What I'd Recommend to a Friend: Pioneer Elite DV-79AVi
m sure weve all been in this position in our audiophile lives: a friend, relative or acquaintance asks us to recommend a digital player, amplifier, turntable or speakers, but this person cant afford much of what is new in our neck of the audio-equipment world. What do you do? Where do you turn? What advice do you offer? That's what this article, the first in what we hope will be an ongoing series, aims to answer: "What I'd Recommend to a Friend" -- WIRTAF for short.
Well, having been on both sides of this issue, I can speak with utter clarity about one very worthy product. I needed to upgrade my digital front-end, because during my divorce my much-beloved Esoteric universal player had to disappear from my system and the replacement from Oppo, while decent, wasnt cutting it. Marc Mickelson came to the rescue. He suggested a product that I should research, after he bought the same one himself and found it to be the equal of units multiples of its list price.
The product in question was the Pioneer Elite DV-79AVi universal disc player. In its day it was universal, playing every digital physical format extant, but with the advent of Blu-ray, it no longer quite meets that designation. For what it does -- handle CD, SACD, and DVD-A music playback; it can also play DVD movies -- the DV-79AVi is quite a wonderful player. The real kicker: when new in the mid-aughts, the DV-79AVi cost $1000, but you can now find it on the used market for under $300 in most cases. I got mine for $150, but it wasnt mint and missing the remote control and manual; Marc paid $100 for his with everything, including the box. Here was a digital player I could actually afford, and that would, according to Marc, really show the differences between CDs and high-res discs. Okay, Im in.
After I received my player and connected it, I immediately thought Marc had undersold it. First off, its attractive, substantial and heavy, weighing in at 20 pounds. It has a three-layer chassis and upgraded stereo output RCAs. The DV-79AVi also has Pioneer's proprietary Legato PRO algorithms built in, which subtly change the sound of CDs, so if the normal flat response doesnt float your boat, you can alter the sound to taste. I tried all settings and felt that flat indeed sounded best. There are many more adjustments you can access through the player's onscreen menus, but for strict stereo playback, you won't need to futz with most of them. The Pioneer offers the ability to shut of all video aspects and digital outputs for unadulterated audio playback. To my ears, the effect of this is subtle but noticeable if youre really listening. Rumor has it that earlier Pioneer Elite universal players converted DSD to PCM but the DV-79AVi doesn't do this. I can't confirm -- it's not spelled out in the manual or anywhere I could find online -- but if true it adds one more tick to the plus side of the ledger.
With CDs, the Pioneer DV-79AVi sounded very good. There's an overall balance that just lets the music flow. CDs sound musical -- they're a true pleasure to hear. While I have heard better CD playback, it was only at a much higher price. I never felt I was missing out on anything with the DV.-79AVi, but putting on my first SACD, I was unprepared for how good this mass-market player was at offering everything high-resolution discs had to offer.
Recently I purchased two Audio Fidelity SACDs, Legends: Crank It Up [Audio Fidelity SACD AFZ 178] and Legends: Get It On [Audio Fidelity SACD AFZ 179]. Both are compilations taken from the Time-Life series bearing those names and are full of classic rock -- some of which I have on the original CDs. Listening to both the CDs and SACDs, it was easy to hear the differences. There was greater clarity and ease to SACD's presentation, more air, and a fuller, richer sound to both the instruments and vocals. The Pioneer DV-79AVi made the differences stand out in stark relief.
To those who will argue that much of the difference I heard can be attributed to the mastering, let me say that I tested that theory too. Thanks to my good friend, recording engineer Merel Bregante (in a former life he was the drummer for Loggins and Messina), and his mastering friend, Jerry Taub, I have copies of the CD releases of a few of his efforts. I also have one-off 24-bit/96kHz DVD-A burns from Jerry of the same albums taken from the original mastering. Ive compared these, as they are recorded and mastered by the same people, and heard exactly the same things between the discs. The high-res discs were reproduced with more richness, accuracy and reality via the Pioneer player. Not bad for a nearly ten-year-old player that you can almost buy for what's in your pocket.
Compared to much higher-priced universal players, the DV-79AVi won't cause owners of Esoteric and dCS players to fret. The Pioneer can sound a bit lean, losing some of the authority, especially in the bass, that other players capture. It does dig deeply into the music to extract the micro details that differentiate the formats, making the music sound less canned, less reproduced and more like the real thing.
So if I were asked to help a friend find a digital player, and he or she was even remotely interested in hearing what all the fuss is with high-resolution audio, pointing that person in the direction of the built-like-a-tank, great-sounding, and inexpensive Pioneer DV-79AVi would be a no-brainer. If youre looking to get into high-res disc playback and cant (or wont) justify spending big money on a new player, search for the Pioneer, buy it, and enjoy it. I doubt youll get the itch to upgrade anytime soon.
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