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Audiophile Audition

McCormack Audio UDP-1 Universal Disc Player

Review By John Sunier



McCormack UPD-1   The McCormack is the latest in a series of universal disc players I have auditioned. After having spent time with any of these universal players it is difficult to go back to my permanent system of three players -- one for standard CDs and two-channel SACDs, one for multichannel SACDs (and a changer in the bargain), and a third for DVD-Audio, CD-Rs and MP3 discs. It certainly is a convenience to just place any disc in the drawer and push Play, knowing it will do so. All you have to do most of the time is select either six-channel playback on your preamp or receiver or switch it to the proper two-channel input. The UDP-1 automatically recognizes the various formats and the users can just sit back and enjoy the great sound from the single player. (However, I did find one problem area with soundtracks to movie DVDs - discussed below.) The player utilizes the latest Burr-Bown 24-bit/192kHz DACs handling both linear PCM and DSD data.



McCormack UPD-1The UDP-1 has an uncluttered rear section with a total of eight analog RCA jacks -- two for stereo out and six for 5.1 out. As with most hi-res players at this point, there is no digital hi-res output. Both the coaxial and optical digital outputs are only to connect a 44.1kHz signal to an external DAC or surround processor, and even the two-channel options on hi-res discs will usually be downsampled to 44.1kHz before being output digitally. (By the way, McCormack has their own special approach to multichannel preamps -- their MAP-1 keeps everything in the analog domain, avoiding both digital processing of any kind as well as video signals which can compromise the audio.) Since with universal players you won't need to do any switching, you can go directly from the unit into the single 6-channel RCA inputs found on most surround processors, receivers and preamps today. I would suggest one of the special six-channel interconnect cables offered by several different manufacturers. For my multiple players I am currently using cables by Harmonic Technology and Monster.

The three usual types of video connections are on the back panel of the UDP-1 - composite, S-video, and component. A high-quality component video cable going directly to the same inputs on your video monitor is the best way available to connect the unit -- I use the Monster component cable. The new HDMI digital option is said to be the highest quality connection yet, but although many DTVs are now appearing with it, few hi-res players yet have that.



The UDP-1's on-off-standby switch is in the lower left hand corner of the front panel, and on the right side are two rows of four buttons. They handle O/C (opens and closes the tray), Stop, Pause, Play, Forward (either by chapter or fast forward depending how pressed), Reverse (ditto), Progressive (switches the output at the component jacks to progressive scan from interlaced), and Video Off (turns off the video outputs completely to avoid any interference with the audio signals). The medium-sized and lightweight remote controls all the unit's functions, which are grouped together into those handling playback, the ones for menu navigation, for setup of the player, adjustment of player functions, and (if compatible with your set) control of your TV monitor. The "joystick" part of the remote is near the top, which makes it easier to use than remotes where it is nearer the bottom.

The large digital display directly under the centered disc tray uses a 12-character alpha/numeric display for both status and content indicators. The first category includes Progressive, V-Part (lights when playing the video part of any DVD), 5.1 Channel, DTS, DD, X (for multi-angle scenes on DVDs), GUI (lights when a menu is on the screen). Indicators for Content: GRP -- a DVD-Audio group number is displayed; Title -- a DVD-V title is displayed; TRK -- display of track number; CHP -- the California Highway Patrol radar gotcha; no -- this is a display of the chapter numbers on DVDs; Remain -- Shows the time or number of tracks/titles/chapters remaining on the disc.



Pressing the Display button on the remote gets you to the Initial Settings section of the player's on-screen menu. This where you set your preferences for language, which audio and video outputs, size and distance of speakers (that one only operates for DVDs -- not for SACDs), 4:3 or 16:9 screen etc. The one setup function that I found a pain to constantly have to re-set was Audio Output Mode. This is where you must manually switch between 5.1 channel or 2 channel. If you want to listen in another room where you only feed the stereo signal, or on stereo headphones late at night, who will have to switch the unit back to 2-channel or you will miss everything anything on the other three or four channels. I discovered this on headphones watching a short film that had music levels going up and down for no particular reason; then actors appeared talking to one another but there was no dialog -- just the music reduced in level. It became obvious that all the dialog was on the center channel which I was not hearing!


Video And Various Formats Playback

Most high end players don't provide much enhancement of standard DVD images on the screen of your set vs. entry-level DVD players, though they may have additional useful features. Even Progressive Scan which was once a high-ticket option, is now found in many of the cheapest players. The video image quality of the UDP-1 was excellent on all the visual tests of both the Avia and Digital Video Essentials Test DVDs as well as on standard DVD material. On my Pioneer Elite 52-inch RPTV the color, resolution on test patterns and other parameters were about identical to my Sony DLP-9000ES DVD/SACD player when using the same Monster component cable and identical source material, and the image quality of both was a bit better than from my Rotel RDV-1050 DVD/DVD-Audio player.

The Surround button on the remote switches the player to SRS Lab's TruSurround, which is a pseudo-surround processing of the signal to the front L & R channels to give a feeling of surround speakers without requiring any. It does widen the soundstage but not nearly to the extent of providing any sonic images behind you or even at the far sides. And it can sound phasey on some source material.

