Spectral Audio Debuts Reference CD Processor at New York's Innovative Audio

Spectral Audio President Richard Fryer (above) brought the new SDR-4000SV Studio Reference CD Processor ($20,000) to Innovative Audio Video Showrooms in Manhattan May 13 and 14, as part of the New York City dealer's "Meet the Innovators" series. Fryer debuted Spectral's limited-edition digital player and playback system in one of Innovative's renovated listening rooms, its dark lights, cool temps and flowing white wine aiding the already sumptuous atmosphere.

As well as the SDR-4000SV Studio Reference CD Processor, the Spectral Audio system included Spectral's DMA-400 Monaural Reference Standard monoblocks ($30,000/pair, above), and Spectral DMC-30SV Reference Preamplifier ($14,000, below). Innovative's Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF Loudspeakers ($200,000/pair) provided the soundstage.

Why a CD player, you may wonder, in the age of Tidal, Pono, and the "Cloud"?

"Just as vinyl and turntables are supposed to be antique and obsolete, we know they are not," Fryer explained during his two-hour presentation. "If you know what is considered obsolete in digital—which is the compact disc—you have the option to rip it or download it. But I submit that this is the ultimate form in how you play a 44.1 recording. If you want to hear the best possible performance from a musical medium you go to its native format and [for digital] recordings that is compact disc and 44.1. We can show you why playing [compact discs] in a physical player and the physical medium will outperform any file or download."

You can't discuss Spectral Audio without mentioning record company, Reference Recordings. Co-founded by Silicon Valley wiz Keith O. Johnson with J. Tamblyn Henderson, Reference Recordings has produced 100-plus recordings that include three Grammy award-winners and eight Grammy nominations. Serving as Reference Recordings' technical director, recording engineer and partner, Johnson's 50 years in the audio industry led to his development (with engineer Michael Pflaumer) of the High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD) encoding process that was eventually sold to Microsoft.

"When Keith Johnson was a scrawny graduate from Stanford University, he was hired by Fairchild to build large-scale bipolar transistors," Fryer noted. "He's one of the fathers of the transistor in the Silicon Valley. No one knows more about these devices, transistors, than this very quiet man. And he's a music lover. His original goal was to be a recording engineer, which was secured when Reference Recordings was founded 40 years ago. Spectral and Reference are brother and sister companies; we believe we can guide listeners to a higher level of authenticity in high fidelity. We know how recordings are made; we make them the old fashioned way, using the finest recording techniques in the finest halls using the finest performances."

The "SV" in Spectral's component branding alludes to the Italian "Super Veloce," also used by Italian car manufacturer Lamborghini, to indicate "high speed." Music pouring from the Spectral Audio/Wilson system was full-speed ahead and then some! Playing Reference Recordings' Wine Dark Sea by Jerry Junkin and The University of Texas Wind Ensemble, the Spectral Audio sound was big, bold, and dynamic, casting sparkling colors that filled the listening space. Orchestral music was a thunderous treat through this mega-system (though it felt less adept at portraying intimate small scale blues). Listening to Spectral Audio's wares via Innovative Audio's purpose-built room, the divide between digital and audio became inconsequential. Great music has a way of doing that.

"There is much more information decoded into the compact disc than anyone would know," Fryer said. "It's hiding. Inherent in CDs is so much more, which can be revealed by very careful, precision processes and that's what we've brought to bear with the SDR-4000SV (below). This is a precision instrument bringing state of the art technology that didn't exist in the heyday of the compact disc. This is new technology in its conversion, its operation and its playing of the physical disc, in its clocking and its analog section.

"Spectral is the only example of a CD player with no integrated circuit (IC) anywhere in the analog signal path," Fryer continued. "Some other products have some discrete circuits, but they use op-amps. It's so hard to make a digital playback instrument without an IC in the signal path that no one else has done it. But Keith Johnson, one of the fathers of the transistor, said 'we need to replace op-amps, everywhere.' First, after the DAC, in that interface is where much music is lost. Switching distortions are ubiquitous in digital. We use discrete circuits that are pure class-A to replace op-amps. They never turn off. We make a push-pull fully balanced circuit that is the ideal thing to place after the converter. What comes from that is a very pure, very unbroken, clean, brilliant sound. A sound that doesn't sound like digital anymore. It sounds the way records always have."

