|While Mr. McCormack wishes to downplay the video performance of the UDP-1, the fact is that I'm no videophile either but I found nothing to fault about its video performance. So there. And good and as easy to use as the UDP-1 was in the multichannel room, the fact is that I used it the most in my two-channel rig. In terms of price and quality of sound, the UDP-1 was very much at home there as well.
In an effort to get down to brass tacks and assess the UDP-1s performance on Redbook CD, I early on pressed into service the Bel Canto PRe6 multichannel preamplifier. Using the PRe6, I was able to connect the UDP-1's outputs directly into one PRe6 input, and at the same time, use the UDP-1's coaxial output into my reference Bel Canto DAC-2 and connect that in turn to the Pre6. Because the Bel Canto PRe 6 allows repeatable matched levels as you switch back and forth between two different inputs, I was able to do a very reasonable job of matching the UDP-1s analog outputs with the output of the Bel Canto DAC-2 which sells for almost half the price as the entire UDP-1. It has garnered universal praise as not only an excellent performer but a stellar value. I own one and so does moon man Edgar in Australia while our Editor awarded the Bel Canto DAC-2 a Blue Moon Award for "Affordable Peak Performance".
Which did I prefer? Neither. I'm here to admit that I could not reliably distinguish between the two pieces. As easy to use as the Bel Canto Pre6 is, it does perform one function that in normal use is a pretty neat thing but throws a wrench into the works when trying to A/B two components head-to-head. I speak of how as the new input is selected, the Pre6 reduces its output voltage and then ramps it back up to the predetermined volume setting. While larger differences in sonics would certainly be discernable, the fact is that whatever differences there are between the DAC2 and the UDP-1, detection doesn't survive the process of human hearing. Neither did long-term listening reveal anything meaningful. Both sound equally dead-on linear. Both sound smooth and relaxed - dare I say analog-like? While it's true that the Bel Canto has been my own reference for a number of years now to have me obviously acclimated to it, the fact is that I've always enjoyed its even-handedness with CDs of varying qualities. There probably exist DACs more adept at minute detail retrieval but from what I gather, none come in at anywhere near the DAC-2's price. Not that they would be the object of my desire anyway - hyper detail isn't my idea of the road to nirvana. The upside is that the McCormack UDP-1 sounds just as good and never sterile, analytical or etched. Therefore I find it to be one easy player to listen to and live with. The UDP-1 is truly a Redbook CD player of universal appeal.
|Once I placed in the UDP-1's disc drawer a Super Audio CD, I knew I was in uncharted territory - the UDP-1 is my first foray into upscale SACD players. Thus far I've only used budget players from Sony and Pioneer, some of which have actually received some decent ink. The McCormack transformed my perception of how good the new medium|
|can sound. While I had previously experienced heightened detail and transparency, for the first time I was now hearing a fully fleshed-out spectrum of sound. In some ways, the James Taylor Hourglass SACD [Columbia ACS 67912] actually sounded more like its Redbook cousin than I'd yet experienced. Previously the Super Audio CD version lacked the Redbook's' warmth and body which, paradoxically, actually aided in the DSD's apparent superiority in the areas of transparency. The UDP-1 put all the meat back on the SACD's bones and kicked up the Redbook's ante with some really deep and solid bass. Instrumental and vocal focus was excellent and, fortunately, a noticeable layer of grit and grain imposed by cheaper units was completely removed as the UDP-1 sounded smooth and even more analog-like. The lack of gritty noise also aided in the communication of both soundstage depth and width and increased|
|the overall sense of ease. Taylor's voice was, again, fully fleshed-out and more harmonically complete than I'd heard it before. Certainly, overall resolution was increased over its RedBook cousin but the UDP-1 was coming through with such warmth and depth that the music lost nothing in the way of its humanity - it completely avoided any aspects of clinical sterility. Soundstaging was deep and wide and it emerged from a blacker-than-black background. Even the traveling drum on "Gia" seemed much deeper behind the stage than usual yet unmistakably there.
