APL Hi-Fi Philips SACD1000
CES 2004 was a warm and
fuzzy event for HDTV aficionados. After years of
roadblocks, delays, stops and starts the transition
from analog NTSC to digital HDTV finally seems to be
on track. Cable systems have now been rebuilt and in
most parts of the country have more than a modest
smattering of HD content to choose from. On April 1st
the FCC ratified Plug and Play Agreement between cable
and the consumer electronics manufacturers will be in
full flower; your cable company will have to supply on
demand, a firewire ported STB allowing full resolution
recording of HDTV content to D-VHS videotape. Cable is
now effectively competing with satellite providers in
the HDTV realm and a wealth of new content has arrived
or will be coming soon.
The picture for high resolution audio (HiRez) is a bit
more murky. Despite the Home Theater phenomenon, Home
Audio stands out as the single negative growth sector
in all of consumer electronics. After years of
bemoaning the shortcomings of redbook CD, the High End
Audio press seems to be lukewarm to the competing
DVD-A and SACD formats. The RIAA seems much more
interested in prosecuting downloaders of low-fi MP3
than promoting HiRez. While audiophile labels are
embracing HiRez one still cannot count on any new
release from the majors to be made available in either
of the new formats. Even as Universal players are now
at last becoming ubiquitous and inexpensive, few are
targeted for quality at a reasonable price point.
There seemed to almost be a backlash of sorts in the
audiophile targeted rooms of the St Tropez and Alexis
Park, where SACD capable players predominated, but for
most utilizing only redbook recordings.
Granted, demonstrating the superiority of audio
formats is a much more subtle piece of business than
for video. Show consumers a live football game or even
a movie in NTSC vs. HDTV on a reasonably decent
monitor and they are not hard-pressed to see the vast
advantage HD presents. It is of course much different
for audio where a system must be up to task to fully
take advantage of the vastly higher density of
information contained on a 96/24 or SACD disc.
One such room at the St Tropez heralded the return of
the highly regarded ESP Loudspeaker. Rave reviews of
the room have been posted at many a website including
ours. The source component utilized was a rather
nondescript long discontinued Phillips SACD 1000,
modified by one Alexander Peychev of APL HiFi. A small
sign in black marker perched atop the player declared
it to be playing only redbook CD. But the sound
itself: Momma Mia it was so smooth and warm and
detailed. How good was that sound? Well, our fine
editor set up camp, shut down the lights, and held
sway on the remote controls for over an hour while an
angry mob gathered outside the door demanding to get
in and find out just what the fuss was all about.
The Phillips SACD 1000 has earned a certain notoriety
unmatched by any other source component of recent
memory. Overbuilt to the nines it was considered a
steal of sorts when it first released at a list price
of ~ $2K a few years ago. It was after all the first
multichannel SACD player and incorporated virtually
all of the high end componentry of the Marantz SA-14.
Marantz themselves also issued the SA-12S1 which
differed only in its cosmetics, listing at a cool
$3800. The SACD1000 earned superlative reviews (check
out the archives at hifichoice.co.uk, audioholic.com,
and stereophile.com) for its staggeringly low jitter
measurements and warm musical sound that many
preferred to the first generation of high-end Sonys.
Unfortunately, the failure rate of the Phillips was
also remarkably high and most disturbingly Phillips
could not seem to figure out how to fix them. As the
grumbling mounted and Phillips attempted to mollify
customers by offering free replacements with its much
more cheaply made second generation models, the player
was quietly discontinued and ultimately remaining
stocks were sold off in a Tweeters firesale for ~ $399
bucks last year.
Finally, through the well documented efforts of a
heretofore unknown modder named Alex Peychev and a
renegade Phillips engineer in Tampa named Jim Luckas,
the root of the problems was finally determined to be
failing Fuore and Mace chips which were corrupting the
data and rendering the players useless. Once the
problems were finally identified in late 2003,
Phillips was slow to manufacture and release the new
chipsets necessary for the repair.
Despite the increasingly precious nature of working
SACD1000s, Peychev for several months listed the
SACD1000 as his only platform for source modification.
Why the SACD1000 you ask? According to Alex this unit
has a number of characteristics that when combined as
a whole makes it an ideal platform for modification.
First, the SACD1000 used a superior transport. This
transport is also the basis of the highly regarded
Krell SACD Standard and other high end models. The
SACD1000 also utilizes a hefty DSP RAM buffer for both
redbook and SACD audio which results in vanishingly
low jitter. Finally, the SACD1000 used the very highly
regarded Crystal 4397 DAC for its D-A stage, one per
channel. This SACD and 192/24 capable DAC has also
been used to great acclaim by Perpetual Technologies
and is the heart of the $12K Classe Omega SACD player.
