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The List: Five of the best CD Players on the Planet

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Welcome to something new we’re going to try here on PTA thanks to our friend Wynn Wong of Wynn Audio in Richmond Hill, Ontario. I’m going to be curating a new list every month featuring different categories of gear that I think you – our readers – have to hear under any circumstances you can arrange: beg, borrow, steal, drive for hours, hop a train, take a plane… you get what I’m saying. Price will not be a factor, with individual pieces on each list reflecting a spectrum of what I feel is the best. This new feature will be called… The List, and it will be my attempt to share some of the gear opinions I’ve managed to accrue spending as much time as I do (apologies to my family, and friends) with high fidelity equipment. Items featured will include at least one piece of gear that I’ve personally spent time with, so it’s not some random list put together without context. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy putting them together.

–Rafe Arnott, Instagram: @audiophile.gentleman


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In the house: The Audio Note CD-4.1x, and Metronome Technologie CD8 S.

Five of the best CD Players on the Planet. Hyperbole? Maybe. But that doesn’t make it untrue, besides everybody loves lists. I’m going to start by saying that the rumours of the death of CD have been greatly exaggerated. I know, I know… you’ve just read that, and now you’re saying “what is he going on about?” Right? “Everyone is streaming high-res computer audio now Rafe – c’mon, get with it mate.” While the negative impact on the popularity of shiny sliver discs via online streaming services such as Tidal, Spotify, and Deezer or closer to home on network attached servers (NAS), cannot be overstated, that doesn’t mean they sound better. There is certainly the incontrovertible convenience to having millions of songs at your fingertips that trumps every other format of audio playback, but that convenience hasn’t necessarily translated to better sound. In fact I’ve heard very few high-end DAC/server combinations streaming at 16/44, 24/384, DSD, DXD, etc. that have improved on Redbook.

Why is that? To my ears over the last several months, there’s something in the timing – and just ask MQA about the importance of timing – to listening to music being played back by a CD transport compared to computer-based audio. Is it the way various DACs, and streaming hardware re-assemble the data in their buffer stages when compared to a compact disc being read? I’m not sure. And, many will be quick to point out that there’s a a dozen reasons why this makes perfect sense, and just as many why it doesn’t. Digital is digital some will say. I have to respectfully disagree, and say that’s not the case. But, that’s an in-depth article for another time.

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Oh, the bargains to be had…

I almost didn’t want to to make this first list on CD players because I wanted to buy myself some more time. You see, since I’ve had two of the players that are featured in this month’s clutch of kit at my place (Metronome CD8 S, and Audio Note CD 4.1x) I’ve been having an amazing time CD-hunting through the stacks at several of my local record stores. Barely anyone is flipping through CDs these days – and let me tell you there are more fantastic, hard-to-find, out-of-print used CDs than I’ve ever laid eyes on at local shops – everyone is too busy jostling each other in the vinyl section hoping to score a turquoise-lettered Zeppelin first pressing to be bothered with the lowly, and oh-so-uncool CD.

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LPs are gathering a bit of dust of late.

But the sound of vinyl is so superior to CD you say. Is it? I’m here to tell you, I’m a bit hard pressed to spin LPs these days when I have two CD players the calibre of the Metronome, and Audio Note in the house. I still get to rummage through pile of cases – much like flipping through my LP collection – and I still get to take out a disc (albeit smaller), and place it on the player. I also get to go through liner notes with my CDs. But the very best thing of all (besides the imaging, texture, and timbral colours of sound that these two players exude) is the fact that almost every CD I’ve been buying up (10-15 at a time when I’m out) costs $2 to $4.

It’s no secret that most people are used to dropping on average $25 (here in Canada) for an LP, so $2 for a mint-condition CD is excellent value in my books – especially when you take into account how many of today’s re-issued LPs from questionable labels are sourced from: you guessed it, CD. I usually spend much more than $25 for some rare pressing I want, and when I go crate digging for vinyl these days I’m lucky to find anything under $10 since Discogs became the app de rigueur for record store owners. Good bye to those $5 scores in the new arrivals bin because the clerks didn’t know what they had… ahhhh, thanks Internet. But not so for CDs. No, they are piled up like old musty magazines, and quickly stickered with shockingly low prices because, well, they’re just CDs, and as I said – who wants those? Well, I certainly do, and so should you. The CD is back big time for me, and here’s an alphabetical list of five of what I think are some of the best CD players in the world.

