Equipment Review No. 3 January 2002
YBA CD3a CD Player
44.1's Hollow Promise
It all started back in the mid-80's when Phillips released the first commercially acceptable CD player with the promise of "Perfect sound forever". I was intrigued by that thought as well as a format that also promised no clicks or pops and easy selection of each song. With vinyl records becoming more scarce I began my own quest for "perfect sound forever" in the fall of 1989. The stereo magazines said "all CD players sound the same" so I figured I would buy a Sony CD player that had some neat features,such as shuffle play and shelled out my $300 and bought a few CDs to boot. I ran home with this feather-weight sound device and hooked it up to the AUX section of my then not so great Yamaha integrated amp. I was impressed by how clean CD's sounded with the extra benefit of a silent background. I was hooked! Forget vinyl...... I had 16 bits and 4X oversampling. I had perfect sound, or did I?
And then in the beginning of 1990 Harmon Kardon came out with a 18 bit/4x oversampling player which ate my Sony player for breakfast. It just plain sounded better and I couldn't refuse. I laid out my hard earned $500 and bought it. Those magazines lied to me........all CD players are NOT created equal. I then upgraded amplifiers and speakers twice but kept the Harmon Kardon CD player. Since only CDs were available and vinyl had been removed from the shops, I gave away my beloved turntable to my girlfriend who had an extensive collection of records and she loved to listen to all the old oldies. I was more interested in listening to current music so wasn't really concerned too much with that old turntable anyway.
My CD collection grew and grew but every time I went over to my girlfriend's place and put on a record while she put on her make-up, I was surprised at how good it sounded. How could this be? With her records there was clarity to drums, and cymbals sounded more real and had air about them and it was just plain more fun and right sounding! When I was at home listening to a couple of entire CDs I would become drained of energy and sometimes got headaches. Whenever I listened to records at her place I was fine. I realized that digital with it's 16 bit/ 44.1 khz sampling rate of a signal was not capturing all of the sonic picture. Don't get me wrong.......... I still loved my Harmon Kardon CD player and the simplicity of the format but I began wanting more. Besides vinyl was now non-existent. I could hear with my new amplifier that the Harmon Kardon was just not giving me everything I thought it would. I tried out lots of CD player's in the $1000-$2000 (Canadian) range from Sugden,Rotel,Arcam and Alchemest but I thought they all sounded worse than the $500 Harmon Kardon What gives? I also listened to the top of the line Mark Levinson Reference gear and had felt there was hope for digital after all, but could never afford it. How could I get decent sound out of a digital source that I wouldn't find fatiguing and could get the sonic picture right? Could I afford this solution? Since I owned a YBA amplifier I thought it would be natural to also try a YBA CD player. I did and liked it but couldn't quite swing the price tag of $4250 Canadian ( around $3400 U.S. for all you non-Canucks out there!) Then after scrimping for a while in the middle of 1997 I bought the YBA CD3a CD player and have never looked back since.
The YBA CD 3a is a bit of an unusual CD player. Only the French could design a CD player as eccentric as this (that designer being none other than Yves Bernard Andre). For starters, instead of a sliding drawer to load your CD's on this is a top loading player. You put your CD directly on the motor spindle and clamp it down with a heavy brass puck. This is to reduce microvibrations and keep the CD stable as it plays, thus improving upon clarity. And if you want, there is a manually operated sliding door that covers the CD drive, but as Yves says "you get a more open sound with the door open". As for the D/A converter, it is a dual 18 bit device custom modified by Yves himself and that is all he will say about it. There is no digital filter on the output which will scare people who look for immaculate measurements but have little regard for sound quality.
The CD3a uses a belt-driven, linear-tracking, triple-beam laser sled that slides between two highly polished rails, which is sourced from the Japanese company C.E.C., while the spindle motor and digital display are TEAC-derived. In addition to the triple beam red laser there is a blue laser which floods the underside of the CD in blue light which actually adds optical noise. As Yves himself says " the optical noise created by the blue laser (known as "stochastic resonance".......a great name for a heavy metal band in my humble opinion!) actually permits the recovery of some information whose energy was not sufficient to drive a 0 to a 1 or the other way around". And remember with digital all bits of information are either a 0 or a 1. By adding some noise(optical only) you paradoxically get more information back. Yves feels that with his unique blue laser he has created a CD player that regains the emotional content usually missing with digital reproduction components, and gives a sound more akin to analog tape.
The CD 3a is a chunky player that weighs a good 25 lbs. and uses small toggle switches instead of push buttons to control all functions. What is more unusual is the fact that the player will not read the table of contents of the CD until you click the play button up twice (on this year's model of the CD3a this has been changed to one click up on a separate "initialization" toggle switch) and then you can click the play toggle switch down to play the CD. Doing this actually makes playing CDs a little more involving........some people are lazy and want it all done for them but the manual loading and switching of this unit is fun to me.
