2012 Recommended Components Disc Players, Transports & Media Players

SACD, DVD-A, & CD Players & Transports & Media Players

Editor’s Note: SACD and DVD-A player ratings are based on how they sound with their respective hi-rez media, not CD.


Ayre Acoustics DX-5 “Universal A/V Engine”: $9950
Based around the Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player, the multichannel-capable DX-5 plays CDs, SACDs, DVD-A, DVD-V, and Blu-ray discs, while its USB port handles resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz. It uses a new Ayre power supply, Ayre’s zero-feedback, fully balanced audio circuitry, opto-isolators to prevent noise from entering the audio signal, and the latest iteration of Ayre’s minimum-phase digital reconstruction filter. The DX-5 sounded lush and warm with CDs and SACDs, but somewhat soft overall; with DVD-As, the sound was just as smooth, but with better imaging precision, spaciousness, three-dimensionality, and bass punch, said MF. Measured performance, especially via its asynchronous USB port, was outstanding, said JA. Compared to the dCS Debussy, the DX-5 had a warmer midrange but sacrificed speed, precision, and bass weight, said MF. Compared to the Oppo BDP-83, the Ayre had an equally rich sound, but with greater transparency and dynamics, said KR, adding that despite his skepticism, “Ayre really achieved sonic improvements in the HDMI output over the stock Oppo output that sits on the same back panel. Best audio HDMI sound so far.” Black finish adds $250. (Vol.33 No.12, Vol.34 No.1 Read Review Online)

Ayre Acoustics C-5xeMP: $5950 ✩
“An impressive hunk of audio jewelry,” the C-5xe is a music-only, two-channel-only disc player that uses a Pioneer universal transport, a Burr-Brown DSD1792 DAC chip, and a Sony CXD2753R SACD decoder. No video output of any kind. In combining musical integrity with true audiophile precision, the C-5xe was not only a “fabulous CD player” but a revelation with hi-rez media, finally introducing WP to the higher aspirations of SACD and DVD-Audio. “So this is what all the fuss has been about,” he marveled. “The Ayre C-5xe has proved to be the best-sounding product I’ve heard all year.” JA agreed: “A nicely engineered piece of kit!” and he bought one for his system. Even ST was impressed: “Excellent sound, flawless operation.” AD, however, was less enthusiastic, preferring Ayre’s CX-7e on CD “a lot better.” WP disagreed, noting that the CX-7e lacked the C-5xe’s rhythmic drive and huge soundstage. Directly comparing the C-5xe with the Muse Polyhymnia, WP felt the Ayre traded the Muse’s slam and impact for greater breath and coherence. JA’s most recent measurements confirmed a superbly low noise floor and equally superb rejection of jitter. Stereophile’s joint “Product of 2005.” The Ayre’s playback of high-resolution recordings offered a slightly less congested lower midrange than “Red Book” CDs played through the Meridian 808i.2, but in a head-to-head CD comparison, the Ayre couldn’t match the Meridian’s expansive soundstages and clearly defined images. Current production incorporates Ayre’s Minimum Phase (MP) filter, implemented with a field-programmable gate array, for 16x oversampling of the digital audio data. The C-5xeMP sounded more focused and more relaxed while imparting a “deep sense of ‘rightness’,” said Wes. Existing C-5xe players can be upgraded to MP status for $200. (Vol.28 No.7, Vol.29 No.5, Vol.30 No.10, Vol.32 Nos.2 & 4; MP upgrade, Vol.32 No.7 Read Review Online)

Boulder 1021: $24,000
“Not your dad’s dumb CD player,” the upsampling Boulder 1021 has 24-bit DACs running at 352.8kHz and uses a PC running the Linux operating system to manage its internal disc database. When a CD is loaded, the Boulder displays the disc’s metadata on its large front-panel screen. Additionally, the 1021 can play data discs carrying high-resolution audio files. Playing CDs, JA was impressed by the Boulder’s combination of low-frequency weight, upper-bass definition, and grain-free highs. With hi-rez files, the Boulder “was stunning: open, airy, grain-free, with a sharply defined soundstage and an excellent sense of the recorded acoustic.” Current version can play files from NAS drives. (Vol.32 No.7 Read Review Online)

Bryston BDP-1: $2195
Simple in function and purist in design, the plug’n’play BDP-1 digital audio player is basically a Linux computer optimized for streaming audio files. Based on the user-friendly Auraliti L-1000, the BDP-1 plays digital files from external flash drives or portable hard drives plugged into one of its four USB 2.0 ports; it adds an AES/EBU output to the Auraliti’s S/PDIF and has a front-panel display and keypad to control playback. Once properly set up and configured and used with Bryston’s BDA-1 DAC, the BDP-1 produced open highs, a rich midrange, stunning dynamic range, and three-dimensional imaging, said LG. JA, too, was impressed: “Bryston’s BDP-1 proved to be an excellent-performing digital source, with a low-jitter, bit-accurate data output capable of operating at sample rates up to 192kHz.” BR-2 remote control adds $375. (Vol.34 No.6 Read Review Online)