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The List is brought to you by Wynn Audio.

4.1x

Audio Note CD-4.1x

Built by hand in a small factory in Hove, outside of the seaside holiday town of Brighton in the UK, the CD-4.1x is the company’s flagship one-box transport/DAC. Audio Note uses the Analog Devices AD1865N chipset with no oversampling, and no digital or analog filtering, and a “clock-locked direct coupling between the transport, and DAC.” Audio Note focuses heavily on power supplies (separate supplies/transformers for transport. DAC, and even the digital-readout screen), and the circuit path with high-quality Cerafine caps, Tantalum resistors, and their own copper-in-foil capacitors throughout, along with Audio Note AN-Vx silver interconnect cable used internally. The analog output stage utilizes a pair of 6H23N dual-triode tubes to get the most out of the transport, which is the broadcast-market specified Philips CD-Pro2LF, and features a magnetic-style clamp. Think assured, powerful, colourful, and dynamic sounding without sacrificing air, detail or timbral texture. One pair of analog RCA outputs, and S/PDIF, AES/EBU. MSRP is $12,000 USD/$14,960 CAN. Look for an upcoming review.

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Burmester 069

Burmester is a German company which is ruthless in their mission of music over all else, and believes in designing to ensure just that. The company’s flagship 069 CD transport/DAC is an opera of over-engineering, and its massive metal chassis weighs in at a hefty 55 lbs, and features a belt-drive which Burmester claims offers complete decoupling of the pickup-system. Inputs include two RCA, one TOSlink, and output choices are XLR, RCA, and TOSlink. Upsampling is 24/96kHz, but is switchable to 24/192kHz. The 069 utilizes “powerful toroidal-core transformers, which rigorously separate the currents supplied to the digital, and analog sections.” The more I explore the world of CD players, the more it becomes obvious that the companies dedicating their resources to Redbook playback seem to use their considerable expertise in the field by focusing on power supplies. The 069 is available either in a one-box configuration, or two-box with a separate, dedicated power supply. I’ve heard the 069 in an all-Burmester system, and was deeply impressed with it’s bass-control, acoustic-instrument sophistication, timing accuracy, and incredibly low noise floor. MSRP starting at $75,000 USD/$93,500 CAN.

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Meridian 808 V6

Another British company, Meridian has been a workhouse on the digital front for decades with a number of key technological designs that set the bar for many years on 16/44 playback, with the latest iteration of the company’s transport/DAC up to Version 6.  With the most inputs of any player on The List, the Meridian 808V6 sports six RCA inputs, two coaxial, two TOSlink, an RJ45 Network jack, and USB. Outputs include a single pair of RCA, XLR, coaxial, and AES/EBU. It has twinned 24/92kHz Delta-Sigma convertors onboard operating at a 4x CD-sample rate (176.4kHz), and while the 808V6 can play Redbook via its transport, it is MQA hardware-certified for decoding via the digital inputs, and DSD via coaxial, and USB. Other features include “an enhanced DSP chip that offers lip-sync control, and MQA and DSD playback (DoP), the latest linear power supply, and a brand new master clock.” A behemoth of a box, I’ve heard it being played through an all-Meridian system a number of times at shows in the last couple years, and it always astounds me with its musical fluidity, uncanny grasp of human voice reproduction, and large, spacious sound stage. MSRP is $14,750 USD/$18,375 CAN.

