2013 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.

Class A+

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: $25,000 ✩
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: $82,246/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; version shipping August 2012 included 24/192 LPCM and DSD over USB. 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: $18,999
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/192kHz support as of the summer of 2011 and adds a USB input. (DSD over USB is scheduled for the summer of 2012.) 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)
Krell Cipher: $12,000
Outwardly similar to Krell's Evolution 505, the Cipher weighs 29 lbs and measures 17.3" W by 6" H by 17.3" D. Its aircraft-grade aluminum case is available in silver or black, and has rounded edges and slotted sides for a graceful appearance. Like the 505 and other components in the Evolution series, the Cipher incorporates Krell's proprietary CAST current-drive circuitry. Whereas the 505 had a single stereo D/A converter, the Cipher uses a pair of 24-bit/192kHz DACs, which deliver higher current to the analog stages and expand the dynamic range by 3dB. The Cipher excelled at "revealing the finest subtleties of a musical passage, untangling the knottiest complexities, and showering light on the tonal colors of a voice, an instrument, or an ensemble," said FK. JA noted superb measured performance. (Vol.35 No.5 Read Review Online)
Luxman D-05: $5000
Made in Japan and built like a tank, the D-05 measures 18" W by 6" H by 17" D and weighs 32 lbs. It plays CDs, SACDs, CD-Rs, and CD-RWs, but not MP3 CD-Rs. Analog output is via high-quality, gold-plated RCA jacks or Neutrik balanced XLR jacks, while a rear-panel S/PDIF RCA jack provides direct access to the D-05's DAC stage. The DAC uses a Burr-Brown PCM1792A chip, upsamples to 24 bits, and accepts external inputs up to 96kHz. JM described the sound as "both listenable and sophisticated." Compared to Ayre's CX-7eMP, the Luxman had a richer, fuller midrange and deeper soundstage, but lacked articulation and focus. (Vol.35 No.4 Read Review Online)
Meridian Digital Media System: $7000–$10,500 depending on options ✩
Originally branded as Sooloos, this 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 Control 15 ($7500), the latest version of the Sooloos touchscreen, comes with a 500G internal hard drive, while the Media Drive 600 ($5000), the current RAID 1 housing component, has room for a mirrored pair of 2TB hard disks. The Control 15 lacks a DAC but is now compatible with virtually all non-DRM file types, and its S/PDIF output supports resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz. JI: "I still don’t think there's a better overall music-server system for the music lover and audiophile who wants to do away with the clutter of CDs and iTunes" and agrees with MF that the Control 15 was fully competitive with the cost-no-object MSB disc transport. (Vol.31 No.9, Vol.32 No.10, Vol.35 No.7 Read Review Online)
MSB Platinum Data CD IV: $3995
Designed to match MSB's Diamond DAC IV, the Platinum Data CD IV transport is compatible with CDs or WAV files (up to 32-bit/384kHz) on DVD-R, and provides coaxial, TosLink, AES/EBU, and MSB Network outputs. It spins CDs at up to 40 times the real-time rate, then rereads each sector to ensure correct data retrieval; if it finds any differences, the MSB assumes that all reads were incorrect, and adjusts spin speed, tracking, and laser focus as many times as necessary to achieve a "perfect" result. While the MSB outclassed the Oppo BDP-83, offering greater detail, scale, and dynamics, JI was hard-pressed to pick a favorite between the MSB and his Meridian Sooloos server. Signature Transport Power Base adds $3495. (Vol.35 No.10 Read Review Online)
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." FK feels the Oppo is outclassed by the Krell Cipher, however. (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 producion 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)

