Equipment Review No. 1  •   November 2003

Lexicon RT-10 Universal Disc Player
SRP: $3495
SPECS:
AUDIO =

Analog: 2 stereo RCA pairs for L & R front, plus 4 more for surrounds, center & subwoofer
Digital: XLR AES/EBU, RCA coaxial, Toslink optical
Samples Rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96K - 16 to 24 bits
Digital outs conform to IEC-958 and S/PDIF standards
D/A conversion is 24bit/192K PCM and pure DSD
20Hz to 20KHz +-0.5dB, -1.0dB at 50K, reference 1K (front L/R)
THD + Noise: .004% at 1K
Dynamic range: 100dB
Signal-to-Noise: 100dB
Channel Sep.: 100 dB
Output level: 2.0V maximum

VIDEO =
Composite: 1 RCAs
S-Video: 1
Component: RCA, BNC, 14-pin D connector
D/A conversion: 12bit/108MHz
Bandwidth: 6MHz
Signal-to-Noise: 75dB at Y output
Output Impedance: 75 ohms
Output level: 1.0V peak-to-peak
OTHER =
AV Euroconnector: 21-pin SCART
IR Input: 3.5mm tip/ring/sleeve
Trigger input: 12V CD, detachable screw terminals
Power Requirements: 120VAC, 50 to 60Hz for North & South America
Power consumption: 20W
Dim. & Weight: 17.3 W x 3.7 H x 12.2 D, 17.2 lbs.
Operating Temperature: 41 to 95 degrees F.
Rack mounting: optional brackets available for 19-inch rack

Lexicon
A Harman International Company
3 Oak Park
Bedford, MA 01730-1413
781-280-0300
www.lexicon.com


Intro

This was the first universal player I spent an extended length of time with since the Pioneer model which disappointingly converted SACDs’ DSD datastream to PCM before outputting, and thus couldn't be a fair comparison to the DVD-A. I must say it is a great convenience to have a single player for everything instead of three separate ones as I have normally. Even if one of the two new formats should eventually go the way of dcc, 8-track, Elcaset, Beta or dbx LPs, for now a universal disc player makes a great deal of sense. The big question for audiophiles is can such a player not just “handle” the three audio and one video formats, but can it achieve as equally good sonics from 44.1 CDs as one would expect in a dedicated CD player of a similar price point while doing a good job with the two new audio hi-res formats? Let us see.

Features, Mostly Audio

My first reaction was that the player seemed a bit light at 17 lbs. considering its price point. The next was that the owners manual was the most massive, complete and well-written I had seen in a long time. Out of the box the RT-10 didn’t quite match my present three players so I gave it several days break in period with all four formats.

The unit is unusual in being the first consumer-level source component to be made by Lexicon. The RT-10 will handle almost every 5-inch-disc format (including DVD-R, DVD-RW, and MP3), progressive scanning, 24-bit/192-kHz DACs on all six audio output channels, some bass management, 3:2 pulldown, and 12-bit/108-megahertz video conversion. The three digital audio outputs pass 96-kHz signals. The RT-10's resolution has full capacity, and it passes PLUGE. The downconversion of anamorphic material to letterbox is excellent and superior color reproduction is part of the DVD video display. Many Lexicon fans will undoubtedly be using the RT-10 in combination with Lexicon’s mid-level MC-8 AV preamp/processor. They make a good-looking pair both in design and features.

The silver/anodized/aluminum whatever-it-is front plate of the RT-10 is handsome and a nice departure from the usual black. The blue characters on the center display area are easy to see, although I needed my binoculars from across the room since I don’t wear my distance glasses in the house. The front panel has a sparse use of buttons. Just three medium-sized ones in the upper right for Play, Pause, Stop. Under these are two smaller buttons for reverse and forward - both scan and skip. Just to the right of the disc tray (which seemed a trifle flimsy for such a player) is another smaller button to open and close it and below that is a similar button to turn off the display entirely. (I heard no audible effect from either turning off this display.) There is also something called CD Digital Direct, but this is not designed to turn off the video circuitry for better fidelity when playing audio discs. Instead it is to prevent outputting a loud digital noise stream when playing a DTS-encoded CD or DVD that is not being decoded.

