North Star Sapphire - CD player - Clean, crisp and involving - Maarten van Casteren
The Sapphire player looks really good, in a stylish and understated way, and the quality of the casework and the finish is fantastic. It feels extremely solid and robust, while still being relatively compact and easy to accommodate in a standard rack. The case is completely closed and nicely finished all around and looks very good on the top spot of your system. The 8 little buttons on the front are a nice touch and add to the feeling of luxury. At the back are single-ended as well as balanced outputs
The inside is a picture of order and organisation.
Let's start with the bottom end. The Sapphire's is very well controlled, agile, deep and articulated.
The mids are clear, fast, neutral and very transparent.
The midrange of the North Star certainly makes a very good point for itself. Voices are reproduced with a lot of presence and realism because of this. In combination with the low noise floor this transparency allows you to listen deep into the soundstage and hear details that were difficult to discern before.
The top end is brilliant. It is crisp, detailed, precise, clean, airy, etc. Everything you would expect from a top class CD player. Focus is excellent and the sound doesn't stick to the speakers at all. Recording atmosphere and venue acoustics are reproduced in a very convincing way. It makes this player very engaging and exciting. Strings especially sound very good and more natural than you would generally expect from a CD player.
Pace, rhythm and timing are excellent too. The precision with which this player puts everything in the room helps to unravel complex rhythms without any problem at all. The leading edge of piano notes, for example, is crisp and perfectly placed.
At the very last moment during the review period a set of Anti Cables and Anti Interconnects arrived. These solid core cables share some of the properties of the Sapphire, especially the precision, crispness and rhythmic qualities. The combination brought out the best in both components, and the Sapphire sounded even better than before. The difference wasn't huge, but worthwhile nevertheless. Make sure you hear this player in a system that can actually show its qualities, otherwise you might get the wrong impression. Not all systems can keep up with it.
This is a very fine player. It is more analytical than musical, but not to the point where this could ever be seen as a flaw. It has control and precision in spades, combined with excellent resolution, bandwidth and focus. It is a very honest player that gets more information from the disk than any player I've tried in this price range. And it is clean and crisp, over the whole frequency range, adding hardly anything of its own. It is very involving in its own way and can get you very close to the musical event. If you're looking for valvelike warmth you might prefer something else, but otherwise this player is as good as it gets at this price. The fact that it looks great and is a joy to use is a bonus. Highly recommended!