2014 Recommended Components Disc Players, Transports & Media Players

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

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


Bryston BDP-2: $2995
Essentially a beefed-up BDP-1, the BDP-2 replaces the original's 0.5GHz processor with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N450 and upgrades its single-amp linear power supply with a larger toroidal transformer specced to provide 10 amps of peak current. In addition, the BDP-2 has two Ethernet connectors (instead of the BDP-1's one), six USB ports (instead of four), a new eSATA connector, and accommodations for an internal SSD data-storage card. Compared to the original, the BDP-2 was just as detailed and dynamic, but offered significantly faster load times and produced highs that were more effortless, said LG. The latest improvements "greatly enrich this digital player's versatility and value," he concluded. (Vol.36 No.10 WWW)

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 WWW)

dCS Vivaldi: $108,496/system as reviewed
The latest dCS digital playback system comprises the Vivaldi DAC ($34,999), which can decode every digital resolution from MP3 to DSD and DXD, provides 10 filter options (six for PCM, four for DSD), and offers every digital input other than Ethernet; the Vivaldi Upsampler ($19,999), which can upconvert even the lowest-resolution MP3 data to 24/384, DSD, and DXD, or any format in between; the Vivaldi Master Clock ($13,499), containing two groups of four clock outputs, which can be independently set; and the Vivaldi Transport ($39,999), a smooth, quiet, quick-booting SACD/CD drive based on TEAC's Esoteric VRDS Neo disc mechanism, controlled by dCS-designed signal-processing electronics, and capable of upsampling CDs to DSD or DXD. In addition to updated casework and cosmetics, the Vivaldi products use a complete revision of dCS's Ring DAC topology, increasing the Ring DAC's available dynamic range and decreasing its jitter. Though setup was complicated, the Vivaldi components produced "a texturally supple, delicate, musically involving sound filled with color and life," said MF. On the test bench, the Vivaldi measured superbly, improving on dCS's Scarlatti in almost every way. "Wow!" said JA. (Vol.37 No.1 WWW)

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 WWW)

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 was 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 WWW)

Krell Cipher: $12,000
Outwardly similar to Krell's earlier 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. Compared to the Audio Research Reference CD9, the Cipher was just as open, detailed, and emotionally compelling, but sacrificed some harmonic bloom for leading-edge definition, said FK. JA noted superb measured performance. (Vol.35 No.5 WWW; Vol.36 No.10 WWW)

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 WWW)

Marantz NA-11S1 media server: $3499
Launched to celebrate Marantz's 60th anniversary, the NA-11S1 is a remote-controlled, network-connected media player and D/A processor with two user-selectable digital filters and direct access to SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify (separate subscription required), and Internet radio. A front-panel type-A USB connector can be used both to connect an iPod and to play up to 24-bit/96kHz files from a USB memory stick, while a rear-panel USB2.0B port allows the NA-11S1 to decode high-resolution PCM and DSD audio streamed from a PC. Though it can play WMA, MP3, ALAC, WAV, and FLAC files, the NA-11S1 is incompatible with AIFF files. The player also has a front-panel headphone jack, coaxial and optical S/PDIF outputs (on XLRs), and balanced and unbalanced analog outputs (on RCAs). The Marantz held its own against the 12-times-more-expensive MSB Diamond DAC IV, with a sound that was smooth, warm, and natural, only slightly sacrificing leading-edge definition, dynamics, and sense of pace, said JA. "This is a first-rate D/A converter that offers sound quality competitive with the best at a relatively affordable price," he summed up. (Vol.36 No.10 WWW)

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 WWW)

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 WWW)

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 WWW)

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 WWW)


Aesthetix Saturn Romulus: $7000
The Saturn Romulus is a robustly built, remote-controlled, tubed CD player–DAC. Its digital section uses Gordon Rankin's Streamlength asynchronous USB protocol, a Motorola DSP56362 chip in the filter section, a Burr-Brown PCM 1792A DAC chip, and includes a full complement of digital inputs that decode every resolution up to 24-bit/192kHz. The analog circuit is a zero-feedback design, with both balanced and unbalanced outputs, driven by two 12AX7 and two 6DJ8 or 6922 tubes. Though it lacked the image specificity and soundstage depth of the Benchmark DAC1 USB, the Romulus combined excellent dynamic impact and bass slam with sweet mids and highs, said JI. "The design, engineering, and build quality are top-notch for its price—and for the tube enthusiast, it's a no-brainer," he concluded. Though the Romulus measured well overall, JA discovered that its high analog noise floor obscures its effective resolution of digital data with >16-bit word lengths. Switched-resistor volume control adds $1000. (Vol.36 No.10 WWW)

