DV137 vs Delta 170.3/DAC CD vs Sony dvdrecorder. What did I buy?

martin purnell

Active Member
Firstly, thanks to everyone who have contributed on at least 3 threads I started over the past few weeks. I have been in the market for a new DVD player to replace my Sony DVD recorder 510 model. Upscaling, bluray, hdmi etc are terms that we now read about all the time, but will it improve on what I already have? This was my motivation for finding out via the threads. I didn't want to buy something that didn't give me added value.

I finally realised that my sony dvd recorder was actually very good. When tested against the Marantz 7100, the pq was minimal if at all in favour of the newer model. In fact, all tests were completed in a scientific atmosphere, well in as much as the same source was used to the same plasma/pj, via the same cables!
The Arcam 137 was initially out of the running for financial reasons but for some reason my local shop decided to sell it last week for less than £500. What's more, I found that Audio-T were selling the 135 for less than £400! Both brand new as well.

I had already compared the Panasonic BD30 upscaling at 720p via hdmi against my standard def 576 progscan component fed dvd Sony. The Panasonic in my view (and the shop reps) all agreed that the Panny was a lot grainier when it came to backgrounds. Futureproofing was not really an issue here as I wanted a player that plays dvds (not bluray) to a better standard than my Sony. So last night was fun time for me! I had borrowed the shop's 137 and gave it a thorough testing. For the record, and this is not to show off but as we all know, Hifi sound is subjective! I have been fortunate to be involved within the music business either in a band that should have been signed by a major or even minor label (boo hoo!) or as a Radio DJ doubling up in the summer as the OB manager as well. Basically, I'd like to think that my ears know what's good and what needs improving!

Firstly, was it better than my 14 year old Delta 170.3 transport and Black Box 3 (upgraded a year later to the then latest spec)? I played Metallica's Load album, Newton Faulkner's debut Handbuilt by Robots plus the medley off the Beatles Abbey Road. Both displayed an excellent soundstage. All the instruments could be followed independently. They are both excellent cd players. You can buy a used 170.3 and Dac off ebay or the new 137 and get the "wow" factor. And the winner was the one that also gave just a bit more brightness to the vocals whilst the other had a more middle non-exciting closed tone. It was also the model that my wife, when asked for her opinion, stated that lyrics were easier to hear. Believe it or not, it was the Delta combo that took the lead.

Last night, it was the chance for the Sony recorder again to take on the Arcam for the Best Picture Quality Award. I asked a mate along this time to provide an alternative view. The dvd used was Ratatouille (when Remy visits the old woman's house for saffron and the subsequent quick departure) via my Sanyo Z3 pj. Each machine had its own copy of the Disney movie so that we could compare and contrast a lot more easily. This was a lot tougher to judge. However, as we started to appreciate that there was a slight difference between them both and then realising what it was, the award went to the Arcam! The 137 gave a slightly more distinguished edge to everything you saw. The contrast was slightly better than the Sony as was the colour palate. In fact, that would be the best way to describe it....everything was done slightly better. I also recognised that whilst it is only a 2 dimensional picture, the view of the old lady's house from the path gave it a 3d type quality that the Sony couldn't express. Whether it be in the detail, or colour of the rats eyes, everything was just a bit brighter and more focussed. When the rat starts to read the cookbook, you really did notice that you could read the recipes far better on the Arcam as it had just that bit more detail and colour.

The main demo today was purely about sound quality. I was using coaxial out from the Sony and 5.1 analogue out both into my Yamaha DSP E800 processor with outs feeding my A80 pre-amp and P90 power amp. Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War of the Worlds (Heat Ray on Horsell Common in DTS) and Part 2 of Band Of Brothers (chapter 2- when they are flying at night over German gun pounding Normandy) were the main sources. The Sony did a good job and I thought it would be hard for the Arcam to make much of a difference.

With my wife back on listening duty, the award was quickly decided. It went to the Cambridge based crew as there really was an audiophile's listening delight here. With the Sony, Herbie Flowers' bass line sometimes got lost within a full blown band and orchestra chorus. The Arcam though just treated it as a CD so that every instrument could be heard and followed independently. Not really surprising really! The depth of the bass was quite staggering actually and the Arcam was able to smooth out the instruments that sounded too loud on the Sony to give a well mixed balance that the sound engineer/producer intended. Richard Burton's voice was a little more assertive, brighter, open and not just confined to the middle soundstage from the Sony. It was if the 510 was determined to leave vocals on a 1970's tone selector (ie pre bass and treble) setting of halfway.If you like to hear music in a film but aren't too bothered about the depth and detail, then the Sony does a great job but if you're in essence an audiophile, then it just has to be the Arcam. Also noticable in the PQ dept was that faces looked more detailed. A shot of Jeff Wayne conducting via the Sony was fine but when it was compared to the Arcam, you thought that a soft focus lens had been fitted into the dvd recorder. There was that little extra sharpness, contrast and depth with the Arcam.

But what about information to feed the surround sound? I chose Band of Brothers as it has planes flying all around you plus explosions as you'd expect from a Normandy landing from the air over Normandy. The Sony went first (as usual) and there was plenty of information coming out of every speaker. You certainly felt as if you were part of this presentation. It took me over an hour though to fathom what was wrong with the Arcam as the Sony basically had won the first set 6-1. Once the fault had been rectified, the match started again! This time the Arcam gave it that bit extra in every department not least in the dialogue between the pilots and parachutists. I also noticed that the pq was slightly more detailed in all departments as well.

My avforums surfing for the quest to get the best player for me is now at an end! Whilst my CD hardware is now staying put and not off to Ebay as it will still be the main audio disc spinner, I finally bought a dvd playing machine at 5 pm tonight!

To summarise,let me do so by going back to the 70's and sticking with the tennis analogy. The Sony is a good player. What Hifi and Video said so! This machine though is your fans favourite and can't be beaten until Bjorn Arcam Borg shows up on court! The 137 just does everything slightly better in all departments. We know that in hifi, to get something that will give you the "wow" factor over existing good quality equipment costs a lot more than just a few quid. The Law of Diminishing Returns is a good description.

Is the Arcam, as a DVD player, worth another £900 more than the original Sony asking price of £350 three years ago? That's the price you have to pay for an upgrade in all areas. If you can get it for just another £130, as my wife said " You'll be buying a Bluray in a few years time when they're much cheaper anyway" it makes sense to buy the Arcam DV137, only because my wife told me to purchase it, of course!
So I did!



Active Member

Thanks for that. Of course we all know at the end of the day it is never us who has the final say on what to buy!


martin purnell

Active Member
Hi Raven,
Now that I have been tinkering with it, I can honestly say that the Video Test System Set-UP programmed into the 137 is really good. For my PJ, I used the Pixar THX system found on most of their dvds. However, using the Arcam version, clearly has made an improvement to the overall pq.

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