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Moving back to Donald Fagen’s "The Goodbye Look" and trying out the Ayre C-5xe MP, this player was noticeable in concentrating far more on the leading edges. This gave the track too much bite serving to undermine the relaxed troposphere. I’ve greatly enjoyed this player in the past for its ability to get down and dirty with electronica and rock but here it definitely lacked much of the N°512’s subtlety.
The Levinson’s baritone-like depth also served to partially rescue certain ‘problem’ discs the other two players failed to get the best out of. I had been looking forward for a long time to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Playing the Piano, hoping that it may embody the pure distilled spirit of one my all-time favorite musicians. But what a disappointment! It sounded world-weary, way too tasteful and restrained to do any justice to the beautiful melodic structures. Instead of sake this was flat beer. The N°512 granted this recording a degree of fresh life presenting harmonic content so finely nuanced that I soon discovered that there really was some personality present here after all – albeit the piano’s! Sakamoto’s own performance was still too reticent but the N°512 certainly helped greatly in terms of atmosphere.
Some of you might think that you’ve got the measure of this machine now - that old perennial of a CD player which puts textural opulence and soundstaging ahead of PRaT. But it’s not quite that simple. Yes this is indeed the way the player is weighted but listening to Villagers’ Becoming a Jackal it soon became apparent that to cast this machine as genre specific would be an over-simplification. Again I’ve heard more rhythmic litheness elsewhere but the way the N°512 handles guitar and voice with such unerring exactitude proved a compelling compensation. Previously Conor O’Brien’s lyrics and vocal style have struck me as verging on the maudlin but here with apparently no obstruction between performer and listener the sheer intimacy proved wholly persuasive.
Conclusion: A few of my listening sessions were happily shared with friends and it was noticeable at their close how many commented that they felt emotionally drained. And it’s true, the N°512 engages you with your music collection in a manner that’s rare. But the way the N°512 wrought this effect was interesting. It wasn’t by being best at conveying edge of your seat excitement. Rather it was through the sheer luminous filled-out beauty of the sound. Indeed at times the listening room felt almost in danger of being flooded by the music.
What really convinced me that I was in the presence of something truly special here was the way the N°512 helped me ‘crack’ the DNA of many of my favorite performers. The prime example of this was Bryan Ferry. In twenty years of listening to his music I’ve simply never realized what a truly accomplished vocalist he really is. His perfect phrasing and dry-as-a-desert-skull humor emerged in a way that lesser equipment had previously conspired to mask to some degree.
I had been trying to recall what player the N°512 (at times uncannily) reminded me of. It suddenly came to me towards the end of my time with the player: the Marantz SA-1. Yes a near decade’s worth of evolution means that the N°512 is ahead of the SA-1 in regard to all the fundamentals (offering tighter and more defined bass in particular) but Ken Ishiwata’s tastes usually resulted in players that somehow seemed a little more generous of spirit or soulful than the direct competition. Here you could say that the N°512 represents the apogee of a desire which has always aimed to steer playback away from digital sterility and back to analogue fecundity.
And bounteous the N°512 most certainly is! Indeed to worry that one may eventually tire of the player’s slightly lavish style of presentation is to worry that one may suffer similar fatigue by continual dining at three star Michelin restaurants or be driven mad from the serial dating of Hungarian super models. No it wouldn’t be my first choice if either heavy rock or electronica were my main staples and even I found it coming up a little short with one or two of my Desert Island picks. But for a certain kind of music lover this player will prove to be a life-enhancing revelation because what the N°512 does right it does better than I previously thought possible. And that is the imprimatur of a landmark component.
Quality of packing: 8/10. Reusability of packing: 9/10. Ease of unpacking/repacking: Very straightforward. Condition of component received: Flawless. Completeness of delivery: Perfect. Human interactions: Fine. Pricing: Obviously very expensive but does manage to outperform lower-priced machines. Whether it represents good value or not will be down to the priorities and bank balance of the prospective buyer. Final comments & suggestions: Operationally the N°512 performed flawlessly throughout.