November 1, 2008
Halcro Logic EC800 SACD/CD/DVD-V Player
Regular readers will know of my affinity for Oppo Digitals DV-983H upconverting universal disc player. For $399 USD, it does it all, and sounds fantastic to boot. So it takes a brave company to send me a multiformat player that costs precisely ten times as much ($3990). Bravo to Halcro for having the guts.
Unpacking this 36-pound brute reminded me of Halcros target market: well-heeled audiophiles to whom spending a few extra thousand bucks is relatively meaningless so long as it buys them better sound. These are the folks who look at the Simaudio Moon Evolution SuperNova CD player ($5900) or the Meridian 800 DVD player (almost $20,000) as "reasonable" purchases. If that describes you, congratulations on your financial success and read on.
Halcro is an Australian company based in absolutely glorious Adelaide, a town close to the sea, brimming with world-class wines, and home to the best farmers market on earth. I dont know how the Halcroans can find time to design and build audio gear when the Barossa, McLaren Vale, and Adelaide Hills wine areas beckon, but design they do.
Halcros American office sent me their EC800 player, claiming that it "provides a host of features including HDMI, video upscaling, RS-232 control, Ethernet connectivity, and a multitude of video and audio formats including SACD for the two-channel audiophile." Fair enough. So its a DVD player with great sound, right?
Later, I got an e-mail from Halcro: "FYI -- Were positioning the EC800 as a high-end CD player. Could you review it in that light?"
Uh, well, kind of. I mean, Ill be glad to listen to it.
The EC800 plays DVD-Video, CD, SACD, MP3, and JPEGs of up to five megapixels stored on CD or DVD. It misses the "universal" tag by leaving out DVD-A and Blu-ray, so I review it here as a multiformat player.
The EC800 is gorgeous, and would look great stacked atop its sidekick A/V processor, the SSP200. The front panel has a clean look, with all the controls you might want -- youre not forced to use the remote for everything. Around back is my favorite output, an HDMI, though this one is only v1.1 and not the latest version, v1.3. As befits a company well known for high-end sound, theres a set of 5.1-channel analog outputs as well as the aforementioned (by Halcro) two-channel variety. Oddly, theyve decided to forgo any balanced outputs, digital or analog.
I hooked up the EC800 multiple ways, using the HDMI, analog, and digital outputs. Being a polite chap, I began with the "high-end CD player" positioning and hooked up the EC800 in my recording studio. Now, this isnt EMIs Abbey Road, but the equipment (RME Fireface 800 feeding Digidesign RM2 speakers) is quite revealing. I immediately noticed the high quality of the EC800s sound -- a clarity that sounded as if the frequency response had been bumped up in the sparkle range. Strings had additional bite, and the low end more oomph. It took me a few tries to get used to it, but soon I was running to the Harmonia Mundi section of my CD shelves, looking for some of those ultraclean recordings led by conductor Nicholas McGegan. It was quite a treat.
I started to type up my listening notes and found out my wireless mouse wasnt working properly: it stopped dead, then popped back on for a moment, then stopped altogether. This was odd -- Id never before had a problem with it. I tried changing the batteries, snugging up its USB connection, and anything else I could think of. The only recent change in this room was the installation of the Halcro EC800, so I turned it off. No mouse. I turned off the EC800s main power switch. Still no mouse. I unplugged the EC800 from the wall. Instantly, the mouse started working. Plugged the EC800 back in. No mouse.
The moral: If you intend to use the EC800 with a home-theater PC, be sure it all works. You also might want to print out the manual, which comes on a CD.
Next up was Patricia Barbers Café Blue (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 737) and "Too Rich for My Blood," a tough test of bass resolution, sibilance management, and banging transient response. The EC800 soared. But one sonic artifact peeped through: a tendency to sound just a hint bright. Like acidity in a good wine, theres a fine line between a euphonic plus and too much of the same. If your system already tends toward the quite detailed, the EC800 could tip that balance. In my system, it opened up details without ever getting harsh.
My main system is dominated by ATCs triamped SCM50As -- very revealing speakers that are generally used in recording studios (such as Pink Floyds). The EC800s music capabilities held, and its resolution of detail remained strong without crossing into harshness. The SACD edition of Pink Floyds Dark Side of the Moon (Capital 82136) sounded great in analog stereo and 5.1 (5.1- and two-channel stereo playback of SACDs are available only through the Halcros analog outputs). Both soloist and conductor sweat the fine points on Stephen Hough and Andrew Littons recording of Rachmaninoffs piano concertos (SACD, Hyperion SACDA667501/2); through the EC800, there was a delicious amount of detail and airiness to both sound and performance.
The CD sound through the Halcros digital out (the HDMI, coaxial, and optical outputs all get identical signals) was different than through the analog outputs, which was no surprise -- the D/A conversion is different. Again, the analog had just that much more detail and a slightly more forward sound. The first track of Danny Elfmans score for Mission: Impossible (CD, Point Music 454 525-2), "Sleeping Beauty," has a spare sound but with enormous bass and transient impact. It sounded great in digital -- very real. In analog, the cymbals glistened as if they were in the room with me.
Plugged into my home theater, the EC800s performance with DVD-Video was very good. If you ask the EC800 do your upscaling, youll have to use its HDMI output to upconvert to 720p or 1080i (1080p isnt available). Otherwise, theres also the component output. I used the HDMI.
Everything else looked on a par with the Oppo DV-983H, which is high praise indeed. David Gilmours Remember That Night has been spending much time on the Marshall TV screen. Besides the fact that I adore the mans music, the DVD is gorgeous to look at, with a nice variation of clear close-ups and organic camera-focus movement; director David Mallet seems to have thought of exactly what I want to see, and from how far away, before I can myself. With the EC800, the picture looked nearly identical to the Blu-ray version through my Sony PlayStation 3.
During panned shots, the EC800s picture wasnt quite as stellar as the Oppos -- probably one of the reasons Halcro has rightfully decided to market the EC800 as a music player with DVD capability rather than vice versa. For instance, the scene in the Afghani refugee camp in Charlie Wilsons War was solid and clean as the camera panned across the horde. The EC800s picture seemed more stitched together and a little less relaxing on the eyes.
A few things about the EC800 caused me to scratch some more hair out of my head (got to stop doing that). Their website says the HDMI is v1.1. HDMI introduced 1.1 in May 2004 and it was superseded in August 2005. Why such old technology? What this means is that the EC800 cant transfer SACD signals via HDMI, which is a shame. I was also surprised that Halcro has decided to avoid DVD-Audio. And the EC800s output section is a bit schizoid: If its a high-end CD player, where are the balanced outputs? If its a high-end DVD player, why use four-year-old technology?
Bottom line: The Halcro EC800 may exhibit a few curious design choices, but it has exceptional sound with a lively balance, a lovely appearance, and is built like a tank.
. . . Wes Marshall
Halcro Logic EC800 SACD/CD/DVD-V Player
Halcro Audio (USA)