But the best attribute of the SACD1000 from both a
modderís and a customerís perspective is the cost.
Especially at its blowout price of $399 bucks, but
even at current second hand market prices of more than
twice that the SACD1000 is a genuine steal. And who
gives a hoot about the warranty when it is already
well known that Alex is probably one of only two or
three individuals in all of North America who knows
how to trouble shoot and fix the bugger, which he will
do for free if it is one of his modded units.
So whaada get for the $1850 cost of modification?
Alexís website (aplhifi.com) describes upgrades to the
power supply, point to point silver wiring, power
supply upgrades, transformer upgrades, and a
superclock. Most impressive is the transformer coupled
single ended triode class A tube stage that Alex has
adapted from the hybrid solid state-tube preamps and
amplifiers he has built. He uses a ďSuper Linear
6H30pi Super Triode Dual TriodeĒ which is described as
the bleeding edge of the vacuum tube industry. He also
adds two more Crystal 4397 DACs to the mix, thus four
DACs per channel (Did I forget to mention that this
mod is aimed squarely at state of the art two channel?
If you still want multichannel Alex can accommodate
Mod-shmod; how does it sound? Simply heavenly! With
SACDs and 96/24 DADs like those from Classic Records
and AIX Records, the modded SACD1000 delivers a sound
that delivers a visceral pleasure that may be illegal
in some Southern States. Really, I kid you not that
the experience of listening to HiRez recordings on
this box is an absolutely transformative experience.
But even on redbook CD the sound is completely devoid
of the nasties we usually associate with digital.
Warm, detailed, fleshy bass, and yet laid back and
relaxed in an uncanny manner.
Others have favorably compared it to the $9K plus
Goldmund and other megabuck SACD players, including
modified versions of the venerable Sony SCD-1. I
havenít heard all of those but I have spent a good
deal of time with Ed Meitnerís DAC 6. Ironically
enough, a modified Phillips SACD1000 is also used in
that system as well, but only as a transport. To the
SACD1000 Meitner adds a digital output board using
dual ST glass links which allow the clock in the DAC 6
to act as master and the transport as slave (Am I the
only one who gets excited at these S&M references?)
Many regard Meitner as absolutely the state of the
art, and most SACD recordings were actually mastered
using Edís equipment. One highly respected reviewer
has proclaimed the Meitner to be the best DAC
available for redbook CD, besting both the dCS Elgar
and Linn CD-12. Who am I to disagree? I had the Elgar
and Purcell and yes the Meitner runs rings around
them. The Meitner makes everything you feed it sound
incredibly good, even PCM converted Dolby Digital
movie soundtracks and satellite delivered FM. A
favorite source of new jazz to my ears comes from the
syndicated programming provided by the legendary
former KJAZ record spinner Bob Parlocha. The Meitner
simply puts the best possible spin on even digitally
compressed sources and transforms them into music. The
better the source the better the experience of course.
One advantage possessed by the APL SACD1000 is the
fact that 96/24 DADs can be played as well as SACDs.
The ability to do so as well was lost in the process
of transforming the SACD1000 into a Meitner transport.
You will need a separate DVD player with a 96/24
digital output to play your DADs if you are using the
Side by side the APL SACD 1000 gives up very little to
the Meitner, especially as one ascends the food chain
into hi-rez realms. Listening to DADs and SACDs is
every bit as magical as when using the Meitner. The
Meitner is more dynamic; the APL SACD1000 is warmer.
Both are detailed in spades and deliver the goods in a
manner that will finally have the honest vinyl lover
admitting in his heart of hearts that maybe it will be
all okay after all. Unfortunately, the APL SACD1000
has no digital input board, at least not yet.
Upsampling of redbook to 192/24 may be in the works,
however. Knowing just how obsessed Alex is with
producing the very best sound possible at any cost, it
is truly remarkable to me that he has accomplished his
goal of equaling the musical satisfaction produced by
the Meitner at a mere fraction of the cost (A Meitner
mod to an SACD1000 is >$1K and the DAC6 costs ~ $10K.
Using the soon to be released Meitner Transport will
make for a much more expensive proposition.).
The audio quality of the APL SACD1000 ranks right up
there with the very best digital source components. At
its price of $1850 for the mod (you supply the stock
unit) it is an incredible high end bargain. But there
is a catch: SACD1000s are now very hard to come by!
