ecteur L-4.2 CD Player
The Best Things In Life Are The Best
Things In Life
Review by Neil Walker
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So you arrived with your big brother, and he was large and mighty. What do you have to offer?
As I explain in the review this month of the Vecteur amplifier I-6.2, I have the pleasure of reviewing two new items from the French company,
Vecteur. Specializing in high-end audio products, the company has gained a reputation for best in class. Their CD transport the D-2, now the upgraded D-2.2, stunned those fortunate enough to use it. The distributor used it as his transport to go with the top-of-line DAC, the $5,290 Audiomat Maestro until the L-4 CD player was introduced.
The L-4 transport was even better than the D-2; so taking the digital feed from the L-4 to the Maestro became the combination of choice.
Meanwhile, the nerdlets that Vecteur keeps at the back of the shop started to fiddle even more with their successful products. In amplifier land, they came out with the I-6.2 and several other X.2 amplifiers. In the source section of the shop, they listened to the L-4 and revamped it. The L-4.2 was born and shipped and I was fortunate enough to lay my hands on one.
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"Mr. Walker, please come in and pick up your packages," said Nancy, world's nicest and best post office person. When I arrived, Ruth explained why Nancy was being so nice to me. These two boxes of electronica took up most of the storage space in the parcel storage area. (They had to climb over them to answer the phone was the real problem.)
Not only large cartons, but, as I tried to shift the amplifier carton, there was no carton shifting happening. Fortunately, there was Chris, the human crane, on cash that evening. We got them (the boxes, not Chris and Nancy) into the car and I drove them home. By tipping the carton on the edge of the trunk, I could let it slide down onto my hand truck. Then I saw the tires squish out sideways and wondered whether I had inflated tem recently.
Start Reading Again
Anyway, after I wrestled the amplifier onto my beautiful sound-enhancing shelves (also
Vecteur) held up by three machined metal legs, I installed the L-4.2. This new model has a solid
aluminum front plate finished in a silvery, machined surface. It made a perfectly matched set next to the Vecteur amplifier. It also matched nicely the
aluminum front plate of my reference amplifier. The aluminum slab front panel features four minuscule push buttons: standby, open, stop, fast (go to next track) and
play. The display panel shows the track number and whether you have selected repeat, repeat 1, or shuffle. The time display defaults to time elapsed in the current track. It also shows time remaining in the disk and total time elapsed from the beginning of track one. Time remaining in track? No way - the one useful display must be hidden somewhere in a computer chip, lost, forlorn and most definitely inaccessible to the user. Disappointing. But then, finding something wrong with this player is necessary - the search for something to complain about or to offer constructive criticism about is important for one's credibility. I'll get t the second fault in a moment.
The rear of the player has one gold-plated RCA jack for digital output. About an inch and a half to its left are the left and right analog output jacks, also gold plated RCA. The cord supplied is heavy duty, with a very solid Hubbell plug. Nice to see a manufacturer paying attention to this aspect of audio performance instead of the lamp cord I have received with other gear.
So, performance matters? Vecteur's manual presents the usual set of statistics. Frequency response is 20Hz to 20kHz (+/- 3dB). Channel crosstalk is less than 85dB at 1kHz. The signal to noise ratio is less than 100dB while output level is 3.5 Volts. I thought that the manufacturer would eliminate this small problem and lower the output voltage to 2.0 to adhere to industry standards with other gear such as phono pre-amplifiers, tape machines and so on. Not yet, I am told -- perhaps in the super CD player of the future. I whine a fair amount about subjecting my spinal fusion to heaving heavy pieces of audio gear about. I had to be wary of the amplifier's solid 45 pounds, as the CD player was a featherweight by comparison at 22 pounds. Nonetheless, relatively heavy for a CD player.
Specification tables tell one little about what you are about to hear. However, when Vecteur lists some of the construction features of the player, you begin to understand part of what goes into making an excellent machine. The chassis and lid are damped with large pads of something resembling felt. The power supply is triple regulated and the quartz generator is manufactured to the tight tolerance of 5
ppm. The DAC also uses the relatively infrequent technique of a transformer output stage. Vecteur also says that its player features anti-magnetic treatment, not something I understand very well. It uses a transformer-integrated mains filtering device. The circuit board is made of Teflon. One per cent metal film resistors are used. Finally, they say that the L-4.2 uses an anti-jitter master clock. The most obvious difference between this player and its predecessor, the L-4, is the use of 192kHz/24-bit DAC.
