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This review first appeared in the October 2007 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with whereby they will translate and publish select reviews of ours while we reciprocate with one or two of theirs each month. There's an e-mail pointer to the writer at review's end should you have questions or feedback you wish to send (the e-mail isn't spelled out to avoid search spiders from generating endless junk mail). All images contained in this review are the property of - Ed.

Reviewer: Ralph Werner
Analog sources: Acoustic Solid MPX, Phonotools Vivid-Two, Ortofon MC Rondo Bronce
Digital sources: Audiomeca Obsession II, audiolab 8000CD, C.E.C. TL51XR, Benchmark DAC1
Amplification: phono - Holfi Vitalus; integrateds - Accuphase E-212, C.E.C. AMP5300, Dussun V8i, Jungson JA88 D
Loudspeakers: Zu Audio Druid Mk4, Thiel 2.4, Volent Paragon VL2 [on review]
Cables: Interconnects - fis BF Studioline, Funk BS-2, van den Hul Integration Hybrid, Zaolla Reinsilber; loudspeaker cables - Fast Audio Copact M6, Ixos 6006 Gamma, Zu Audio Libtec
Review component retail: €1.399

Solid bullion
Brevity is the wit of soul yet today's CD player calls itself East Sound CD-E5 Signature Edition Prime Version. Hmm. But don't write it off as faddish just yet. 20 centimeter long naming conventions are quite the norm in this segment. And brevity after all is in evidence with East Sound's lineup. There's a second player and that's it. The E5's European Edition diverges in four areas: it's silver; its drawer is below the display; it costs 100 euros less; and it is said to be a touch lighter of sound and more analytical than the CD-E5 SE PV (okay, I'll stop that now).

Do you fancy Signature sonics but prefer silver threads? Too bad. Thus far. The European silver is voiced lighter than the black Signature but Herr Dasback of German East Sound importer Speakers Delight stresses that it's a matter of mere nuance. A peculiar product focus perhaps? Speakers Delight agrees. After sitting down with the East Sound folks, a silver Signature Edition will be in the offing. Righteous.

Stranger yet is the weight and fit'n'finish of this player - heavy and luxurious beyond belief. 13 kilos equate to a high-mass digital deck, admittedly inclusive of onboard converter. The face plate clocks in at 1.3 centimeters of prime beef, the cheeks at 10mm. For reinforcements to prevent "box chatter" perhaps, there are even bolt-on corners front left and right. Top and bottom get 3mm plates each and for extra inertia, there's a half-centimeter thick additional aluminum job below the Philips transport to boot. Impressive.

Nearly beyond raw bullion status even, the East Sound is a poster child for deluxe machining. My colleague's brevity-in-action response was "1980's Volvo, not bad". Better yet is how seamless and precise everything fits together. Popping da hood on players of this class and origin often elicits sloppy counter threads, askew damping material and other 'lesser' evidence. Not so with this East Sound. Even hidden areas avoid shortcuts, an impression that continues with internal organization. The Philips transport is central, to its left is the power supply, to its right are the digital and analog sections. After filtration, the AC mains is scaled down via a toroidal input transformer followed by 10 discrete power
supplies for specific functions (transport, analog and digital circuits) to minimize cross talk and counter loading.

A Crystal 4390 chip handles 24-bit conversion with 128 x oversampling. As per East Sound, a temperature-controlled quartz oscillator and advanced "clock distribution system" spell death to jitter. Mister Fung, East Sound's designer, spent a full three years on the E5 which was preceded by the stripped-down E3 for the Chinese market. Purely for export, the E5 European and Signature versions benefit from sonic tweaks whose main focus is the internal wiring which differs between the models and purportedly creates their unique voicing. For parts selection, Fung manifests a foible for designer goodies: Philips spinner, Crystal DAC, Elna and Wima caps, Vishay resistors...

In a segment where slapping together a heavy brute to spring on eager Western markets has become leit motif, three years is a full eternity. Herr Dasback shared how he's been waiting for a promised East Sound integrated. First samples were already sighted but Mr. Fung wasn't 100% satisfied, hence market introduction has been indefinitely postponed - for further tweaking. Competitors are poking fun already. It's rather endearing though.