Cary Audio Design CD-306 SACD Professional Version: $7995
The handsome, front-loading Cary offers HDCD decoding and switchable upsampling ratio, and includes a handy digital input for use with a network music player. It excelled at preserving a recording’s sense of space, and had a smooth, natural, seamless sound. At the highest upsampling ratio, CDs were reproduced with a similar seamlessness and benefited from improved bass clarity and impact. “It’s on the expensive side,” concluded JA, “but you get a well-engineered, solidly built, superb-sounding player with close to state-of-the-art measured performance.” Mikey was impressed by the Cary’s lightning-fast attack, astonishing resolution, and breathtaking transparency. Though fast and exciting, the Cary couldn’t approach the 10x-more expensive dCS Scarlatti’s “harmonically richer, more dimensional, microdynamically superior, more relaxed, more detailed sound,” said MF. (Vol.31 No.11, Vol.32 Nos.2 & 8, see also MF’s review of the 303T in Vol.33 No.9 Read Review Online)

Cary Audio Design Classic CD-303T SACD Professional Version: $6495
Made in Hong Kong, the impressively built CD-303T is an unusually versatile, fully balanced SACD/CD/HDCD player-DAC combo with multiple digital inputs and outputs. It can upsample CDs to as high as 768kHz, offers a choice of solid-state or tubed output, and provides 24-bit/192kHz resolution from its USB input. It uses four Burr-Brown PCM 1792u 24-bit chips and a Sony transport remanufactured by Cary to include a new aluminum disc tray. Though it lacked top-end air and bottom-end control, the CD-303T had a warm, full, relaxed sound with outstanding texture and three-dimensionality, said MF. JA was puzzled by its low-level linearity error when playing CDs, however. (Vol.33 No.9 Read Review Online)

dCS Scarlatti: $79,996/system as reviewed
This complex, sophisticated four-box system includes the dual-laser SACD/CD Scarlatti Transport ($32,999), with DSD datastream output via IEEE1394 FireWire interface; the Scarlatti DAC ($23,999), with dCS-patented Ring DAC topology and switchable reconstruction filters; the Scarlatti Master Clock ($9999), with eight independently buffered outputs; and the Scarlatti Upsampler ($12,999), with switchable filters that upsample data to high-sample-rate PCM or DSD. USB input operates in the much preferred asynchronous mode. With both SACDs and CDs, the Scarlatti stack produced sound that was effortless, transparent, tonally neutral, and dimensional, said MF. “The dCS Scarlatti is the best-sounding, most satisfying digital playback system I’ve heard.” JA noted “state-of-the-art” measured performance. (Vol.32 No.8 Read Review Online)

dCS Puccini: $17,999
The Puccini, the least-expensive model in the new dCS line, is a one-box SACD/CD player with both balanced and unbalanced analog outputs; it has pairs of digital inputs and outputs, and can be partnered with the external Puccini U-Clock ($5499), which offers 24-bit/96kHz support and adds a USB input. The Puccini employs dCS’s Ring DAC and the bombproof UMK5 Esoteric transport mechanism, while the U-Clock’s USB port uses a Texas Instruments TAS 1020B USB receiver chip operating in asynchronous mode. With its convincing low frequencies, outstanding midrange clarity, “righteous sense of musical flow,” and state-of-the-art measured performance, the Puccini produced a sound that allowed JA to almost forget he was listening to recordings. The V1.2 firmware upgrade eliminates the low-level, low-frequency idle tone JA discovered with SACD playback, and adds three new low-pass filters for CD playback and external 44.1kHz-sampled data: Classic, which has the same linear-phase characteristic as the Puccini’s earlier DSD filter; Long, said to have better anti-imaging performance than Classic; and Asym, free from pre-ringing but with a larger degree of post-ringing on transients. JA heard no substantial difference between the Classic and Long filters, but with the Asym filter engaged there was a greater ease to the overall sound and images were more dimensional. “Highly recommended.” (Vol.32 No.12, Vol.33 No.10 Read Review Online)

Luxman D-05: $5000
See “The Fifth Element” in the April 2012 issue.

Oppo BDP-95: $999 $$$
Physically and electronically distinct from earlier Oppo BD players, the BDP-95 Universal Audiophile 3D Blu-ray Disc Player boasts a solid, hefty chassis and a substantial toroidal transformer built by Rotel. Most significant, however, are the player’s two Sabre32 Reference ES9018 DAC chips: one for the 7.1-channel analog output, the other dedicated to the stereo output, thus improving the signal/noise ratio and allowing the BDP-95 to run fully balanced to its XLR outputs. In addition to its analog outputs, the Oppo provides an Ethernet LAN port, HDMI 1 and 2 outputs, two USB ports, and optical and coaxial digital outputs. Compared to the Sony SCD-XA5400ES, the BDP-95 was consistently more open and spacious, with better articulation of instruments and voices. KR: “Oppo Digital has made a leap forward with this model: a universal disc player that deserves consideration by serious audiophiles.” He sums up “an outstanding value in a universal player. While not as generously built as the Sony XA-5400ES, the BDP-95 edges ahead with its more open and spacious soundstaging.” (Vol.34 No.9 Read Review Online)