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 WWW)

Audio Research CD9: $13,000
The CD9 is a top-loading, remote-controlled, tubed CD player with optional on-the-fly upsampling, two digital construction filters, and a full set of digital inputs and outputs. Four 6H30 dual-triode tubes drive the analog section; a fifth 6H30 and a 6550C regulate the power supply. The CD9 uses four digital-to-analog converters (two per channel, each in dual-mono mode) and handles resolutions up to 24 bits and sample rates up to 192kHz. Though just as open, detailed, and emotionally compelling as the similarly priced Krell Cipher, the CD9 traded the solid-state player's better-defined transient attacks for body and harmonic bloom, said FK. "The CD9 is a superb machine for spinning CDs and streaming hi-rez downloads, a superb source for today and tomorrow," he concluded. (Vol.36 No.10 WWW)

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 WWW)

Metronome Technologie CD8T Signature: $10,975
Made in France, the exquisitely built CD8T Signature CD player measures 17.5" W by 4.5" H by 17" D and, thanks in part to its three toroidal transformers, weighs 33 lbs. It uses a top-loading Philips CDM12 transport mechanism and a single 6922 tube, and has a 24-bit/192kHz-capable asynchronous USB input, an S/PDIF output, and balanced and single-ended stereo outputs. It produced coherent, compelling overall sound with superb low-level resolution, an excellent sense of space, and an absence of anything digital, said ST. "The Metronome Technologie CD8T is more than an exceptional work of engineering: it is an expression and triumph of art," he concluded. Solid-state CD8 costs $9875. (Vol.36 No.11)

MSB Universal Media Transport Plus: $5,995
See JI's review in this issue.

Oppo BDP-105: $1199
Oppo BDP-103: $499 $$$

Oppo's latest universal disc players offer a host of versatile and powerful features. The BDP-103 has two HDMI inputs; two HDMI outputs; a DLNA-compatible Ethernet port; three USB ports to handle hi-rez audio, video, and picture files; and an RJ-45 jack to access the Internet for audio and video streaming. It offers bass management, channel-balance and -delay settings, and remote control of input selection and volume. In a larger, heavier chassis, the BDP-105 adds three digital inputs (asynchronous USB-B and S/PDIF on coax and TosLink) and has two eight-channel Sabre32 ES9018 DAC chips—one for its 7.1-channel RCA output, the other for its dedicated two-channel outputs on RCA and XLR jacks. Compared with the '103, the '105 sounded cleaner, smoother, and more detailed, regardless of source or number of channels, said KR. Though the '103 was "no slouch," Kal was more impressed by the more versatile '105. "I know of no other high-quality player with such a comprehensive feature set," he said, deciding that Class B was appropriate for the '103. A free firmware upgrade provides multichannel DSD capability and supports exFAT drives, but doesn't currently offer gapless playback of DSD files. KR was thrilled: "The electricity and communication I experienced were unprecedented." (Vol.36 Nos.5 & 7 WWW)

Parasound Halo CD 1: $4500
Inside Parasound's first Halo-series CD player are a computer optical-disc drive, an R-core transformer, an analog power supply, and an Intel single-board computer running Linux and DSP software from Holm Acoustics of Denmark. Internal partitions of thick aluminum isolate the disc drive from the power supply and computer circuitry. The CD 1 spins CDs at four times the usual speed and plays digital data from solid-state memory; every bit is read at least twice, and the reads must match, before being sent on to a memory buffer. Compared to Musical Fidelity's M1CDT transport, the Halo CD 1 was significantly quieter and produced a larger, more spacious sound, said JM. "Class A," he concluded. ST praised the CD 1's sweet, nonfatiguing smoothness. "This is the way to do computer audio," he said. Compared to the NAD M51 D/A processor, the Parasound added a touch more midbass and lacked a slight amount of recorded ambience, said JA. On the test bench, the Halo CD 1 exhibited excellent measured performance, highlighted by the best error correction JA had ever encountered in a CD player. Incompatible with pre-emphasized CD-Rs, but as those are extraordinarily rare, this is not a real-world limitation. (Vol.36 Nos. 6, 7, & 12; Vol.37 No.1 WWW)

