Many music lovers and audiophiles have simply gotten tired of waiting to see if either SACD or DVD-A will come to the forefront of new audio technology for home listening pleasure. Even those not ready to listen in five or six channel surround sound are chomping at the bit ready to buy some of the new discs if they could play them in even old fashioned 2 channel stereo. My fine top Denon model DVD-5000 (now discontinued) simply will not play a number of various new format recordings I receive from manufacturers wanting them reviewed in our music section, very embarrassing!
There's no question that new formats with 96kHz and 192kHz sampling are inherently better sounding than our traditional CD sampling rate of 44.1kHz. We can wait around and see which way the wind blows and possibly in the meantime upsampling or the supposedly superior re-sampling will be able to make the better CDs essentially the equal of two-channel 96kHz or 192kHz sampling rates. The so-called re-sampling technique is supposed to eliminate the reputed problem of increased jitter with some upsampling procedures.
When I "burned" my first CD with my computer in order to have a copy to use with my car's built in CD player it worked fine. However that same CD-R would not play on any of the three DVD players residing in my home. As an aside, I found a couple brands' CD-RW's that would play. If you've had that problem, my experience is worth at least a couple of tries with different brands. Possible reasons for the aforementioned possible cure include different burn in pit depths and different reflectivity values. That, combined with the inability to play some of the new format recordings sent to me for review, made-up my mind - something new had to be found!
That something new is Toshiba's top model DVD player, the SD-9200. It seems to have all the latest video upgrades common to the better home-gear players including Super Color Stream progressive scan and coaxial, S and component video outputs. Obviously it will play DVD-Video, DVD-Audio including multichannel/surround, CD, Video CD, CD-R, CD-RW, the under appreciated HDCD and a fine job with the hybrid multichannel SACD (in two channel stereo). It does all I and perhaps you need at this time. It will not handle all the channels of SACD surround recordings. If that ever becomes a problem, it will wind up in my so-called home theater system, being superior to any of my current DVD-video players for that purpose.
The SD-9200 is rather sleekly and simply styled, nothing gee-whiz or attention grabbing about its semi-glossy black finish. It's actually a bit more subtle appearing than the usual promotional picture of it. On the left side are the power button and a very small LED indicator - no other controls. The center is solely occupied by Toshiba's faceplate, which drops down just before the activated disc tray protrudes for loading. Then immediately after the tray retrudes, the faceplate rises to cover the opening. I've seen that sort of feature before and find it interesting but kind of "so-what". To the right, in order, are a small Open/Close button, smaller skip back, skip forward and pause buttons, and small Stop and Play buttons. Immediately above the Open/Close button are two tiny LED indicator lights for Video On and Direct Audio. Direct Audio mode of operation simply shuts down all the video circuitry which as you would surmise should result in less noise pickup internally which means a better signal to noise ratio which translates usually into cleaner/clearer sound reproduction. Unfortunately, the "audio challenged" designers in this case screwed up by not making it an audio only On/Off button/indicator. Audio enthusiasts have to use the remote control at every use startup to change it to on because it has no last use memory! It's either silly or stupid.
To top off, actually start off, the audio challenged designers for the latest in modern audio reproduction; you must plug the player into a TV. You read me right! Someone got paid to design the system that absolutely forces even the audio only user to use a TV for the initial setup! It's quick, simple and easy, but a pain. Fortunately for typical two- channel audio users this initial setup has memory and would seldom require repeating. For videophiles there's a half-ton of choices in this excellent and very versatile player when used for DVD-Video. At this moment the SD-9200 is probably about as good as it gets but that's an aside for this review basically of a two channel stereo player. The player's analog outputs, both 2 and 6 channel are both excellent and output full bandwidth! They'll give you the 96kHz on the excellent DAD from Classic as well as the 192kHz on those new discs from Telarc and Chesky and HDCD in all its glory from those outstanding examples from Reference Recordings.
Hookup was easy but not as simple as it should be. To operate optimally in analog two-channel stereo required plugging into one of my TVs lurking around the house and making the appropriate choice from the on screen menu. It should not be necessary to repeat the procedure under normal conditions. Then the Toshiba's remote control flop top panel has to be opened and it's Direct Audio button pushed and the corresponding tiny LED will indicate that choice. This has to be done every time after the player has been turned off, as here there's no memory. Use this option. With a good system the difference is often apparent and results in an improvement in detail and overall clarity, particularly in the top half of the audio spectrum. Remember to keep check on it as the 9200 goes off after a rather short period of inactivity and the Direct Audio is then lost - what a poor design choice - music lovers get no respect from those videophiles!
Right out of the box, this Toshiba player sounded pretty darned good. There was a thin hazy veil that resulted in slight lack of detail and a bit of loss of transparency over part of the range. I wasn't keeping exact track of time but somewhere between fifteen and twenty hours of listening those initial negative distractions simply disappeared. This was not my simply getting used to its sound - it changed and I'll call it "burn-in or break-in" time.
