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Reviewer: Wayne Zufall
Digital Source: Canary CD100
Preamp: Canary CA803
Power Amp: Two pairs of Canary CA160 monoblocks
Speakers: B&W Matrix 800
Cables: Analysis Plus Big Silver Oval interconnects and speaker wires
Power Cords: Guerilla Audio
Sundry Accessories: Factory speaker spikes and isolators under the CD
Room Size: 16' wide by 20' long and 9' height
Review Component Retail: $2,795
My initial interest in Canary products started many months before joining 6moons. I'd sold my Ayre CX7 CD player to buy a new CD player but at the time wasn't sure what to buy. Despite reading through the reviews in 6moons and the audio magazines, nothing seemed to jump out at me at the time. It was not in my interest to find a CD player that had every electronic option known to man. My idea was to find a simple, single-play, well-built CD player that would provide great sound until the next new format rode into town. Finding a small ad from a California company called JM Sound provided me with a brief description of the Canary products, emphasizing their tube design, very musical sound and superb construction.

I placed a call to JM Sound and talked with owner Joe Martelli. Joe suggested that I consider the Canary CD100, which after a lengthy discussion I decided to purchase. A few weeks later, I was in the market for a new preamp, having just sold my Convergent Audio Technology Ultimate One Mark Two preamp. I made a second call to Joe to inquire about the Canary 803 preamp. After another insightful discussion, I had a new CA803 on the way. Joe, as a point of reference, has been in the audio business for over 25 years and is a dedicated audiophile as well as musician. I quickly learned that Joe has a good ear and a lot of experience with a varied group of components. Clearly Joe believed in what he recommended and often backed it up with a "if you do not like it, send it back and we'll try another component" attitude.

A few months later I decided to sell my Bryston 7BST monoblock amplifiers. I contacted Joe and he suggested the Canary CA160 monoblocks, fully aware of the challenge they would have driving the B&W Matrix 800s that he'd originally sold me. Joe's recommendation was once again on target. The CA160s are fantastic. All of the components in my current reference system are built by Canary so I guess it's safe to say that I am a Canary fan and comfortable in making that statement as part of this review.
This seems like a good time to get into the specifications on the CD100. My first comment is as to its large size and heft. It is a very heavy 50 pounds and measures 19' wide by 16.5' deep and 4.75' high. The transport mechanism is heavy duty and built by Sony as is the 24-bit/192kHz converter chip. The stereo output section employs two Russian Electro-Harmonix 6922 EH tubes. You will find high quality parts throughout, like Hovland MusicCaps and custom-wound toroidal transformers that are housed in an epoxy-filled, Teflon-mounted metal can to eliminate vibration. The factory manual specifications are: frequency response +/- 1dB from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz; distortion < 0.005%; S/N ratio > 118dB and dynamic range > 116dB. Channel separation is better than 85dB (1KHz), line output voltage is 2.0 volts and power consumption is 30 watts.

The CD100 has two analog outputs, RCA gold plated and balanced XLR. There are three digital outputs, one RCA coaxial, one optical and one AES/EBU. You can use the power cord of your choice or stick with the stocker.

The aluminum remote control is easy to use and solidly constructed, measuring 6.25" long by 1.5" wide and .75" high. It has eight functions; open or close the CD drawer; one or multi-step back track; one or multi-step forward track; reverse scan; forward scan; stop, play and repeat for single track and repeat all. The remote works effectively from 20 feet away and functions well on off angles. The factory warranty covers the CD100 for three years, except for the transport mechanism and the laser head, which are covered for one year. There is an eight-page factory manual that outlines all of the operations and specifications, plus the details of the warranty for the CD100. The manual is simple and easy to read and includes the factory warranty card.

The front of the CD100 has a 1.5" high by 5" long LED window that displays track information, repeat and repeat all and no disc. The letters or numbers are large enough to read from well over 15 feet away. The front of the CD100 has a power off/on button and buttons for the following; CD tray open and close, stop playback, initiate playback, pause and resume, advance track and reverse track. The repeat and repeat all function can only be input from the remote control and direct track access controls as well as time remain modes are missing on both player and remote.

Open up the CD100 and you will find superb quality soldering with detailed wiring that is purposefully short and orderly arranged to all of the components. The chassis and all related components are meticulously assembled. Canarys are hand built and manufactured in California.

