Classé CDP-10 CD player

With Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio four years old as established media this fall, the two-decades-old Compact Disc medium is still well-established as the primary carrier for recorded music. (Yes, it is experiencing a significant threat from downloadable music files, but that is outside my bailiwick as a hardware reviewer.) Stereophile has therefore been paying attention to the high-performance one-box CD players that are available. In May, I wrote about my positive experiences with the $2950 Ayre CX-7 and Brian Damkroger favorably reviewed the $2999 GamuT CD1, after having followed up his April 2001 review of the $5495 Simaudio Moon Eclipse player in April 2003.

For this issue, I took a look and gave a listen to the new CDP-10 from Canadian manufacturer Classé, which promises much for its $2000 asking price.

The CDP-10 echoes the styling of Classé's cost-no-object Omega-series components, with a 3/8"-thick brushed-aluminum front panel broken visually by an off-center black section containing the red numeric display. (A rather bright red LED to the right of this panel lights up when an HDCD-encoded disc is played.) A single pushbutton on the left opens and closes the disc drawer; a hexagonal array of six transport buttons on the right surrounds the central Play button. The black-anodized remote has a more confusing array of buttons. The rear panel carries single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) output jacks, plus an RCA jack for the S/PDIF data output.

Under its hood the CDP-10 carries three four-layer printed circuit boards, each making extensive use of ground planes and joined by ribbon cables. Occupying the rightmost third of the real estate is a large board carrying the power supply, this based on a Classé-branded toroidal transformer and a large number of individually heatsunk voltage regulators. (There are 11 stages of voltage regulation in total.) A much smaller board behind the display carries the control circuitry for the Philips VAE1250 transport mechanism, while the digital audio and analog circuits are mounted on the third board.

Following the signal path, the data from the transport are carried to an 8x-oversampling digital filter, this also providing HDCD decoding when required. This large surface-mount chip is clocked from a master crystal oscillator, and its two data outputs are taken to two Burr-Brown PCM1738 two-channel DAC chips. This is a 24-bit part capable of operating at high sample rates (in the CDP-10, it is run at a more modest 352.8kHz). Whereas the Ayre AX-7 CD player uses a single '1738 to handle both audio channels, Classé's CDP-10 features one IC per channel, each chip's two channels used to process the "hot" and "cold" phases of a balanced signal.

The audio signal is kept in balanced mode throughout the player, each DAC's current-mode outputs being buffered by four high-slew-rate (600V/µs!) Linear Technology LT1357 op-amps, which in turn feed a pair of socketed Burr-Brown OPA2134 SoundPlus chips, one for each signal phase. The '2134 is a low-noise, ultra-low-distortion, dual FET-input op-amp optimized for audio applications. It is said to not be fazed by driving difficult loads, including high capacitances. Without having access to a circuit diagram, I can't say for sure, but it looks as if one of the two OPA2134s per channel is used as a differential driver for the balanced outputs, the other summing the balanced signal to provide the single-ended output.

The far left of this circuit board carries the driver circuitry for the S/PDIF data output, this clocked from the adjacent master oscillator and isolated from the audio circuitry. It appears to use a pulse transformer.

Parts and construction qualities are very high, with surface-mount components used for the digital circuitry but conventional, audiophile-grade capacitors and resistors used for the audio circuitry. Even with the 11 voltage regulators, much use is made of local decoupling of the power-supply rails, and each channel's audio circuitry is powered from a local pair of large reservoir capacitors.

The Classé CDP-10 followed the Ayre CX-7 in my system; I used its balanced outputs for almost all my auditioning. With levels matched at 1kHz, it was immediately obvious that the Classé sounded more laid-back than the Ayre, which had a more vibrant balance. Soundstage depth was not significantly different, but whereas the Ayre's started from in front of the speakers, that of the Canadian player was behind the plane of the speakers. Which will be preferable is down to personal taste, but I found the CDP-10's presentation more acceptable with recordings that are themselves on the upfront side—the 2003 remastering of Carlos Santana's Caravanserai, for example (1972, Columbia/Legacy ACK 63595).

There was a little more lower-midrange energy compared with the Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista SACD player used for "Red Book" playback and again with levels matched at 1kHz. Male spoken voice had a little more chest tone via the Classé, for example, and naturally recorded piano had more body to its tone. But the tubed player did still have the edge when it came to integrating the direct sound of the instrument with the surrounding reverberation. The MF Nu-Vista 3D CD player I have been using for three years as a reference went even further in this direction, but sounded less clean overall than the Classé.

5070 François-Cusson
Lachine, Quebec H8T 1B3
(514) 636-6384