Well-crafted and not expensive, given the impressive engineering on display under the hood. Ultimately, however, a sterile-sounding and not entirely consistent player.
Telephone: 01923 819630
Reviewed in issue: 176
Though it has been designed to match the Midi-size dimensions of Teac's successful Reference 500 'lifestyle' system (285 x 133 x 330mm), this model is no lightweight. It tips the scales at 9kg, which is heavier than many respectable amplifiers. The VRDS-9 features Teac's proprietary VRDS (Vibration-free Rigid Disc clamping System) CD mechanism, which clamps the disc with a mildly dished profile. This is claimed to reduce the power drawn by the laser pickup servo motor, with consequent assumed benefits for sound. Digital hardware is said to include twin multi-bit PCM1702 chips from Burr-Brown, configured to minimise a phenomenon of multi-bit converters known as 'zero-cross distortion'.
The VRDS-9 would be adequately equipped even without its convenience-boosting remote control. However, the display is below the thin loading drawer and is thus difficult to view when the drawer is open, and still tricky to view when closed.
The remote control is large, its buttons are thoughtfully arranged, and among them are studs for index search, fader, muting, volume adjustment (to -20dB in 1dB steps), features for dubbing (auto space etc) and display on/off. There is even a timer play feature. System control sockets are fitted to the back of the player, so that it may be operated in harmony (and from a single handset) with a complete system. (For this very purpose there is a system remote handset available that omits only a couple of minor CD-related features.)
The Teac was a tricky beast to pin down, due to the way it sounded inconsistent from system to system in my hands-on tests. Even between tracks in the panel tests its character seemed flexible, which resulted in some widely-varying scores. Regrettably the unsighted listeners were not overwhelmed by enthusiasm.
One listener was satisfied by the "punchy" sound and evident good vocal quality of the Joni Mitchell track, but felt the guitar in the Martin Taylor recording was "indistinct", and the trumpet "veiled". The subtle and elegant sound of Brendel's Beethoven was perceived by the same listener as "unatmospheric", and the vital Mozart recording "lacked fire".
Another participant took a more positive tack, and found little to fault in the VRDS-9's performance. "Well focused, well detailed, and with a good balance," he said, though not without qualifying this with an enigmatic suggestion that "there should be a 'but' - but I can't find it." In concluding he opined that "this is probably a good player".
Other opinions were most closely aligned with the first listener's judgment. "The voice is a bit strangled [Joni Mitchell], and I don't like the trumpet sound [Martin Taylor], but the piano and wind band recordings are OK," was one sum-up comment from a listener who deemed the Teac a "Curate's egg."
I concur with this consensus view. This player sounds superficially sharp and clear, but lacks deep resolving power and therefore ends up drawing in musical caricatures. This left a disappointing impression of some recent families of recordings known to give good results in other settings - Sony Music's SBMs and Deutsche Grammophon's 4Ds. A remark culled from the panel test notes, to the effect that the Mozart sounded as though it was played by a "small town orchestra", is only too apt, I fear.
The VRDS-9 is undeniably good looking, beautifully built, and the natural choice for owners of Teac's Reference 500 system. But between audiophile ideals and the factory gate, something has gone awry. What results is a player that in a number of ways adds up to less than the sum of its parts.