Since my best-sounding player for 44.1kHz CDs (the S9000ES) will not play either CD-Rs or MP3 discs I was pleased to find that the Rotel player I purchased for DVD-Audio playback also handled those alternate formats. The McCormack player also easily accommodated itself to these other formats. The only disc it wouldn't play was a CD-R with MP3 files I burned on my iMac -- was probably looking for some arcane MicroSoft code that it failed to find. It cannot be ignored that the ability to just put any disc format into the tray and have it play instantly is a most useful and desired feature. Some of us have already amassed sizable libraries of CD-Rs by now, and as a reviewer I am running into the practice of some record labels sending for review discs that look exactly like commercial pressings but are in fact CD-Rs and therefore rejected by my Sony CD player.

One feature I especially liked about the UDP-1 was its rapid selection of the format of any disc loaded into its tray and the very short delay time before playback actually began. Some universal players seem to really take their time thinking about what setting to use for the disc that is loaded. Also, there was no brief muting at the very beginning of each disc as occurs with my Sony DVP-S9000ES.


Listening Tests

Standard CD playback was excellent with the UDP-1, though not quite as detailed and "musical" as with my Dan Wright-modified DVP-S9000ES (but that player also benefits from both Bybee line filters on the outputs plus a Taddeo Digital Antidote). Both players were fed into my Sunfire Theater Grand III via both analog and digital cables from Jena Labs. The analog route into "Source Direct" on my Sunfire gave the best results on both. My favored test track of the guitar quartet on Opus 3's Depth Test gold CD had just a touch more presence and detail on my Sony. On most CDs there was very little difference between the two players. The sonic quality also was about the same whether using the two-channel analog outputs or the L & R channels of the analog six-channel outputs.

Moving on to SACD playback, I tested a variety of piano, orchestral, choral, small jazz group and other sources. The comparison unit was my multi-channel Sony CS-775 SACD changer, also modified by Dan Wright. Again I found the match extremely close. On some discs the McCormack seemed to have the edge and on others it went to the Sony, but generally the results were nearly identical. The acclaimed Mahler Symphonies series from the San Francisco Symphony sounded absolutely glorious in a realistic recreation of the acoustics of San Francisco's Davies Auditorium -- on both players. There was a slightly stronger deep bass foundation to the music via the McCormack player.

It was in the playback of DVD-Audio that the UDP-1 really shown. The Mahler Symphony No. 8 conducted by Riccardo Chailly on a Decca DVD-Audio had already shown itself superior in both performance and fidelity to a later SACD version by Colin Davis, comparing the DVD-A on the Rotel player with the SACD on the UDP-1. The performance was more lyrical and less strained on the DVD-A vs. the SACD. But when the DVD-Audio was switched from the Rotel player to the UDP-1, some of the qualities which caused it to pull ahead of the SACD were heard with even increased enhancement. These included a better impression of the hall acoustics of the Concertgebouw where it was recorded, more impressive major climaxes, and a deeper sense of the low bass end in some passages.

This behavior mimics what I have heard with some other universal players -- the DVD-Audio playback being more successful than the SACD playback. Although there's nothing particularly wrong with the SACD quality of the UDP-1. Actually, with its provided rubber feet supported directly on one of my shelves, the McCormack SACD quality was clearly below that of my multichannel Sony player. It was only with placement on Daruma isolation feet on top of an MSB IsoPlate with a Shakti Stone on top of the player that its quality began to match that of the Sony 775.



With universal hi-res players now available in a very wide range of price points, anyone in the market for one has plenty to choose from. In addition to all the non-hi-res disc-playing options which are included with many of the more recent players, one might want to consider if the player is able to handle the brand new DualDisc format which has already run into trouble on certain players -- probably due to its greater than normal thickness. If you are a collector of mainly DVD-Video and audio you couldn't go wrong with the UDP-1. If, however, you lean toward the SACD format and in addition want to use this player as your main standard CD playback, you might want to compare it to several others in this price range, keeping in mind that a few simple tweaks can enhance the sound quality of most players -- even those with as solid and hefty construction as the UDP-1.




Type: Universal digital disc player

Standard CD, SACD, DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, CD-R, DVD-R, MP3 files

Component video output level:
Y: 1.0 Vp-p (75 ohm)
PB, PR: 0.7 Vp-p (75 ohm)
S-Video output level:
Y - 1 Vp-p
C - 286 mVp-p

Video output level: 1 Vp-p
54MHz/10-bit video DAC

Output level (all audio outputs): 2.0Vrms
S/N ratio: 100dB, A-weighted
Frequency response:
4Hz to 44kHz for 96kHz DVD
4Hz to 88kHz for 192kHz DVD

Dimensions: 19 x 3.5 x 11.25 (WxHxD in inches)

Weight: 18 lbs.

Price: $3,495



McCormack Audio Corporation
2733 Merilee Drive
Fairfax, VA 22031

Voice: (703) 573-9665
Website: www.mccormackaudio.com 



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