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 WWW)

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 WWW)

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 ($3300), 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 WWW)


Astell&Kern AK100 Mk.2: $799
Housed in an elegant case of black-anodized aluminum, the AK100 is a battery-powered, portable, high-resolution media player and D/A processor with a 2.4" touchscreen, 32GB of internal memory, and two Micro-SD card slots. It supports the usual file types, including those encoded with Apple's Lossless codec, and uses a Wolfson WM8740 DAC chip capable of handling resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz. The review sample didn't offer gapless playback, but A&K say this would have been addressed with a summer 2013 firmware update. Compared to the Apple iPod Classic, the AK100 sounded more musical and had a greater sense of ease, said JA. Used as a standalone DAC in JA's main system, the AK100 lacked some soundstage definition but performed well overall. "Astell&Kern's AK100 is a true high-end source component," JA concluded. Current firmware (v.2.30) now supports gapless file playback, allows the AK100 to be used as a USB DAC, and permits the playback of DSD64 files transcoded to high-resolution PCM. Mk.2 identical to version reviewed but has output impedance of 3 ohms and the optional leather case is now supplied as standard. (Vol.36 No.8, Vol.37 No.3 WWW)

Musical Fidelity M1CDT transport: $999
Made to match the M1SDAC, with which it shares a remote control, the M1CDT transport measures just 8.6" W by 3.9" H by 11.7" D, has a slot-loading transport mechanism, and offers S/PDIF, AES/EBU, and TosLink outputs. Partnered with the M1SDAC, the M1CDT had a rich, full-bodied, spacious sound that was easy to listen to and enjoy, said ST. Compared to the more expensive Parasound Halo CD 1, however, the M1CDT sounded looser, less controlled, and less relaxed. (Vol.36 No.10)


Marantz CD5004: $349 ✩ $$$
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 WWW)

NAD C 516BEE: $299
NAD's entry-level CD player replaces their C 515BEE, which had been SM's reference. The new model uses a different transport mechanism, a more powerful digital signal processor, a revised microprocessor, new firmware, a revised power supply for lower power consumption in Standby mode, and an automatic standby feature that puts the player to sleep when not in use. Though the new model retains the old model's size (17" W by 2.75" H by 9.5" D), the front panel has been subtly updated with a thinner disc drawer, larger display, and slightly smaller, rounder buttons. SM found that the new model's disc drawer opened and closed slightly more smoothly, quietly, and slowly. Sonically, the two players were virtually identical, though the new model may have been "slightly more extended on top, slightly more effervescent and polished overall," said SM. "For the money, I don't think you"ll find a better CD player," he concluded. (Vol.36 No.10 WWW)

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 WWW)


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 WWW)

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 WWW)

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 WWW)

Astell&Kern AK-120, NAD M50, Music Hall cd15.3.

Audio Analogue Crescendo, Boulder 1021, not auditioned in too long a time; Ayre Acoustics DX-5 "Universal A/V Engine" & C-5xeMP, Emotiva ERC-2, Musical Fidelity M1CLiC, discontinued; NAD C 515BEE replaced by C 516BEE.

billt1nh's picture

Aesthetix Atlas Amplifier : $8000 ✩has been a Class A recommended component for a few years including 2013 but does not show up this year. It is not mentioned under deletions for 2014. Was this a mistake?

John Atkinson's picture

billt1nh wrote:
Aesthetix Atlas Amplifier...has been a Class A recommended component for a few years including 2013 but does not show up this year. It is not mentioned under deletions for 2014. Was this a mistake?

Not a mistake. The Atlas was last included in the April 2013 "Recommended Components" but was deleted from the October 2013 listing on the grounds that it had been almost 4 years since anyone on staff had auditioned it under familiar circumstances.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

MikeMercer's picture

I've pulled an all-nighter writing, so I gotta be burnt-out.

How to get to the next page in the headphones section.

Is it only this one page???

Kal Rubinson's picture

Just click on the Headphone picture or on the "Headphones" in the list. 

