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The Raysonic CD-128 Underwood Hifi Level 2+ CD player
A Sonic Ray of Musicality

 

February 2008

 
                  





Like a major league baseball scout, Walter Liederman’s got an eye. Eschewing the sacred cows of the high-end and choosing instead to deal overwhelmingly in great value-for-money lines like Jolida, Modwright and Dodd, Walter has carved out quite a loyal customer following over the years and has his fingers in quite a few bowls, both virtual and actual, ranging from online sales and distribution of sundry electronics to loudspeaker design. Walter carries the Raysonic line as well. Sorry to break your suspense, but that means it’s going to be at least merely good—you don’t stay in business as long as Walter has and have the kind of following he does by selling the merely mediocre - but how good?

Well, before you ho hum about yet another excellent review of an already well-received CD player, allow me to try and wet your whistle a bit further…

Because the standard Raysonic CD128 is something of an established player these days at its price point, Walter decided to send me the player ‘kicked up a notch’ Emeril-style - a few notches actually! In this case though, it was not Emeril tossing the spices around and yelling ‘BAM!!’ but the rather more cerebral (one would hope) Chris Johnson; former head chef at Sonic Frontiers cum Parts ConneXion head honcho. And so, what I in fact received was (drum roll please) The Full Monty; the Underwood Hifi Level-2+ modded Raysonic CD-128. The ‘+’ refers to the 480-dollar-extra addition of the DEXA D clock mod to the already hot-rodded Level-2 animal, which consists of - well… do you really want me to phone DEXA Technologies in Denmark and rehash a reprint of the white paper? Didn’t think so.

Barring that exercise in who-earthly-cares-edness, all you and I need to know is that this little ‘+’ mod apparently attacks jitter where it lives and breeds, thereby “…improve[ing] the midrange naturalness, add[ing] better detail retrieval, mak[ing] soundstaging better and add[ing] even more weight to the bass.” Want more? How ‘bout a testimonial from customer ‘Anders’ in Denmark, where the DEXA clock module is manufactured:

Hi Lars [presumably the DEXA Tech boss]
It is now connected and fully working. This is the best upgrade I have done!!! Fantastic!
Best regards
Anders

Now that’s a review - short and to the point for once. He’s probably not an audiophile.

“Hello- UPS—is anybody home?!! “
The Raysonic CD-128 is built like an Abrams tank; this thing out-masses many amplifiers. It came beautifully packed and arrived in absolutely pristine shape so bully for the Raysonic packaging engineers. With its sleek aluminum shell, gracefully rounded corners, clunky old-world heft, dot matrix looking display, not to mention the turntable-esque machinations involved in loading a disc, this player all but screams “retro-American” ala Marantz, or even retro-Japanese, ala Luxman.

It was an absolute pleasure to use (fondle?) and for once, I didn’t have to go all paranoid about the unit sliding off the front of my equipment rack when I disconnected and reconnected various interconnects and power cables during my listening sessions. Ah the simple joys of heavy components! The solidly hewn remote control is full-function and functioned fully, and flawlessly. Since I didn’t inherit my Grandpa’s records or anyone else’s for that matter, I never bothered to buy a turntable. The Raysonic’s charming and idiosyncratic way of accepting silver discs went some way toward allaying my envy of you who get to fool with VTA and balance and use those cool strobe lights etc. Man - I’d never leave my house!

To load a disc, you first remove the (hefty) circular acrylic cover, revealing a polished aluminum magnetic puck, which clamps the CD in place, and which you in turn remove so you can center the disc on the spindle. You then replace both the puck and the cover and you’re ready to go. It takes only a moment or two, but both performing this meditative ritual prior to each CD change and getting to watch the spinning silver disc through the clear acrylic cover make for a really satisfying return on your effort. Then the light show starts. This player lights up like a Vegas casino - bathing itself and your darkened room in a dim blue glow. It’s not subtle, but I found the effect pleasing and even romantic (those were the nights my girlfriend was over - so don’t get any funny ideas…)

Once you press play, track access is quick and the machine is silent and sure in operation. The markings on the big aluminum control buttons on top of the player are easy to decipher and the buttons themselves are easy to reach and depress with a reassuringly firm action and a solid click. No drama.

The Puck is in Play…

The trouble with these reviews of ‘hot-rodded’ goodies like our heavyweight aluminum subject here is that most of us reviewers never heard the original vanilla versions. Guilty as charged - I never heard a plain-Jane CD-128. So I cannot compare apples to Red Delicious apples.

However, let me start by saying that guys in on-line forums who post things like “I don’t like tubed CD players- what else can you recommend?” can rest assured they are missing something if they dismiss this player (the modded CD-128 anyway), out of hand. Again -I don’t know what the vanilla version sounds like, but it was abundantly clear from the offing that this machine brought its balls in an extra large sack. John Mayer’s Continuum [Aware/Columbia 679019-2] (I played my fave ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room’) shook me with the sheer size of the presentation. Through the Lector the piece sounds big and bassy and all, but via the Raysonic, bass was even weightier, the soundstage expanded slightly and the whole ‘wall of sound’ type thing happened to a larger degree. The electric guitar positively wailed and cut through the mix.