Even the Meitner folks have seen their DAC6 sales
suffer from the shortage of SACD1000s, as it is the
only rig they modify for transport. Used SACD1000s
have an exceedingly short half-life on Audiogon and
prices on the second hand market have now more than
doubled than last yearís Tweeters blow out. If you
just have to have one then contact Alex via the
www.aplhifi.com website and he can help you search.
Must be hard to build a business on the basis of
modifying an extremely scarce and discontinued model.
For those of you still intrigued but without the cash
or patience to hunt down a stock SACD1000, Alex does
provide an alternative. For a mere $695 Alex can
provide you with a modified Pioneer DV-563A-s
Universal player containing many of the goodies found
in the modded SACD1000. Despite its sub $200 price and
diminutive size the Pioneer actually contains both a
quality transport and reasonably good DSP RAM buffer.
No Crystal 4397s and no tube output stage, but on the
other hand your $695 does include both the mod and the
player itself. Weíll give it a listen and report back
So how much better is HiRez than redbook? Again, a
visual analogy is instructive. Think of redbook CD as
akin to DVD video. In this analogy HiRez would be
HDTV- a format that is ~ 4-6 times more data intensive
for any given content than DVD. The proof is in the
pudding and easy for all to see. Audio is a more
subtle realm, but given a source equal to the task
like the Meitner or APL SACD1000 and a capable
playback system there can be no doubts left that we
are entering into an era of home music reproduction
that will finally match the hype we readers of the
audiophile press have been striving for all these
Second that Emotion:
Hey, Todd Mitchellís review of Alex
Paychevís modded unit is actually a modest one. The
story I experienced by virtue of this super Audio CD
player has been nothing short of revelatory. You all
know when I reviewed the Electrocompaniet EMC1 I felt
its upsampling capabilities exceeded, if not equaled,
that of the best SACD material the Sony SCD1 could
muster. This proved depressing and changed my feelings
for SACD from that day forward. Unit now.
The modded Philips unit is, shall a say, SACD sound on
steroids. It so betters the Sony SCD1 that I would
venture to say DONíT go out and buy anything that a
first of its kind. And if you do be prepared to find
that in time it will be superceded by something vastly
more superior at less than half the price. The
Philips, modded of course, is living proof of this
fact in my humble estimation.
Without going too steep into comparisons I would state
that this Philips player, which by the way, does not
output 16/44 via SPDIF, therefore precludes its use a
transport, will on some SACDís sound unlike anything
Iíve heard before analogue or digital via the Electro
or even the mightily impressive Gryphon Mikado. The
John Pizzarelli Live at Birdland disc [Telerc
2SACD-63577] is possibly the best illustration of this
claim. When ran through ancillary equipment such as
the George Mark Audio dac/preamp, and the wonderfully
musical deHavilland 845-G tube amp, I got to tell you
that it is quite as exciting if not more so than my
big rig upstairs with tons of tweaks and assorted room
taming devices. Thatís how good SACD can sound when
properly realized via the properly recorded material.
Donít Shoot the Messenger
There is a down side to this wonderful player but you
really canít blame it. Any SACD from lets say Sonyís
vast vault of reissues of Miles Davis are at best
disappointing. So much so, that when going from
something like the John Pizzarelli to the Miles is
like going from HDTV to VHS. And thatís no
exaggeration. The noise and bite comes back instantly
when I attempted to listen to Miles blow through his
muted Harmon. I had to double check, no make that
triple check, the settings on the Philips to be sure I
wasnít back to 16/44 Redbook. Then I remembered that
Sony doesnít even offer hybrid discs
that I am aware of to date. What a ripoff.
So then, what one gets in a player of this magnitude
is a very good to excellent DVD Player, that gets to
be even better at Red Book 16/44 CDís. But once
engaged to SACD programming via excellently recorded
material, be prepared to hear something that may very
well challenge much more expensive
and highly touted DSD combos.
One thing I am certain after listening to this
remarkable machine is its only real competition is SACD's
varied recording process.
Finally I understand what all the fuss is
about. Alex Paychev has a dandy of
a player in his modified player. If you can find one
you owe it to yourself to purchase it and send it
directly to Alex for this extensive mod. To think of
its sonic potential at less than $2500 makes it a
APL Hi-Fi Philips SACD1000 Modification
Converts player to a two channel CD/SACD/DVD
Multichannel preservation modification is
Will decode 96/24 DADs but not MLP
Cost (of modification): $1850