MikeMercer's picture

ThanX Kal!!

That's how I got there.

I think it's only one page - which is a shame.  There's SO much great stuff for John and Co. to cover! Schiit Audio, Cavalli Audio, ALO Audio, Aurelic, JH Audio, Mr. Speakers, and DNA for example. 

John! If you EVER want any help covering the VAST personal audio universe?!?!?

My Sonic Satori Personal Audio Lab!!

BTW - we're havin a BLAST over at Audio360!!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Stereophile has an entire online sister publication dedicated to personal audio, innerfidelity.com. It also has another that covers computer audio, audiostream.com.

Azteca X's picture

ThanX Mike!!  I wonder if you've compared your writing style to Tyll at InnerFidelity and wondered why he has the gig?!?!?!  

In all seriousness, InnerFidelity is great and has covered just about every brand you mentioned, I think.  Tyll tends to shy away from the super-custom year-long-waitlist stuff but I find it a good thing compared to forums full of people who drop $4K on amps like it's nothing. 

I also don't think Tyll posts unboxing vids.

Currawong's picture

The Sony MA900 headphones have a 70mm driver, just for your information.

subbanerjee's picture

Dear Editor:

I read the review of the Musical Fidelity DAC. I am not sure how that qualifies as a "formal" review. Yet, that product is placed in the A+ category? I would think that something that goes into the A+ Category would be thoroughly vetted in order to qualify to be a member of the Best-of-the-best category.

Not buying this recommendation...

Subroto Banerjee

John Atkinson's picture

subbanerjee wrote:
I read the review of the Musical Fidelity DAC. I am not sure how that qualifies as a "formal" review.

We include in "Recommended Components" products that have been reviewed in one of our regular columns. Although these reports don't include measurements, they are as rigorously prepared as any other "formal" review in the magazine.

subbanerjee wrote:
Yet, that product is placed in the A+ category?

You will note that there is the reference "See ST's review in this issue." With all reviews that are published in the same issue as "Recomemnded Components," the rating is provisional.

subbanerjee wrote:
I would think that something that goes into the A+ Category would be thoroughly vetted in order to qualify to be a member of the Best-of-the-best category.

I have a second sample of the Musical Fidelity V90-DAC and will be publishing a Follow-Up review, complete with measurements, before the next "Recommended Components" listing is compiled.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

subbanerjee's picture

in the magazine".

Reading through the review, here is the section that refers to the performance of the DAC...

"Compared to the V-DACII, the V90 DAC offers still greater low-level resolutions, superior dynamics, and fatigure-free listening. It does space and place particularly well, and really shines with brass, where lesser DACs tend to turn dull. The Brass Ear would love it."

That's it. And it made it as an A+ DAC?

Come on. As the Editor-in-Chief,  I assume that you question your reviewers when they submit this and want it included in A+. Should you not say, "I don't know Sam, but let's give it a more thorough going over before we put this $299 DAC in A+."?

As you can discern by now, I am not buying this review or your disclaimer that it is a "provisional" rating. I think that a product should have got a thorough going over before it is placed in the rarified air of an A+ rating.

John Atkinson's picture

subbanerjee wrote:
As you can discern by now, I am not buying this review or your disclaimer that it is a "provisional" rating.

It isn't a disclaimer, just a factual statement. The definitive rating will be published in our October issue listing, following my follow-up to Sam Tellig's review. In the meantime, you are perfectly entitled to your opinion on what we write.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

WishTree's picture

Actually I got this DAC based on recommendations else where. It is properly run in but I did not get the performance of this DAC. It is bright and possibly a tad cleaner but no reason to be A+ product. And yes, it is definetly fatigue-ing. I liked Rega DAC better and Audiolab M-DAC is brilliant though they are a bit different in price range. 

Genesis's picture

No estan mas las KEF 207/2 en la lista, fueron borradas por que tampoco las veo en esta lista



John Atkinson's picture

Genesis wrote:
The KEF 207/2 is no longer on the list...

The KEF was positively reviewed in February 2008; see www.stereophile.com/floorloudspeakers/208kef/index.html. The R207/2 hasn't been auditioned by a Stereophile reviewer since that review, so, as is our policy, it was deleted a couple of years ago. That is why there is no mention its deleion in this listing. However, as we say in the introduction on the first page: "Where deletions are made, we endeavor to give reasons...But remember: Deletion of a component from this list does not invalidate a buying decision you have made."