During the last few weeks of the review, I had the CD100 and Consonance Turandot CD players around jointly for their own separate reviews. A comparison between them was natural since they are close in price - $2,795 for the CD100, $2,400 for the Turandot. When it comes to exterior design, preference is buyers' choice but you will never confuse one with the other, considering the Turandot's bright red front cover and the Canary CD100's subtle champagne face.

Both players are detailed, revealing and transparent. The CD100 has a warm, lush and musical presentation as you would expect from tubes. The Turandot is more neutral in its overall presentation. Both throw a wide and large soundstage, however the CD100 does it with a more refined and detailed definition of where the instruments or voice(s) are located. Both players reproduce the male voice with nearly the same timbre and tonal balance without being cloudy or veiled. The Turandot presents the female voice with a little more detail, clarity and timbre especially in soft passages.

On percussion, horns and woodwinds, the CD100 operates with a little more clarity and strength and reaches into the music to provide that final layer of detail. Rim shots are very quick and articulate over the CD100. Midrange between the players was consistent, with no bloating or upper level brightness or edge that creates fatigue or the need to stop listening altogether to the poorest recordings. Piano and organ music are a challenge to any component especially in the low organ register, which was reasonably reproduced by each player without getting bright or edgy and with no loss of detail and impact when the presentation became soft. The CD100 does hold onto that last nuance of the note while it is still floating to stay articulate right to the end while the Turandot softly fades away.

The CD100 really excels at delivering tight and deep bass with the punch and presence you expect. It is never muddy even when a passage is soft. Transparency and feel remain alive. The Turandot is milder and replays lower organ bass notes with a little less detail and presence.

During the review time with the Consonance Turandot, I was also reviewing its integrated amplifier mate, the Calaf. The Calaf uses twin JJ/Tesla 6922 tubes in the preamp section. Midway through that review, I replaced those with Russian cryogenically treated military grade MP 6H23n-EBs. Despite being new, these valves had an immediate impact on detail, timbre, clarity and soundstage. As the tubes got to about 30 hours of use, their presence became even more pronounced, adding width and depth to the soundstage and more definition to the placement of the instruments and voice(s). The bass was enhanced with a new tightness and presence. Detail, clarity, timbre, time decay and transparency advanced to a new level without becoming edgy or bright. The tube change added a subjective 4-5% improvement to the performance of the Calaf.

While packing up the amp to return it to the distributor, I remembered that I had not removed the Russian MP 6H23n-EB tubes. I reopened the box, removed the tubes and replaced them with the original JJ/Tesla 6922 tubes. As I was putting the Russian cryogenic tubes back into their boxes, the idea of trying them in the Canary CD100 crossed my mind. Having spent many hours on the dyno with my racing engines, I know full well that today's method used to create extra horsepower with one engine may not translate into more horsepower with another and often will be less. However, the Calaf picking up a significant increase in performance prompted me to make the change on the CD player. After all, how long does it take to change two tubes and get an answer? I swapped out the tubes and turned the system on to give it an hour of warm up with tubes that already had an acceptable 30+ hours on them.

I came back a little over an hour later and threw in my old stand-by test guy, Keb Mo's "I Was Wrong" from Slow Down [CD, OKeh/500 Music BK69376]. I turned the volume up, sat down and hit play. Wow, where did the extra 50 horsepower come from? While the MP 6H23n-EB cryogenic tubes made a good improvement in the Calaf, they made an even larger improvement to the CD100. A second layer of detail opened up, revealing new nuances from the old 1s and 0s that just were not there before. I was now hearing the soft click from the guitar pick that I had never heard and the detail in the cymbals was not only clear but held the essence of the note as it slipped away. The percussion of a small wood block that I heard occasionally was now present all the time and defined in the soundstage to the right of the Keb Mo. I moved to the third track "Everything I Need" and found the rim shots on the drums really tight and fast while the bass was deep and its presence pushing on me 15 feet away from the speakers.

The CD100 was really getting into the music now. I put on The Best of Enya, Paint the Sky with Stars and listened to "Orinoco Flow" [CD, Reprise 46835-2] which was crystal clear, clear enough that I could understand every word being sung. The bass was deep and the organ low but there was not a muddy note to be heard. The female voice(s) were concise and without the usual edge or upper-frequency grunge.

