HI-FI Choice  
Even-handed and thoroughly inoffensive; beautifully constructed Accentuates any blandness inherent in the music.
 

Size (W x D x H cm) 43,13,38
181

Manufacturer: Copland
Telephone: 01444 248873
Price: £2199
Reviewed in issue: 163

Of the eight £1,000+ players in our 'top-end' category, Copland's distinguished-looking CDA-288 is the only model to offer built-in compatibility with Pacific Microsonics HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) CD software. This comes courtesy of the PMD-100 eight-times oversampling filter, chosen for reasons of sound quality by Copland, but also featuring a 'built-in' HDCD decoder by way of a bonus. However, judging by the debate currently raging over the true value of HDCD, this facility is unlikely to represent a significant purchasing decision.

More likely to impress, I would suspect, is the typically bold but minimalist styling of this Scandinavian beast, which features a clear, centralised display window and a slither of a CD drawer that loads into one of Teac's marvellous VRDS mechanisms. Either side are two spring-loaded rotary controls for power on/off and, on the right, a single turned-alloy dial to prompt play, track skip (either direction) and pause. It's unusual but wonderfully tactile in operation.

Copland has re-styled its remote control, which now looks a little, well, less 'Teac-like' but still offers direct track access, program and single/all repeat play modes, plus a useful index skip facility. Under the bonnet we find two 20-bit DACs which are offset from one another by one-half of the eight-times oversample time period. Averaging (or interpolating) the output of both DACs confers some of the benefits of a true 16-times oversampled system but without the reduction in distortion and noise we would normally expect. It's all part of Copland's desire to engineer a more favourable complement of distortion than is typical from modern CD players.

Sound quality

Sparking obvious comparison with a well-known Harry Enfield character, this player was described by our panel of listeners as 'nice but dim', a player that boasts a pleasantly large 'ball of sound' that rolls agreeably enough from the speakers but simply lacks the bite and conviction we know to be possible. There was more than a suggestion of vagueness and insipidity throughout Rebecca Pidgeon's Friday Night Crowd though the music, as a whole, never appeared annoying or aggressive.

In similar fashion, Ali Khan's powerful vocals lacked some sense of direction while Cannonball Adderley's Autumn Leaves was likened to "fey dinner jazz". There's nothing wrong with this of course, provided you are looking for a very undemanding and unchallenging view of musical life. Otherwise, the CDA-288 is somewhat picky and precise-sounding, being obsessed, it was suggested "with the edges of detail, the timbral highlights rather than the meat and two veg of the performance". Our Rachmaninov disc, that had come alive with the Kenwood and Cambridge players, now remained slightly impassive - perfectly proportioned, granted, but lacking the thrill of strings and 'quack' of woodwind that might otherwise have generated the tension to hold the interest of our panel.

Conclusion

Make no mistake, and despite the slight disappointment of our panel, Copland's CDA-288 still has a very individual role to play in the haute couture of high-end audio. Never forget that its unusual, but highly effective aesthetic design is complemented by some equally thought-provoking digital engineering. The end result, however, is a gentle giant of a player that errs in favour of pastel shades rather than bold daubs of colour. So don't be fooled by appearances, for the CDA-288 is really something of a softie at heart.

PMi