A Difference Among Friends
How does one measure a CD player such as this one? As a single disc player that sells for $1,890, is it worth the price? Is it an expensive player or a bargain? How does it differ from the L-4, since it now costs more? Is the extra cost justified?
The answer to the first question is that you listen to it with a number of your own CDs until you are familiar with how it treats your music. Then you go away for a while and listen to it again. How does it handle the low end, middle, and uppermost frequencies? Does it make music, which stirs you, or is it a sound effects machine that tires you? Then you make your
judgment. That judgment provides the answer to the other questions.
Do You Hear What I Hear?
So, is it different from the L-4? Yes, absolutely. In answering this question, I will probably tell you everything that a review of the player demands. NOTE TO EDITOR: That means, boss,
I am not shirking. It just happens that I can answer two questions with one answer.
(Editor Steve sez, in Spaceballs movie humor: i see the Schwartz is
strong with you Dark Helmet.)
I did a lot of A/B-ing and found, that most of the time, this technique remains relatively useless. However, as time went by, it helped me clarify some of my impressions. I also listened for long periods of time with each player so that I was able to form general impressions of each with several CDs with which I am familiar. These CDs have specific characteristics that formed the basis of some of my
My conclusions are pretty straightforward after all the listening and comparisons. The L-4 is a superb CD player. It is a joy to use, largely because it has the best remote control I have ever used on any appliance, ever. I wish the entire electronics industry would go straight to Vecteur and, if a simple request won't get the information from them, then the industrial vanguard should tie up the engineers, the owners and their workers for a dose of Gitmo interrogation. Point the controller into the rug at the far end of the room and the player still does exactly what you want. Stand outside the room and point the controller at the back wall and it works. Press "Pause" as the telephone rings, not by pointing the controller but just while it sits on the end table firing into the side of a candy dish and a few wrappers - it still works. At first, I was afraid it would melt Molly and Rosie's eyeballs, but nothing untoward seemed to happen. I, of course wore welder's goggles, since I assumed that an infrared device of such efficiency must be dangerous. Molly, actually Molly Bloom, and Rosie, more formally known as Sweet Rosie O'Grady, are the Wheaten Terriers we have as good friends at home. They refused the goggles, so I warned them that their lives were their own to risk, and then opened the CD drawer.
Another part of this player to love is the CD drawer that is apparently run by an amazingly small one horsepower motor. The drawer flings itself open so quickly that it has twice startled Rosie, smacking her doggy butt, as she stood next to me, trying to lick my face. Occasionally the player fires the CD right out of the player and into my waiting Frisbee hand.
Fortunately, the L-4.2 and the I-6.2 amplifier are just as efficient at responding to the infrared remote.
Sound? Yes, the L-4 has sound in addition to a remote control. It is accurate, detailed and musical, fully able to create magic. Nonetheless, it is sometimes a little harsh in the highs and upper mid range in comparison to the L-4.2. For example, there are some notes in the last two upper octaves of the piano keyboard that can be difficult to listen to at any but the lowest volume. To me, those last eight notes sound and feel like a hammer hitting a brick. Sometimes, these notes also have an additional ringing tone. The example I used with the L-4 and 4.2 was the piece "Over My Head" played by Cyrus Chestnut on his album,
Blessed Quietness [Atlantic, 82948-2]. The L-4 is almost painful to listen to at more than a whisper volume for some of the notes. On the other hand the L-4.2, while capturing the extremity of the piano's sound, can seem quite hard yet does not hurt; it delivers the sound more accurately without the harsh overtones of the L-4.
I am splitting hairs here - the L-4 is an excellent CD player -- I am looking at the most minor of shortcomings in an attempt to explain how the L-4.2 is a significant improvement over the L-4. At the other end of the spectrum, both players produce a powerful, musical bass. However, the L-4.2's bass reproduction is better defined. The L-4's bass is powerful and musical
-- one would say it is undefined only in relation to the L-4.2 or another much more expensive player.