I love LeAnn Rimes but her recording of "Crazy" from LeAnn Rimes Greatest Hits [CD, Curb Records D2-78829] drives me crazy. It was recorded with so much brightness that it is hard to listen to, despite being an otherwise clean recording. I wanted to see what the CD100's tube change would do with that brightness. Did it totally go away? No, but it did clean it up enough to no longer be fatiguing while trying to listen to the whole song. This was a big improvement. My next listen was to Linda Ronstadt's For Sentimental Reasons and the track "Straighten Up and Fly Right" [CD, Asylum 60474-2]. This has a glorious passage of horns and drums that were as articulate as I could ever want; sharp and fast on the drums, with rim shots that just jumped out at you and horns that were transparent and concise.

A few nights ago I saw Roy Orbison and friends on one of the cable shows and, while not a huge Roy Orbison fan, I enjoyed what I heard and went down and bought The Very Best of Roy Orbison and listened to "Crying", a duet with K.D. Lang [CD, Virgin Records America, Inc 7243 8 42350 2 4]. The opening guitar was eloquent and so clear that I cannot say I have ever heard a guitar, at least on my system, sound so concise. Roy's voice was crystal clear. His voice was floating throughout the soundstage without the slightest hint of edge or brightness. K.D. Lang's voice was well behind his but you could hear every nuance of every word she sang with clarity and detail. Throughout the recording, the guitars were enticing me into the music. I was really emotionally drawn into this music and surprised
by the liquidity of sound and emotion. My next selection was Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind" from Super Hits [CD, Columbia CK 64184] to specifically listen to the piano and Willie's voice. The upper register of the piano was the best I have ever heard on my system, clear right out to the final note and void of any edginess. Willie's voice did not have the usual graininess or loss of detail in the upper range and now it was clear in timbre and the lyrics were very distinguishable.

The CD100 with the original Electro-Harmonix tubes presented a laid-back and somewhat veiled take on female voice. I was eager to revisit Keely Smith and see what, if any, effect the MP 6H23n-EB cryogenic tubes had on my favorite recordings. I've had the privilege of hearing Keely Smith in person on several occasions and in a few cases, from as close as ten feet away. Her voice has a wonderful wistfulness that can be packed with emotion and pain as the song may require. This essence was not present with the Electro-Harmonix tubes. I listened to "Imagination" from I Wish You Love [CD, Collector's Choice 61774205702] and was suddenly back in Anaheim, California and ten feet away, listening to Keely's soft and powerful rendition of her remembering her man. You could feel the sadness in her voice and the subtle shift in her emotions as she sang about her loss. Keely's passion in "Mr. Wonderful" was never in doubt now. You could feel it in her words as her voice was extolling her love for her man. The tube change brought the soft nuances, tenderness and passion back to the music. Her lusty and passionate inflections were well portrayed in "My Reverie" from Be My Love [CD, Jasmine Records 501372703212].

When you do not have an original reference, it is difficult to know what is being presented so it is natural to question what you sense may not be accurate. The CD100 was clearly portraying Keely at that 'ten foot' distance with no question that you were hearing her sing and feel the song as she presented it.

May I suggest a few words to those of you who may have apprehensions regarding tubes? At one time I was of the opinion that tube gear was less than reliable. Over the years, I have read how wonderful tubes can be but it frequently came with the down side that tubes were not terribly reliable. My experience with tubes today is that they are very reliable. Should a problem occur, today's manufacturers of tube gear offer a very high level of fast quality service. Are valves maintenance free? Not entirely but that's ultimately a small price to pay as far as I am concerned. Tubes do need to be periodically replaced which opens opportunities to adjust the sound to tune your system as you would by experimenting with cables and wires. Tube rolling refers to the experimentation of changing tubes of different brands and their effect on the sound. This is a great option to have. Quality tubes, even
cryogenically treated ones, tend to be reasonably priced for small-signal varieties and tube life can be significantly longer than expected. If you are considering tubes, have questions and would like some solid information about them, I would highly recommend contacting Kenneth Chait at ATSI. He was the source I used for the Russian cryogenically treated MP 6H23n-EB tubes.

The tube change on the CD100, at least in my system, moved the Canary CD100 from being liquid, warm and detailed to being able to peel down the next level of musical realism to reach into that layer that brought out the emotion, passion and real presence the singer or musician were conveying. The CD100's quality of build and components make it a top contender in its price range. Add the superb quality of sound and its ability to make the music come alive and the Canary CD100 is a selection in the $4,000 and under price range that can be strongly recommended. So I do!
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