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Genesis's picture

Gracias por vuestra respuesta, tengo un par de estas cajas gracias a Uds. vivo en Argentina y solo pude escuchar unas 203/2 y con vuestra review m'as esa escucha decidi la compra. Me gustan mucho, solo que las vi en la lista hasta 2013 y por curiosidad consulte


Gracias nuevamente

alexandrov's picture

hmm.. I can see PSB Imagine T2 but not their top model Synchrony One. Is it that worse?

John Atkinson's picture

alexandrov wrote:
I can see PSB Imagine T2 but not their top model Synchrony One. Is it that worse?

We used to highly recommend the Synchrony One, but as with the KEF speaker mentioned above, our review was six years ago - see www.stereophile.com/floorloudspeakers/408psb/index.html - and the speaker was dropped from the listing a year or so back due to none of us having any continued experience with it since the review.

The complete Recommended Components from 2003-2013 can be purchased from our on-line store.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Anon2's picture

I would love to read further on your initial article (Sam's Space, I believe) about the Dynaudio Focus 160.  I have heard good things about this product and would like to know of your sound basis for making this speaker a recommended component.

I have searched fruitlessly for this article and it has evaded every type of google search.  Dynaudio mentions the review on its site but, alas, they provided no link either.

Is Stereophile Vol. 35 No. 1 not avaliable online?

Can you send us any kind of html link through this discussion thread?


John Atkinson's picture

low2midhifi wrote:
I have searched fruitlessly for this article...

With the exception of products that I have subsequently measured, we don't routinely reprint Sam Tellig's column on the Stereophile website. For that, you still need to subscribe to the print magazine. Back issues are available from (888) 237-0955.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

swillyums's picture

Is there a reason that this iteration of the list doesn't include any product images? I initially thought that it might just be my tablet, but I get the same wall of text on my desktop and phone as well. 

John Atkinson's picture

swillyums wrote:
Is there a reason that this iteration of the list doesn't include any product images?

Last year we could include images because we had the time to prepare the Web reprint from the tablet app. Thus year we are both temporarily operating short-staffed and wanted to post the complete Web version as soon as possible after the appearance of the April issue on the newsstands/in subscribers' mailboxes. This meant discarding both images and review URLs, I am afraid.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

NewB's picture

I was just wondering why the PSB Image line was removed.  

John Atkinson's picture

NewB wrote:
I was just wondering why the PSB Image line was removed.

As I wrote above, we drop products from the listing when none of the reviewing team has had any continued experience with it for more than 3 years since the original review. The complete listing for the 10 years from 2003 to 2013 can be purchased from our on-line store: http://store-badz031c.mybigcommerce.com/recommended-components-collectors-edition/ .

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Dan Moroboshi's picture

We could see ubber, ultra and expensive cables on interconnects and speaker cables, but not on digital cables. Is there a reason?

Some cables calls attentions, e.g. Stereolab Master reference 818 BNC/SPDIF, Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB, Kimber KS2020/2120, etc.

Byrnie's picture

Shouldn't the Centrance DACMini CX be listed under this section also given the DacPort is also?

clasvi's picture

Next month,will be four years since I purchased new, my 5004 matching AV receiver and BDP. The AV receiver has died (processor) and the BD player still sounds great when you can finally get the disc to load (mechanical). On occassions, I have had to give up trying. I was very happy with my entry level setup until it died. I now will try a Fusion 8100 AV receiver as a preamp to a ATI AT2005 amp powering my PSB T6's

tigrenrike's picture

I don't see the GoldenEar Triton Seven, and the newer GoldenEar Triton ONE...!?!?!? I think the GE Triton ONE should be in the A Full Range Class. And the Triton Seven should be in the B restricted Class...!

John Atkinson's picture
tigrenrike wrote:
I don't see the GoldenEar Triton Seven, and the newer GoldenEar Triton ONE...!?!?!?

As it says in the introduction, "Components listed here have been formally reviewed in Stereophile..." Neither of these GoldenEar speakers had been reviewed when this listing was prepared (February 2014). However, the Triton One will be reviewed in the February 2015 issue of Stereophile.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile