OK, here's another "opinion". I just took delivery on Dan's Ultimate Truth Mod XA-5400ES about a week ago. Though it's been left on spinning discs 24/7 since it arrived, actual play time with music flowing out of my speakers is maybe 40 hours.
First, a little background info; I've been a 'phile for more than 25 years, have worked with a local "hi-end" audio dealer/friend for several years and have heard my fair share of good and bad equipment. Much of the bad stuff had been praised and "recommended" by some audio rag. This January will be my eleventh trip to CES with my dealer friend and believe me, I hear plenty of bad sound there as well. So...., when I hear good sound, or in the case of Dan's XA-5400, great sound(I'm getting ahead of myself), it's a real treat!
A few components in my current rig(no changes anticipated) include Atma-Sphere MP-1 Mk3 pre w/phono and their MA-1 Mk3 monos, both with all upgrades. I'm basically a vinyl kinda guy and love my Galibier Gavia table, current Tri-Planar and Dyna XV-1s cartridge. I could go on but you get the gist; I own decent equipment.
While my last one box player wasn't all that expensive, approx. half the modified Sony, it did provide many enjoyable late night listening sessions over the past year or so. Though it had obvious flaws, it sounded way better than it should have for it's price and was fairly easy on the ears.
Prior to my current player(soon to make an appearance on the 'Gon), I had gone about two years without digital(remember, I'm a vinyl kinda guy). I had pretty much given up on digital after a stint with an APL Denon 3910. It had all the latest updates, including the AKM dacs, but it never offered up the magic I'm already getting from the Modwright. I don't mean to disparage Alex's work(I spent a lot of time in his room listening at CES two years in a row and he's a super nice guy) and I suspect his new products are better sonically, but at what price? Why spend $15, $20 or even $30K to play cd's? Especially when, you can have a Modwright for around $3300 that is far and away, the best player I've heard. EMM's and others may offer up a smidgen more detail, though I wouldn't bet on that, but they all sound so dry and sterile. Why do you think people spend so much money on interconnects trying to tame their digital sources?
So, on to the Modwright Sony; fresh out of the box, stone cold, I knew I'd made a good decision. Tonally, it was very smooth with a nice balance of warmth and high resolution. Right from the get go, the music had more weight and power than what I'd been used to. OK, nothing's even warmed up yet so take a break, let the Sony and the rest of my system cook for an hour or so then come back for a more serious, early evaluation.
When I returned and started listening(Redbook initially), my first thought was, the sound is much more refined than previous digital gear I've owned or heard. Everything seemed more coherent and balanced. No more edginess to the music, more like what I get from vinyl. That first listen began at 11:00pm and ended at 5:00am. Back and forth between Redbook and SACD, into the wee hours, everything sounded wonderful.
This morning, a week later, with the Modwright/Sony far from being fully broken in, I listened for about three hours before trudging off to work. My, how things have improved in such a short period of time! You'd never guess the player is still relatively new and already sounding so wonderful(there's that word again). Big, open, spacious soundstage. Exceptional layering front to back with palpable images(I mean performers) in their place. Great extension in both directions with lots of air on top and believable power and weight in the bottom. I should note, my speaker system is good from 18Hz-20Khz so I know bass when I hear it. Though a tubed player, the noise floor is extremely low, solid state like, so the music emerges from a black background offering up little nuances and spacial cues that again make things sound oh so believable.
The usual audiophile terms and phrases used by the typical reviewer don't adequately describe what, to my ears, the Modwright player offers up. It's so enjoyable and believable, you just forget about the time and keep playing one disc after the other.
The very first disc I played this morning was a well recorded redbook cd of Ella & Louis. If a player can't do vocals, piano too for that matter, then nothing else is gonna matter. All I can say is, Ella's voice never sounded lovelier. It just floated, with a presence that was uncanny. When Louis came in with his gravelly voice, the pair seemed to be right there in the room with me. As he picked up his horn and started playing, everything sounded right. The leading edge/transients were spot on. It sounded so much like the real thing.
Well, I could go on but I think I'm starting to gush and by now you probably already have a pretty good idea of how I feel about Dan's player. Besides, I have an early morning tee time and I need my sleep.
Oh yah, one last thing, I have a nice stash of about 60 NOS 6SN7s so after I get a couple hundred hours on this thing, I'm losing the Russian tubes. That rectifier's gonna get rolled as well with either an old Mullard or Philips. As good as it already sounds, NOS should take it up a notch or two. Can't wait!