After much research by Stereomojo and talking with many high-end audio manufacturers and distributors as well as many members of the audio enthusiast community, we have decided that the best reviews are those done by more than one reviewer. The reasons are many, but primarily multiple reviews give more than one opinion, are based on more than one reference system and more than one room. All of these factors often have significant affects on how a product is perceived. In addition, having more than one reviewer involved eliminates the politics, personal relationships and advertising issues that can and often do play a part in the review process in many publications. Stereomojo seeks to steer clear of any of those issues and will engage in any process that is ethical to help achieve that. -Publisher
As such, this product has been in the possession of and evaluated by three different reviewers in three different states.
The following is a description of the unit by Stereo Dave’s Audio Alternative:
Pioneer Elite DV-46AV Universal Player Stock Unit From years of experience working with audio, Dave had found that Pioneer DVD playersseem to be the best players to modify. The stock units themselves produce a neutral,yet detailed sound. This latest model (the Pioneer Elite DV-46AV) plays SACD, DVD-Audio,and CD player (among other formats), offers very detailed, transparent sound, stunningupsampling up to 1080i via HDMI and is overall a very balanced musical machine.An improvement from the last generation, this is a very exceptional unit to have. Modification: The modification to this unit creates a very spacious, enveloping soundfield, cleans up the location, improves clarity and color of the video, while furtherimproving the detail and transparency of the unit. This modified unit can easilycompete with and soundly beat machines costing thousands more from the Trivistaby Musical Fidelity to the various Meridian CD players costing in the range of $4000.Stock Unit: $299Modification to stock unit: $300
Stereo Dave (no relation to our own Musikmike) studied engineering for two years in Portland, Oregon. In 1977, he opened a store of his own -- The Audio Alternative in Portland -- which he operated until his death. For more than 25 years, The Audio Alternative was a weekly gathering place for the area's audiophiles. These were peoplewho came looking for some sage advice from "Stereo Dave" whose reputation as an inventor of audio gear enhancements was widely known and respected. At the Audio Alternative, Dave would not sell any component that he wouldn't put in his own system. Stereo Dave's Audio Alternative is now a business operated by Dave's family, friends and former employees. Stereo Dave’s also makes some very fine speakers that were a buzz item at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in 2006. There are other items of interest such as cables and other modded products on their website. See the link at the end of these reviews.
ABOUT THE STOCK UNIT
The stock unit plays CDs, DVD video, DVD-Audio in stereo or multichannel, SACDs in stereo or MCH, MP3s, DivX® and JPEGs. We also had no problems playing CD-Rs or CD-RWs.
Mike “MusikMike” Peskin
Life can be so cruel! One should never be left questioning. I was happy within the audio shell I'd created. I was happy knowing that I had a great sounding CD player even though my concession to CD playback was merely because of my love for music. Music is a living breathing entity and if I wish to know and hear what's happening in the music world. I can't depend upon vinyl alone.
Readers need to know I had hopped on the digital bandwagon quite early; I hopped back off early, too. It took, after the realization that CD sound was abysmal, another ten years before I even thought about buying another CD player. Yes, that first player, a Technics, couldn't be compared in any way to the top dollar rigs, but no music playback device should make you cringe. Besides, I found that I cowered in the corner of musical hell when I listened to an "expensive" CD player too. I almost made the mistake of naming the brand of that abomination…I won't.
I have no reservations about exposing my hatred for the sounds I heard from my Technics player although I am embarrassed to admit I owned it. It just didn't sound like anything with which I wanted to spend time listening to music. I use music to calm me, to relax me, to make my creative juices flow. Vinyl does that for me and the Audio Alchemy CD player that I eventually bought does it for me; it took a long time before I would spend time or my money to listen to a CD, and the Audio Alchemy made me realize that I had been missing a lot of music during those long years.
Imagine my frustration now. Friends invite me to listen to SACD players, some bring them to my home, and I'm too much of a dinosaur to give them a fair listen. Then I'm asked to review an inexpensive player that looks a lot like the Technics that I gave to my son that he replaced as soon as he could do so (I may have caused him serious dain bramage).
Granted, this is a modified deck and can play almost any disc placed on its drawer, but it really is not impressive…visually. So what's a curmudgeon to do? Listen to lowly CDs, of course…the heck with DVD-A and SACD, I want to know if I should spend money and get a different CD player. If it plays those other discs then I luck out.
I connected the Pioneer to the Auxiliary input so I could slip CDs into the Alchemy and quickly make the change to the Pioneer deck.
I wish I could say my beloved Audio Alchemy deck beat the Pioneer half to death but I can't. I mean, it's about twice the Pioneer's size and I know a big guy shouldn't pick on a little guy but this is digital! All's fair when trouncing anything digital, isn't it? Here's the thing (sorry Mr. Monk), at first I thought my Alchemy CDP did beat this little bitty Pioneer bloody but being honest with myself, I wasn't totally sure.
Thankfully I had set up the system for easily switching back and forth; different decks with the same music. It was not easy to compare the two sound signatures, but this helped. The difference was more than I'd expected, in almost every parameter.
The overall power and majesty of the music; bass, let alone bass control; midrange smoothness; extended treble response; soundstage width and depth; imaging of instruments and singers…let's face it, one expects some things to be different but should never see or hear a difference and a rather significant difference from a small guy. The big guy should, at the very least, hold his ground in some of the respective parameters, shouldn't it? Being fair to my older deck, I still think it sounds damned good.
O.K. I admit it, there's something to this hi rez thing. There! Are you all happy now? Can I just talk about what I heard rather than point out the disturbing differences? It's my review, of course I can! Well, I'll be nice and mention the two discs I listened to when the world shuddered.
While listening to the Stevie Ray, Albert King disc (STAX SXSA 7501-6) one of the first impressive sounds I heard was something I'd thought rare, if not impossible for digital to "get right". I heard the attack, the leading edge of notes played. So often, in any system I've listened to, the slice of reality given when hearing the attack does not seem to be there. That little bitty Pioneer made me wonder if I'd really heard it. Was I reacting to Albert King and Stevie Ray's heat, the energy and synergy the two had with each other? Was I hearing what I wanted to hear or was I just caught up in the music? Was the sound tonally correct?
Did I hear the same sense of reality that I hear from some of the well-recorded LPs I own? Hell, no! There's no way I could say the soundstage was non-existent, nor was there an absence of three dimensions. The Audio Alchemy throws a decent stage and reasonably good imaging and I had a hard time deciding if one bettered the other as I was flipping CDs and the multi-layer SACD's between the two players. Listening to the Audio Alchemy images are never "fleshed out" like I hear with LPs, but I definitely am not presented with a stage of cardboard cut-outs. Far more important, however, is how I am affected by the music. Am I bouncing in my chair? Do I want to lead the orchestra (If so, where's my baton?)?
All of the things I listen for, if phenomenal, mean nothing if I am not moved by the music! The "audiophile" things are secondary. Yes, they are part of the recording and I should hear them; but I've heard gear that does that audiophile thing really well and leave me cold.
One of the attributes I've always enjoyed from the Audio Alchemy was a sense that tones were correct. I never was offended by a violin sounding like a French horn; or a viola for that matter. I kept asking myself if the difference I heard with the two players was merely presentation or that one was, in fact, bettering the other. I certainly do not want a player that has a cost as low as the Pioneer bettering my $1599 (in 90's money) Audio Alchemy.
There's a disc I've used quite often when evaluating the sound of various pieces of equipment. I'd always gotten a laugh out of the disclaimer on the cover of "Bonga, '72" (1997, Tinder Records 42846642) that the sound was compromised because the original tapes were analog rather than digital. I've found, as many of you have, that analog tapes can produce great sounding CDs. Heck, it's the quality of the work done throughout the manufacturing chain, from set-up to performance to the mastering and pressing plants. All of the work! The Bonga CD sounds great; if you're a (forgive me, music gods) world music lover, this recording is a must. Bonga, an Angolan ex-patriot who had moved to Portugal to escape the dangers he'd faced in his home country, sings with such a depth of feeling that it transcends the inability to understand Portuguese or Angolan. The utilization of a large variety of unusual (at least to me) instruments augments this depth of feeling. Those strange instruments also teach one something about their systems and rooms.
One instrument used has confounded me for a long time. Listening, in the living room of my last home, I thought the instrument was a guiro, a scratcher-type instrument that is simply a corrugated stick that is rubbed with a smooth one. In the listening room I've set up here, using the same equipment, I'm not so sure. It sounds like a sand block one time, and a shaker, or gourd another! Well…it could be a sand block, the jury's still out on that decision. I am confused. I wish I had a percussionist friend so I could hear those two instruments "in the flesh" and come to a decision. Worse, the tone is different on each of the players. Which is right? Without the real thing being played in front of me, I can't be sure.
There's truth in the belief that one must get used to the sound of equipment; simply put, you begin to know its sound. But, one needs to face any decisions truthfully. Does the new gear make the music I play sound better or is it simply different? If the sound seems wrong in any way, a person who has heard real instruments played in real space is going to know that piece of equipment is not staying in their home.
That is also why a reviewer needs to keep a component (anachronistic term alert!) for at least a month, preferably two. It is also why I'm happy I didn't send the Pioneer back to its home as quickly as they wished. The fact that the type instrument being played eluded me was at best, bothersome. At worst, it leads me to wonder about all tonal structure presented by both the Audio Alchemy and the Pioneer. Once again, which is real and maddeningly, which is right?
Owning a new house with a new room housing my equipment has taught me a huge amount, or at least made me think about things audio that I'd forgotten. I had never played the Bonga disc in this room. It had to sound different and by sounding different, it taught me some things about the room, room setup, and both pieces of equipment. Most importantly it reminded me that LP and CD playback are two different animals (or fruits, if you wish). Neither sound is wrong per se, but the sound is definitely different. The same with two playback devices! What can I say? Sometimes I need a brick to the head. But the question about tone remains. - lobbing one brick to the head of Musikmike! - publisher
I listened to all the SACD's I had on hand, definitely hearing differences when the layered discs were played on the Audio Alchemy. I knew and expected that. I have close to 1000 CDs and only the 7 SACD's that were loaned to me. If I buy any hi-rez equipment, I will still wish to play those CDs.
My comments reflect that I feel the need to enjoy the CDs I already own; I seriously doubt I will own a 1000 hi-rez discs in the near future. I am a vinyl freak. I will always be a vinyl freak. I accept the differences between digital and analog; I respect both. I like the sound of LP playback more than digital playback.
But (such a big small word), I was secure in that assumption; it was a statement I would live by and defend. But listening to both the LP (Warner 9 25447-1) and the CD (Warner W2-25447) of Paul Simon's Graceland I had my doubts. Incredibly, my good friend Chris, who helps me set up my equipment (it helps to have friends when you're an arthritic mess) and does a lot of listening along with me, had doubts too.
He felt differently than I do about the how dynamic the CD sounded compared to the LP when played on the Pioneer. We agreed that the LP's overall sound was more to our liking, however.
When I listened to Sonny Side Up CD (Verve 314 521 426-2) I was impressed when I heard Charlie Persip's drums; they just seemed so real. That's an understatement; I was blown away! Although a studio recording, I felt the Alchemy had me sitting close to the "stage" while the Pioneer placed me more toward the center of the room. Definitely a presentation sort of thing.
Ray Bryant's piano made everything clear to me, I finally understood! The sound of the piano hammers contacting the strings; the wood of the piano; Bryant's attack, all were laid out for me to appreciate; that I was invited to sit in on the session. If Granz had been here, I would have thanked him for the invite.
Earlier, I had listened to Arcadi Volodos plating the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 with James Levine Conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Sony SACD SS64384). Since it is a multi-layered CD, I was able to play the disc on the Audio Alchemy CD player. I've never been a huge Rachmaninoff fan, but this disc had me enthralled with the quality of the sound and the performance. Simply put, the Alchemy couldn't throw as wide or as deep of a stage as the Pioneer.
The same held true when comparing the two units playing Holst's Planets (Telarc CD-80133). I knew exactly where the tympani were; further, the Pioneer presented the tympani as a ser ies of beats rather than the wall of sound the Alchemy produced; a reminder that more bass is quite often not better bass. Venus, the bringer of Peace begins with tranquility, an airiness if you please that the Alchemy presents merely as quietness.
I'd been sent the Norah Jones Come Away with Me (Blue Note 7243 5 41747 2-8) disc and was excited since I'd read that it was a wonderful performance and recording. Luckily, I listened to other discs afterward. Writing a review of the Pioneer from that disc only would have told quite a different story. As for the disc and Norah Jones? Mom told me to keep silent about some things. I can't say I listened to my Mother all of the time, but this time I choose to do so.
By the time I had Chris disconnect the Pioneer to ship it home, I had come to really enjoy listening to recordings via the DV-46AV. In all honesty, the realization that the Pioneer bested the Alchemy had not come to me while sitting in my listening room. I was sitting at the computer in the next room when I realized how musical the bass notes were. It was not that the Alchemy presents one-note bass, but the Pioneer just seemed to do the bass thing better, more like real music. The differences I write about were not glaring, which is why it took me such a long time to decide which unit sounded better…but then better is a word that always sounds too significant.
Eric Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra playing the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture (Telarc Surround SACD-60541) gave me the requisite thrills, chills and vibrations that the overture can produce when done well. I suppose I've listened to the Mercury LP too often to be impressed by any performance of that composition, but as stated, I was suitably impressed by the sound I heard, I won't spend time or energy waxing ecstatic over an admittedly well loved but definite ly a warhorse like the 1812 overture.
The RCA SACD Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition (82876-61394-2) made me spend time with music I'd enjoyed but definitely never revered like other classical compositions. I played the disc over and over again, enjoying the dynamic sound and the power of Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I'm not much of a repeat listener, I have to admit. I suppose many reviewers listen to a piece of music or even a phrase of music over and over again, I don't. I listened to this SACD at least 6 times that I recall! Remember, the time spent with that disc was while I also listened to LPs and other CDs for my own enjoyment, not for this review! If you are a power orchestra fiend, get this recording, you'll enjoy it tremendously. And, while you're at it, you may as well listen to the modded Pioneer DV-46AV. But don't do it unless you intend to buy…I think you just might wish to do so.
I had begun my time with the Pioneer loving my Audio Alchemy CD player and while I still consider the Alchemy a damned fine unit, the length of time I spent with the Pioneer proved to me that for the price admission, the Pioneer is a no-brain decision. I have little doubt that some of the high priced units may impress me even more. Perhaps as much as that high-priced unit I'd listened early in the CD era had convinced me that digital wasn't for me.
Fit & Finish
It’s a small and lightweight player, with a fixed power cord, which I really don’t prefer. I’m one of those who believe power cords can make a variety of differences on gear, and prefer to have that option. The other important note I would make here is regarding the transport mechanism. This one has a particularly flimsy feel to me, and makes an audible whining noise when spinning. This repeated itself each time I used it, and was mildly audible from the listening position, certainly in between tracks, and sometimes during quieter passages within some songs. This may not be typical of this unit, but was prevalent on the one I had here.
I found this to be a very smooth and engaging player that allows for some toe tapping listening sessions and handles most recordings with aplomb. Nice extension and serviceable dynamics, with a natural sound that avoided the usual edge associated with digital. The resonance on instrument bodies sounded very lifelike and had the right decay and voices were reproduced very credibly. While the smooth aspect of this player is great on some recordings, it translated into a lack of attack on the leading edge of notes on some others. On the soundtrack of American Beauty as an example, the triangles in the beginning of track 2 lacked some sparkle and the hand drums some snap. Piano notes also seemed a bit rounded off versus the bite I’m used to with my Opus21.
I felt like soundstage width was one of the strengths of this player, it was wide and imaging was good, prevented from being great by a slight lack of soundstage depth versus my reference front end. I found the player to have good detail but lacking the last measure of inner detail that transforms listening into more of a “being there” experience. And I guess that’s the bottom-line for me, this is a nice player that punches above its weight class, but couldn’t go the distance with my reference setup. Dynamics were more polite than the Opus21, and the 3-dimensional picture thrown by the Opus21 was better all around.
That said, it’s easy to see that this would be a reasonably priced reference player in many systems, that adds some versatility not offered by a redbook only cdp. I did not listen to it with SACD, I have no point of reference for SACD performance other than redbook or vinyl, and getting into those comparisons would be a much longer task.
The questions at hand, I believe, are these:
Do I think the player and the modifications are worth $600?
I would think most people would agree that it is and more budget minded hobbyists would find the price/value equation remarkable.
Is it half as good as my Opus?
I don't think it is, particularly given the flimsy build quality.
Do I think it competes with players in the $4K and up range as claimed by the modder?
Not a chance.
- Technically, the claim was “costing in the range of $4000”..not $4K and UP - publisher
Third Reviewer's Impressions
First, I'd like to thank Mike and Art for their excellent observations. Great job, guys.