The RT-10 boasts a very extensive list of indicators on the front display to give you status information at a glance. That is if you get up v-e-r-y close to be able to read all of them. But it’s certainly better than never being sure just what you have. Many of the displays are self-explanatory - the various formats, title, chapter, group, track, remaining playing time, total playback time. Others need some translation: V-PART indicates that the video portion of a loaded disc is in progress; a camera icon indicates that a scene recorded with multiple camera angels is in progress; COND indicates that pre-programmed settings for the particular disc have been stored; V OFF indicates that video output connectors are deactivated; D OFF indicates that digital audio outputs are deactivated; DOWN MIX indicates that the audio out is set to two-channel and 5.1 CH indicates it is set for 5.1 channel output. These last indicators are over at the extreme lower right of the display along with the usual small square indicators for the various speakers in the normal 5.1 diagram. It has separate indicators for the LFE subwoofer and a subwoofer supposedly fed from some sort of on-board bass management. This struck me as a great idea, but there is only one sub output jack on the back of the player and no bass management aside from the usual setting of speaker sizes (which has no effect on DVD-As, on the analog stereo outputs or the 5.1 digital audio outputs. Also, the speaker distance settings {delays} do not operate when playing SACDs.) The crossover point is set at 100Hz. There is also no decoding for Dolby EX or DTS 6.1, but presumably that would be handled in the MC-8 or whatever AV preamp one mated the player with.

Features, Mostly Video

I have not seen before such a variety of options on a DVD player for controlling variations parameters of the video display. Some of the video settings besides the expect aspect ratio include: separate adjustment of the amount of noise reduction applied individually to the YNR, CNR and MNR portions of the component video signal; block noise reduction, sharpness of both finely detailed and less detailed video signals; detail - controls sharpness around picture edges; white level; black level; black setup; gamma - controls brightness of darker areas; hue; chroma level - for saturation adjustment; chroma delay - for misalignment of the Y and C components; memory; prog. motion. There are also six banks of Video Adjust settings, for such factors as still picture appearance, on-screen display, the angle indicator, OSD language, audio language, subtitle language, DVD language, subtitle display, and subtitle off. Parental lock and all those other usual goodies are of course also provided.

Having fine adjustments for still picture display is a great feature, since a number of DVD-Vs as well as DVD-As have slide shows, and many people are using the Photo Discs for still display on their screens. Since some DVD-As leave the same artwork or still phono and text up on the screen for the entire disc and just highlight different tracks or movements as it plays, it would be a good idea to set up the RT-10’s Screen Saver to come on after five or ten minutes to avoid burning in your display device. That possibility doesn’t seem to be have been considered by many of the DVD-A programmers, just as many of them have failed to consider how to achieve rational navigation on the discs.

You can show all the tracks, chapters, timings, etc. on any DVD or other disc and program them to play in any fashion you want. You may skip certain tracks, repeat others, and so on. There are special settings for playback of MP3 material on CD-Rs (it will not handle CD-RWs).

Listening & Viewing Tests

One of the most welcome things about the RT-10 was its ability to automatically recognize the type of disc being loaded in its tray. My Toshiba DVD-A is endlessly frustrating in requiring one to hit the audio button on the remote and struggle repeatedly to get it to switch between three different settings: Bitstream, PCM and Analog 6-channel. Select the wrong one and you get no sound whatever. I watched most of the video DVDs reviewed in this month’s issue on the RT-10. I found it provided a greatly enhanced picture vs. my Toshiba player, with better contrast, details, saturation and other aspects. It was very similar to the picture from my modified Sony 9000ES, except with a somewhat better black level. I didn’t make any video adjustments whatever to the RT-10, so perhaps the picture could be improved even further with a bit of effort. Both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS decoding were exemplary. I got out a few of my older DTS-only music DVDs and CDs and found the multichannel sonics in many cases very close to the quality of some of the DVD-As I have been reviewing lately. I had forgotten that my copy of the initial Big Phat Band was only a DTS DVD and not a DVD-A; however, it sounded almost as good as the new Big Phat Band (reviewed last month) which is 96K DVD-A.

