Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Giant Killer.....

Giant killer.....
In the world of CD players there's about as much variety as the world of automobiles. You can buy a functioning unit brand new for $29. or you can lay out $10K for a Krell or other fine brands. What could possibly justify such disparity you ask? They just play CDs don't they? Reading bunches of ones and zeros that become sound? Yes, true enough, but what is the difference between a Pinto and a Lamborghini? they both have four wheels and ride around don't they?

In a word Performance. Musical performance in this case.

Being of the financially challenged quadrant momentarily, I quickly ruled out the possibility of obtaining said Krell or it's pricey brothers in arms. So what's a would be budget audiophile to do?

Enter the world of Mods! According to many knowledgeable audiophile engineers, there is more bang for the buck to be had with upgrading parts and modifying well designed sound equipment than buying more expensive models.
The subject of today's blog is our case in point. The wonderful Samsung HD841. This mild mannered consumer grade DVD player turns into a Giant Killer after extensive modification.

Why the 841 and not some other medium player? The HD841 is that great combination of high quality critical parts, low price, and roomy enough to allow for extensive modification. It was produced by Samsung for barely a year and was somewhat of a "loss leader" for them. Many features, low price. The original list price was $299. at which price it was already a bargain, but was later reduced to $179 and even lower.

This little beauty plays DVDs, SACDs, DVD-Audios, and CDs. These multiple formats required a host of high quality chipsets which included the famous Burr-Brown 24bit-192khz digital audio converters, or DACs. These high performance chips can produce stunning results when the surrounding support parts are improved, some voodoo modifications made to the stock circuitry, and a beefing up of the power supply. The replacement of anywhere from 40-80 capacitors, the by passing of certain filtering circuits, upgrading the opamp, improving the damping of the crystal oscillator and the entire unit can yield results that truly make this unit a Giant Killer.

Several of the well known modification companies will sell you one of these units with the basic upgrade from around $575. all the way to $1,000. depending on the level of parts quality and the degree of modification. Austin Stereo offers one of these units with their own special recipe of mods for anywhere from $400-450 depending on the degree of overhaul, that includes the price of the machine, not just the mods!

I've had the good fortune to own both the former and the latter and I prefer the unit from Austin Stereo. These units have a small downside if you will by giving a very small audible click when changing tracks. It is part of the bypass procedure that makes this unit so sonically superior. For me a non issue with the level of performance achieved.

A good friend who owns 2 of the Austin Stereo modified HD841s had the chance of an A/B comparison with a $7K unit made by the German hifi manufacturer T & A in one of St. Louis's high end audio showrooms. Although the T & A sounded great, the modded HD841's sound was preferred! You can imagine a very surprised and somewhat miffed salesman...No lie, no exaggeration.

Of course the build quality and materials used in the T & A are vastly superior as one would expect from a CD player that costs $7,000., but the bang for the buck in musical performance from this modded HD841 was stellar, it truly earns the title Giant Killer!

Audition one yourself at Austin Stereo and let your ears be your guide. Happy Listening!

No comments: