Review: Audio Aero Prestige SACD Player reference CD Player


Category: Digital

After nearly 4 years of reliable use, I decided it was time to upgrade my faithful Levinson 390s. I figured that developments in transport, DAC, DSP... would allow for meaningful improvements in CD playback. (Levinson or more correctly Harman doesn't agree and advised of no further CD improvements to be had at reasonable cost of say $20k).

A beta version of the AA player was available which I had the pleasure of trying out in my system. Although it needed more burn-in time, it was sufficient to order a production version which arrived a few weeks later.

Before delving into AA, here's some background on 390s' performance in my system. Tuning over the years allowed for its ongoing use and maximized its performance. Particularly, 390s improved on these:
1. Clean power (conditioner, cables)
2. Power isolation (dedicated conditioner)
3. Capping unused rca & xlr connectors using Cardas caps
4. Cleaning transport lens
5. Removing Levinson comm links
6. Copying originals using EAC sw with black CD-Rs (melody diamond)
7. Use balanced connections
Its sound: soundstage is nicely positioned behind speakers with clean highs, lows and fine mids. Some criticize 390s of being too analytical but this isn't how I experience it. Yes it's a detail champ but it's also musical and excels at vocals. In contrast, the dcs stack is more analytically weighted (which admittedly was heard at a hifi show with Halcro amplification and may therefore not be a fair assessment).

AA took its place where the 390s resided and immediately enjoyed all the above tuning (except 4&5 n/a). Burn-in of AA was over a 2 week period using SACD mostly (for full bandwidth output). My review has been a working piece over this period.

Just like the beta version, after 2 days (on CD) it surpassed 390s' performance, eg. more detail! Soundstage grew more width and depth over 390s. Instruments and vocals had more presence and micro dynamics. They were also placed and sized with much better accuracy. CDs sounded... well more real and involving. Adding tubes in the value chain is proving to be very pleasurable.

If CD sounds this good, why bother about other formats? On SACD (of which I own 3), 2 of them offered a better soundstage over CD (width, depth & placement). Two other notable differences were: instruments had roundedness to them, and transients were delivered with impact and realism. The latter being unexpected but was impressive. I would choose SACD over CD on future purchases but this all depends on sw availability...

Over the days leading up to 2 weeks, these improvements for both formats were further entrenched. However, during this time, AA also drifted sideways and temporarily sounded detached.

As AA settled in, for me, its best performance improvement emerged. Harmonics were exquisitely presented resulting in sweet mids and highs. There's more space between instruments, more liquidity and yes it's very engaging!

What used to be a left-brained bias with 390s, there's now a fine balance. Macro dynamics also showed marked improvements over 390s. (I'm glad I wrote that bit on 390s' sound while it was around and fresh in my memory as I'm not sure I'd say the same again).

One evening, we had visitors and I played a CD which our guest favored. I left for a brief moment and on returning, there was tears. This for me was a huge compliment on what AA Prestige is capable of. Those deep emotional passages really grabs you.

I'm told by my dealer, this player will continue to improve with time.

Any downsides? On ergonomics, 390s is superior and offers more usability without a remote. Also, 390s has a more robust power supply where use of an unrelated item in my home comes through AA (a brief drop in sound level). Fortunately, I was able to isolate the offending item and find an alternative.

I've not heard Reimyo, EMM, Esoteric... (unfortunately also not the Capitole) but I'm pretty certain the AA Prestige player offers by far, incredible value. On CD playback, this player has redefined the benchmark. Enjoy.

Associated gear
Levinson 33h amps (driven by AA), SR Absolute Ref XLR, JMLab Nova Utopia Be, Kimber 8tc x 2 ('16tc'), Audio Magic Mini Matrix (dedicated to AA) with SR power cables (Designers & Absolute Ref), 20A dedicated mains circuit terminating in custom built high current conditioner with Neutrik connectors, high-grade 20A circuit breaker.

Similar products
Levinson 390s
cics
I have heard that the AA Prestige is likely to settle in only after approx 1500 hours. Until then you may still hear further slight improvements. I recently spoke to Ernie Fisher of The Inner Ear. Ernie believes the Prestige and the Esoteric X-01 to be the best CD single box players he has ever evaluated, and in fact appears to own one of each. He suggests that the Prestige has an edge in in 'harmonic integrity', while the X-01 excells in detail, sound stage and 'air' around the instruments. He has a slight preference for the Prestige overal sound over the X-01. I own an X-01 with almost 300 hrs on it and I am ecstatic. Would love to hear the Prestige sometimes!
Hello Cics,
You ought to post this in the Digtal Forum instead. I don't think many people are going to see it here. That's why there aren't many replies.
Thanks for the comprehensive review, Cics. I listened to the Prestige in two rooms at RMAF, the Audio Federation room and Globe Audio's room. AF's setup included Marten's Coltrane speakers and the results were understated but quite lovely. What was interesting about Globe's setup was that they were running their TT (Clearaudio?) signal through the Prestige. In a small, untreated room the sound was, again, very good. I look forward to hearing this front end in my system.
Please see also the excellent Prestige ongoing commentary in the Audio Federation blog at:
http://www.audiofederation.com/blog/