The unit also inverts absolute phase and there is no switch to correct for this. If you own a YBA preamplifier or a Conrad Johnson preamp this is not a problem,as they also invert phase and would bring back the absolute phase as correct. What to do if your preamp doesn't invert phase or has a phase switch? Simply flip the polarity of your speaker cables and you are back at square one. (It is a little known secret that inverting your source component and bringing back absolute phase by reversing your speaker cables gives gains in sound quality........I have experimented with this and sometimes depending on the source recording there is a dramatic difference and sometimes very subtle differences in clarity, imaging and of course bass.) Experiment with this yourself on your system trying different recordings.......you may sometimes prefer running your system out of phase to correct for the recording itself. Out back behind the player is a detachable IEC mains cord made from YBA's hyper pure copper "Diamond" cable......the same cable used in YBA's interconnects and speaker cables and is of quite a substantial build. Standard gold plated RCA analog outputs are used with optional balanced connections and there are both Toslink and coax digital outputs for those who wish to experiment with an external DAC. Probably one of the best features of the CD3a is the fact that it is upgradable twice to either becoming a CD2a or the top of the line CD1a, simply by the addition of an outboard power supply and a few minor tweaks inside. The customer only has to pay the difference in price of the unit to upgrade to a higher model thus saving him/her the expense of a whole new player.
On a first listen to the CD3a the listener might find themselves underwhelmed. That is not to say that the listener will find it a terrible sounding unit as it is not.........it is just not a player that jumps out at you. No dramatic fireworks, no artificial sweeteners, no hyped up bass........just music! I have found that critical listeners will want to leave the player on for at least an hour before serious listening. It takes a while I suppose to charge up those megawatt amplifier sized capacitors inside the power supply. If there is any feature of the sound that is obvious it is the very large width of the soundstage. The depth is also quite good but does not extend as deep as the higher models do. The imaging is first rate and instruments are easily discerned and separated upon the soundstage. This unit has a slightly lean tonal balance to it (like all YBA products) but you will find it sounds quite "right" after you have listened to it a few times. Bass is not it's strongest suit but the quality and resolution of bass are quite amazing. Just listen to any Enya CD and you'll see what I mean.
The Cd3a is about clarity and nuance. This player really produces cymbals better than just about any player I can name. The highs are extended but never glossed over and are free of grain. It is true that the blue laser does give the unit a more analog nature. Drums are alive and well and vocals always have lots of presence to them. The midrange is quite inviting but I caution to use the word warm when describing it...........it is definitely not cold either but has an endearing velvet texture to it, which is very detailed without being overly analytical. I can actually listen to this CD player for long periods of time without getting headaches and without getting too tired. Listen to Voodoo Chile off of Jimi Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland" (Reprise CD6307) and there is Jimi's Marshall stack amplifier cooking away way back behind the speaker plane on the right hand corner with Jimi front and center upon a cavernous stage. Try the commercial rock group TNT- Intuition CD (Mercury PHCR-4198) to hear how good a clear all digital recording can sound. Vocals are wonderfully vivid and alive and cymbals sound quite convincing proving digital has potential. On the movie soundtrack of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (Interscope CD91725) I felt as if I was transported back into the recording studio listening to the sound off of the analog tape. The YBA CD3a is also capable of great rhythm and timing........something I found lacking in in every CD player I tried under $2000, except my Harmon Kardon. It is however not as upbeat as YBA amplifiers are......rather it likes to get on top of the beat and groove.
The weakest aspect of the CD3a's performance is in the area of dynamics. Recordings can sound a little compressed (most recordings these days are!) as compared to a half decent vinyl source. The remedy to this is to upgrade by sending in your CD3a and have it built into a CD2a or CD1a (I have yet to do this). I have heard all three YBA players and the higher models sound more dynamic and have more soundstage depth and a wee bit more bass extension. On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate the CD3a an 8 and give the higher two models at least a strong 9. It will take a considerable amount of money (many thousands) to get any more appreciable differences in sound quality than this unit offers and it proves to be a good value in as such it is easily upgradable for only the difference of price from the lower unit.
Since I have owned my YBA CD 3a I have purchased myself another moderate turntable and have marveled over how good vinyl can sound. Will I give this turntable away to someone else? Nope! I like analog just fine this time,but for those digital sources and for current music listening I cannot recommend any other CD player higher than this for great CD replay especially considering the high cost of digital separates available. All analog devotees who require a digital source with an easy character and long term listening satisfaction will be hard pressed to find something finer.
- Jeff Jordan
Reprinted with permission from
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