This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

The same is true for a new Linn Records issue, a solo cello album by Richard Tunnicliffe playing Bach’s Cello Suites. The instrument was recorded to expose some of its higher registers. You can hear the bow and the cello is quite upfront as though helped by both the acoustic environment and deliberate microphone positioning. The Meitner showed this very quickly. So why was there this feeling of warmth then? Based on my experience with other digital machines, I believe that was a derivative effect of the digital filters employed which eliminate the pre and post ringing around the signal impulse. I heard it before with players from Meridian and Ayre which use such apodizing filters. Here I heard the same thing again. It smoothes out the sound without causing artefacts. There’s no artificial elimination of textural diversity which instead shows its true color. This smooth liquid sound simply conveys a superficial impression of warmth. That however is derived from our habit of listening at home, especially to standard digital players.

And there's another element too. The Meitner modifies transients in the midrange and to a lesser extent at the extremes. We could say that it slightly calms them down. This can leave an impression of a somewhat distant sound. Due to excellent resolution nothing really eludes it so there’s no veiling. Yet various recordings show a similar flavor regardless of music type, recording technique, etc. No matter what, it always remains a very cultured vivid sound. Be it Jeff Beck on Sea Change, Jeff Buckley on the tree-disc set Grace, Kraftwerk with Minimum-Maximum or finally Coleman Hawkins on The Hawk Flies High,  the end result is similar... elegance, stability, vividness.

Interestingly this applied to a greater extent to CDs though the XDS1 SE really is an SACD deck. Whilst that suggests what main media it was primarily designed for, our home libraries really are mostly built around CDs. The machine plays either type of disc in a very similar manner at least in terms of color. That shows the sonic characteristic imposed by the maker but it also allows you to enjoy the albums irrespective of format. Ultimately a large part of poorly recorded or badly converted PCM-to-DSD efforts sounds worse than well-engineered CDs. Naturally that is not as much the triumph of Compact Disc technology as it is a weakness of DSD mastering but the fact remains. On the other hand the best SACDs simply sound spectacular over the Meitner. Their tonality is very deep and differentiated; cymbals have beautiful color and weight, bass is tight and active. The latter is slightly softened but not how it once was with Meitner. The dynamics of SACD are significantly higher than from CD which sound somewhat austere by contrast. They do not sound bad—I already said that they sound really very good—but at the same time it is quite obvious what the SACD format is all about.

Synergistic Research Tranquility Base vs. Acoustic Revive RAF-48.  The Synergistic Research is nominally an anti-vibration platform. In fact that’s secondary as its primary role is to minimize RF noise in the device sitting on it. That is achieved by a set of small modules powered by a small wall wart whose output current can be adjusted by plugging in small cylinders with blue LEDs – the platform comes with two of them. I could not hear any difference between them. Under the modules is a screen plate to which you connect a wire fitted with a mains plug on the other end. Obviously ground is coupled with the earth pin. It is fairly easy to understand how it works and even easier to hear. Just remove the power supply and unplug the earth wire.

The change in sound is quite substantial. The Meitner sounded much better on the activated platform. The changes mostly concerned its midrange and treble. The latter was richer, better separated and more vivid when the platform was powered up. So too was the midrange. I really liked it because it gave music more gravitas The sound was clearer and more lucid without any brightening. Hence I was very curious to see how the U.S. platform would fare against my reference, the air-flotation Acoustic Revive RAF-48 anti-vibration platform from Japan. The difference in price between the two is double. If anyone calls the AR is expensive, one now might think twice about that.

The Meitner atop the RAF-48 platform was more austere. It was perfectly audible that the Synergistic created a golden glow which clarified but also saturated the top end. This lacked with the AR. Meanwhile the bass seemed better articulated and differentiated with the Japanese platform. The difference was not significant but repeatable and audible with each record. The Synergistic Research Tranquility Base is a very interesting product. It clearly influences the sound in a good way. It is prohibitively expensive but worthy at least a listen just to be aware of what’s possible. I think it will be very versatile and improve the sound for any type of component sitting atop it.

Conclusion. The XDS1 has its own way of presenting the music. Its sonic color can be compared to analog devices such as the Rega P1, the Transrotor Zet1 or the AMG Viella V12. To a large extent it also resembles the sound of my Harbeth M40.1 speakers - not fully as there are notable differences but when it comes to color shaping, these two are very similar. At first glance they seem both warm and withdrawn in the treble yet they are not. If you know what to look for, it takes but a short listen to albums like Pyramid from The Modern Jazz Quartet or How the Green Blade Riseth by The Stockholm Cathedral Choir to get it. Cymbals are strong and full-bodied. The midrange seems dominant but has no rough edges and hence is saturated and liquid. The bass is active and not sloppy and in this regard the Canadian player is actually better than almost any other digital source I know. It can differentiate the bass colors and elucidate different hues and shades.

That said the machine does impose its own sonic signature and modifies the signal in its own ways. Resolution is excellent yet selectivity can only be termed good. It is a part of the dowry brought by Ed Meitner’s approach to signal processing including PCM-to-DSD conversion. Calming down transients and a slight dynamic averaging are the specific actions that add up to it.

I auditioned the player with the Synergistic Research platform. This was the first time that some other support’s sonic characteristics exceeded those of my Acoustic Research RAF-48 air-bladder solution. I have not seen anything like it before. By reducing RF in the device placed on it, the platform improves treble quality by adding weight, musicality and improved sustains. It's an outstanding achievement!

The player listened to with the platform of which you need to think as an integral component is not for everyone. It slightly averages recordings, presenting everything in the same nice vivid slightly warm fashion which is how we perceive it in the end regardless of what creates it. The bass is excellent, strong and nicely saturated. The soundstage is expansive but without a clear focus on the virtual performers. In the end it’s simply a lovely sound. Operating the device is satisfying and the drive mechanism is excellent. It’s a pity there are no coaxial and USB inputs but we cannot have everything. It is a well-made machine that will bring much joy to those who say the sacramental ‘affirmative’ to Ed Meitner’s choices. In my opinion—which is naturally subjective—the EMM Labs XDS1 integrated player is better than their separates combo.