Playback Designs MPS-5 Reference: $17,000
Designed by Sony and Studer alum Andreas Koch and made in the US, the MPS-5 is a slim, single-box, fixed-output, two-channel SACD/CD player, upgradeable to multichannel by adding Playback Designs’ outboard MPD-5 DAC. Its digital input/output section is carried in the chassis’s upper section, while the lower section houses a modified TEAC Esoteric SACD/CD transport and the player’s analog output circuitry. The MPS-5 includes Playback Designs’ Frequency Arrival System, said to completely eliminate jitter from the audio signal. Once broken in, the MPS-5 produced a “masterfully neutral top-to-bottom tonal balance” with well-extended bass and open, airy highs, said MF. Compared to the dCS Scarlatti, the MPS-5 sounded “somewhat cooler and more analytical,” but offered slightly better transparency and three-dimensionality. Although JA found the MPS-5’s error correction “astounding,” he was puzzled by its relatively high levels of background noise which appeared to reduce the player’s intrinsic resolution on SACD closer to that typical of CD. Compared to the Marantz SA-KI-Pearl, the MPS-5 sounded, to MF, “faster, tighter, more resolving, better extended, and more expressive, particularly on the bottom.” The MPS-5 traded the delicacy, richness, and atmospherics of the Ayre DX-5 for greater dynamics, blacker backgrounds, and more three-dimensionality, said MF. Compared with the Sim­audio Moon Evolution 650D, the MPS-5 had similarly sharp transient attack but lacked clarity, texture, bass control, and focus, felt MF. 2012 production has USB-X to handle DSD datastreams. (Vol.33 Nos.2, 7, & 12, Vol.34 No.11 Read Review Online)

Sony SCD-XA5400ES: $1499 $$$
Similar in appearance to earlier ES models, the SCD-XA5400ES uses an 8x-oversampling filter and a noise-shaping algorithm that result in a 2.8224MHz signal-sampling frequency, and offers multichannel digital output via HDMI. (Used with either the Arcam AV888 pre-pro or Kal’s Meridian HD621/861, the Sony successfully output PCM and DSD via HDMI.) CD playback was “a revelation,” with sound that was “detailed, spacious, and luscious,” said KR. Compared to the SCD-XA9000ES, the new model sounded smoother overall without sacrificing top-to-bottom clarity or detail. “For the moment, I have yet to hear a better SACD/CD player,” said Kal. Compared to the Yamaha Aventage BD-A1000, the Sony had a more dramatic and forward sound, but lacked the Yamaha’s broad, deep soundstage and superior delineation of instruments and ambience, said KR. (Vol.32 Nos.5 & 11, Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)


Ayre Acoustics CX-7eMP: $3500 ✩
In his measurements, JA concluded that the original CX-7 CD player was “a model of modern CD-playing design....[It] sounds as clean as it looks. Its balance is vibrant, its bass well-defined and deep, its highs clean, detailed, and well-resolved.” He was impressed by the way the original CX-7 preserved the “fragile sense of an acoustic around recorded instruments....Nothing sounded confused or obscured via the CX-7.” While appearing physically unchanged, the CX-7e has undergone several upgrades, including a new FPGA chip. Sounding “superbly rich, smooth, and detailed,” with “velvety highs and an enormously deep bass,” the CX-7e “fully deserves a Class A rating in Stereophile’s ‘Recommended Components,’” decreed JA after auditioning an early version of the “E” revision. The improved Ayre offered a more vivid and tactile presentation, distinguishing itself as “an almost aggressively rhythmic player, yet one with a wide open and transparent view of the sound,” said AD. “Taut and tuneful, much better than original CX-7,” adds WP. RD’s new reference for high-end CD players. Further testing showed that the CX-7e exhibited excellent measured performance, though its noise floor wasn’t as low as that of the C-5xe. WP preferred the rhythmic drive and huge soundstage of Ayre’s C-5xe universal player. Now supplied with MP upgrade. Upgrading a CX-7e to MP status costs $250–$900, depending on the age of the unit, and includes a reconfigured DAC, upgraded wiring, and new operating-system firmware for faster track access. The CX-7eMP produced a more natural onset and decay of transients with better-defined air around instruments, resulting in a sound that was “more like live music and less like a recording,” said RD. (Vol.26 No.5, Vol.27 No.12, Vol.29 No.2, Vol.31 No.1, Vol.32 Nos.2 & 10; Vol.35 No.4 WWW; see also “The Fifth Element” in Vol.34 No.2 and Vol.35 No.4 Read Review Online)

Bryston BCD-1: $3195
Bryston’s first CD player is extremely well engineered and solidly built. It uses a Bryston-modified Philips L1210 transport and discrete digital and analog power supplies to help reduce jitter. A chunky, full-function remote is made of brushed aluminum to match the player’s attractive front panel. LG noted “open highs, detailed imaging and soundstaging, well-defined and authoritative bass, and an ability to reveal the most subtle musical details.” Measured performance was “close to the state of the art for a CD player,” said JA. “A Class A bargain at a Class B price,” says ST. (Vol.32 No.2 Read Review Online)

Marantz SA-11S2 Reference: $2999.99 ✩
The SA-11S2 Reference SACD player boasts a copper-plated chassis with a double-layered bottom, a vibration-resistant top plate, and an attractively sculpted front panel. It offers three playback Filter settings, in addition to a switchable DC filter and Noise Shaper, and can accept an external master clock running at 44.1, 88.2, or 176.4kHz. In both SACD and CD mode, the Marantz produced a “consistently warm, reasonably detailed sound,” with “solid, full-bodied, well-textured images on a relatively compact stage.” Its “slightly soft attack, warm sustain, and slightly truncated decay” benefited overly bright recordings, said MF. JA found “superb audio engineering.” (Vol.32 No.2 Read Review Online)

