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My preview on the CEC TL0-X of the prior page was primarily based on matching it with the Zanden 5000s DAC via the Argento SMR EE Brenda and Acrolink DA6100 digital RCA cables. During the course of the past 3 months, I have also driven the Jadis JS1-MK3 and Orpheus One Special Edition DACs with the TL0-X to deepen my understanding of the transport's sonic traits.

In order to create a more comprehensive and objective assessment, I have asked my fellow audio comrades Marvel and Kenneth to add their listening opinions so that readers may gather a better sense of the TL0-X's sonics from different perspectives.

As I have pointed out in the preview, the TL0-X is undeniably a top-notch CD transport. Due to the high-mass nature of the design -- with a smaller footprint than most flagship transports -- bass rendition seems always tight and weighty to form a very solid foundation for soundstage development. Hence imaging is ultra stable. Midrange details remained well preserved with the three different DACs used during this review. The biggest differences occurred in the treble.

My only preview reservation had been the relative lack of ambient details within live recordings. Regardless of which digital cable I used with my Zanden 5000s converter (MIT Oracle Digital 1.5M RCA, Argento SMR EE, Acrolink DA6100, Stealth Varidig Sextet), there remained a certain degree of coldness in the upper treble that deprived natural elasticity from strings and further treble extension to a certain extent - though some listeners may actually fancy this distinct treble presentation. Here was the tricky part. When I replaced the TL0X with the Zanden 2000p transport, the slight treble tightness disappeared. Correspondingly, the bass weight of the Zanden 2000p was now lighter and less impactful than that over the TL0-X.

Naturally, it is unfair and inconclusive to make definitive statements based on one simple swap. After all, the Zanden 2000p/5000s combination is a heavenly pair designed for optimal synergy from the very beginning by its manufacturer. Also, the CEC's slight tightness in the treble may not bother some listeners. Consequently, I matched the CEC with two other DA converters.

Jadis JS1-MK 3: Bingo!
Although the JS1 MK3 is 24/96 ready, the 16/44 output of the TL0-X restricted the full utilization of the French DAC's upsampling capability. Nonetheless, the rich tonality of the Jadis immediately fused very well with the unflagging solidity of the TL0-X. The whole musical picture was delivered with more color. The area that changed the most was the treble range. The hardness there was replaced for silkiness. That was especially apparent with massed strings. Those now were velvety without compromising individuality of violins too much. On solo recordings, the treble seemed to take a bit longer to decay and the midrange softened some while image size slightly inflated. Violin body suggested a stronger wooden component than before.

I thought that change might be attributed to the superimposition of the Jadis' signature midrange. To verify, I listened to a few more vocal recordings. I started with mezzo-soprano albums first because too much emphasis on the midrange would mask a mezzo's emotional contrast. With recording such as Casta Diva by Angela Gheorghiu [tracks 8 and 9, EMI Classics] and Operatic Duets: Joan Sutherland/Luciano Pavarotti on Decca, I sensed the absence of the aforementioned problems. The midrange now was more rounded and free of edges. Articulation of lyrics during high passages was smoother, at the slight expense of lyrical details.

Then, I played a few more cuts from the recording of the Vienna Boys Choirs. The purity of the boys' voices was well-preserved, with their angelic high echoes well rendered within the ambience of the performing venue. If the midrange becomes too energized, it is harder to distinguish whether the singer is really a young boy or slightly more advanced in age. Not here. I then spun the Belafonte Live at Carnegie Hall [RCA] on the TL0-X to test for the presence of granularity within his passionate voice. In this case, some subtle details inside his throat tended to be smoothed over but that in no way distorted the passionate nature of his singing nor of the performance at large (Zanden's 5000s converter seemed to reveal the coarseness in Belafonte's peaks more). His occasional transient bursts into the microphone translated well into temporal loudness. The enveloping spread of the soundstage in three dimensions provided a truly dimensional space filled with placement cues whereby I could easily follow Belafonte walking around the stage, chitchatting with his band and interacting with audiences in the Matilda track. I believe the hefty power supply of the JS1-MK3 with its own power regenerator for pure DC delivery to the main circuit contributed a lot to this soundstage magnificence. The Jadis JS1 MK3 matched very well with the TL0-X indeed.

