Vincent Audio has its headquarters in Germany, but its products are made in China and imported into the UK by well-established speaker maker Ruark.

Even if we didn't know it was Chinese-built, we'd have guessed, because only the economics of Far East manufacturing would allow a machine with this kind of specification to be sold at this price. When we say 'specification' we don't mean funky features (it plays HDCD but otherwise does pretty much exactly the same as other machines in this price range) but internal design and construction.

The most obvious internal feature is the use of valves. Turn the unit on and a lone valve in a window right at the front lights up - in fact it's lit, tastefully, from the sides by orange LEDs, whose brightness is controllable by a switch at the back of the unit.

More functionally, three valves within the unit buffer the audio output, including sound sent to the balanced XLR sockets. They are mounted at the rear of one of the smartest circuit boards we've seen in any item of audio gear under a grand, all red-anodised heatsinks, For Audio polypropylene capacitors and so on.

Vincent really has pulled out the stops here, and while the initial appearance of a circuit can be deceptive, this one seems entirely made up of high-quality parts. The DAC is an all-in-one HDCD decoder, filter and DAC chip, and is just about the only surface-mount part, the rest being through-hole including good op-amps, precision resistors etc.

The mechanism is an audio one and the mains transformer, concealed beneath an insulating cover, seems to be pretty generous in size. There's even a headphone output with its own volume control.

Warm and mellow

Does the mere mention of valves give you preconceptions about warm midrange, extended but 'loose' bass and treble with a touch of mellow about it? Well, you wouldn't be far wrong here. Whether it's due to the valves or not, that's not too far from what our panellists thought of the CD-S6.

There's nothing very perturbing about that description and, right enough, this player was, on the whole, liked. Its trump card is its sense of realism, the unforced and natural image it creates. All those who heard it mentioned that directly or indirectly, and all felt it a benefit that at least balances, and perhaps outweighs, the occasional transgression from complete honesty.

Most of those transgressions are of a tonal nature, the easiest kind to forgive. For starters, the bass can sound a little excessive at times and the voice range is not always quite neutral, slightly favouring male over female voices with just a touch of plumminess.

In terms of detail and imaging there's some slight veiling in treble-rich music, which reduces the perceived depth of image.

There's also some lack of precision in the bass. This will certainly be most telling via well-extended loudspeakers, as it leads to a sense of overhang on bass notes of short duration, like jazz basslines.

But, the overall effect of 'being there' does a lot to compensate for any bottom-end shortcomings and with any music, this is an easy player to listen to and live with.

Lab Report

Giving a kick to the widely-held belief that valves intrinsically have high distortion, this player shows a worst-case distortion figure - at full output, of about 0.002per cent. This is maybe fractionally worse than the best obtainable, but nothing to be in any sense ashamed of. At low audio signal levels a few spurious tones appear on the graph, notably 7.5kHz and 15kHz at about -100dB. Again, not disastrous results but they still shouldn't be there.

Distortion shows no sign of increasing at low frequencies and contains next to no phase modulation - a good result. Noise is good rather than great, while in terms of frequency response there's a tiny lift (0.1dB) in the treble before a considerably better-than-usual roll-off, 15dB down at 22.05kHz and basically vanished by 23kHz. Speed accuracy is spot-on while output voltage is a touch above average.