McIntosh MCD500: $6500
The robust and versatile MCD500 weighs nearly 30 lbs, measures 17.5" wide by 6" high by 16.5" deep, and offers S/PDIF and TosLink optical inputs. It is the first player to use ESS Technology’s Sabre DAC, which puts 16 individual DACs on a single chip. “The strength of the McIntosh MCD500 is that it makes standard CDs sound almost as good as SACDs in terms of low-level detail, ambience, and a silky midrange and treble,” said ST. (Vol.32 No.6)

Meridian Sooloos Music Server System: $7000–$10,500 depending on options ✩
The Sooloos hard-drive–based networked music system includes the Source:One system controller with 24-bit/192kHz converters sourced from RME, two-channel analog and digital outputs, and four-port Ethernet switch; the Store/Twinstore hard drive with mirrored storage for the contents of over 2000 CDs (encoded in the lossless FLAC format); and the Control:One, a 17" LCD touchscreen display/interface with CD drive. Additionally, Sooloos’s ControlPC software can be used to control the system and manage hard-drive data. Setup and use were simple and intuitive. “Using the Sooloos got me more deeply involved with my music library than at any time since I began collecting many years ago,” commended JI. “If you have thousands of albums on a music server, there is simply no better way to manage them,” he adds. Linked to the Meridian Reference 861 pre-pro via its S/PDIF output, the Sooloos produced dynamic, involving performances. “When used as a digital source for a quality DAC, the Sooloos was as good as any other CD source I’ve tried,” praised KR. JI notes as of February 2009 that almost a year after he first set up the Sooloos, it still holds its own against iTunes and other server products that have appeared in the last 12 months. As of summer 2009, the Control:One touchscreen interface became the Control 10 and has a handy S/PDIF out, which means you can use the DAC of your choice. All of the Control 10’s networking hardware is contained in its slim base; it offers a wealth of connectors, including S/PDIF and Meridian SpeakerLink outputs, DC power in, and an Ethernet port, and allows the importing of hi-rez audio and WAV files. In addition, many of the Sooloos’s stock features have been made more intuitive while reducing the number of interim steps for faster management of your music library. “The newest Sooloos hardware and software not only improves the system, it lowers its price,” praised JI. “Still thoroughly recommended.” (Vol.31 No.9, Vol.32 No.10 Read Review Online)

PrimaLuna ProLogue Classic: $2999 ✩
The ProLogue Classic (formerly the “Eight”) is powered by one pair each of 12AX7, 12AU7, and 5AR4 tubes, and employs PrimaLuna’s subminiature triode SuperTubeClock circuit for reduced jitter. With its hefty aluminum faceplate, heavy-gauge steel chassis, and attractive, high-gloss, automotive finish, the ProLogue Classic has an impressive, retro appearance. Its “gorgeous midrange,” fast transients, and accurate overtones, could not disguise its tepid bass and rolled-off highs, decided FK. JA, however, was surprised by the PrimaLuna’s “enormous soundstage” and palpable, clearly delineated images. His measurements revealed a very high output impedance at low frequencies, which will make system matching more difficult than usual. Super I/V board, which replaces the standard NE5534 op-amp chips with better-performing, more modern equivalents, is now supplied as standard. This moves the overall sound into Class A, decided JA. With either the upgraded boards in place, the PrimaLuna benefited from tidier bass performance and an increased sense of ease to the overall sound. (Vol.31 Nos.7 & 10 Read Review Online)

Resolution Audio Cantata Music Center: $6495
With its large, retro-modern alphanumeric display and top panel of scalloped aluminum waves, the gorgeous Cantata has one of the most distinct appearances in all of digital audio. It combines a digital preamp, CD player, and DAC in a single slim chassis and offers Ethernet, USB, TosLink, AES/EBU, and coax inputs, as well as balanced and unbalanced stereo outputs. A free app allows the user to control all functions via iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, and the optional Pont Neuf USB-to-Ethernet Bridge ($400) permits wireless streaming of resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz. Compared to the Benchmark DAC1 USB, the Cantata offered equal clarity but sounded noticeably smoother and more natural, said JI. On the test bench, the Cantata lacked low-level linearity but exhibited superb rejection of jitter and error correction, said JA. (Vol.34 No.11 Read Review Online)

Simaudio Moon Evolution 650D: $9000
The beautifully built 650D is a single-box CD player and DAC with AES/EBU, S/PDIF, TosLink, and USB digital inputs; S/PDIF and AES/EBU digital outputs; and balanced and unbalanced analog outputs. It uses ESS Technology’s Sabre32 Ultra DAC chip and employs individual toroidal transformers for the digital and analog power supplies. The Simaudio had a muscular, rhythmically solid sound with clean, fast transient articulation, excellent transparency, outstanding soundstage depth and width, and analog-like imaging, said MF. JA was impressed by the Sim’s superb measured performance: “It’s hard to see how it could be any better!” (Vol.34 No.11 Read Review Online)