Orpheus One Special Edition DAC with the TL0-X - A fresh experience
The Orpheus One Special Edition DAC is the brainchild of digital guru Thierry Heeb of Anagram Technology, aided and abetted by his golden-ear'd friend Mr. Montavon. Before I tested the O1SE, I was told how the analog components are all hand-selected top-grade types from such firms as Vishay (resistors), Leclanché (capacitors) and Analog Devices (the OP285 op-amps piggybacking on their famous ATF24/196MK2 DSP chip with the addition of the latest upsampling module called Quantum SHARC V3). All these parts are hard-wired onto gold-plated red PCBs. Frankly, I usually don't care much about raw specs and wasn't expecting too much after the almost perfect marriage between the JS1 MK3 and TL0-X. Besides, this unit is only 45mm high though it does weigh in at 10kg. For context, the power supply of the JS1 MK3 alone weights around 20kg. The world, however, remains full of surprises.

The flow of music instantly became more stress-free and natural when the O1SE replaced the Jadis in the system chain. The entry of instruments and their attacks of notes were very clean, allowing me to more clearly "see" the movement of the performers. The aforementioned treble tightness too was absent. While not as silky as the Jadis' presentation, the Swiss rendition wasn't coarse. In fact, string texture became more pronounced, separation between different musical instruments more distinct yet integration and communication amongst them remained supremely coherent especially during chamber music where 3 or 4 instruments are seemingly talking to each with very keen individuality [for example, Schubert's Piano Quintet Op. 114 'Trout', Brendel/Members of the Cleveland Quarter, Philips Classics]. By comparison, the presentation of the Jadis blended the musicians more to homogenize a bit their individual traits.

The remarkable vocal artistry of Frederick Von Stade to shade and color the voice imbues her singing with constant variety. This now fully unveiled [Frederica Von Stade: Arias from Various Operas, Philips Classics]. Her voice and tone remained lustrous throughout its range, pitches and phrasing eloquently conveyed. The O1SE managed to deliver an almost conversational quality to her songs. The JS1-MK3 offered very pleasing songs with a grandiose soundstage but somewhat lacked this conversational subtext.

On violin recordings such as Mozart's Concertos performed by Henryk Szeryng, the lightweight means of expression seemed just about right to my ears as I know Henryk had a relaxed way with Mozart's work most of the time. His unfailingly beautiful tone with its birdlike treble extension was faithfully and pristinely reproduced. With the Jadis, the treble is relatively suave by comparison. Timbre becomes slightly sweeter than over the O1SE.

Younger cellists nowadays seems to favor a tonal balance that combines a refined upper range with strong and well focused middle and lower register rather than the expansively rich and redolent lower registers favored by the older generations of cellists. When the recording of Rostropovich was played through the TL0-X/O1SE [Rostropovich/Richter: Beethoven's Cello/Piano Sonata, Philips Classics, 24/96 Japan remastered version], the resonance of the lower octave wasn't as expansive and tonally rich as over the JS1 MK3 but the articulation of the master's bow movement was more acute. Bass tones grew more tuneful and vigorous to add a degree of vividness to the presentation. I personally feel that the TL0-X/O1SE combo is more suitable for capturing the spirit of younger cellists whereas the Jadis seems to be better at portraying older cello recordings.

Last but not least, I replayed the Vienna Boy's Choir CD. There is one track with a solo performed by a very young boy. I am not sure about his age as I cannot see him but with the TL0-X/O1SE, the fragility and delicacy of his voice make me believe that he may be less than 5 years old. If memory serves me right, the boy's voice over the TL0-X/JS1-M3 sounded just slightly older.

Given the short duration of my encounter with the O1SE, I felt it more objective to have the perspective from a longer-term user who has partnered the O1SE over 4 months with another flagship transport, the Kalista by Metronome Technologies. I wanted to know whether his view on the O1SE was similar to mine.

Kenneth comments: "I was truly skeptical about the capability of this DAC at first given the slimmer than usual size of it relative to my reference converter. Nevertheless, after placing it into my system, the first few notes from the violin of Accardo already sounded amazingly beautiful to me. The midrange and treble were enriched with vivid tone colors and shading contrasts to make them seem palpably real. My Sonus Faber Amati Anniversario now delivered bass in layers with lots of microdynamic changes which I had never heard before. Now my system discovered how to rock. Lower/mid bass attacks and punches fused their energies into the rhythmic foundation. Vocals became more human not due to any over-sweetening of the midrange but by more ably divulging inner textures and shadings. The flow of musical notes became more natural, whatever the program materials spinning in the transport. I feel that the O1SE DAC works very well with my Metronome Kalista transport. As a combo, they deliver a truly musical and emotional experience."

Doctor Kenneth's perspective on the O1SE is very similar to mine despite his mating it with the Kalista. It thus makes me confident in my assessment that the CEC TL0-X is a very neutral CD transport. If the character of the CD transport becomes too dominant, the chances of our findings on the O1SE converging would be slim. Before wrapping up, let's have another listener's perspective on the TL0-X.