I listened, as did Mike and Art, to the player in 2-channel stereo only since that is our focus here at Stereomojo. But you should know that it is capable of multichannel, surround output as well. We also did not comment on its video prowess since that is not our bailiwick, either. The player does output video and via HDMI, no less. Our job was to evaluate how it sounded with modifications done by Stereo Dave's, and that we did.
First, though we requested additional information and details about the mods, we were told that those were "secret" and they did not want to disclose their proprietary mods to the world. Fair enough, but most modders do tell you exactly what parts and materials were used in which circuits and usually provide some description of how they think the sound is improved by their efforts. We are not so arrogant as to tell people how to run their businesses, but if I were looking at a purchse, I would want to know what was being done. But that's just me.
The Stereo Dave version of the Pioneer Elite DV46AV does not look any different than the stock model from the outside. No upgraded jacks or terminals on the rear that I noticed. I should say that the stock unit is not a bad player to begin with, but this unit absolutely sounds better than a stock unit. I also compared it to my Oppo DV 970HD. If you spend any time at all on internet audio discussion boards, you know the Oppo’s reputation as an audio player is outstanding. In my opinion, the Stereo Dave’s modded Pioneer bests the stock Oppo 970HD, mainly in the area of soundstage and overall definition. It’s cleaner, to be sure.
I also compared it to a separate DAC, the popular Liteaudio DAC 60 from Danny Richie’s GR Research. Unfortunately, my unit had no mods done by the Head Guru, Mr. Richie - it was a stock unit all the way. Still, the stocker goes for $490 and is only a DAC, not a player, so it won’t play any disks by itself, much less all formats as does the Pioneer. The DAC-60 has a tube output with a 24bit 96kHz DAC D/A chip using Burr-Brown’s famous 24-bit PCM1704. The digital filter is DF1704, VCO for low jitter, optical and coaxial inputs selectable with input and a frequency display on the front panel. Most notably, two 6922EH tubes with sampling frequency display board, optical and coaxial input, Dale resistor, OS-con, etc. The tubes use audio grade components with two R-core power transformers. So, even in its stock form, it is pretty impressive.
How did the modded Pioneer compare? It did some things better than the DAC-60 and others not quite as well. The Pioneer was quieter - less noise and glare than the DAC 60, and the DAC was a bit softer and less focused in the area of fine detail. I thought the Pioneer’s bass was a bit more solid and defined as well. The DAC60 excelled a smidge more in overall fluidity and smoothness, no doubt because of its tube circuitry.
Which would I buy if those were the only two choices? The Stereo Dave’s unit. At $600 its sound equals, bests or comes close to the $500 DAC with the added benefit of actually spinning all manner of silver disks, including SACD which the DAC cannot process since SACD is copy protected and doesn’t output a digital stream. Of course the DAC does not do video, HDMI, or any multichannel at all whereas the Pioneer covers all those bases. It also comes with a remote.
Comparing Dave’s Pioneer to my reference Halcro preamp/DAC ($8,000) was no contest - nor should it be. But let me ask this question for you: was the Halcro 13.333 times better than the Pioneer? If sound is the only criteria, no. And, the Halcro still needs something to spin disks to input a digital signal for it to convert. The Halcro is a full preamp though while the Pioneer is not.
So, bottom line, would I sell the Halcro and buy Dave’s modded DV46AV? Well, no, but it is not a fair question.
So let me get to the real bottom line: Based on what Musikmike and Art said as well as my own experience, would I buy Stereo Dave’s modded Pioneer as a music only universal player for $600? In a heartbeat. In fact, I am planning on asking Stereo Dave if I can keep it.
STEREOMOJO SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATION
The Pioneer DV46AV as modified by Stereo Dave’s Audio Alternative, while not the world’s most robust component in terms of build quality, is a true value at $600. It does compete with more pricey units, but we think this stated claim:
“This modified unit can easilycompete with and soundly beat machines costing thousands more from the Trivista
by Musical Fidelity to the various Meridian CD players costing in the range of $4000”
on its own may be bit far reaching.
If you are looking for a player that can play virtually any type of audio or video disk to a very competent degree of musicality in stereo or multichannel, the Pioneer DV46 AV as modified by Stereo Dave’s Audio Alternative represents an outstanding value at its price.
link to STEREO DAVE’S AUDIO ALTERNATIVE
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