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Sony 9100ES SACD/CD/DVD player - a Follow-up with the new tubed power supply
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
Hot off the press! ModWright now provides a 5AR4 tube based power supply for their preamp and their CD/SACD players! With the ModWright Sony 9100 still in house from the previous review (with the solid-state power supply box), I begged the brilliant Dan Wright to let me hear the results of his newest tubular labors. After a few days of running in, I can clearly and unequivocally report that the ModWright Sony 9100ES, plus new tube power supply, has reached an exalted level in ultra high value and performance compared to anything I've heard under $15,000! for CD/SACD reproduction.
Loaded with my reference, ultra revealing Kubala-Sosna Emotion interconnects and power cords on the newest ModWright Sony 9100, I experienced break through performance and stunning musicality with Redbook CD and SACD discs. Any electronic veiling/hash remaining with the solid-state power supply vanished with the tube box! Differences between the superb E.A.R. Acute CD player and the tubed ModWright were minimal when played through the Pass preamp. The ModWright Sony 9100ES with Platinum Sig Truth Mod and Tube PS is most certainly a statement product with stunning analog musicality, benchmark definition, extraordinary quiet and depth, unlimited dynamics, and you-are-there imaging. Performance versus price is way off the chart.
In my earlier review of this unit (with the solid state power supply), I loved the imaging and smoothness of the player, but it came up a bit short on textural cues and the layering of nuances. I can report that the textural cues are now superb to extraordinary, while imaging remains rock-solid. The tubed power supply, coupled with the custom clock, are an awesome combination—hard to trump at any price. The tubed power supply is a must own addition to the ModWright modifications, and a truly brilliant stroke on Dan Wright's part. Taken as a whole, the ModWright Sony 9100 is a breakthrough design for maximizing and perfecting digital reproduction.
Here's what you get from ModWright for your hard earned dough.
From the Website:
How much better is the tubed rectified ModWright …30%, maybe more! Trade in your solid-state boxes as fast as you can. Don't even think about saving money by opting for the solid-state box. The ModWright Sony with all-tube mods sounds like a juicy Grado Reference Cartridge combined with the speed and snap of a ZYX Airy 3. Increase the signal to noise ratio 50dBs or so and you get the idea! Just a tad short sonically of the resolution and dynamic slam of the Metronome for $22k [though the ModWright is more involving] and a smidge less musical than the $5600 E.A.R. Acute running straight into the power amps [used through a preamp there is no significant difference]. The ModWright will not leave you wanting in the least. It makes the Benchmark DAC1 sound rather cold by comparison, just as it does every one-box solid-state player I have heard. With the exception of the Acute, all other tubed CD players fail to sound both highly detailed and suave—ike the Mod Wright—or come even close to offering its flexibility. You'll pay more than the ModWright, but actually get less for your money. I saw this in their first ModWright Sony 999 mods, but now ModWright has matured to world-class quality with little increase in cost, though a mondo increase in performance and value.
For $4300 you get a turn-key Sony 9100 box and tubed power supply with a ModWright reinforced Sony transport etc., and latest chip sets. You also get the wonderful custom clock. What a deal! No, it is not an upsampler on CD playback, but I don't hear that much difference any more [maybe none at all] due to the new tubed power supply. CD playback now has more solidity, textural nuance, power, and grainlessness than before. I told you that in many cases upsampling is not the magic bullet …and this is one of them! To these ears SACD performance has reached a new level of musical perfection. Music sounds like music …reach out and touch it …it's down the hall and around the corner …you are there with a living sound. No bleached Technicolor. You can listen for hours without a hint of fatigue. The ModWright is a fully developed and sophisticated machine that touches your heart.
Tube rolling is the sport of audiophile kings! The 5687s are only available from Tungsol, so nothing to be done here. But the 5AR4 in the power supply is a Sovtek so it's fun to try substitutions. I first changed it to a JJ 5AR4—a bit more expensive tube from Sophia than the Sovtek. The sound was much bolder, dynamic, and sledge hammer bright. I could hardly wait to pull it out of the circuit. Next, I inserted an old RCA 5AR4 from the 1970s. The sound was liquid, rich, warm, and somewhat rolled on top. The lack of snap and sparkle was too old fashioned for me …just not realistic or accurate. Back went the Sovtek. The $10,000+ perceived performance value and sonic wonders of the unit returned. I understand the Mullard GZ34 and some of its counterparts are excellent here, but I had none to try. I leave that to you. However, you can live forever with the Sovtek. Perhaps it is possible that the unit was voiced for this tube, though Dan Wright denies it.