Our tester was the MkII version of the E5 Signature Edition aka Prime Version, introduced this July to feature an improved transport sub chassis (hence the drawer has been relegated to above the display) and an improved laser assembly. Not sure about you but at that rate, I'm wondering whether our tweak meister shouldn't have messed with the laser output stage as well -:)

Real outputs are two each, i.e. XLR and RCA analog and S/PDIF RCA and Toslink digital though I couldn't for the life of me discern differences between the former two. The option is nice though for amplifiers or preamps with true balanced inputs. Lastly, the output buffer of the East Sound is a solid-stage class A affair.

Der Sound
"This machine is the squeaky new Prime Version of the CD-E5 Signature Edition" was Speakers Delight's note - and "squeaky new" prompted break-in reactions by yours truly. Good timing too since I'd planned on an extended weekend trip, giving the East Sound five days of non-stop repeat duty on a CD. Whether fully necessary I couldn't tell you but certainly no harm was done.

Break-in can suck. With CD players it's no big deal but once you've accompanied a female visitor to the bedroom where two man-size speakers feed on an early Ministry record while being tucked beneath a down comforter to spew forth strange noises, you'll know not to
expect come-hither glances. Nor any sympathy for your justifications that 200bpm (beat per minute) Techno is perfect to hammer reluctant transducer suspensions into submission. Ayee, people, send us pre-conditioned wares. But back en guard.

He's a rhythmically alert chap, our East Sound - precise, agile and on the money. The infamous toe-tapping reflex extends all the way up the leg. Reason being, the bass range of the E5 Sig is so formidable as to slay all prior comers in this class. Bass becomes the foundation upon which the East Sound erects its mansion - and not in the sense that bass dominates the proceedings. Au contraire, while energetically pressurized when necessary, it's equally quick to stop the impulse as starting it. Thus the overall presentation is rather more balanced than many more libertine competitors which allow themselves a bit of laissez-faire to combine foundation heft with wool or even strangulation effects.

The East Sound simply avoids such liberties. It's a boxer who, while dribbling nonchalantly, delivers a vicious blow to your gut and before you double over, is already two steps back again - clean technique backed up by displacement then to definitely suggest no featherweight. It digs lower than most others too. Or perhaps not lower per se but simply more robust and grippy? Certainly tonal differentiations don't stop at the upper bass but extend fully to hammer out driving bass lines hard as bricks, albeit not unnaturally dry to lack body nor pushy though ambiguous. No, this ammunition delivers lightning-quick, with rebound and articulation - and with sock'em power. Think that the East Sound's bass is good? It's bloody stupendous.

Do we sight equivalent wonders higher up in the audible spectrum? Not really. While resolving more finely than many others, the exceptionally airy, clear and never once sharp illumination of the C.E.C. TL51XR remains unmatched. Granted, the Japanese occupies a different price class - €2,000. If you need to hear every single carbonation bubble burst, you might feel cheated here. Not me though. While knowing that more remains possible, I can live without out it especially considering long-term comfort. To boot, the treble isn't opaque. Rather, it's elegantly discreet to never run the risk of a digital alarm clock which can otherwise disturb the €1,000 range. Think of monitor speakers. Everybody knows that true sub bass is another topic entirely but that needn't undermine long-term monitor satisfaction if you enjoy other strengths and compromise willingly on ultimate bass extension. Likewise, the East Sound doesn't really lack anything vital on high, more expensive players can simply evidence yet more air - a casual observation rather than heated charge.

In the midrange, the East Sound E5 Signature Edition is well balanced tonally and with regard to analysis and flow. Don't mistake this for neither fowl nor fish type ambiguity. I rather think it was exactly this mix of qualities which prompted the machine's lengthy gestation period. Besides the stunning bass, this high-wire act is the East Sound's very calling card. What exactly am I on about? Let's see...

I often use stringed instruments to determine on which side of the equation a component falls. Plucked, hammered or bowed, the leading edge for each action is characteristically unique. Does a component remain transparent thereto? Can you hear the use of a plectrum or its absence? Can you envision a piano's felted hammers? This is related to timing and microdynamics and, simplified, can be regarded as analytical. Beyond the transient, there's the bloom portion with its unique harmonic content. Is that shifted in any particular direction? Colorations even? Is there more string or more woody resonance? Finally the decay. Especially on piano's low tones, there's often something missing by ending too abruptly. A resonant chamber may activate late but rings out lazily. Does this translate seamlessly and correctly over time?