I guess a good descriptor is ‘dramatic.’ The Raysonic’s presentation was more ‘dramatic’ and ‘larger’ than my reference player’s, making for a really visceral experience. So as not to bore you with the blow by blow on recording after recording, I’ll tell you that this weight/heft/drama was for me the sine qua non of the Raysonic’s sound as opposed to some of the other players I’ve had through here. It did not sound like a delicate little tube unit - think Krell KSA 100 or something else big, powerful and a touch warm and you’ll get the idea.

Tonally, the Raysonic was anything but cloying and sugary. Rather, this machine plays things a little more ‘down the middle’ than my reference Lector player, which can be, depending on wires etc. a touch too sweet. The Raysonic was also a touch more insistent in the low to mid treble though not overly so. I certainly wouldn’t call it a bit ‘cool’ like the Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear struck me. If anything, this quality may have added a touch of sparkle to pizzicato and guitar harmonics etc. Oh, there were one or two sopranos on certain discs that ‘got me between the eyes’ a touch more than via my reference player but that may be due to what seemed the slightly more revealing nature of the Raysonic.

The Signal Cable Magic Power Digital Reference and JPS Labs The Digital expanded the already expansive soundstage even further, stretching the violins/violas way outside the left speaker on Haydn’s The Seasons [HMC 901829.30]. I could modify the player’s tone a touch in either direction by playing around with these power cords, though which you might prefer will certainly depend on your tastes and system. In terms of detail the Raysonic was perhaps a bit more detailed than the Lector and certainly can hang with anything I’ve heard in the under 5-6K price range. The modded CD-128 had more macrodynamic punch than the Lector and kick drums and choral pianissimo to forte dynamic builds, such as on the Rutter Requiem [RR-57] I listened to threatened to take the roof off my rental house. In sum and in case I’m not being clear enough, my listening notes read “balls/gravitas/WEIGHT.” Additional comparison/ancillary components in house for a time included an MHDT Paradisea+ DAC (a well-regarded, inexpensive, tubed non-oversampling unit made in China and available on Ebay) and the well-regarded and venerable Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player.

In comparison with the similarly priced Resolution Audio player, I felt the Raysonic staged in a way that was a bit more forward than the slightly relaxed Opus and the sound was a touch more lit up on top as well. And of course, I again noted the Raysonic sounded “weightier.” It lost out a bit on soundstage depth, both to the Opus 21 and the Lector, and in comparison to the best (and pricier) digital I’ve heard.
Interestingly, I had a Foundation Research LC-1 power cord on hand courtesy of an audio buddy of mine, and using this combo power cord/line filter the Raysonic’s presentation seemed to take on a bit more depth in terms of staging and became a bit more defined through the low bass - one of my only remnant criticisms of the player’s otherwise balanced performance.

This same LC-1 did not seem to improve things but merely shift the tone to the warmer side when used with my Lector and did not seem to mate too well with the Opus at all. It was nice to have the Paradisea DAC here, because in addition to being an excellent value-for-money unit, it let the Raysonic strut its stuff as a transport - lending what else - weight and heft to the proceedings when leashed to the Paradisea; which, while doing a host of other things well, seemed to lack just a bit in that very area.

The Blue Light Special
For reasons I have outlined in prior reviews (I think), I am not an ‘Absolute Sound’ kind of guy. Don’t get me wrong - I love the magazine and read it voraciously each month- but its basic tenet seems fatally flawed to me. Which Absolute Sound - the one in my hall or yours? On this CD or that one? What’d it sound like originally when you were at the recording session and you heard it then? Oh, you were sick that day? Pity - it was great. In any case, I wasn’t alive when half my CDs were recorded, much less present at the sessions, so I have no idea how things are ‘supposed’ to sound - - nor do you. I am therefore left not with absolutes of any ilk - but with comparisons and conjectures of all ilks.

In comparison to many of the CD players I have heard, the Raysonic CD-128 Underwood Hifi Level 2+ modded player was exceedingly well-built and easy to interact with, played music in a vivacious and most saliently weighty fashion, and exhibited excellent detail retrieval. It separated instruments somewhat better than my reference player, though ultimately I felt was not quite as tonally colorful as the Lector, nor quite as warm (Good or bad? You decide!) and there was perhaps some added energy in the low to mid treble region comparatively to boot. It staged in a more forward fashion and certainly sounded more ‘exciting’ than you might expect of a tubed player and more over, made for an excellent transport, adding just enough of its own positive qualities to the DAC I had in house to make itself the preferred vehicle for such duties.

I couldn’t tell you what the original un-modded CD-128 sounds like, but if you enjoy your tone relatively medium on the scale of rare to well-done, might add a USB-capable DAC or some such thing in the future and especially if you listen to rock or full-power symphonic stuff frequently, you will certainly appreciate Walter and Chris’s spiciest Raysonic meatball. Seems like it’s built solid enough to last forever, too - or at least until your teenage daughter gets ‘round to showing you how your iPhone can become your new ‘Reference Player.’ Mark my words - it’s comin’.

I bid you peace.

                                     ####


Contact Information
Underwood HiFi
Phone #: 770-667-5633
http://www.underwoodhifi.com
N.B.: same one year factory warranty as a stock player applies


Price: $2200.00 incl. mod

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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