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Positive Feedback ISSUE
SD-6915 universal disc changer
as reviewed by Ed Kobesky
Toshiba's SD-6915 universal disc changer has everything going against it—an el cheapo power supply, potentially noisy video circuitry that can't be switched off, average build quality, and ergonomics so baffling that they could confuse a Citroen owner—yet it's one of the better sounding digital players I've heard in a long time.
First the bad stuff. The disc carousel spins backward during loading, from five to one. This is not only counterintuitive, but it's contrary to the order in which the Toshiba advances discs during play. Since this is a menu-driven player, using it without a TV makes cuing DVD-A discs difficult until you get the hang of it. Here's the drill—you wait for the disc's main menu to appear, press stop, wait a few seconds, then press play again. Unfortunately, there's no mention of this in the awkwardly phrased owner's manual.
In both DVD-A and SACD mode, you must press and hold the play, pause, or stop button on the chintzy remote to activate its function. Often I'd let go of the button just before the feature would engage, causing the player to hiccup. Thankfully, things operated more or less normally during Redbook CD playback, except that I could barely read the tiny LED display on the front panel because (arrrrgh!) you're expected to have a TV connected. Occasionally, a DVD-A will lock up the player. The only fix is to unplug the unit for a few minutes. Firmware upgrades are available from Toshiba, though it's unclear whether they are intended to address this issue. According to the company, the test unit was unaffected.
The only conceivable reason to recommend such an awkward player is because it sounds good. It's better overall than the Pioneer DV-563A. It's also better with Redbook CDs than the Sony SCD-CE775. (Both were recently replaced in their respective lineups with new models, the DV-578A and the SCD-CE595.) In a low to moderately priced system, the Toshiba very nearly matches the sound quality I came to expect from $1000 players less than ten years ago.
While the SD-6915 shines with DVD-A discs, it falters somewhat on SACD. I originally suspected that it might convert DSD data to PCM, as does the Pioneer, but a Toshiba rep told me otherwise. That makes it unique among the lowest-priced universal players. Even so, in my listening tests, SACDs sounded a little blurrier than I've come to expect, with a softness at the frequency extremes that is not consistent with SACD playback at its best.
I used the SD-6915 strictly in two-channel mode, and found its sonic character a tad stiff, but smooth. On Fleetwood Mac's Say You Will (Warner 48394), strings were crisp and well defined, as were the trailing edges of notes—unusual in such a cheap player. The DVD-A remaster of The Who's classic Tommy (Geffen 000210319) sounded clearer and airier than my old LP, and far better than any CD reissue.
The SACD layer of hybrid discs like Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Island 000157036) and The Film Music of Jerry Goldsmith (Telarc 60433) were more lush, dynamic, and analog-like than the CD layers, but didn't quite match my recollection of how they sounded on Sony's SCD-CE775. Of course, the Sony didn't play DVD-As, nor did it render Redbook CDs as convincingly as the Toshiba.
Nickel Creek's This Time (Sugar Hill 3970) is a good test of pacing thanks to Chris Thile's quick-fingered mandolin skills, and the Toshiba demonstrated deft timing on this disc after only a few hours of break-in. The hit-or-miss final bow of the great Ray Charles, Genius Loves Company (Concord 1033), was reproduced with surprising timbral accuracy plus a good deal of richness and warmth. Because the Toshiba was aided and abetted by the PrimaLuna ProLogue Two tube amp, I suspected that all this warmth might be thanks to its quad of KT88s, yet when I switched to the very neutral, solid-state HeadAmp Gilmore Lite headphone amp and my Sennheiser HD580s, much of the richness remained.
Some distracting digital gunk was present at times, mainly on CDs and other non-hi-res discs. During complex passages, I occasionally detected some crackly breakup when listening through headphones, possibly due to the limitations of the Toshiba's modest power supply or the intrusion of the video section. Understandably, complex orchestral passages like those on the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's recent recording of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique (Telarc 80578) could become compressed, with a noticeable thinning of the midbass. Soundstage width and depth weren't always as good as they could be. Given the SD-6915's absurdly low price and its many strengths, all of this was forgivable.
While the Toshiba SD-6915 might insult a very fine audio system, it is perfectly competent with Redbook CDs and an overachiever on hi-res material. Combined with the magical PrimaLuna ProLogue Two integrated amp and Mission's excellent M31 bookshelf speakers ($1345 and $250 respectively—reviews forthcoming), it provided a very pleasant and involving listening experience that left me marveling at how far digital formats have come in a short time. If you're still waiting to try SACD and DVD-A, or you're simply reluctant to ante up for a pricey CD player, the Toshiba is well worth a listen, provided you can adjust to its maddening ergonomic quirks. Ed Kobesky