I went to Brooks Berdan, LTD in Monrovia and picked up an NOS British made GZ34 to try. Most of the markings were rubbed off so I was not able to attribute the exact origin. I compared it to the Sovtek and it was closer sonically, but still lacked that sparkle and snap when compared to the Russian. Overall, the Sovtek remains the best tube for the unit. Bt the way, Mullard's GZ34s are selling for $200 new, so getting one is not recommended unless you have deep audio-pockets.
I have been reminded by many readers that neutral and detailed, no matter how accurate and organic, is not what they are searching for sonically. Some search for that classically rich sound from their digital players. You can change cables and power cords all day and not get there, but the ModWright will get you there! Just pull the Sovtek from the power supply and replace it with any U.S. made small bottle 5AR4. The player will now mimic that classic liquid sound of days gone by. This is certainly the easiest way to equalize your system. You might just keep an old RCA tube around to colorize those old CDs or tame a bright tweeter. For me, the Sovtek brings me the magic and definition of real acoustic music in a recorded space. I am mightily satisfied.
Just wait until you hear vocals on the ModWright Sony 9100. The delicacy and textural cues are spot on and realistic. Piano, too, is “in the room” dynamic and charming. The bass is more powerful and layered. Digital veiling, that plastic credit card sound, is banished. Center fill is fully focused and soundstaging is broader and deeper. Micro and macro dynamics are improved. Overall definition is near state of the art. Don't let the low cost keep you from using the best cables you can afford, both interconnects and power cords . A Ginko or Townshend support is recommended, too.
What I like best about the new ModWright is the organic gestalt within the images, particularly the human voice. I hear an accuracy and rightness that I thought was the exclusive domain of the mega players with two or three boxes. The tube power supply plus previous mods raise the bar for digital players' way, way high. It focuses all images, it enhances textures, adds to the linearity from top to bottom, and sounds relaxed and most analog. CD performance is near perfect and superb. SACD sound is gorgeous and winning. All this, plus tons of functionality, equals the bargain of the 21st Century! Dan Wright has achieved a minor miracle with this nice sounding stock player from Sony boosting it to very near perfection, and it will, in many systems, best anything you've ever experienced.
None of the zillion Sony features, both audio and video, are disconnected in the 9100's modding. The Sony remote is excellent as well. Only the stereo outputs are treated to the genius of Dan Wright. The other rear channel/sub woofer outputs are stock. The ModWright treatment on the transport does fortify all functions, even the video reproduction. The machine is fast, silent, and flawless to operate. By the way, the stock Sony 9100 is a substantial improvement over the Sony 999's mechanics and stock innards.
Start with a stock Sony 9100ES CD/DVD/SACD Player. Add the Platinum Signature Truth Modifications from ModWright including a mandatory tube power supply. Use the best interconnects and power cords you can afford. Sit and enjoy. CDs sound right as rain. SACDs have a focus and lifelike quality you used to need an LP to achieve. The remote is flexible and fun. The cost all in is $4300 including a new Sony 9100ES unit completely modified from ModWright. The results are stunning. All digital nasties are banished from the kingdom. ModWrights 4th generation digital mods plus the Sony 9100ES are the stuff of audiophile legends and dreams. Dream no more my friends, it's only a FedEx day away from YOUR system. No way this review sample is going back! Robert H. Levi
At the request of a reader, I acquired a Mullard GZ 34 rectifier tube from VTV for $86 excellent used! Don’t ever tell me I don’t listen to my readers. I replaced the Sovtek 5AR4, which was supplied with the unit and which was the best of the other tubes tried in the original review. The Mullard was not as winning as the Sovtek!
The Mullard was richer, a bit duller, and somewhat less focused than the crystal clear and precisely focused Sovtek. If you have a brightly lit system, crisp solid state gear, or cables on the thin quick side of neutral, the Mullard might be the answer. If your system is dead on accurate and neutral and your cables true to life like mine, the Mullard takes the sparkle and snap away and replaces them with beautiful, slightly smeared detail and texture. It is likeable sound, however.
I also heard a reduction in front to back depth with the Mullard. This squishy presentation was, at the end of the day, a bit boring. I like rock solid images in space and the Mullard just did not deliver. I still think the 9100 was voiced around the Sovtek!
Once again, the Sovtek rectifier tube is the winner and tube rolling appears unnecessary with the ModWright, period. By the way, in an earlier review, I tried two replacement 5687’s including a $250 Bendix. The replacement tubes reduced musicality and added a brightness which was not very listenable. The supplied Tungsol 5687s are excellent and all you need. For $4300 all in, you have a turn key near state of the art player you can take home to mother!