Stereophile's Products of 2013 Digital Component of the Year

Digital Component of the Year

Audio Research Reference CD9 CD player ($12,999; reviewed by Fred Kaplan, October 2013, Vol.36 No.10 Review)

The finalists in this category included an A/D converter, three D/A processors, a media server, a portable media player, and a couple of Blu-ray players—signs of the times, all. So it may come as a surprise that the clear winner is a single-disc CD player. A CD player? That's right. Contrary to popular belief, the Compact Disc is not dead. In fact, for those interested in squeezing the very best from their CD collections, there's no better time than the present to invest in a high-quality disc player.

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Consider Audio Research's Reference CD9, an absolute kicking, scratching, biting, no-holds-barred assault on the state of CD-player perfection. With four first-place votes and 15 total votes, the CD9 easily pulled away from an ambitious bunch. Granted, this isn't just any CD player. First of all, there are the tubes: Four 6H30 dual-triodes drive the analog section; a fifth 6H30 and a 6550C regulate the power supply. Then, the DACs: ARC claims that its use of four digital-to-analog converters (two per channel, each in dual-mono mode) reduces the digital noise floor by 3dB. For more fun, the CD9 provides optional on-the-fly upsampling to 88.2kHz and two choices of digital reconstruction filters. Oh, by the way, the CD9 also includes a full complement of digital inputs: S/PDIF on RCA, BNC, and TosLink; AES/EBU on XLR, and USB—perfect for those new high-resolution downloads you've wanted to stream.

The sound? "Simply excellent," said Fred Kaplan, who most admired the CD9's ability to reveal layers of detail while preserving a song's emotional complexity. "A superb source for music today and tomorrow," he concluded, though he recommended against using the optional upsampling.

Runners-up: (in alphabetical order)

Aesthetix Saturn Romulus CD player ($7000; reviewed by Jon Iverson, October 2013, Vol.36 No.10 Review)
Astell&Kern AK100 portable media player ($699; reviewed by John Atkinson, July 2013, Vol.36 No.7 Review)
Ayre Acoustics QA-9 A/D converter ($3950; reviewed by John Atkinson, November 2012, Vol.35 No.11 Review)
Bricasti Design M1 D/A processor ($8595; reviewed by John Marks, July 2013, Vol.36 No.7 Review)
Marantz NA-11S1 media server ($3499; reviewed by John Atkinson, October 2013, Vol.36 No.10 Review)
Meridian Explorer USB D/A processor ($299; reviewed by Art Dudley, September 2013, Vol.36 No.9 Review)
Mytek Digital Stereo192-DSD D/A processor ($1595; reviewed by Kalman Rubinson, July 2013, Vol.36 No.7 Review)
Oppo Digital BDP-103 & BDP-105 Blu-ray players ($499 & $1199; reviewed by Kalman Rubinson, May & July 2013, Vol.36 Nos. 5 & 7 Review)
Parasound Halo CD 1 CD player ($4500; reviewed by John Marks & Sam Tellig, June & July 2013, Vol.36 Nos. 6 & 7 Review)

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