Audio Research CD-1 CD player Thomas J. Norton November 1996
By a lucky coincidence, we had a new sample of the Audio Research CD-1 CD player on hand, awaiting a Follow-Up by Wes Phillips. Since the ARC is directly competitive with the Sony CDP-XA7ES in price, a comparison of the two machines was a no-brainer.
The most obvious difference between the two players was the Sony's richer, fuller sound. On Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth (4AD 45384-2)—beautifully recorded in a natural church acoustic—the CD-1 was a little brighter and more obviously detailed on top, the Sony more subtle. The ARC's bass also sounded tighter, though the Sony's bass was clearly deeper and more powerful.
On material heavily dependent on ambience, fullness, and overall musical perspective, I have to give the nod to the Sony. On Saint-Saëns's Oratorio de Noël, the Sony remained the richer and more full-bodied, with distinctly deeper bass. The ARC's bass was perfectly adequate (particularly if you don't have big speakers), but the Sony suggested the word "awesome" on some of the deeper pedal notes (and this on the quieter, more subtle passages), while the ARC did not. The CD-1 had a little more air and inner detailing, but the Sony was better at allowing me to forget that what I was hearing was essentially an electronic simulation of reality. It wasn't that the ARC sounded etched—it certainly wasn't. But the sound from the Sony was just simply there: The vocals were sublimely natural, sibilants were sweet. There was a palpable realism, including a stunning yet subtle rendition of depth that the ARC's crisper presentation didn't quite match.
On material dependent on transient speed and inner detailing, however, the ARC sounded noticeably tighter than the Sony—and more open and detailed. But the call here was by no means easy. In fact, every time I thought, "Yeah, the ARC is thumbs-up here," I'd then go back to the Sony and be surprised. I listened to All Star Percussion Ensemble II first on the ARC, and wondered how you could beat its excellent, quick detailing and tight, clear presentation. Well, you can't, exactly (not without spending a lot more money, methinks), but the Sony, while softer-sounding overall, was pristine and liquid—so unforced yet natural that I found myself falling for its charms all over again every time I switched back to it.
In truth, I could live happily with the Sony or the ARC. But there are enough differences between these two exceptional players that they won't necessarily appeal to the same listeners or work best in the same systems. Both are clearly solid Class B.—Thomas J. Norton
Thomas J. Norton wrote again about the CD-1 in January 1997 (Vol.20 No.1):
I didn't have a comparably priced D/A converter/transport available for a direct comparison with the Mark Levinson No.36S processor and No.37 transport, but I'm not certain what that would prove. No comparison would be likely to change my opinion of the Mark Levinson combination . Of more interest to me (and, I trust, to most of our readers) was how the 37/36S would stack up against more-affordable competition. Specifically, I compared it with a high-end, single-piece player, the $2995 Audio Research CD-1.
My prior experience with this machine suggested that its sonic timbre is fairly similar to that of the Levinson gear, and it was. There really were no substantive differences between the two players (here I refer to the 37/36S together as "a player") in the general character of their sounds. The ARC's bass was marginally less tight, though neither player was at all deficient in either bass quality or quantity. But there was a refinement to the sound of the Levinson combo that escaped the ARC; the CD-1 sounded a little brighter and less subtly shaded in the highs, with less obvious soundstage depth. Not huge differences on a linear scale, and certainly the benefits of the Levinsons come at a steep price. But they're there.—Thomas J. Norton