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Metronome Technologie CD8 S

This French company came on my radar only in the past few months as I kept hearing the Metronome CD8 S mentioned when I asked around about players that I should try to arrange a review of. Metronome’s approach with this transport/DAC is similar to a number of others in that while the transport itself is Redbook-only, it has inputs on a separate board (USB, S/PDIF) that allow the box’s AKM AK4490EQ 32-bit chipset to handle multiple digital formats: PCM decoding up to 768kHz, and also… DSD. A very nice option for those looking to have a one-box solution for both 16/44 discs, and computer-audio playback convenience. The cast, and machined-metal casework is very robust, and like the AN 4.1x mentioned previously has a velvety-smooth top-access sliding door (although here it reveals the Philips CDM12 Pro2 transport mechanism). One of the very cool human-design details which I noticed immediately (and was very grateful at night for) is the inclusion of a small blue LED light that turns on inside the CD bay when the door is slid open. Hallmarks of the CD8 S are it’s wonderful timbral colour, and hyper-realistic portrayal of stringed instruments. It offers tight, deep, and musical bass with everything from electronic dance music to cello solos. Piano, and percussion are reproduced with delicate spectral decay on trailing edges of notes. MSRP listed as $10,000 USD/$12,470 CAN. Look for an upcoming review.

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Naim CD5Si

The Naim CD5Si has been around in its same, basic guise for many years now, and like all Naim products is built like a tank. It features a very unique, manual-operating swing-out drawer to load the transport, and unlike every other transport/DAC listed today, lacks any digital output. This is a single-minded Redbook player designed to do one thing, and do it as well as Naim could design it to do at a price point. The “S” designation added to the venerable player translates to an upgraded D/A circuit that Naim claims has improved the stability of the digital clock, bettered the analog filtering, and on the mechanical side of things added a more robust transport. I’ve always admired the clean, slate-grey casework of Naim designs, and the ability to add separate power supplies as you move up the product line. The CD5 was one of the first CD players I heard when I started to get into high fidelity several years ago, and I was captivated by the intense colour, and musicality to the sound without ever perceiving sacrifice in any aspect of the broad spectrum of tonal reproduction. Texture on drum skins, accurate scale, and size to instruments was impressive, and while it is not the last word in upper-octave detail retrieval, for this price point, you’d be very hard pressed to find anything better in my opinion. MSRP $1,490 USD/$1,900 CAN.

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About Rafe Arnott (307 Articles)
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26 Comments on The List: Five of the best CD Players on the Planet

  1. “Digital is digital some will say. I have to respectfully disagree, and say that’s not the case. But, that’s an in-depth article for another time.” You don’t understand what digital is. It means “referring to something with digits”. The whole point of digital audio is that we have taken an analog phenomenon and reduced to it discrete digits—in this case a series of 0s and 1s. The functioning of so much technology depends on 0s and 1s being 0s and 1s. They don’t vary. That is point of them being “digital”—no it is inherent to the very definition.

    Your selection of CD players is both stupefying and offensive. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about how any technology works could see how your selections are problematic. Firstly there is the Audio Note CD-4.1x. Oversampling seems to be universally helpful in the world of signal processing. Only audiophiles seem to argue otherwise. The Audio Note also lacks filters digital or analog. This omission would seem to be glaring error of engineering maliciously passed off as some kind of benefit. I would wager that literally every CD player that isn’t audiophile snake oil has some form of filtering. Would you rather have me believe that somehow Sony, Phillips, (who came up with format), Pioneer, et cetera have been building their CD players incorrectly since 1983? You’re trying to tell me that some company in Brighton possesses greater engineering know-how? The lack of filters is thankfully compensated by the addition of a tube stage. Why go through the bother of preserving the “purity” of the signal by not oversampling and then not filtering only to have a tube output stage? Oh and to top it off we have some handmade capacitors. I’m sure those do a lot for the consistency of signal. It should be pretty obvious that conceptually this collection of ideas is extremely foolish. What is the point of having a digital and error free means of storage if you are just going to introduce noise and error in the reproduction? Your publication is pretty much everything that is wrong with hi-fi. Blind veneration of bad engineering practices poisons any rational conversation about audio. Your ignorance is perhaps only exceeded by your pretentiousness.

  2. Son of a bitch. I think you meant 5 of the most expensive CD players. (Naim is relative)

  3. I believe Audionet PLANCK should be in this list!

  4. While not the best, my Cambridge Audio CXC transport has allowed me to keep playing CDs (even though they are already are ripped to HDDs) through my DAC. It’s quiet, reliable, and after years of buying vinyl almost exclusively, it’s been fun to rediscover my CD collection again. Rega and Naim still make great CD players.

