No doubt the DP400 is a fine looking unit. But how does it compare to the Mark Levinson no.390s?
For some reason, I never tried Accuphase in my setup. For some reason I never figured that this brand would suit my taste: too neutral, too lean, too analytical, dry perhaps. In short: I feared that it lacked musicality. Or at least this is what I gathered from reading many reviews. When a friend bought a DP400 I figured it was about time I heard it for myself and so I jumped on the chance of reviewing it in my system. As it turns out, most of these fears can be laid to rest.
Retail price 5500 euro
When I reviewed it in my setup, the DP400 had already been in use for a few months so running in will probably not be a factor anymore. Nevertheless, it turned out that the player does need a good warmup after it has been off the juice even for an hour or so. The picture above was only for warming up, the Accuphase wasn’t actually listened to like this.
I should say upfront that I heard this very same player in the owner’s setup too, before starting on this review. In his setup already a few of my preconceptions proved to be misplaced. Yes, my instincts can be off, too! This friend’s setup is very different from mine. He has Jadis pre-power amplification and Sonus Faber Amator speakers. Indeed nonthing like my own setup. But I know his system well and have heard many components there, including some of my own. First thing I noticed was that the treble is very smooth. Much, much, much better that I had feared. From what I heard, it sounded like it could be on par with my Levinson 390S, and that player is ever so super-smooth. Second, the Accuphase didn’t sound hurried. In fact it was even slightly relaxed, although it was clearly fast and dynamic. Still, with no other player to compare it too, I couldn’t make definitive conclusions.
Back to the review in my setup. We connected up the DP400 and went to get some food. When we came back, and listening began, the player had been powered up for more than an hour, maybe an hour and a half. I was using my preferred Transparent Ultra XLR interlinks and a Lapp powercable.
Right after the first notes it was again clear that this is a smooth performer. There’s just no harshness here. I am used to a sound like that but certainly didn’t expect it from an Accuphase!
After a few minutes though, we started feeling like the Accuphase was too laid back, too restrained, and dynamically limited. That was strange because in the owner’s setup, the DP400 had proven very dynamic. Much more so than his previous Meridian 506.20. But right now, the Accuphase sounded like it was, in fact, a Meridian! That wasn’t good. Unsatisfied we swapped back to the Levinson and were shocked at how much better it sounded. Not only was the 390S much fuller, more colourful and smoother, it also had a much broader soundstage with better layering front to back as well as side to side and finally it was also more dynamic. We scratched our heads in unbelief. Was the Accuphase really this mediocre? Couldn’t be. Then I realised that something must be askew and remembered how bad my Sony components had performed using Transparent cables. Indeed, the Transparent cables’ network boxes can be difficult to drive for some components. The Levinson has no problem with it, nor do many of my components, but use a component with an insufficiently low-impedance output stage and the Transparent starts to sound, well, not very transparent at all. So, out went the Transparent and in came a Cardas Quadlink. What. A. Difference. Back was the jumpy, enthusiastic and lively player that we had heard in the owner’s setup. It was still smooth, never aggressive, but now it also had punch. But we still wanted more. So out went the Lapp (this powercable, too, can smother the sound if it is ill-matched) and in came a Belden. Much better still.
Of course we listened to the Accuphase under the best circumstances, so it had its own position on top of the Spider rack, on Ceraballs.
Connected with the appropriate (open sounding) interlinks and powered via an open sounding powercable, the Accuphase now started to show its real colours. It is a lively, articulate player with very good focus and low level detailing. This detail and openness isn’t achieved at the expense of a clinical character however. What’s more, its treble is very well behaved: smooth yet articulate. The midrange is dynamic and open but ever so slightly forward. There is a subtle peak in the upper midrange that makes for a nice and punchy sound. It is now, however, harsh, bright or aggressive, not at all. If it was, I would take note because I really can’t stand aggressive-sounding audio equipment. Then we arrive at the bass. This is somewhat of a contradiction. It is at once deep, full, tight and articulate. It is both full and lean. At the same time! How can this be? It is difficult to describe but I think that the Accupahases’s bass is, much like the rest of its aspects, very neutral. When there’s good bass on the cd, the Accuphase will portray it in all its glory. When there’s no bass on the cd, it will not artificially thicken it and as a result the bass can sound thin. But trust me: I’ve heard this player make very prodigious, deep and meaty bass sounds.
The DP400 surely is no threadbare, analytical player. Therein lies the surprise: this player is honest to boot. But it will also never punish you for buying less than perfect cd’s.
The one aspect that I found less convincing was its soundstage. I may well have been spoiled here with the DCS, Wadia and Levinson but the Accuphase sounded a little flat in all directions. It wasn’t very wide, nor very deep. The room also didn’t fill with spacious sound like I am used to. We made some other changes to the setup, such as move to a different input on the preamp and plug the powercable in closer to the cable entry and what this did was to make the player sound more forward. The sound came closer. But it didn’t become deeper or wider. It was more like the 2D image was just projected closer to the listener.
Above: the drawer moves slowly but very smoothly and is solid and whisper-quiet in operation.
Comparing to the Levinson 390s
After we had heard the Accuphase at its best, we swapped back to the Levinson once more. To make the comparison more honest, I kept using the Cardas Quadlink and the other input on the preamp so as to compare both players on equal grounds. From the first notes the Levinson played it was now confirmed that it had a much more expansive soundstage. It was wider, deeper and filled the room more. The Levinson was also quite a bit warmer and even fuller in the bass. But the Accuphase could be said to be more accurate where the Levinson’s bass could be said to be slightly fat. But what can I say, I like ’em a bit fat. Through the midrange was the other big difference: where the Accuphase was accurate, dynamic and slightly forward, the Levinson was very smooth, very colourful, rich and laidback. The treble is somewhat similar between the two players.
Both CD players are smooth but the Levinson is perhaps a little more refined. But the difference here is very small indeed. And that’s high praise! Even compared to the Accuphase, the Levinson can’t be said to be slow or undynamic but provides has a very different, more relaxed and full colour presentation. What we have here are clearly two highend players with distinctly different characters but I like them both and the choice between the two comes down to taste. Where I would rate the Levinson better for smooth listening, the Accuphase would be better suited to dynamic music. People who like their music to be exciting and to really grab them, will probably not like the Levinson and find it too relaxed. The strange thing was that the Levinson not only proved quite unphased by what brand of interlink is used, the same goes for the powercable. You can hear the differences but they are much smaller and the resulting sound is just always good. You can hear that the Cardas is not a Transparent, but it doesn’t entirely transform the player. The Accuphase on the other hand needs to be carefully optimised before it sounds balanced. But that’s fine. Us audiophiles wouldn’t want it otherwise, would we?