Marvel's experience of matching the CEC TL0-X with the Zanden 5000 Signature DAC
"My curiosity compelled me to borrow the CEC TL0-X from Linnman for a short trial. The cost of doing so involved a strenuous effort of hand carrying this extremely hefty mechanical beauty from the car park to my 25th-floor flat despite the usual elevator assistance. The beefy weight made me wonder what such critical mass built on a rather disproportionally small chassis would contribute to the subsequent musical landscape. All said, this wasn't to be an entirely leisure hi-jacking of someone's gear because the condition of lending me the transport was to contribute my listening perspective for this article. My system currently consists of the following: Zanden 2000P/5000 Signature DAC, Karan Acoustics Reference Preamp, AudioValve Baldur 300 Limited Edition monos, Neo Mosquito 1.3 speakers, Argento Serenity Master Reference Extreme Edition (SMR EE), digital, interconnect, speaker and power cables with Ayon Dragon power cord [above].

"From my recollection, the CEC TL0 series spanned a total of 3 generations, from the original TL0 to the TL0Mk2 to the current TL0-X. Limited production made it one of the most highly sought-after transports in the hi-end market, with a long waiting list for deliveries. To my surprise and unlike a lot of other electronic products, this 3rd generation iteration closely resembles the appearance of its ancestors except for the color change from black to clear-anodized aluminum. The hexagonal shape of the CD platter is surrounded by 3 anodized pillars which presumably are the housing for the triple-spring suspension mechanism. The CD stabilizer lid of the TL0-X comes with a small hole drilled through its center. The same hole was also found on the 3 spike plates supporting the transport. Although I am not conversant with this technicality, I sense it must be related to providing pathways for unwanted mechanical vibration, something I learned from the use of Acoustic System International's wooden planks and rack.

"After a brief admiration for the immaculate and flawless fit and finish of this audio jewel, nothing became more important than to unearth the musical potential of this belt-driven masterpiece. It somewhat reminded me of my olden days with the Burmester 969 Reference transport/970 SRC DAC. When I secured the CD stabilizer atop the first selected test CD -- Track 1 of Helene Grimaud's Credo -- the musical journey commenced very pleasantly.

"The TL0-X portrayed an extremely silent background with a truly holographic image of the piano. Even the slightest pressure changes on the keyboard were always depicted with acuity, fortissimos delivered with scale and authority. Within the virtual audible space, I could feel the soft hands of the lady soloist traversing rhythmically throughout the keys with the occasionally use of the foot pedals. The rise and fall of each keynote were conveyed with rhythmic fidelity all throughout the frequency range. The harmonic decays within structure and form remained clearly audible. In comparison to the Zanden 2000P, the TL0-X is tonally more refreshing, with more distinctive key strokes. Arguably, one could say that it emphasizes more the technical dexterity of the musician than focus on the emotional and harmonious content as the 2000P conveys.

"Moving on to Mutter's Carmen Fantasie, Track 7, I arrived at an area where I found the TL0-X to exhibit a slight digital harshness in the treble, this especially apparent on the strings. To draw an analogy, the TL0-X is like a young man in a dark suit with a white shirt and a pink tie. He is sharp, attractive and energetic. The same young man wearing a wool cardigan would give you an impression of liveliness, casualness and sincerity, which suits the sonic depiction of the Zanden2000P. The TL0-X offers a stronger focus on the transient attack of the strings but less so on the calmness and naturalness offered by the Zanden. In this top league of transports, fulfilling all aural/HiFi attributes seems impossible. Subjective preferences retain a strong hold in the process of final choice. If one has enough chips to play with, I would say that having both a dark suit and wool cardigan in one's wardrobe would be an expression of luxury and abundance."

No matter what, the TL0-X always delivered tight/weighty bass and a lucid midrange. The slight tightness of the treble can be mitigated with a softer-sounding converter. If the listener feels the bass to be too taut and a bit heavy to induce a downward bias in the tonal balance, a matching DAC with a softer depiction of bass lines would be ideal. Although the achievement of exceptional inter-note silence due to the applied excellence of vibration control is quite a feat of mechanical engineering (with the exception of the slight spinning noise of the disc stabilizer), the quest for the ultimate sense of serenity and harmony in music reproduction will depend greatly upon the matching DA converter, more so than on digital cables and power cords. The three DACs used in this review all have their respective sonic merits to make it hard to determine which one is better than the other. The overall character of the TL0-X is neutral and solid, with proper energy balance. There are not too manufacturers left who are willing to do serious research for dedicated CD transports in this day and age of universal players. The CEC TL0-X is a rare and superior example of a possibly bound-for-extinction breed.

Manufacturer's website