NuForce CDP-8 CD player
"A CD player," I said.
"They're still making those?"
Yesand better than ever, for the most part. But I understood Mark's confusion. When a "Vote!" question on the Stereophile website asked readers what digital source components they used, a surprising number responded that they did not, or hadn't bought a dedicated player in years. Topping the list were computers and universal players.
Heck, even I had relegated the superb Simaudio Moon Evolution SuperNova CD player to duties in my downstairs system, replacing it in my big rig with Ayre's C-5xeMP. How come? I like being able to play SACDs, CDs, and DVD-Audio discsnot, I hasten to point out, that I actually listen to that many DVD-As or SACDs compared to CDs, which still comprise 99% of my music collection.
When NuForce's Jason Lim offered me a review sample of his company's new CDP-8 CD player, I was interested, though I never consciously pegged it as a CD-only player. When I received the sample, I was impressed enough by its fit'n'finish to look under its hood and kick its tires. The CDP-8 is far from "just" a CD player. And it costs $1450not an inconsiderable sum, but far from high-end insanity.
Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket
The interesting wrinkle in the CDP-8's design is its constant angular-velocity transport, which runs at a single speed, filling the player's buffer with data. (Normally, a CD player constantly varies its speed, from 500rpm at the innermost data spiral to 200rpm at the outermost data spiral, in order to provide the DAC with a steady datastream.) The transport's laser is DSP-controlled, which NuForce says reduces jitter and increases the datastream's accuracy. The data coming from the buffer are resynchronized by an onboard master clock. NuForce claims that the CDP-8's jitter is "practically non-existent."
The CDP-8's output features a high-performance DAC chip and what NuForce calls "sophisticated analog output circuitry." The CDP-8 uses a 15V DC "wall wart" power supply, complete with cord, that the owner's manual advises you not replace. Inside the CDP-8, separate regulated power supplies run the DSP, control modules, and output.
Cosmetically, the CDP-8 is sleek and unobtrusive at 8.5" wide by 1.8" high by 14" deep, and feels satisfyingly solid enough to belie its weight of 7 lbs. Its front panel is beveled on all four sides. Along the top bevel runs a touch-sensitive strip that offers control functions (reiterated on the remote control). These are not illuminated when the player is in standby mode, which can be triggered with a rear-panel pushbutton or via the remote.
Besides that large standby button, the rear panel includes respectable RCA analog outputs, in addition to BNC and coaxial digital outs.
One on one
Everything about the CDP-8 just felt right. The drawer slid in and out quietly, the touch-strip controls were responsive, and the chassis was ruggedsome players make me fear that simply plugging a pair of RCA cables in or out might relocate the jacks.
Then there was the sound, which was shockingly good. I auditioned the CDP-8 in the big-boy rig in my small listening room, and at my desk, and it never ceased to delight me. I listen to a lot of music at my desk, using my computer as a music server driving a Bel Canto USB Link 24/96 USB-to-S/PDIF converter and a Musical Fidelity X-DACV3 feeding an NHT PVC preamplifier, this in turn driving NHT's M-00 powered monitors. Depending on what else I'm auditioning on any given day, I sometimes think my desktop system makes my office chair the sweetest of my sweet spots.
Plugging the CDP-8 into the desktop rig, I was startled by how much better CDs played in the NuForce sounded than lossless files streamed from my hard drive, even with the external DACs. "Isle of Everywhere," from Gong's You (Radio Gnome Invisible, Pt.3) (CD/AIFF file, EMI 66552), swirled around me full of airiness and pixie dust, while Mike Howlett's plummy bass and Pierre Moerlin's drums just kicked those pixies' butts. Then, Steve Hillage's guitar solo nailed me to my seat, slack-jawed in wonder. He must have been using every Mike Matthews stomp box known to manand the CDP-8 let me hear as never before that classic tantalum crunchiness.
When I listened to "Comin' Back to Me," from Rickie Lee Jones' Pop Pop (CD/AIFF, Geffen GFED-24426), her voicealmost a whisperhad a sense of body that put her right in front of me, albeit in a very much quieter room. Her guitar was alive with delicate harmonics. And when Jones uses her head tones in the final chorus, the change in dynamics was ear-popping. It's quiet fire and ice all at once.
"When It Comes to You," from Buddy Miller's Midnight and Lonesome (CD/AIFF, Hightones HCD-8149), shuffled along atop an almost flatulent bass line (produced, I assume, by an instrument credited as an Optigan). That bass line and Miller's inspired tambourine playing really got my feet tappingthe CDP-8 is awfully good at that whole pace'n'timing thing. However, the NuForce didn't clean up any of this disc's Pro Tools glaze or cramped acoustics, and it certainly reminded me again that Miller's home studio desperately needs some better vocal mikes (or maybe he saves the good 'uns for his wife, Julie). The point was that the CDP-8 let me enjoy what I have always loved about these recordings without spreading any digital pancake makeup over their flaws.