|Given the Super Audio CD's new-found warmth, dimensionality and deep bass, I thought I'd give the DSD release of Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon [CDP 7243 5 82136 2 I-US] ] a spin. Many still cherish this Rock recording as one of the best of all time, and perhaps it is. But over the years, it's lost its appeal in favor of other Pink Floyd albums that I find more interesting. Still, the UDP-1 presented DSOTM in a completely new way and it was as though I was hearing it for the first time despite hundreds of listenings. First, I noticed much greater textural contrast between instruments. Sometimes it was as though the instruments were almost chosen just to contrast each other, texturally speaking. Smoothly flowing and ethereal cymbals against a huge and ominous piano on "Great Gig In The Sky", and a huge blatting saxophone thrown in on "Us and Them" made for a more interesting tapestry of textures than|
|I'd heard before, the latter made new again by expansive soundstaging and a sense of space and dimensionality heretofore not experienced. The UDP-1 also gave me deeper and more incisive bass with real depth and dimensionality. Transients seemed more explosive (try the alarms at the beginning of "Time") and it all came against the blackest and quietest background I've ever experienced despite the residual master tape hiss. Bass lines on "Money" seemed more authoritative and even the cash-registers evidenced new clarity and transient speed with no undue sharp edges or harshness. The only thing that I wondered about was whether producer Alan Parsons and the band intended that the incidental voices and conversations be as clear and intelligible as they now were.
Unfortunately, I own no DVD-A discs and was thus unable to run the UDP-1 through its DVD-A paces. Just as the UDP-1 was being readied for pickup, I talked to Steve McCormack who voiced disappointment that I wasn't able to test the UDP-1's DVD-A performance. McCormack is a proponent of the DVD-A format but readily acknowledges that there are a lot of bad discs. Involved in some recording himself, McCormack opined that for some reason, particularly when confronted with the task of creating a multichannel mix, most engineers seem to forget everything they know. But McCormack is a devotee of the format and seems to have put at least as much effort into the production of the DVD-A section of the UDP-1 as any other. Suddenly I regretted my lack of DVD-A software but as the UDP-1 was already on its way back to Virginia, there was nothing I could do.
I'm extremely pleased to have finally been able to hear a McCormack amplifier. I've been reading about them for years and I was able to confirm that the DNA HT-5 is an excellent example of a solidly built, well-executed and fine sounding amplifier that sells at an exceptionally reasonable price. If the HT-5 was a two-channel amplifier and sold for the same price, I'd recommend it. It's that good. At one point, I placed into this system my new Shindo Partager tube stereo preamplifier that retails for almost three times as much as McCormack's own MAP-1. The HT-5's performance was only further elevated and didn't at all sound outgunned. In fact, the pairing made some fantastic music through a pair of Thiel PCS monitors augmented by the Thiel SS2 Smart Subwoofer. If you're looking for an amplifier that differentiates itself in any way other than with solid, refined and linear performance, look elsewhere - because that's exactly what the DNA HT-5 is all about.
|The value in the McCormack line doesn't end with the HT-5, though. At $3495, the UDP-1 Universal player is at least as value-packed as the amplifier. Peter Moncrief has already called it the best CD player in the world. While I couldn't verify that claim, I found its CD performance beyond reproach and extremely satisfying. Let's see - start with sonic performance which is on par with the very best digital-to-analog converters in its price range. Then throw in a transport which is solidly constructed and beautiful to look at. You end up with a CD player that is a steal at its price point. Now throw in 5-channel home theater performance as well as excellent multichannel Super Audio CD and DVD-A performance and the McCormack UDP-1 should become a runaway bestseller.
At $10,000, a system consisting of the MAP-1 multichannel preamplifier, UDP-1 Universal player and DNA HT-5 power amplifier is not an insignificant investment. But when you consider the build quality and how these three components enable the utilization of every digital format extant in either two- or multichannel and then add their level of sonic performance, this system can't help but earn the highest of recommendations. And it gets mine.