thermally's picture

What we really need is a high end CD ripper. Do it once, and do it right, and there's no need to spin that CD again. File it away knowing your hard copy is safe.

ajay556's picture

there is lot of confusion when it comes to digital playback. Just by storing an exact copy of the data from CD into a file does not cut it. As the complexity is to deliver the exact bits in 1/44k precise clock. And computer storage retrieval is subpar to CD and thats why CD player will always be superior

thermally's picture

I seriously doubt that "computer storage retrieval is subpar" to a CD player. That's the one thing computers do exceptionally well at, accessing memory. Now, the digital optical output circuit of my iMac may be better or worse at generating an optical signal than other hardware, I'll grant you that, but "retrieving" the data from memory, that's pushing it...

jeffdyer's picture

But all that CD players do is read those bits in to a memory buffer and then pass them to the DAC from the buffer. Whether the bits come from spinning plastic, spinning rust, or from flash RAM, the result is the same.

JRT's picture

"What we really need is a high end CD ripper. Do it once, and do it right, and there's no need to spin that CD again. File it away knowing your hard copy is safe."

I hope that you are attempting humor by stating the obvious.

Fast accurate digital audio extraction from CD/ROM was available two decades ago. I was using a Plextor SCSI CD/ROM and their Plextools utilities, and that only got faster and no less accurate when I switched to their 52x Plexwriter Deluxe a few years later. Around the same time Monkey Audio was offering good lossless digital audio compression and playback using their proprietary Ape-file format. Also in the mid/late 90s, Turtle Beach was then selling their Fiji and Pinnacle Multisound ISA cards with digital I/O daughter card with a good onboard clock. Monarchy Audio was selling their 44.1kHz DIP digital interface processor which was useful in providing galvannic isolation and a low jitter interface. Good moderately priced external DACs were also available then. Today, this is now all very well matured technology available at far more moderate cost than the esoteric equipment that is the subject of this article.

In a few years, low latency audio over internet protocol (AES67/AES70/TSN) in combination with inexpensive DSP and improved low cost switch mode amplification will lead to high quality ethernet network connected active loudspeakers that will kill a lot of the demand for complex analog audio signal chains in consumer playback systems. The budget will be focused where it belongs, on source material, the room, the loudspeakers, a comfortable seat, snack and beverage, etc. Instead of staring at glowing tubes and spinning disk, you can stare at a knockoff of a Jackson Pollock painting or other fine art of your choosing. Select your music and control and adjust playback from your smartphone, and enjoy the experience without fussing with media collections or playback esoterica. DSP processed playback through headphones, virtual reality audio enhanced hearing (Smyth Research Realiser A8 is a current example of a half-step in that direction) will be a competing technology (removing room acoustics from the problem set while adding new problems in need of good solutions). That is the not too distant future that I am forecasting.

James Shannon's picture

It is great to see another serious effort from Spectral, one of the truly great audio companies. I would only like to correct one small error. Like Spectral, T+A has been building digital playback devices with 100% discrete audio paths----no ICs. T+A's complete reference HV range includes fully balanced, dual mono, 100% discrete signal paths for every audio gain stage. Both of T+A's reference digital products, the PDP3000 reference player / processor and MP3000 digital hub / streaming client have included fully discrete signal paths for several years. We absolutely agree with Rick Fryer in his understanding that only 100% discrete signal paths can provide the very best audio performance.

Allen Fant's picture

Simply beautiful gear! I would like to read more about a comparison or contrast between the new Spectral spinner and th older CD player released a few years ago? Updated? Upgraded? And how?

venkat1's picture

I have a Creek CD53 CD Player and I Have Connected through Coaxial Cable to my DAC & DAC to integrated AMP (Now my cd player is purely a transport & it also plays all HDCDs), My question is will my Creek cd53 tranport decodes 24 bit HDCDs to the DAC?

jeffdyer's picture

I understand that HDCDs are 16 bit and simply have a special encoding that changes the amplitude "multiplier" to increase the effective dynamic range, allowing quiet passages to be encoded at higher levels.

SACDs are true 24bit/48KHz.

Is there some other format that I am unaware of?