Now to the hi-res audio formats: The Naxos DVD-A of highlights from Mozart’s Don Giovanni had an excellent surrounding acoustic of great clarity even though it was recorded at only 44.1K/24bit resolution. The feeling of the hall was prominent and when in the Ballroom Scene the chorus was heard from behind the effect was thrilling. Since AIX’s DVD-As are all of such high technical quality I thought I would sample some tracks from their recent Acoustic Blues with Dorian Michael. The sounds of the various guitars were up close and also spread around the listening room, with a great deal of presence. Another guitar DVD-A - this time only two guitars and (unusually) only in two channels - is Seven Come Eleven on Hi-Res Music. The guitarists are Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd. Again there was great clarity and precise soundstaging as well as realistic audience sounds at this classic live jazz festival recording. (Incidentally, the RT-10 downsamples any 192K material on DVD-As, such as the separate stereo mixes on some, to 96K - that’s part of the DVD-A specs on all players.)

In comparison with my entry-level (now discontinued) stock Toshiba SD 5700 DVD-A player the ST-10 demonstrated more body, richness of timbre, more of the deepest low end, and a generally more musical involvement in the sounds. I suspected that perhaps some of my comparisons of the two hi-res formats have not been completely fair (although it is difficult to find exactly the same material in both competing formats, as I explain in my reviews this issue). This could be due to not having had quite as reference-level a DVD-A player as I have SACD players.

Since the Ellis-Byrd album has also been released on multichannel SACD by Concord Jazz I did an A/B comparison of the two-channel DVD-A played on the RT-10 and the two-channel mix of the new SACD played on my modified Sony 9000ES. Here the differences were minimal, favoring neither player, and when I simply switched the SACD back and forth between the two players the similarity was even more pronounced. My multichannel SACD is a modified entry level Sony CE-775, also now discontinued, and it shouldn’t be expected to come up to the level of the RT-10, but acquitted itself pretty well nevertheless. Both the solo acoustic guitar of John Williams and the backing of the English Chamber orchestra on the new Sony Classical SACD of Rodrigo concertos sounded only slightly less rich and impactful on the Sony vs. the RT-10. On the Groove Note SACD Demo Disc the RT-10 did a better job on the many transients and low bass notes of the percussion instruments in the first track by the Robert Hohner Percussion Ensemble. In the second (stereo only) track with the Anthony Wilson Trio the B3 sounded especially Hammondful. The higher output level of the RT-10 gave it an unfair advantage in my comparisons to the other players and I only adjusted for levels by ear, but in general the Lexicon demonstrated more body and heft sonically, as it had done with the DVD-As.

With 44.1 CDs the RT-10 clearly retained a very high level of performance rather than back-tracking quality-wise as many of the entry-level SACD and DVD-A players have done. The same rich and full-bodied characteristic was heard in all the standard CDs I auditioned on this unit. The first track from the gold Opus 3 Test CD 4.1 is From the Drottingholm Music. Multiple clarinets are featured and their special timbre is a good test of fidelity. I found their presentation just a hair cleaner and richer than that of my reference Sony 9000ES - a bit more of that distinctive reedy clarinet sound. The same went for one of my favorite test tracks, an arrangement of a Telemann concerto for guitar quartet on another Opus 3 Test CD. Unlike some of the other universal players we have auditioned, the RT-10 seems to have a well-balanced solution to playback of all the various discs it accepts, and doesn’t short-change standard 44.1 CDs. It’s great to have a well-constructed player than plays everything well. Of course its price reflects its spiffy design and superb finish as well as the Lexicon nametag, but few high enders would disagree with that. And those who already have one of the Lexicon preamp/processors such as the MC-12 or MC-8 will be naturally attracted to the RT-10 for their prime digital audio as well as digital video source.

-- John Sunier

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