T+A Music Player: $4400
The Music Player combines a CD player, iPod dock, and FM tuner, and provides built-in Web-radio streaming, computer and/or NAS drive networking, and a DAC with input switching for two external digital sources. Its design and metalwork are “top-notch, with precise fit’n’finish and an elegant yet to-the-point modern style,” said JI. Though the Music Player is not currently compatible with high-resolution downloads, its DAC can handle 24/96 data via the S/PDIF input. A dedicated website (www.themusicplayer.com) makes setting up Internet-radio and media-server functions simple and fun. The MP presented recording artifacts in a “matter-of-fact” manner and had a “calm, cool, collected” overall sound. Its measured performance indicated “a superbly well-engineered and extremely versatile media player,” said JA. (Vol.32 No.8 Read Review Online)


Audio Analogue Crescendo: $995
Tweaked and tuned just for CDs, the Crescendo uses a TEAC CD5010A CD transport developed specifically for audio applications and employs a low-jitter 24-bit/192kHz clock, a Burr-Brown receiver, and a 24/192 Delta Sigma DAC for digital-to-analog conversion. Like the matching Crescendo integrated amplifier, the CD player produced a “distinctively involving and engaging sound” with good low-level resolution, transient speed, and bass extension, said ST. (Vol.33 No.10)

Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD: $649
The compact and attractive 650BD universal player has outputs for 7.1-channel analog audio, coaxial and optical digital audio, component/composite/S-video, and HDMI, as well as USB and Ethernet ports. Though it couldn’t match the Sony XA-5000ES or Oppo BDP-83SE in terms of detail or smoothness, the 650BD sounded superb via its HDMI output, providing full-bandwidth high-definition audio, either bitstreamed or PCM-converted, and SACD signals as either DSD or PCM. “The Azur 650BD is a very competent universal player that would not be embarrassed in almost any audio system,” concluded KR. (Vol.33 No.7 Read Review Online)

Musical Fidelity M1CLiC: $1999
The handsome, tidy M1CLiC is a single-box, remote-controlled, network-connectable, analog/digital preamp and DAC. It supports resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz via Ethernet, optical, coaxial, and front-panel USB; resolutions up to 16/48 are handled via a rear-panel iPod connector and USB DAC input. A small (3" W by 2.75" H) LCD color display provides onscreen navigation of USB sources. The M1CLiC was less detailed than the Resolution Audio Cantata and less accurate than the Benchmark DAC1 USB, but offered a smooth, clean, pleasant overall sound, said JI. “If your emphasis is on a wide variety of input choices in a clean minimalist package, then the Musical Fidelity M1CLiC may be the perfect balance of features, performance, and sound,” he decided. JA noted superb measured performance. (Vol.35 No.3 Read Review Online)

Musical Fidelity M3CD: $1500
Musical Fidelity’s latest entry-level CD player, housed in a clean, black chassis, uses a Sony laser transport and a Burr-Brown DAC chip for 24-bit Delta-Sigma dual-differential oversampling. The M3CD had “an ineffable sense of ease” and a “direct, ingratiating sound,” said ST. “Nicely built, too. . . .Musical Fidelity’s M3CD is for CD maximizers who cling to their actual discs,” he concluded. (Vol.33 No.11)

Vincent Audio C-60: $4999
Designed in Germany and manufactured in China, the solidly built C-60 is a handsome, single-chassis, top-loading CD player. Its fully balanced hybrid design incorporates 8x oversampling and 24-bit/192kHz D/A conversion, a tubed power supply, and user-selectable tubed or solid-state analog output stages. Though its solid-state stage consistently sounded more accurate and more tonally neutral, with sharp transients, tight bass, and a lean overall sound, the C-60’s tubed output stage seemed more musical and more emotionally compelling, providing harmonic richness, superb resolution of low-level detail, and solid, three-dimensional images, said BD. JA’s measurements, however, revealed that the C-60’s analog behavior is dominated by the bent transfer function of its tubed circuits, even when the solid-state buffer circuit is engaged. The C-60’s tubed output will need to be used with a preamplifier offering a high input impedance, JA advised. (Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)


Emotiva ERC-2: $449
Exceptionally well built, the ERC-2 has a satiny black faceplate of brushed aluminum and comes with a substantial remote control. It has separate power supplies for the analog and digital electronics and uses a slot-loading Toshiba transport and an Analog Devices AD1955 DAC. Though it lacked some midrange warmth and texture, the Emotiva had a punchy, authoritative sound, with clean highs and well-controlled lows, said SM. See JA’s Follow-Up in the April 2012 issue. Sold direct with a 30-day return policy. (Vol.34 No.12, Vol.35 No.1 Read Review Online)

Marantz CD5004: $349.99 $$$
Designed to match Marantz’s entry-level PM5004 integrated amplifier, this gorgeous CD player uses the company’s proprietary Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Modules, trickled down from their Reference Series components, and incorporates Cirrus Logic’s SACD-quality CS4392 D/A converters. It includes a buffered headphone amplifier and jack, variable pitch control (designed for musician play-along), a Q Replay button on the remote control that repeats the last 10 seconds played of the current track, and an IR Flasher input to provide connectivity to other components. The CD5004 exhibited surprisingly good low-level dynamic articulation and ambience retrieval while producing clean, extended highs and a rich, delicate midrange, said BJR. JA was similarly impressed: “That Marantz can offer this level of performance for just $350 is astonishing.” (Vol.34 No.3 Read Review Online)