Class A

Audio Note CD-4.1x: $12,000
Audio Note's current flagship CD player is a top-loading, single-box design with an 18-bit Analog Devices AD1865N non-oversampling D/A chip, a robust Philips CD-Pro2LF transport mechanism, and a stereo pair of 6H23N dual-triode output tubes. Though it lacked ambience and air, the Audio Note had a chunky, involving sound, and excelled at presenting "the sonic flesh and blood" of even the most poorly recorded CDs, said AD. JA's measurements uncovered poor intermodulation performance and very high levels of jitter. "The CD-4.1x is a paradox," he said. "Does it sound good because of how it measures or despite it?" (Vol.35 No.7 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. Compared to the Luxman D-05, the Ayre was more articulate and focused but lacked the Luxman's full, rich midrange, said JM. (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)
Rega Apollo-R: $1095
Designed to match Rega's Brio-R integrated amplifier, the compact, top-loading Apollo-R measures 8.6" W by 3.5" H by 12.3" D. It offers RCA analog inputs, coaxial and optical TosLink digital inputs, and uses a Sanyo transport mechanism and a Wolfson WM8742 DAC. The Apollo-R has a confident, solid sound with "an analog sense of certainty," said ST. "Its performance was a revelation, and stunning in the way it got things so rhythmically right." (Vol.35 No.7)
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 Balanced: $4500 ✩
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. 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. Outwardly identical to the original Music Player, New Balanced version has been augmented with fixed pairs of RCA and balanced XLR outputs, three S/PDIF and two TosLink digital inputs, and two USB jacks. The DAC now includes 32-bit Burr-Brown chipsets. The S/PDIF, USB stick, and LAN inputs can now accept resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz; TosLink maxes out at 24/96. Finally, the new, optional FD100 remote control ($600) has a small color screen that displays album-cover art and metadata as well as precise sampling rates. Partnered with T+A's new, fully balanced Power Plant Balanced integrated amplifier ($3100), the Music Player Balanced sounded dynamic and robust, with a smooth top end, a solid soundstage, and well-extended bass, said JI. (Vol.32 No.8, Vol.35 No.9 Read Review Online)

Class B

Audio Analogue Crescendo: $950
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)
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)

Class C

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. On the test bench, the ERC-2 exhibited somewhat compromised jitter performance and curious noise-floor modulation at high frequencies, but produced the best error correction JA has encountered in more than 20 years of testing CD players. 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 515BEE: $299
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. Continued experience raises the rating to Class C. (Vol.35 No.2 Read Review Online)
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)

Class D

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)
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)
Parasound Zcd: $400
Like all of Parasound's Z products, the basic-black Zcd measures 9.5" W by 2" H by 10" D, and has front-panel rack-mounting holes; a silver-colored option, without mounting holes, is also now available. The neatly organized rear panel offers a wealth of connections, including: Variable and Fixed analog outputs; a video output; a 3.5mm stereo line input; coaxial and optical digital outputs; and a USB input for MP3 playback. Though MP3s played from a flash drive lacked the immediacy, clarity, and impact of their CD counterparts, they often sounded less mechanical. Compared to the NAD C 515BEE, the Zcd sounded faster, tighter, more aggressive, and produced a taller but shallower soundstage with less well-delineated images, said SM. (Vol.35 No.10 Read Review Online)

Class K

Parasound CD 1, Oppo BDP-103 & 105.

Class Deletions

Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD, Electrocompaniet EMP-2, Musical Fidelity M3CD, Vincent Audio C-60, all no longer available; NAD C 565BEE not auditioned in a long time.

guitarist9273's picture

The Beats Solo HD is now a Stereophile reccomended component... That sounds like a (funny) joke. They're certainly attractive looking & very stylish, but they sound very...well, bad. They're Class D...but I'm genuinely curious as to why they'd be included at all.

There are a lot of decent choices when it comes to headphones in the portable/sealed-on-ear-headphones-under-$300 category, now, that it's hard to see the B&W P3 and the Beats Solo HD making it onto the list. (Anyone interested in heaphones should check out Stereophile' sister online publication on personal-audio/headphones---InnerFidelity.)

Thanks for this awesome compilation, by the way! I sincerely enjoyed reading through such a wide sampling of great loudspeakers, amps & such. The balanced objectivity is always refreshing, considering other publication's purely subjective approach.

