Exposure XXII CD player

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Exposure XXII CD player

Pros

  • Excellent tonal realism, digs out tiny musical details with a forensic zeal yet never loses sight of the musical whole

Cons

  • Some minor indiscretions in sound quality, minimal features, average looks

Bottom Line

While a quality player, it doesn't quite stack up to its competitors in the same price range.

Would you buy this?

The Exposure line-up features three different ranges: the entry-level 2010 series, the middle ranking 3010 series and the range-topping "New Classics" series which--somewhat confusingly--sport Roman numeral model numbers. As part of this latter series, the XXII CD player is Exposure's premier source component. For all that, the Exposure XXII faces some pretty serious competition in the $3K to $5K price band and models from Meridian, Shanling, Sony, Marantz and Naim (to name just a few) knock the Exposure player into a cocked hat when it comes to looks and build quality.

Exposure is proud to claim that its products are designed and built by hand, "drawing from our master craftsmen's decades of experience". Yet the garish red LCD display on the review sample did not sit quite straight in the front panel window, so I guess the master craftsmen were having an 'off' day. Features are minimal, the XXII sticking firmly to Exposure's hair shirt hi-fi origins. Where much of the disc-spinning competition now choose to offer either SACD or DVD-Audio playback (and sometimes both), the Exposure machine is a CD player, pure and simple.

On the plus side, the front panel is an impressive brushed aluminium affair some 6mm thick. A large toroidal transformer, with separate windings for the CD transport mechanism and audio stages, undoubtedly helps contribute to the player's respectable 5kg fighting weight. Twin mono Burr-Brown PCM1204 24-bit converters handle digital-to-analog conversion duties. Exposure claims that the use of a high-stability crystal clock reference with a dedicated power supply regulator for the transport and DAC helps ensure low digital jitter.

The front panel buttons that control all the basic playback functions respond positively to the touch, although the CD mechanism is not the quietest unit in existence. There's little to report from the rear panel, just a single pair of unbalanced (RCA) phono outputs, co-axial and optical digital outputs and the ubiquitous IEC mains input.

Remote control is offered via a supplied lightweight HS-100 system handset, which can also be used to control the matching XXIII pre-amp. It's a fairly nondescript plastic design finished in silver, but it fits comfortably enough in the hand and controls the player over a wide arc.

Our listening tests were conducted using a variety of components, cabling and ancillary devices including a homemade passive pre-amp, Sachem monoblocks, Totem Tabu loudspeakers on Sound Creations stands, AudioPro Sub-Evidence subwoofers, a Chang Lightspeed CLS HT1000 mk II power conditioner, AFA Hera series II power cord (as well as Exposure's supplied lead), Slinkylinks interconnects, Slinkylinks speaker cable (single wired) and Nordost Red Dawn speaker cable (bi-wired). I also tried the XXII with its matching "New Classics" siblings - the XXIII pre-amp and XVIII power amp.

The XXII is a player that benefits from some experimentation with isolation devices (cones, footers and the like), to help it reach its full potential. The four widely spaced feet on the player's underside lack sorbothane or rubber or any of the other squidgy compounds commonly found, so make sure you set the player on a dead level surface, or the music won't be the only thing rockin'. I got the best results when the XXII was placed on a BASE isolation platform, the sound losing a hint of forwardness and showing clear gains in body and general lucidness. Bass frequencies grew in extension and impact as well, although the bass performance of the XXII could never be described as particularly taut or rhythmically adroit. There's a certain plummy quality to the low bass (sub-60Hz), although the upper bass drives along forcefully enough.

At the other end of the frequency spectrum treble is extended and grain free, with just an occasional hint of exaggeration heard on some vocal sibilants. Turning off the front panel display resulted in subtle improvements to treble sweetness and musical focus, with a greater sense of air and space apparent around individual performers. Micro-dynamics and detail retrieval are first-rate, allowing the listener to easily follow individual threads within the musical whole. Previously obscured details and ambient clues were unlocked from dense, congested recordings with ease, but this never detracted from the player's ability to present a coherent musical message. Voices in particular sounded superb through the XXII, with an almost valve-like tonal realism.

The soundstage extended well beyond the width of the speakers and images were pinpointed precisely in space. However, soundstage depth was slightly flattened compared to other (generally more expensive) players I've heard. Macro-dynamics--the ability to handle large, sudden volume changes in the music--were somewhat dulled, with orchestral crescendos failing to explode with the final nth degree of life-like gusto.

Good though the Exposure CD player is--and it undoubtedly has many commendable qualities--it faces stiff competition from other players at this exalted price point. While it remains worthy of audition, its sonic character means that careful system matching is required and ultimately I feel it lacks the X factor, either in looks, features or sound quality to make it stand out from its price peers.

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