more CDs than LPs while bitching the entire time.

But, I didn't love digital. Every time I switched back to vinyl and whatever the in-house table happened to be at the time -- more often than not a Well Tempered of some vintage and variety -- a smile would creep across my face and I resolved never to give my heart over to digital. I could flirt, enjoy a fling, a weekend escapade, perhaps a dangerous liaison even but no love affair with the silver disc - certainly no passionate love affair. Needless to say, marriage was out of the question.

To a significant degree, that changed when the Reimyo CD player arrived to grace my reference system. With it, there were ways in which I preferred listening to compact discs over vinyl. Heresy, I know. I used the Reimyo to assess various aspects of the performance of turntables I had in for review. It's not that the Reimyo sounded like analog. It simply sounded like music - more like music than any other RedBook player I have heard in my home; and more like music than at least one pricey turntable with which I had become intimately familiar.

Though I loved the Reimyo, I returned it when the review was over. I resolved to wait for the future of digital to unfold. Until then, I would be content to make do with an acceptable-sounding CD player, which I was quite confident were in plentiful supply and could be had for a good deal less than the Reimyo and its ilk.

I listened to all manner of CD players at all kinds of price points. I listened to players reviewed well by writers I trust. After a while, I started listening to players reviewed by writers who I had previously dismissed as deaf, on the principle that even a broken clock always gets the time exactly right twice a day.

Digital depression
I was depressed. Worse, I had lost nearly all my resolve to avoid spending the big green on a digital front end. Worse yet, I was driving my friends in audio crazy. I wrote more emails asking for help, made more phone calls decrying my plight than even the strongest friendships could withstand. I tried out a million scenarios and digital combinations. There was no end in sight. My friends at the New York and Connecticut audio emporiums cringed at the sight of me. It was ugly and promised to get worse.

One of the phone calls I had made was to dealer friend Steve Rouse in Connecticut who carries the Reimyo line. Steve's been to my house a few times, knows my system, knows what I like and knows what turns me off. Without missing a beat, he told me to check out what John Tucker of Exemplar Audio had done to the stock Denon DVD-2900 universal player. He offered to call up John on my behalf and to arrange for us to have a chat about a possible review.

Thanks to Steve's good auspices, I contacted John whom I knew of but not this player. It turns out that Tucker's machine had gotten quite a substantial following without being reviewed. He thus had much more to lose than gain from a review. A negative review couldn't help and it is unclear just what a good or positive review would do. Most of the serious interest is by word of mouth, anyway - and that seemed to be going pretty well as is. A really positive review might create a spike in demand that could do more harm than good, especially to a small company. Whatever the reason, he agreed and a review of the Exemplar universal player was an official go.

Sometimes I like to go to the end of the book and see how things are going to turn out for the main characters.
The Exemplar Audio player arrived and has been in-house for about six weeks now. This is one hell of a terrific player, with first-rate performance in three formats: RedBook, SACD and DVD-A. In my system and in other systems in which it was placed -- some of them very different from mine -- the Exemplar player sounded better on CD than RedBook-only players costing more than twice as much. While it's not the equal of the Reimyo on CD, the Reimyo doesn't embarrass it as other very pricey players have been. Indeed, this is a player that won't be embarrassed by any player at any price and in any system.

On SACD, I found it the equal of several units that receive Class A rankings in other publications. Indeed, it surpassed some and frankly embarrassed others. It's not the best SACD playback I have heard but it is excellent. The real surprise for me came on DVD-A with which I had previously no experience whatsoever. I found listening to several discs musically persuasive in a way I rarely find with SACD. But I had way too small a sample from which to draw any meaningful comparisons.

I have listened to a handful of universal players exclusively on either RedBook or SACD. One or the other always seemed significantly compromised. Since I care primarily about CD playback, the fact that all of those players were weaker on RedBook in both relative and absolute terms disqualified them for me.

The Exemplar is unique in this regard. Its RedBook playback is at least on par with its performance on SACD, and its RedBook playback is comparable to all but a handful of the very best players available. This player warrants an unqualified recommendation even if it did nothing other than play CDs.

And here's the best news: Fully tricked out with Siltech internal wiring, the retail price is $3,950. That's under 4K for a first-rank CD player that also happens to be a wonderful universal player. It's a steal. That's the good news; good for us and John Tucker who has every reason to be proud of what he has accomplished.

The bad news for him? If word gets out about how good this player is, he's going to have to gear up production - and that might slow down some of his preamp, amp and speaker projects. On the other hand, it might boost the economy just a tad in Everett, Washington.

And oh yeah, the good news for me is that I am no longer depressed about digital. So much for conclusions.