Sony XA-5400ES with Ultimate Truth Mod
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
Dan Wright, President of ModWright Instrument, throws down the gauntlet with his Ultimate Truth Mod of Sony's latest and certainly greatest effort at producing a true high-end SACD/CD player for the masses. Including HDMI output of uncompressed DSD and PCM, this robustly featured Sony player sounds above average before ModWright administers its mighty mods. Afterwards, you will enjoy CD and SACD at a level of perfection unimaginable as recently as just one month ago!
For one month ago, I spent the afternoon with the Ayre DX-5 Universal Player, about $11,000, in my main reference system and reveled in extraordinary CD and SACD sound. Now ModWright has created a music machine that is musically superior to the DX-5, in every way I know how to quantify, from a performance perspective in CD and SACD reproduction for $3500, turnkey. Sold direct, you get real reference sound for the deal of the century, any century. If you already own the 5400, send it to ModWright for a mere $2000 and live the dream.
ModWright's newest and most extensive Ultimate Truth Mod to date tweaks and modifies every analog circuit in the Sony! ModWright uses OTL/triode vacuum tube technology with a remote tube power supply which has proven hugely successful for delivering analog sound from digital sources.
ModWright's triumphant mod even includes replacing the Sony clock with the Superclock 4 from Audiocom, greatly enhancing the filtering to make jitter a term to be forgotten. The smoothness and resulting sophistication manifested by this player has to be heard to be believed. Just put on your favorite Telarc SACD, put up your feet, and enjoy the performance.
I'm not going to go into the entire mod. Just go to this site and read all about it: http://modwright.com/modifications/15 . The mod includes a high quality cable linking the PS 9.0 Power Supply with the transport. You will enjoy the unit, but not achieve the transformative blockbuster sound I enjoyed. I tried a purple colored cable as power supply link from a previous ModWright Mod of the Sony 999 and was blown sideways. I recommend you seek this one out for the very best sound. This review is based on the performance of the ModWright Sony 5400 with this older purple cable.
The ModWright Sony 5400 was attached to the E.A.R. 912 Preamp via the extraordinary $6000 per meter Kubala-Sosna Elation Balanced Interconnect, their top cable design to date. I used this extravagant interconnect because I wanted to hear and review the player, not the cables! The K-S is neutral and alive sounding to the max, leaving sonic fingerprints so faint Sherlock Holmes would not hear them! With XLR outputs available for the first time in years from a Sony, I happily utilized them. The RCA outputs sound about the same, but the XLR outputs are a bit quieter with more apparent depth. Use them if you are able.
I used the superb Harmonic Technology Magic 2 Power Cable with on board computer filtering on the transport. Furutech power supply cable was used on the PS 9.0. I tried tube rolling the two 6SN7s and GZ34, but my house tubes did not improve on the supplied Russian Made Tungsols and Sovtek rectifier. I may have heard a bit of improvement with the GE 6SN7s at a friend's house, but you are certainly free to experiment. They are placed right on top of the transport and swapping is easy. The 6SN7 has been around since 1942 and is in big supply NOS and new. The stock tubes were used for this review.
The Sony stock player is rich with features for playing SACD, CD, and CDR with 2.0 and 5.1 [and everything else] available on HDMI. It weighs 20 pounds before modding and is easy to read from across the room. What a joy to use versus about all other high-end mega players loaded with unnecessary features. It even has a switch that selects two channel or multi-channel operation, very assuring and unique. No menu to fuss with. I left the switch in the two channel position the entire time and extinguished the display when playing discs. The unit had 200 hours of play time split evenly between SACD and CD before critical listening.
My first reference disc is almost always Copland from Reference Recordings, RR93CD, conducted by Eiji Oue. The Sony does not decode HDCD, but so what. This blockbuster explosion of musical prowess had a vitality and delicacy that was omnipotent! I heard definition in the bass all the way through the top end I have rarely heard on the finest DCS stacks at twenty times the cost. The top end presentation is ethereal, a true beauty. Violins layered with smooth shimmering honey. Trumpet blasts were near perfect. I was extremely impressed and surprised. This is the reference disc to end all reference discs. Own it.
