Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Those Cheap Chinese DVD Players: Real Hi-Fi?

Given that they managed to display exemplar sound quality despite of their cheapness, are those cheap Chinese made universal DVD players real hi-fi?

By: Vanessa Uy

For the DIY audiophile who cut his or her teeth on assembling AN214 amplifiers, bargain basement Chinese universal DVD / CD players may seem to be too good to ignore. Despite of their cheapness – some are no more expensive than a second-hand Kalashnikov – but do these 25 to 30 US dollar Chinese made universal DVD / CD players truly qualify as hi-fi? Bad news first – they won’t play the high-resolution audio layer of SACD discs, their DVD Audio performance can be crappy when you don’t use a good external 24-bit 96-Khz capable DAC – more on the Redbook CD performance later .

The DVD Video performance is a few notches below that of entry-level DVD players of leading brands like Pioneer, Sony, Philips, etc. But these el cheapo Chinese players make up for it by their capability to play uploaded Internet site videos without being converted first to Video CD or DVD Video. I mean it can play those despicable militant website rant videos and child porn videos that were hastily burned into CD-R or DVD-R that wont run major brand universal DVD / CD players.

Surprisingly, these cheap and cheerful Chinese universal DVD / CD players raison d’ĂȘtre is in playing your stockpiles of supposedly obsolete 16-bit 44.1-Khz Redbook speck music CDs – although you should avail yourself of a good external digital-to-analog converter in order to find out the magical properties that many have discovered with such players. The model we tested is a Hug DVD-H6757 DVD Video player whose primary raison d’ĂȘtre is to play those “pirated” compressed DVD videos – mostly illegal porn that supposedly illegal in my neck of the woods, some even has stars as young as me.

Sound quality wise, this particular lowly Hug DVD / CD player managed to play CDs like a thousand-US dollar CD player from 1995 – especially when hooked up to external DACs that were languishing unsold for years in our local second-hand hi-fi shop. But first select the digital SPDIF out mode to raw. It sounds so gorgeous at this setting when connected to an external DAC when playing Redbook spec CDs. It made the Orelle DA-88 DAC and the Audio Alchemy Digital Decoding Engine version 2.0 that were sitting idly by since 2003 sound as if their processor chips were upgraded so that the anti-aliasing filters of the analog output stages can be configured to a lower-ordered configuration. Making it sound as if the still-audible –to-me phase and group-delay distortion near the 20-Khz roll-off point had been magically removed. In short, the Hug DVD Audio Alchemy DAC combo or the Orelle DA-88 DAC combo sounds as if it was a thousand US dollar CD player from 1995 – considering the current price (2010 that is) of the set up is still a few dollars less than a brand new Kalashnikov.

Sadly, given my political views when it comes to fair compensation of ones labor, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend the Hug DVD-H6757 universal DVD / CD player that my older audio-buddies and I tested for a number of reasons. The company who manufactured the DVD player, probably based in Guangdong Province heavy industry district, has not reassured their buyers about their workers getting adequate 401-K plans, healthcare, and not being paid slave's wages. And also the company should be more forthcoming on the issue of using prison labor as often is the practice in the Chinese mainland – as in Free Tibet and Uyghur political detainees. Hard to recommend a product made by a company clueless about what happened in that notorious FOXCONN plant where the workers where defenestrating themselves just to end their suffering. If the American hi-fi loudspeaker manufacturer takes the time to remind prospective customers – and those fortunate enough to be invited in one of their plant tours – of their commitment to providing their workers a liveable wage and decent healthcare and dental plans.

Another thing that bugs me about initiating an audiophile equivalent of a carrot mob to promote the Hug DVD / CD player is that given the open business / close politics stance of the Beijing Communist Party functionaries, the company’s R n’ D budget might be siphoned off to develop a Green Dam Youth Escort-type electronic censorship device. One that could be installed in a latter generation of Chinese made universal DVD / CD players. Imagine you being unable to play your Tiananmen Square Massacre remembrance DVD documentary because your newly-bought Chinese made DVD player has now an automatic Green Dam Youth Escort-type electronic censorship device. Same goes with your Minzhu and Dalai Lama / Free Tibet DVDs or anything referring to that tragic June 4, 1989 massacre on Tiananmen Square.

Or given if the DVD’s e-censorship system is like the Green Dam Youth Escort internet censoring tool in capability, you can’t watch your Garfield DVDs anymore because this cat’s fur looks like the color scheme of the Dalai Lama’s tunic. Your Uyghur friends’ home movies will be censored because it will use the Green Dam color-based censorship excuse and classify it as hardcore pornography. Yes according to the Green dam Youth Escort color-based censorship scheme, it doesn’t discriminate between pink skinned farmed pigs and Uyghurs. Maybe Taylor Swift was fortunate enough not to be playing near Xingjian Province during the Uyghur riots because the Chinese authorities probably can’t tell her apart from the local Uyghur population.