That point brings me to the relative position of these players in terms of their cost. The additional $400 is money well spent. The L-4.2 is that much more refined than the L-4. The internal musical detail is that much more subtle tan that of the L-4. Where the L-4 often seemed somewhat forward, the L-4.2 removes the edginess and replaces it with more musical detail.
If Its Words Are 50% Longer
And It Samples Over Four Times As Fast,
Does It Sound Five Times Better?
"Than what?" you might ask. Than what you expect to hear from a 16-bit/44.1kHz CD is the answer. No, the sound is not five times better. In fact, you would be hard pressed to state that it did anything any number of times better. Nonetheless, the L-4.2 is a very refined CD player, offering a sophisticated delivery of every kind of music.
For example, with big band or symphony orchestra, the L-4.2 opens out the interior of the music, allowing the listener to hear and distinguish each part of the musical structure. My personal
favorite for evaluating the player's abilities in this area is opera. It offers the recording engineer a unique challenge, combining voice and instruments in one complex whole. It subsequently offers the home CD player a special challenge: can the CD player display all that is on the CD, and keep it all lined up so that you hear an orchestra, not a wall of sound of which the parts are not distinguishable?
For example, Constanze's AMartern aller Arten from Die Entfuhrung aus den Serail in Sumi Jo Sings Mozart
[Erato, 0630-14637-2] allows the L-4.2 to display its ability to present an open, detailed reproduction of the orchestra while also maintaining the crystalline purity of Suni Jo's voice. As this is also a CD which raises the hair on the back of one's neck, the L-4.2 not only
reproduces accurately, but it goes beyond to create the magic one searches for in music.
Shirley Horn's "If you leave me," [You Won't Forget Me, Verve, 847 482-2] comes across with enormous depth - Horn's voice commends attention with its persuasive depths of meaning. It is more than a realistic
sounding voice - it is a shiver inducing moment where you feel her imminent sadness. If it is possible to feel another person's emotion, then you feel it when the L-4.2 gives you every vibration of her vocal cords, every ripple around the essence of a voice
expressing a lifetime.
This CD player was what I used to review the same company's amplifier, the I-6.2. Vecteur's amplifier did so well in part because this player gave it the electrons with which to make a good sound. But then, I knew that this CD player was up to the task: playing through my
reference amplifier, the L-4.2 made the listening experience extraordinary. If it could pull previously unheard (except when using a very expensive
CD player) depths out of Shirley Horn and Sumi Jo's recordings, what else would it do? I moved on to Charlie Hunter and Leon Parker's CD,
Duo [Blue Note, 7243 4 99187 2 6] Unreal. The bass is so clean, so controlled and defined with the L-4.2. The percussion and guitar work leaves nothing to be desired in terms of impressing the
neighbors with the L-4.2's ability to give for the the complete ting and bang audiophile experience. But when you listen to the music these two make, this player gives you that intensity of feeling which comes from heating a Hunter's guitar and Parker's minimal kit right
in front of you.
James Carter, another of my favorites, plays Django Reinhardt's "Nuages" with accordion, bass drum, bass saxophone, violin, guitars - and it emerges as a total musical experience. [James
Carter Chasin' the Gypsy, Atlantic CD83304] When the L-4.2 delivers the bass
saxophone in the opening bars, the sound stops you with its immediacy, its fullness, its definition of every discrete vibration of the reed. But the same kind of thing happens with
every other favorite I throw at it. Bill Frisell's Gone Just Like A Train [Nonesuch, 79479-2] as never had the magnetism which the L-4.2 gives it. Again, the bass's definition, the
midrange depth and the highs' sweetness mark the characteristics of this player.
So, You Liked This Player?
I know that there will be a fair mount of caviling about the additional cost of the L-4.2. The fact remains that this is an excellent CD player that, at the price, is still a bargain in my opinion. It has the performance that one would expect to pay much more to achieve. It is precise, detailed, sweet and musical. What else does one need?