Spinning Silver: Audio Note UK CDT-Two/II
CD transports are passé. Boring. Irrelevant. So … yesterday. Now, if only someone would tell that to the 5,000+ shiny silver discs I have all over my house.
Yes, sure – I most certainly can rip my entire CD collection. And yes, I can even acquire one of those systems that will let me pop in a just-found thrift-shop treasure and it will automagically rip, label, tag and store it for me (and someday, I do mean to check out Antipodes and Innuous) so that I can use it with Roon. All of that is possible.
But who has that kind of time? And do I really have to do all of this extra work if I just want to play a damn CD? Luckily, OPPO Digital is still making kicking-ass mulit-format disc players — oh, wait … well, shit.
Looks like I’m out of luck. Almost.
Redbook is a Good Book
Now, I really ought to just mention that this isn’t just a random notion. I really do have thousands of CDs — still. I just couldn’t bear the idea of throwing them away. Toto IV is staying here forever and that’s really the end of it.
The idea that “high resolution” doesn’t necessarily equate to “higher quality” really ought to be common sense by now. Often, “regular” resolution, CD-quality “Redbook” standard at 44.1kHz, is not only good enough, in many cases, it’s as good as it’s going to get, especially if what you’re listening to is music streaming from most online services or all that stuff from a few too many decades ago (I have habits and tastes that fall into too many categories to be either helped or trapped by format standards). And again, sure, MQA is promising great guns, but to be fair, the “regular” hi-fi quality TIDAL streams sound pretty great already (Qobuz promises to be another thing altogether, but that’s a date for another day), and when all this Redbook quality is coming through my BorderPatrol DAC, the emphasis is decidedly on the word ‘great’.
Anyway, all of this is why I reached out to Audio Note UK (website) about one of their CD transports. I wanted to see if “ancient tech” was still relevant. Still useful. Still “on point” in the world of high-end audio.
The answer is “yes”, obviously. Laughably so.
It was Gary Dews of BorderPatrol who suggested that I reach out to Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note UK — their history stretches back a long way. The reasoning behind his suggestion had to do with laser pickup system, the Philips CD Pro2LF (LF, = “Lead-Free”, for RoHS compliance). Now out of production, these arrays had all the toys — error correction, filtering, and speed-stability enhancements. It was the state-of-the-art.
Mr. Q sent me one of their middle-of-their-line transports, the CDT-Two/II, which is the point in the product lineup that the AN website first notes the inclusion of the Pro2 mechanism. It’s a top-loading system and comes with a custom AN power supply in a triple-mains transformer arrangement. The chassis is painted black and formed of simple bent-metal but does come with a thick aluminum faceplate. Audio Note AN-V silver cable is used for internal digital signal transfer, and this “level” includes Tantalum resistors and Cerafine electrolytic capacitors, and includes a silver-wired digital output transformer. Side note: the CDT can range up to “Level 6”, which includes all manner of unobtainium parts and promises of rarefied performance.
In daily use, the CDT-Two/II proved itself – and I mean that. It’s bulletproof. With every CD I put into the reader, the read was clean and glitch-free. I mean, really, this was pretty much perfect in every way. If this seems a bit anti-climactic, fine – but my Bel Canto CDT, and several old of my old OPPO players can’t say the same.
I feel a bit weird talking about the “sound” of the transport — it really ought not to have any! That is, as a transport, the CDT-Two/II doesn’t include a DAC as part of the solution — you’ll need to add one to get any sound at all.
So, it may be odd to say that my CD playback chain sounds fantastic with the CDT-Two/II, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of the CDT-Two/II. As to why, well, I’m going to assume that the Phillips mechanism is bang-on good, and more, that the AN implementation is just excellent. Being slightly more technical, there quite a bit of difference between CD mechanisms, and that all the filtering and error-correction that are part of CD-Pro2 solution appears to matter quite a bit. As to what part of that is the direct result of AN’s “secret sauce”, I can’t guess, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and this is some damn-fine sound.
How so? Well, I want to say that it is, in a word, “easy”. I’ve had digital sound digital, that is, hard-edged or super-clean or “crystalline”, and this Audio Note sound isn’t in the same zip code as any of that. This is natural, organic, and flowing. And, best of all, that naturalness organically flowed into every DAC I connected it to. The Audio Note DAC 2.1x Signature (connected via S/PDIF), a warm-sounding converter to begin with, was butter. Warm, high-cream, lightly salted and freshly made. With the BorderPatrol DAC, the sound was breathtakingly open, clear and extended. With the Bricasti M1LE DAC, the sound was exhilaratingly expansive and filled with light.
Now, to be fair, the best transport I’ve ever heard is the Aurender W20. And yes, that’s a $17k purpose-built computer. Fed via an isolated asynchronous USB connection coming from the W20, each DAC reached heights I’ve never matched with any other transport, computer or otherwise. I mention it not to throw stones, but to show how high the mountain reaches.
With each of the CD transports I’ve tried, the sound of the DAC, when compared to the W20, was different. Generically speaking, the difference was “softer”. Less “excelsior”. “But.” And that’s where the I found the rub, right there in the “but”. Because the difference between the W20 and the $6500 CDT-Two/II? Minor. Like, “what the heck” minor. Minor enough to cast oceans of shade on the “computer-based digital audio is always better” maxim you might have found on audiophile forums.
And spinning discs is kinda fun. Retro, sure. But fun.
The biggest audiophile objection I can even imagine at this point is that the CDT-Two/II only plays CDs. No SACDs. No Blu-Ray. Just “plain old vanilla” Redbook 44.1k CD data, passed over a “plain old vanilla” RCA S/PDIF connection. There is absolutely nothing 21st century about this description. And yet, and yet … who cares? The sound I get out of my audio rig, with the CDT-Two/II in play, and into some of the world’s greatest DACs, is still beguiling, sweet, effortless, and mesmerizing.
Guess those silver discs don’t quite need to be strung up as holiday ornaments quite yet.
I’m a fan. If I had the cash, I’d send it to Audio Note, no questions asked.
The CDT-Two/II earns my highest recommendation.