A perhaps debatable definition of musical flow in a component relates to this exact behavior in time. Subsequent sounds are defined by their individual transients and decays. Attack, sustain and fade overlap to varying degrees but nothing upfront should be late, nothing 'round back foreshortened - and nothing should be colored in the middle. A trying enterprise, this. And since I'm proposing definitions, to these ears a bad case of analytical occurs in a component that's fast on the uptake but tonally flat, clips off the fades and overall sounds too bright and lightweight.

Sounds then splatter in space, alone, often in razor-sharp outlines but without context or connection to the remainder. After five minutes, such behavior turns fatiguing and nerve-wrecking. The polar (negative) opposite of "round, warm and analog" are components which don't commit mistakes during the bloom portion but differentiate poorly on the beginnings and ends of sounds. A few con arco strings or chill-down lounge numbers might not mind but anything more percussive and rhythmically driven and you've been abandoned in fog and left disoriented.

Admittedly, a lengthy intro this was but necessary to underline how solid a compliment it really is to call the East Sound even-handed. Certain players will pluck a string more vigorously but remain a spectral non-physicality. Others are more voluptuous but lack the East Sound's timing. The E5 carries the scales adroitly, being sufficiently agile to not miss detail and follow through on the notes. Due to its exceptional bass, this remains true even for the lowest piano register. Decays fade evenly into oblivion, then the sustain pedal descends and fini. Perfect.

Tonally we're on equally correct footing, perhaps 5% closer to wood than metal on the earlier subject of strings. Possibly that's due to the minor hesitation in the treble. That's fine by me though the opposite would be okay, too. Actually, I don't really care because these nuances are readily shifted with cable choices, racks and the devil knows what - should you desire that in the first place. The advantage here is that vocals fill out just a tad and sibilants grow mellower. There's no fault at hand but simply a tendency that's readily tunable to taste if wished for.

And now we're at musical flow, something the E5 Signature nails. Precise but not anal; full and not flat, tracking sounds to their very ends. The harp is a difficult instrument in this regard: Individual attacks need to be clear-cut (but not such as to telegraph what finger plucked 'em) and so do decays to prevent hollow echoes. There are plenty of strings on a harp - and a sizable resonator. Both need to be audible. But enough of this now, it ought to be clear why I like this player so much. As a whiskey, I'd call it "very nicely blended!"

How about staging and image localization? I nearly forgot
about those aspects. Why? My usual yard stick of audiolab 8000CD with Benchmark DAC-1 sits quite high here to be more than satisfying. The East Sound doesn't step out of this line, neither forward nor back. It simply honors all the expectations one should harbor in these leagues. Mine are pretty high.

There's one more trick: Precision and placement don't waver even down into the lowest bass where other players soften things à la, "there is bass" rather than, "there's the bass". Here the East Sound excels in rare form. This simply reconfirms its brilliant low-frequency ability - on the dot, defined, dry and always connecting with the mark. The circle closes.


The East Sound Signature Edition Prime Version in a nutshell:

  • Poster-child fit'n'finish for this class, not merely a heavyweight but exceptionally dialed with a perfectly brushed face plate, massive remote, seamless metal work, tidy innards, no solitary evidence of sloppiness anywhere. A first-rate tank.
  • Comprehensive connectivity of single-ended and balanced analog outs, RCA and Toslink digital outs.
  • Exceptional bass performance without undue dominance which counters uncontrolled infrasonics with definition and grippiness. Bass lines are fast, on time and taut. Add image specificity and placement precision into the farthest layers and depths where others sputter and spray.
  • The upper registers are more timid than hyper present, turning the East Sound into a long-player. The treble is a concern only to hard-core airiness fanatics.
  • The musically most critical midrange is superbly balanced and even-handed, neither light nor dark, capable of retrieving accurate instrumental timbres, leaning a tad towards body rather than hyper focus. Equally vital is the accurate timing. Attacks and decays are clearly resolved, analytical visibility and musical flow present in equal measure without preference - an uncanny mix.
  • The soundstage is fully resolved in width and depth, image definition is good but no new records are set in these particular disciplines - with one exception: the above-referenced ability to maintain contour, placement and timing into the very lowest of bass notes.

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