Music Hall cd15.2: $499
Designed to partner with Music Hall’s a15.2 integrated amplifier, the cd15.2 CD player uses a Sanyo DA11SLM transport mechanism and a 24-bit/192kHz-capable Burr-Brown DAC. Though it lacked the resolution and bass weight of more expensive players, the cd15.2 offered a sweet, harmonically rich sound. “The a15.2-cd15.2 pairing is a success,” said ST, adding that it “just plays the music and gets on with it. Cheap and cheerful.” (Vol.33 No.12)

NAD C 565BEE: $800
The C 565BEE uses a Texas Instruments sample-rate converter for upsampling to 96 or 192kHz; Wolfson DACs in a dual-differential configuration for improved 192kHz performance; and top-of-the-line Burr-Brown output-stage op-amps. It offers an optical digital input, a front-panel USB input, and four analog filter settings. “For an $800 CD player, the NAD C 565BEE sounded just fine,” but lacked the air and resolution of more expensive players, said ST. (Vol.32 No.10)

Nuforce CDP-8: $1450
Sleek and unobtrusive at 8.5" W by 1.8" H by 14" D and weighing just 7 lbs, the CDP-8 CD player has a beveled front panel with a touch-sensitive strip for control functions, and uses a 15V DC wall-wart power supply. It has a constant angular-velocity transport with a DSP-controlled laser, said to reduce jitter and increase the accuracy of the datastream. The CDP-8 combined solid bass impact with airy highs and a strong sense of momentum, said WP. “The NuForce CDP-8 is a remarkably good CD player, one of the best I’ve heard in years,” he concluded. On the test bench, however, WP’s review sample suffered from very high levels of jitter and noise modulation. A subsequent production change to reduce EMI-RFI radiation worked to eliminate the noise modulation and reduce jitter, found JA. Though it lacked the original’s bass weight, the revised CDP-8’s greater speed, clarity, and precision made the earlier version sound unrefined and brutish. “The new version was, by no small margin, the more compelling player,” decided SM, who feels that the original Class A classification was too optimistic. (Vol.33 No.11, Vol.34 Nos.2 & 6 Read Review Online)

Sony Playstation 1: around $25 used ✩ $$$
A first-generation Sony PlayStation (SCPH-1001) is made of gray plastic, has a set of RCA analog outputs, and comes equipped with a game controller and power cord. When used with Cardas Neutral Reference interconnects, the PS1 offered an “extended, open, and agile” sound, said AD who declared the PS1 an “insanely high value.” JM was unimpressed by the player’s user interface and noisy disc mechanism, however, and found that switching to cheaper cables resulted in a threadbare midrange and treble. Nevertheless, he admitted, “For $25, it sounds wonderful.” AD agreed, noting that the PS1 combined “slightly diminished” frequency extremes with a “superior level of rhythmic acuity” for a smooth and involving sound. Prices have climbed to as much as $70 on online commerce sites such as eBay and Audiogon. Some disagreement among the magazine’s scribes: Low Class B, according to AD; Class D, according to JM; JA splits the difference, but warns that later-generation PS1s use a less well-specified DAC and lack the RCA output jacks: ignore them, he says. Compared with the Emotiva ERC-2, the Sony lacked treble clarity and bass weight, but offered a fleshier midrange and was more forgiving of poorly recorded material, said SM. (Vol.31 Nos.4 & 7, Vol.35 No.1 Read Review Online)


Apple iPod classic, 160GB: $249 as reviewed ✩
This sleek and sassy data-storage unit is capable of playing lossy compressed (MP3, AAC), lossless compressed (ALC), and uncompressed (AIFF, WAV) digital audio files delighted JA and WP. WP was surprised to find the iPod worthy of serious audiophile consideration: “The open nature of the iPod’s playback format—or, more properly speaking, its lack of a single playback standard—means that the player can offer the sound quality its owner demands of it.” Files ripped in AIFF were “indistinguishable from the original CD,” with impressive dynamics, detailed imaging, and extended frequency extremes. JA: “Excellent, cost-effective audio engineering from an unexpected source.” Stereophile’s “Editor’s Choice” and “Budget Product of the Year” for 2003. Current version significantly revised and offers 160GB hard-drive capacity as standard. Current version offers superb measured performance. JA is an enthusiastic owner. (Vol.26 No.10 Read Review Online)

Head-Direct HiFiMan HM-602: $399
About the size and shape of an iPod Classic, the HM-602 portable music player has a handsome, serious appearance, with a 2" LCD screen, gold controls, and a fine metallic finish. It uses a 1990s-vintage, 16-bit Philips TDA-1543 DAC chip and offers a headphone output, line input, a five-pin mini data-exchange port, and a USB DAC port. In addition to its SD card slot, the HM-602 has 16GB of onboard memory for storing MP3, WAV, OGG, and 24-bit/96kHz FLAC files. JA’s measurements, however, revealed that while the HM-602 will play 24-bit data files, it will always truncate those data to 16 bits to present them to the DAC. The USB input offered jitter that was so high as to be off the scale. The HM-602’s sound will be dominated by the designer’s decision to forgo a reconstruction filter, he added. Compared to SM’s iPod Nano, the HM-602 offered greater bass weight and control; a bigger soundstage; larger, more precisely placed images; and a richer, fuller overall sound. (Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)

