JVC XLZ-441 CD-player
Hallelujah! A CD player that isn't black. The XLZ-441 shows a little more styling finesse than usual for a budget level product from the ultra conservative House of Japan (Hi-fi) Inc, though when the thin disc tray rolls out of its central location, it is difficult to avoid thinking of a giant tongue preying on innocent CDs.
The XLZ-441 has quite good ergonomics apart from insufficient contrast on the panel graphics, and only a moderate surfeit of controls. The list includes a system to find the highest peak level on a disc (approximately, since it uses a sampling process, and peaks can fall between samples) within a couple of minutes as an aid when dubbing tapes. An optical digital output is fitted.
Technology is based on JVC's PEM converter, which is a proprietary one-bit technique - or, more correctly, low bit. The facia is adorned by a tasteless circular level meter. It worked faultlessly on test, but the transport was noisy during play.
Plugged in and fired up, the JVC turned out to be less than a whole hearted success. It appeared to have a slightly shelved up mid treble, which was sufficient to render the sound occasionally tonally thin and colored. The bass was on the weak side too, which merely reinforced the impression. A good example of these shortcomings was provided by a track from the AR album featuring electric bass. BASSically Speaking lost much of its natural pulse and underplayed the tremendous vitality of the music as it unravels. The effect was to weaken the track dynamically and tonally.
Similar findings were noted with other types of music, most obviously where there was most to lose. Thus the IMP Stravinsky disc, which by any standards is an extraordinarily energetic piece of music making, sounded scratchy and dry. The voluptuously recorded Katie from the Mary Black disc had what could be described as an anaemic bass. There was no obvious shortage of dynamics nor of detail, which remained clear and lucid down to the subtlest details, and the suggestion then is that the shortcomings described may have had more to do with the analogue amplifiers than the digital conversion process itself. Whether this is true, however, is immaterial to the final result, which is that the JVC needs to be stronger to compete successfully at this price.