Yamaha DVD-C750 Universal Disc Player
As most of the world scurries down the MP3 hole, gobbling up low-quality music files for the sake of convenience, I prefer the loftier heights of DVD-Audio and SACD. Not only are these formats of a higher quality than CD (not to mention a much higher quality than MP3), they offer multichannel mixes that make full use of 5.1-channel home theater audio systems. And, with a universal disc player, I can buy the music I want to hear, regardless of the format on which it is released.
The Yamaha DVD-C750 is just such a player—times five. It provides a five-disc carousel with a feature called PlayXchange, which lets you open the disc tray and swap up to four discs while the disc that's currently playing continues uninterrupted.
The unit is rather deep, but that's unavoidable, due to the carousel. The front panel is a model of simplicity, with five illuminated buttons that indicate which disc locations are occupied and which one is currently loaded. The only other buttons are power, transport, PlayXchange, and open/close.
The back panel is mostly empty, with a standard assortment of outputs clustered on one side: component video, S-video, composite video, optical and coaxial digital audio, six-channel analog, and two-channel analog. All are clearly labeled, so there's unlikely to be any confusion.
The simple, non-backlit remote is not great. Most of the buttons are the same size and shape, making it difficult to find the right one by feel in the dark. Also, there are no direct-access buttons to select the desired disc, although there is plenty of unused real estate on the remote. A disc-skip button cycles through the discs in the changer.
The menu system is very strange and nonintuitive, with several pages represented by icons across the top of the screen. That's normal enough, but the title of the selected page looks just like the menu items underneath it, which is the first confusing thing. Then, the choices for some of the menu items are listed on the right side of the screen, and these choices change color depending on what you're doing, which is quite confusing. Finally, the last icon is a big, red "X" that makes the menu disappear; this is totally redundant, since pressing the setup button does the same thing.
As with most universal players with multichannel analog audio outputs, this one has rudimentary bass management. You can specify whether your speakers are large or small, which determines whether or not the player routes the low frequencies in the corresponding channels to the subwoofer. (The default setting is large.) However, the crossover frequency is fixed at 90 hertz; I'd certainly prefer it to be variable. You can also adjust the level of each channel and the delay of the center and surround channels with respect to the front right and left. Other audio features include CD upsampling to 88.2 kilohertz or 176.4 kHz.
The video-setup menu lets you configure the DVD-C750 for your specific video display, including NTSC or PAL, aspect ratio, and progressive or interlaced component output. The default is interlaced, which causes a problem if you connect the component output to a high-bandwidth-only input, as I did. In this case, you need to connect the S-video or composite output to see the menu properly, then set the component output to progressive. Also, three picture presets (standard, bright, and soft) are in this menu, as well as a "personal" preset that lets you adjust contrast, brightness, color, and hue.
The DVD-C750 lets you select the black level, which is a fairly common feature. The manual recommends that you turn it on for NTSC displays. Yamaha calls this setting an "enhanced black level" and claims that it improves the color contrast during playback. Before I tried this control, I thought that "enhanced" meant a lower black level, but no: This setting increases the black level significantly, washing out the image and degrading the contrast. I turned it off immediately.
Picture and Sound
OK, enough about features; how are the picture and sound quality? I started by evaluating progressive DVD playback. Using Video Essentials, I determined that the horizontal resolution extends to just under 500 lines per picture height, with a bandwidth to about 5.25 megahertz before rolling off. The Zone Plate indicated that the deinterlacer picks up 3:2 pulldown quickly and reliably. The cross-color-suppression test on the Faroudja/Sage test disc revealed moderate cross-color interference, but the swinging pendulum and waving flag looked excellent, with no discernable jaggies. I played several DVDs, all of which looked great; no complaints there.
I was most interested in the audio performance with multichannel DVD-Audio and SACD titles, so I loaded a couple of each into the changer and hit play. In this process, I noticed that each disc took quite a while to load and start. The disc tray also seems rather slow and sluggish when coming out or going in.
First up was Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 "Pastorale" and Respighi's Pines of Rome as performed by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Zdenek Macal. This DVD-Audio was recorded at 96 kHz/24 bits by AIX Records, a label that is well known for impeccable audio quality. On the Beethoven, the strings were clean and clear, the woodwinds were delicate and open, and the horns were rich and solid. Everything was well balanced, with excellent dynamic range; nothing was lost in the quiet passages.
The same was true of the Respighi; in particular, the "Pines of the Appian Way" movement starts pianissimo and ends up fortissimo, and the sound was clean and unclouded all the way through. The high-resolution multichannel versions of both pieces are mixed with an audience perspective in mind, with mostly ambience in the surround channels, which worked very well.
Next up was Donald Fagen's Nightfly DVD-Audio, recorded at 48 kHz/24 bits. This is another exceedingly well-recorded album, with lots of musical parts in the surround channels. The vocals were clear and open, and the bass was full-bodied without being muddy. The horn section was usually in the surrounds and had just the right amount of punch. In fact, I heard details I'd never heard from the CD. Fagen's perfectionism is well represented using the DVD-C750.
On the SACD side of things, I started with Oregon's Beyond Words from Chesky Records, another label with a reputation for audiophile quality. Unlike DVD-Audio, SACDs do not include any video information like menus and lyrics. But the DVD-C750 provides a rudimentary menu for SACDs that lets you select tracks, which are labeled Track001, Track002, and so on. This menu looks much like a computer directory with folder and document icons.
Oregon is an unusual jazz trio with Ralph Towner on acoustic guitars, piano, and synthesizers, Paul McCandless on various woodwinds, and Glen Moore on acoustic bass. The mix puts most of the instruments in the front three channels, with "echoes" in the surrounds as ambience (though not delayed as real echoes would be). Once again, the DVD-C750 reproduced these instruments with aplomb: Each one was well defined, clean, and clear. Overall, the sound was open and airy.
Finally, what universal-player review would be complete without Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon SACD? The multichannel remix of this classic is nothing short of amazing, and the Yamaha did it proudly. The mix makes full use of the surround channels (for example, placing the ticking clocks in the opening all around you). It took me right back to my college days, when I saw Pink Floyd live with a surround sound system in the hall. Now, if only I had some of that Owsley Orange left.
Back to reality. The Yamaha DVD-C750 is an excellent machine. It plays DVD-Audio and SACD discs beautifully, and it does a fine job with DVDs. I found the user interface to be somewhat wanting and disc-loading times to be rather slow, but I can forgive these deficiencies in favor of its outstanding performance. Now, if you'll pardon me, I must return to my seat in the center of audio nirvana.
• Outstanding performance with both audio and video
• Confusing menu system
• Continuous music as you swap out discs