NAD C 515BEE: $300
NAD’s most affordable CD player is designed to match the company’s C 316BEE integrated amplifier. It measures 17" W by 2.4" H by 9.5" D, weighs just 7.75 lbs, and comes with a small remote control. Though it lacks a digital input, the C 515BEE can play MP3- and WMA-formatted recordings burned to CD-R or CD-RW discs. It uses a Cirrus Logic 24-bit/192kHz sigma-delta DAC and an audio-specific Texas Instruments 5532 dual op-amp. Though it lacked the bass weight and extension of Emotiva’s ERC-2 and couldn’t match the midrange warmth of the Sony PlayStation 1, the NAD offered a smooth, coherent overall sound, with fast, clean transients and a large soundstage, said SM. (Vol.35 No.2 Read Review Online)


Krell Cipher.


Esoteric DV-60 discontinued; Cambridge Audio Azur 650C, Primare CD31, Wadia Digital 170iTransport, replaced by new models not yet auditioned.

Martin Osborne's picture

I understand that this is part of 'what you do', but thanks for bringing this altogther in one place - a lot of work has gone into it and I for one appreciate it. 



JItterjaber's picture

Making your product recommendations available to the digital generation will certainly help more people see your publication.  Thanks for trying to keep current!


Ajani's picture

This is a really good move! I know a lot of online users have been hoping and waiting for the recommended components to be released on the website. 

smittyman's picture

I've always appreciated how much content Stereophile makes available on this site.  I also always figured that Recommended Components was something that was held off the website to give us some incentive to purchase the magazine in either paper or on line form so I was really pleased to see this added.

soulful.terrain's picture


 This is great!  Thanks to all the staff for putting this valuable info together for us neophytes like myself. ;-)

Timbo in Oz's picture

One of the problems of the 'buy it yourself' approach to audio a Magazine is stuck with is that the path of modifying upgrading used gear gets short shrift, let alone doing it yourself. Those parts of the high-end are off the radar here.

This partciularly applies to FM antennas. The best results from FM stereo can only result from pointing a directional antenna with gain at the desired station. One sure way to get such results is an external directional antenna up high. This ensures that the FM front end will be in (i) full limiting and (ii) that there is minimal multi-path on the signal.

Few indoor antennas are really good at either (i) or (ii), unless your lucky and close to a desired staion or two. Just one type is capable of doing both, but you can't buy one. This best indoor FM antenna is the wire rhombic with sides approaching 3 metres long (or exceeding). The gain is high because each element equals the desired wavelength and becasue it is also a highly directional antenna. The cost in money is very low, 14 to 20 meters of twin ribbon, some resistors and a balun to feed coax to your radio.

When made from 300 ohm twin ribbon (the same stuff used for T folded dipole antennas) it will have twice the already high gain. Don't worry you are most unlikely to overalaod your FM front-end.

You can hide it on a suitable room's ceiling or under a large rug. A suitable room is the largest one which has a long diagonal pointing in the right direction - ie at most of your desired stations. Note also that the acceptance angle of a rhombic can be adjusted in and out a couple of ways, see the article referenced below.

The article about them and how to make one was published in the now defunct magazine 'Audio' and is available at the Audio Asylum's FAQ section, near the bottom of the listings.

If you can drive a good tuner into full limiting with a strong low multipath signal and have even one station that broadcasts live acoustic simply miked concerts, you have a true high-end source.

Tim Bailey




JohnnyR's picture

Cable reccomendations without a single measurement, just "oh it sounds just dandy" approach. How lame.This is useless.

Glotz's picture

This subjective review resource has around for decades, in print form.  You are the 4,895,235th 'listener' that thinks he knows more than these guys...

Bwahahahahahhaahhaahahhah!  Yeah, really.

Tim Lim's picture

Dear Stereophile,

This report is indeed welcome but may I ask how are the different classes differentiated? What are the criteria for any model to be included in their respective class? I don't see this guide anywhere.



earlnightshade's picture

Total new guy here, but a quick question about the rating of the Peachtree Dac it.  To confirm I'm understanding correctly, is it considered so poor quality it gets a letter grade of "K"?  As in not even worthy of an "F"?



smittyman's picture

They haven't reviewed it yet.  It is not several grades below an F

nleksan's picture

Okay, so sound quality is as subjective as the music itself, I get that.

But seriously, you include the ATH-M50's and ATH-AD700's (good headphones, don't get me wrong), but not the SR225/SR325 from Grado?  What about the absolutely SUBLIME RS1i or its little-brother the RS2i?  The PS1000's?

I own all of the above, and for studio work I favor the RS1i's above anything else, especially Sennheiser, as monitors don't have to be PAINFULLY Flat to listen to, they just have to be accurate to the source while able to replicate other sources, which the RS1i's/RS2i's/PS1000's do with aplomb!  The dynamic design and solid-mahogany cups make the music sound much more "alive", and the editing/mixing sessions sound identical to the recording sessions; this is in contrast to many others that neuter the sound to the point that it just goes flat.