  5. Cary CD303/300

    • Fascinating article. Any suggestions for good value used cd players to keep an eye out for on craigslist and ebay? I’d be interested in reading more about your experiences listening to cd/sacd vs file listening. You have some great listening space pics on instagram btw.

  6. Why not the Naim CD555 their reference player?

  7. Gianni Wong // October 2, 2017 at 3:13 PM // Reply

    The Sony SCD-1 and the x707es are two of the most accurate CD players ever produced, and the measurements prove it so, especially the X707es for it’s flawless undithered THD figures across the frequency from 0 db to -90 db, and the SCD-1 with it’s textbook jitter performance.
    And the Linn CD12 is another prime example of state of the art measured performance.

  8. Have vinyl and sacd/cd. Prefer vinyl but sacd can be sublime and great.

    You don’t mention dcs which is purported to be at the very top.
    Esoteric K series should if not trounce at least be competitive with your listings.
    Sony ES for price/performance ratios perhaps

    No worries as I have a older used Esoteric and could not be happier

  9. A superb article and more fool people who pass Cds potential by.

  10. How about my Sony es players and Changers from the 90s?

  11. MBL 1621 CD Transport

  12. John P Robins // October 1, 2017 at 11:50 PM // Reply

    Great list; though now have Tidal as another source, still have separate SACD AND CD players in my System, Tidal for single songs, while no CD can have less than 4 songs to be worth purchasing.

  13. Sony Discman ftw

  14. The ‘best’ is a discussion which will never, ever end. One person will much prefer X, while another wouldn’t give it house room. (I’d not have the Naim in my house, for instance.)
    There are many excellent choices, most of which I can’t afford. I happily settle for what was deemed superb, excellent or similar… 10 years ago. Has there truly been exponential leaps in terms of CD playback in that time? Maybe, in terms of DAC, but surely not in the ability to read data from a spinning disc?

  15. I got rid of vinyl yrs ago. Dont really miss it. But i bouhht a used Qed integrated amp. British 40 watt all discrete with holden fisher transformer.Any way took my big Clements out of sterro room,smsll room. Moved em into just about rectangular room. Where i can finally open those Clements up. Anyway my point is i just cant grt over the transparency of that int. Still scrathing my head cause i damn think it beats my separates that are sitting in small stereo room. They might stsy there. Simple is hot. Cd’s aren’t going anywhere.

  16. Great article. Some fine companies are mentioned.

    I also like Audio Research’s CD-9 Which has a Tube stage.
    T+A Makes 3 great players the PDP3000HV which has separate Analog and Digital Power supplies and PCM and DSD separate DACS so you do need 2 pairs of Balanced interconnects. This one is by far the finest player I have used. The Finest 1 bit DACS. The SACD’s and DSD performance is unmatched.
    Their MP3100HV is great also SACD Compatible.
    DCS also makes great CD Players. These players are amongst the finest CD Players.

  17. Muataz Alshammari // October 1, 2017 at 3:35 PM // Reply

    shameful you did not mention the best > Chord Blue mk2

  18. I love cd’s. I sold my turntable and vinyl some time ago. And i’m no good at flac, wav, dsd, pcm, mqa, lossless,… As long as we listen to the music and not the gear, all is well. Having said that. I absolutely love all the gear and cables and high-end bling bling and all the reviews about them. But keep it simple. A lot of people are going back to basics. A good integrated amp, lovely speakers and a nice source. Happy days.

    Many brands still make great cd players. And to add some i’ve heard over the years. Cec, northstar, reimyo, lector. More lists please. Love it.

  19. Have you considered the latest Reference model from Marantz the SA10 S1?

  20. Hello, I would say there where more perfect player devices.
    Pioneer PD-T09
    Esoteric audio P-01 Transporter with external Power / DAC / Clock
    DCS Vivaldi Transporter also with external DAC / Clock
    Sony SCD-1ES Toploader Swoboda tuning.
    Synästec Origo the best of the best.

    Thank you.

  21. I am curious, why do these ultra-expensive players all have cheap dot screens from the 80s? Are such screens particularly appealing to the target market?

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