Next up, the Telarc Firebird on DSD from the original SoundStream Recording, SACD Hybrid 60039, conducted by the legendary Robert Shaw. This is a must own disc, period. It has never sounded quite like this. I was flabbergasted at the dynamics, lack of strain, voluptuous mids, and tumbrel perfection. Plus, what depth! This was a recording from the 70's that had a sense of newness I did not anticipate. On the “Polovtsian Dances” with chorus, it was obvious the chorus was above and behind the orchestra. This chorus was not miked… its sound merely mating with the orchestra's three mics out front. What a beauty. The CD layer is almost as good, but the SACD layer is outstanding.
New from Japan via Sweden comes the original I'm Old Fashioned with Margareta Bengston, Spice of Life label, CD-61020. Imported by Eastwind Import, the beauty of her voice is sheer pleasure. The jazz players and small orchestra are room filling. The CD sound is magical. I love her top register and the ModWright gets it just right. The micro dynamics and smoothness of the player will touch your heart and soul. This is the CD player to own and re-listen to your collection, old and new. This wonderful vocal disc is a must own, too.
Also imported from Japan by Eastwind Import is the 88's Count Basie Orchestra tribute disc with members of the original big band present. The disc is 88's VRCL 18833 SACD Hybrid. Basie is Back is the perfect description of exactly what it sounds like. Newly recorded, it will melt your tweeters and explode your midrange and bass drivers with close-up real time vitality. WOW! Recorded live, it will rock your world and recreate the big band feel right in your listening room. I listened carefully to the ModWright to see if it did anything wrong or even poorly. Nada. The truthfulness of the presentation, imaging of the instruments, and textural elements were without fault. Bravo ModWright!
I also enjoyed Telarc's voluptuous Howard Hanson disc featuring the Romantic Symphony, Telarc SACD Hybrid 60648. This is violin crack on the ModWright. Eric Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops never played more suavely. The orchestra was elegant and layered with candied overtones. The slight dullness of the sound was exactly right because that's what live sounds like. If there was digital distortion, I did not hear it. What a heavenly and entertaining recording, especially after the rockin' Basie disc. A must own before Telarc vanishes altogether.
Give the ModWright plenty of break-in time, 200-300 hours of music on repeat. You need two top notch power cords for this version. Use your best one on the transport. Don't skimp on interconnects. Check out my recommended list of great interconnects on one of my recent cable reviews. The ModWright transport sounds best on Marigo Mystery feet, Townshend Seismic Sinks, or a Ginko shelf. Put a good cushion of sorbothane or the like under the power supply, too. At $35,000 I might find some serious quibbles. At $3500, forget about it. Don't wait too long to get this done. Sony may discontinue the stock player and ModWright may get tired of doing these. You have been warned.
There are numerous other features connected with the HDMI and video outputs someone else can explore. When you get one, feel free to experiment. The player looks future proof to me. If you have been waiting for a SACD player to buy, your ship just came in!
The ModWright Sony XA-5400ES With Ultimate Truth Mod is the third ModWright Sony machine I have reviewed and the fourth I've heard. It is the culmination of all the science and technology Dan Wright knows plus the best player Sony has ever produced in stock version. I have gotten to know Dan and he has musical taste levels that remind me of my long departed friend Sol Marantz. He taught me that taste is as important as technology and I am reminded of that every time I play a disc on the ModWright 5400. This is ModWright's best work ever. This is an important watershed SACD/CD player that conveys the musical event like no other anywhere near its ridiculously low price. Involving, top to bottom clarity combined with utterly relaxed smoothness and reference quality definition make for a must own player. No other mod I've heard by any other manufacturer trumps this. The ModWright Sony XA-5400ES With Ultimate Truth Mod receives my highest recommendation. A winner! End of Story! Robert H. Levi
Sold Only Direct: $3500 including Sony player…$2000 with owner's player.