I realize I am here spouting off my opinion, but as I am pretty sure that's like 87% at least of the job description for being an "audiophile", so I'm okay with it ;)

I just hate to see TRULY deserving headphones get passed over because they don't have the same "prestige" as Bowers&Wilkins or the like, nor the brand recognition of Sennheiser (who are, by the way, on track to becoming the BOSE of the headphone world.... I'll give them 5 years).  I challenge anyone to spend ~20hrs with a pair of Grado SR325's (NOT the SR325i's, but the original Mahogany ones), the RS1i's/RS2i's, the PS1000's, or even the SR225's (again, NOT the SR225i's), a strong headphone amp (everyone has their favorites, but I find that these do best with a good amount of overhead), and the best source material you can get, ideally a very high-end system with DVD-Audio quality sound or better (don't even think about any kind of lossy compression, because you WILL hear every "off" sound).  Heck, I get fantastic results with simply plugging any of the aforementioned 'cans directly into the headphone port on my HT|Omega Claro Halo XT sound card in my very high end workstation/overclocking rig (who says you can't mix business and pleasure??)...
I will admit that every pair of Grado's that I've owned has needed some break-in time, with as little as 40 hours for some SR80i's to ~120hrs for the SR225/SR325 cans to really shine (RS1i's = 75-80hrs, RS2i's = 70-75hrs, PS1000's = 90hrs), but I do my "break-in" a bit differently than most: I set up everything through my computer, including DAC/amp/etc running off an M-Audio card, and I have a specific playlist I use for breaking them in that consists of 125-175x ~3:30 to ~11:15 long Audio Tracks (full, uncompressed recordings and masters; the 125 songs take up about 3.7GB of space! yes, about 30MB per track, at 192Khz/48bit "RAW") of varying types/genres set in "loop" for the first playthrough and then "looping random" after that, and the volume automatically adjusts based on elapsed time.  For those who wonder, I use: Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, OK GO, Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Florence & the Machine, Grateful Dead, Incubus, Jay-Z, Jose Gonzalez, Pete Yorn, (recently added) Trent Reznor & Karen O's "Immigrant Song" cover from Girl w Dragon Tattoo, K'Naan, Manfred Mann, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Metallica ("One"), Norman Greenbaum, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Scala ("Blower's Daughter"), Shwayze, Sufjan Stevens, RUSH, Tegan&Sara, Tom Petty, The Roots, Them Crooked Vultures, and a bunch more; as you can see, it's a mix of male and female vocalists, every instrument under the sun, all types of music, and so forth (quite eclectic).  BUT IT WORKS!
I PROMISE YOU that if you properly break-in any pair of Grado's, they will become one of your favorite listening headphones, if not your number one.  Having tried everything from the bird-poop-looking iPod iEarbuds (kill me please) to most of the consumer-level stuff (Sony MDR's are Amazing for the price, Beats by Dre are absolute junk and I've left stuff in the porcelain chamber with more musicality than that overpriced BS), to headphones that cost more than many peoples' cars and proclaim to be "hand-assembled by a team of naked supermodels over the course of 123 days with all work done only under a half-crescent moon while Mars and Jupiter align, emparting magical sonic characteristics into the hand-carved African rare wood covers and plated with Rhinocerous poop, well known for its excellent bass enhancement"... Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not THAT much.  YET I KEEP COMING BACK TO THE GRADO'S!!!

JadenKrosis's picture

This product recieved rave reviews in Stereophile. It scored well in comparisons and has even become JA`s go to device for USB audio playback.

Without going into too much detail of Micheal Lavorgnas` review I`m quite sure I`m safe to say he liked it very much also. 

Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?  (not that there`d be anything wrong with that, I want one too!!!)

John Atkinson's picture

Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?

The Halide was reviewed in August 2012, after this "Recommended Components" was prepared. It will be included in the next update, due in April.

The Halide was also included in the Collector's Edition of Recommended Components, available from newsstands and form the shop on this site: http://ssl.blueearth.net/primedia/home.php

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JadenKrosis's picture

Thank you John and I look forwards to reading that April issue.

bmilwee's picture

In your October 2011 issue, the VPI classic 3 gets an A rating, but here it seems to have been demoted to a B.   Tthe Rega RP3 is class B here, but in the anniversary edition it gets a C rating.  Which is correct?

John Atkinson's picture

Yes, sometimes as the result of further experience of the product or of competitive products, sometimes because the initial rating is provisional, for a product that is reviewed in the same issue as the updated list. But whenever a rating has changed, it is the most recent rating that reflects our current opinion of the product.

In the case of the VPI Classic 3, it has been reinstated in Class A in the listing that will appear in the April 2013 issue.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

shp's picture

I have been a binge reader of stereophile ever since high school when my first job was in a high end stereo shop (Threshold amps, KEF 104.2's).  

My brother is an architect and my colleague an electrical engineer.  They both deride the idea that giant audiophile cables make a difference noting that the wire that delivers electricity to the house and through the walls is only this big.

Not having the budget to try an assortment of (sometimes very expensive) cables I've kept mine pretty modest.  But I will concede they can sound different.  

But I am a little confused that Stereophile has ratings for digital data connects without any measurements. 

Digital cables either deliver bit-perfect data streams or they don't. And their accuracy should be reported even if Stereophile also wants to report the sonic affect of any digital distortion.

If I spent a lot of money on a music server, DAC, amplification and speakers, the last thing I want is the cable altering the bits.