Playing Multichannel disks

I have many multichannel SACD’s so I was intrigued by the Player’s instructions on playing these disks. I’ve tried many multichannel players, starting with Sony, several Lexicon’s and each of the Oppos’ (including the 203) and ending up with an Ayre DX-5 (upgraded). The Ayre was the best, but, when comparing the Memory Player with 2 channel SACD’s to the same disks in the Ayre, the Memory Player was notably clearer--especially in the mid-bass--and offered a deeper soundstage. Adding a Directstream Jr to play the Center and Sub channels made a much larger difference. For example:

· Percussion instruments are much clearer, and in orchestra recordings, properly placed and sized. Solo voices with orchestra were precisely placed—almost like looking down the singer’s throat.

· String sections are now truly sections, occupying the full space between the center and main speakers. On Hovhannes Mysterious Mountain (Telarc), a work I know well, I noticed for the first time that the violins are separated.

· On complex recordings, all the instruments are clearer. On the Sonoma brass and organ disk (Sony) I could hear the organ contribution even when the brass were letting loose.

· Bass was more tuneful and better balanced. Telarc bass drums did not stick out but instead were a rock-solid foundation. String basses on jazz recordings were clear up and down the scale.

· Instrument levels were broader—softs nearly inaudible and louds really loud and uncongested.

Overall, I’d say the biggest differences were in clarity, transient response, and better depth. Definitely worth investigating, especially if you have a unused equipment to trade-in.

Setting Up Player for multi-channel disks. The Manual provides basic instructions (page xiv). My experience:

1. You need three DAC’s to process all the channels. I have two, so I’m processing the main channels on a Directstream and the center and sub channels on a Jr.

2. Use the Player’s I2S outputs. The Directstream then controls the volume on all of the DAC’s, eliminating the need to balance channels on multiple players. I checked: center channel was down 0.5 db from the left channel and even with the right channel.

3. Output from each DAC is analog, conveyed via RCA cables into a special strip of 6 (or 8) RCA inputs on a pre-amp/processor. Make sure your preamp has this kind of input-some don’t.

4. Any DAC can be connected to a preamp using XLR and RCA cables at the same time.

5. On the RCA cables for center and sub, the left channel out from the Jr. is the center channel.

6. Before playing a disk, touch the arrow in the upper right corner of the Player’s display, and then touch the arrow again on the next display. Then touch the top circular arrow until you see “Multi SACD”. Note “Connections…” at the bottom of the list. When the DAC’s are on, each DAC identifier is displayed—an easy way to check if the Player and DAC’s are communicating.

7. It took a few minutes for all the equipment to communicate, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t hear something immediately. If your volume has been set for XLR cables (balanced), you’ll need to turn up the volume by 6 db to get the same level from the RCA inputs.

Do you need 3 DAC’s?

It depends. Many classical multichannel SACD’s are labelled as “5.1” but in fact are 4.0. That is, there is no information in the center or LFE channels. These disks can be fully played with 2 DAC’s--one for right and left, and one for the two surround channels. Assuming you are using a multi-channel preamp/processor, you are very likely to hear output from your sub-woofer, because bass below the crossover point in the main (or all) channels is extracted by the most preamp/processors and sent to the sub. The .1 channel is typically used only on organ recordings.

But if you mostly listen to what ROON calls “Pop/Rock”, then SACD’s and DVD-Audio disks are almost all truly 5.1, so you will need three DAC’s to hear everything on these disks. And, believe me, some of these disks fully exploit all the possibilities offered. Try, for example, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” or the Blue Chamber Quartet’s “First Impressions” (Stockfisch) on SACD, or Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” on DVD-Audio.

BTW, the Memory Player correctly plays Mercury and RCA 3 channel SACD’s, something that I haven’t been able to do on any other player.

Great information. Thanks.