RobertSlavin's picture

Being able to see the photos of the components next to their descriptions, as found in this online version of recommended components, is nice.

However, Stereophile used to charge for this section online. Why is it giving it away for free now?

There's not a tremendous amount of money in magazine publishing. I'd prefer that the magazine make a reasonable amount of money from this section.

John Atkinson's picture

RobertSlavin wrote:
Stereophile used to charge for this section online. Why is it giving it away for free now?

Unless I am having a senior moment, we never used to charge for on-line access to Recommended Components. In fact, we have only been making it available in its entirety on-line since 2012, which is when we launched our free iPad app.

And regarding charging for it, my bottom-line policy is that the magazine's content should be available free on-line.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Poor Audiophile's picture

Thanks for that JA!

EU-USA Stereophile Fan's picture

Maybe some other EU makers could have been included such as Phonar (Germany) or PMC (UK)

John Atkinson's picture

Maybe some other EU makers could have been included such as Phonar (Germany) or PMC (UK)

"Recommended Components" exclusively concerns products that have been reviewed in the magazine. In turn, to be reviewed in Stereophile, a product needs to be available in the US; see  www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/307awsi/index.html.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Glotz's picture

WOW, I love it!  

I think I have memorized the entire RC over the years, and seeing each component again (some for the first time) is wonderful!  

I wonder who went through the trouble of procuring all of those photos for RC online.  

I won't even pretend there will be photos (for the next RC) in the magazine.  I imagine it would be 500 pages long... 

Ariel Bitran's picture

photos were gathered by myself and reformatted by Jon Iverson.

Downforce's picture

Has the excellent Emotiva ERC-2 been discontinued?  And for JA, the link you posted isn't working.  Thanks for the lists.

John Atkinson's picture

Downforce wrote:
Has the excellent Emotiva ERC-2 been discontinued?

Not according to Emotiva. It's there in Class C of Disc Players.

Downforce wrote:
And for JA, the link you posted isn't working.

Fixed. Thanks.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

stereomag's picture

Wow! Here they (Stereophile) go again. Still no review of any Accuphase preamps. Why is that, Stereophile?

weitn's picture

M30.1 got impressive reviews from Stereophile and Absolute Sound and recommended by both. I have auditioned it and ordered a pair the other day. Out of curiosity, what happened to the M40.1? It was listed in the 2012 recommended list.

destroysall76's picture

Great recommendations, but I'm curious in the LS50 from KEF. Is it really that much better of a speaker to be a part of the Class A (Restricted LF) over the Harbeth P3ESR and the Proac Tablette?

Also, is the Rega RP1 the better table buy this year over the Project Debut Carbon?

mkrzych's picture

I've read here that Dali Zensor 1 are in class C (Exteme Restricted LF), so according to your judge those are considered not entry level speakers, am I right?
If so, do you have any suggestions for the speaker cable matching or positioning for these little babies to sound the best? Currently I have Marantz CD5004/PM6004 connected to them over the QED Strand 79 speaker cable. They are on Soundstage Z22 stands.
Is it anything I can do to improve this gear in your opinion?

Thanks for any suggestions.

MykhailoM's picture

Good audio cables are surely essential part to any serous audiophile as they deliver a very sensitive signal between your audio gear as it has been said in this page. I have listened to quite a few well known brands such as Russ Andrews cables QED Signature etc. and more often than not the price reflects its qualities. As anything else in audio gear, cables need auditioning on your system. If possible grub 4 or 5 pares from your local dealer in a price range £300 to £600 from different brands and at your own comfort have them checked, I'm pretty sure you will get different results and the better components you have the more evident it will be. In my auditioning experience I prefer small exotic brands, to me they deliver a very good sonic result. I can change components etc. but cable will stay as they are so revealing. Keep your options open and DO audition on your system or at your local Hi-Fi dealer.

MykhailoM's picture

Everything must be auditioned either interconnects cables or audio components, your ears will be your best judge.