As a refresher on the basics of what's currently possible with new audio disc sources, I need to remind you that you can't have everything. Yes, you can have beautifully clean, clear detailed response with tremendous signal to noise ratio and dynamic range with 24-bit, 192kHz for two-channel stereo. Yes, it is typically available only on analog outputs, but that is not currently a significant factor when the analog signal output is excellent as it is here with Toshiba's SD-9200. However, you cannot have 24-bit, 192kHz output on all channels plus video so that you're also able to watch the performers on screen at the same time! You can expect to have 24-bit, 96kHz output to all the front channels and surround channels; that can be very, very good indeed. Once heard in your home you may have difficultly accepting less - you've been forewarned!
That's enough for generalities and background info other than to say, "be very careful to check out exactly what any DVD-A/DVD-V player does in multichannel output and how it does, or more importantly, does not "coordinate" with your inputs and their "bass management" setup, particularly when in analog mode!
With more common CDs such as JVC's newest extended resolution (xrcd2) of the old (1955) recording of Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony in Beethoven's Seventh Symphony [JMCR-0006] or one of the relatively new RCA Red Seal recordings (BMG) such as Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini [09026 -62710-2] the SD 9200 seemed to put out all that's on these two fine discs. Same goes for the often under appreciated HDCD offerings by Reference Recordings such as the Copland CD [RR-93CD], my review of same still on our music archives section. Here the tremendous bass drum whacks and the cutting clarity of the trumpets are powerfully and clearly reproduced. Same is true of the superb RR-96CD with its tremendous dynamic range of full orchestral reproduction of the Rachmaninoff selections. Listen particularly for the unusually rich glow of the reproduction of the horns and brass in general. It is as good as it gets. Even Telarc's SACD Surround Hybrid disc featuring DSD, [25ACD-60569] of Mahler's monumental Fifth Symphony seems to have gained dynamic range, extended high-end response and clarity. I say this even though I'm not positive what frequency range is being fed through the Toshiba's analog two channel output; remember it can output 96kHz or even 192kHz!
All in all everything seemed quite fine. However it did take a bit of fine-tuning to get there. I mentioned the needed burn-in time, which is common for many if not most components as well as cables, though AC power cords are seemingly exempt from this process. As time progressed it became and remained apparent that the SD 9200 for all its positive attributes did not have exactly the same tonal balance as my reasonably priced standard the Denon D-5000. There is no reason why it should have exactly the same sound or even tonal balance. Both are very good solid-state players and make no allusions to being the best available at any price. Pointedly the Toshiba is slightly less full and rich in the upper bass range and a touch lean in the midrange though very revealing in that upper midrange. However my memory served me well again and I pulled out the "old trustworthy" Kimber Select Series 1011 interconnect to the rescue. Its added fullness and richness in the mid to upper bass range combined with its full and smoothly sweet upper midrange was an almost perfect complement to the Toshiba SD-9200. If "Tube-rolling" is an accepted way of altering the sound or tonal balance of tubed gear then what, I ask, is wrong with cable swapping to achieve the same goal!
In January's issue, senior editor Dick Olsher had a glowing review of the Heart 6000 CD player, which with the correct output tubes (yes, tubes!) was rated as overall competitive in most respects with players selling for as much as $3,000. All that for under $800, but the price of a pair of old but excellent 6DJ8, 6922 or 7308 tubes must be added to replace the stock Sovtek tubes, to obtain its performance potential. That can readily add another hundred dollars. I mention this because within a couple of weeks I should be receiving a sample of the Heart player and I will report on a comparison of the Heart 6000 with this review's Toshiba SD-9200. In the meantime, remember the Toshiba offers a good CD player, probably easily the equal of any of the typical $500 to $1,000 CD players now available. Plus, the Toshiba weighs in at almost three times that of comparable CD players and offers better chassis damping and some audio parts upgrades.
In addition it will also reward with a truly excellent picture when used as a DVD-Video player. Remember it handles most everything else including CD-R, CD-RW and correctly decoding those fine HDCD recordings. Top that off with DVD-Audio, which may, or may not, become our next audio upgraded standard, and the Toshiba may actually be an excellent bargain also. Pay attention to the following numbers. When I first heard about the SD-9200, the list price was $2,000. At the time I picked mine up, the list had dropped to $1,500 and now to just $1,300. However, a large local discount store has been offering them for half that amount! It would be tough to go very far wrong for that price. There's been very little activity the past couple of years with moderately priced CD players. Very little in the way of design or sales. I've not kept up with that market slot but my calculated guess is that this Toshiba model should fit comfortably into that $500 - $1,000 slot plus adding all sorts of excellent goodies including fine DVD-Audio and excellent DVD-Video and HDCD reproduction.
24-Bit 192kHz PCM Audio Compatibility
Unit Dimensions (HxWxD): 4 11/16" x 17" x 12 7/16"
Price: $1,299 MSRP (approximately $700 street price)
Toshiba America Consumer Products, Inc.
Voice: (973) 628-8000