2016 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.

A+

Antipodes DX Reference: $8725 with 4TB internal storage
What could tempt the frugal JA into forsaking his computer-based file-playing system for a high-quality dedicated music server? The latter must offer sound quality with which the former does not compete—and that's precisely what he found in the Kiwi-built Antipodes DX Reference. The DX Reference, which runs on the Linux operating system, runs Vortex-Box for setup, control, and disc ripping, and Squeezebox Server for managing the music library. It supports up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, and DSD64 and 128. With file after file, JA noted that recorded music took on a greater sense of palpable presence—"a tangible Bob [Dylan] was there, standing between the GamuT speakers"—through the Antipodes DX Reference. His conclusion: "My audiophile persona felt that, with the DX, there was a greater sense .ˇ.ˇ. of involvement with the overall sound."Price without storage is $5700; 1TB $6700; 2TB, $7375. (Vol.38 No.10 WWW)

Aurender N10: $7999 with 4TB storage
See JA's review in this issue.

Bryston BDP-2: $2995
Essentially a beefed-up BDP-1 (reviewed by LG in Vol.34 No.6), the BDP-2 replaces the original's 0.5GHz processor with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N450, and its single-amp linear power supply with a larger toroidal transformer specified 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 BDP-1, the BDP-2 sounded 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. In 2015, Bryston upgraded the BDP-2's audio board with a new Integrated Audio Device (IAD) that is retrofittable and can be installed in the field. (The new board costs $500.) Following the instructions supplied by Bryston, LG installed the upgrade in his own BDP-2, and while that process wasn't 100% glitch-free, it was over in an hour, and Larry is now sitting up and taking solid nourishment. (Kidding. He's fine.) With the new IAD in place, LG noticed a number of refinements, including quicker percussion transients and the elimination of an etched quality that otherwise plagued some recordings. As he recommends, "If you already own a Bryston BDP-2, don't hesitate to get the IAD upgrade kit." (Vol.36 No.10, Vol.38 No.10, Vol.39 No.2 WWW)

dCS Vivaldi: $114,996/system as reviewed
The latest dCS digital playback system comprises the Vivaldi DAC ($35,999), 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 ($21,999), which can upconvert even the lowest-resolution MP3 data to 24/384, DSD, and DXD, or any format in between; the Vivaldi Master Clock ($14,999), containing two groups of four clock outputs, which can be independently set; and the Vivaldi Transport ($41,999), 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)

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)

Melco N1A: $1999 $$$
The audio division of Japanese manufacturer Melco—the parent company of the ginormous computer-peripheral manufacturer Buffalo Incorporated—has been resurrected as a maker of networked audio components. The new N1A server, which Melco calls a High Resolution Digital Music Library, contains 4TB of (Seagate) internal storage, the contents of which can be converted to analog by means of Ethernet connection to a network (or direct to a network player), or USB connection to a USB DAC. (Direct-connected network players must offer a hardware-based means of controlling playback.) Using an NDK ultra-low-jitter clock, the N1A also reclocks all data before scooting it on its way. As ML put it, "The Melco N1A Buffaloed my combination of MacBook Pro and Synology NAS. It destroyed them, embarrassed them, gave them a good schooling. Music sounded obviously—frighteningly—more refined, more spacious, and more natural through the N1A. End of story. I can't imagine anyone in this universe who does nothing else while listening to music making the same comparison and not hearing this difference." (Vol.39 No.3 WWW)

Meridian Sooloos 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)

NAD Masters Series M50 Digital Music Player: $2499
Offered by NAD as "computer audio without the computer," the Masters Series M50 looks like a high-end disc player—its front-mounted, slot-loading CD mechanism allows it to function as such—but is, in fact, a 24-bit/192kHz file player. Intended for use with an external file-storage device and an outboard D/A converter—it lacks an internal hard drive, and its varied output jacks are digital only—the M50 supports most PCM files, as well as the cloud services Rdio, Slacker, Tidal, TuneIn, WiMP, Qobuz, and HighResAudio. As for ripping files, unless the M50 doesn't detect a storage device—in which case it simply plays whatever CD is fed into its slot—its control software gives the user a choice of prompts or defaults, automatically indexes the rips, and retrieves from the Internet all metadata and "artwork." In our review, the M50 played music files from both its companion NAD Master Series M52 Music Vault storage device ($1999) and an Ethernet-connected NAS on JA's home network, and worked well with both NAD's Master Series M51 DAC ($1999) and the Auralic Vega converter, although JA preferred the more robust-sounding Auralic. Overall, JA rated the M50 "a true high-end source." (Vol.37 No.5 WWW)

PS Audio PerfectWave Memory Player: $3999
"Listening to familiar recordings, recent as well as some from the early days of CD, I heard more musical detail from them than I previously had. This detail was not a matter of exaggerated treble, which can give an impression of increased detail, but was genuinely higher resolution manifested by greater differentiation among the sounds of instruments and rhythmic patterns," said RD about CD playback in his enthusiastic review. (Vol.38 No.2 WWW)

A

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)

Acoustic Research AR-M2 portable player: $1199
See JA's review in this issue.

Astell&Kern AK240 portable player: $2500
The luxury choice in high-resolution portable music players," according to ML, the Astell&Kern AK240 contains within its milled-from-solid casework dual Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC chips, 256GB of internal memory, a microSD slot, separate single-ended and true balanced headphone jacks—and the company's trademark knurled volume knob. With the company's MQS app, the AK240 user can stream, from any Windows or OS computer, PCM files up to 24-bit/192kHz, plus single- and double-rate DSD files. The AK240 can also be enjoyed as a USB DAC, or used as a wired or wireless source component for one's home system. And we haven't even mentioned the vegetable tanning of its Italian-leather case. The AK240 presented ML with performance "at once resolute and finely detailed," though he noted that he's heard richer, riper sound from other products. "The slight thinness I'd heard through the 'phones became more evident through my main system, making less-than-stellar recordings sound a bit rough around the edges. On the other hand, great-sounding recordings, such as Santana's Abraxas in DSD, were given their due by the AK240." Subsequent to ML's review, JA measured the AK240 and declared, "Astell&Kern's AK240 gets a clean bill of health—and I shared ML's enthusiasm for its sound. While the AK240 is expensive, high-resolution sound on the go doesn't get any better. I'm sending the review sample back to iriver before I'm tempted to buy it!" (Vol.37 No.11, Vol.39 No.4 WWW)

Audio Note CDT One/II: $4100
At the core of the front-loading CDT One/II transport is a Philips L 1210/S mechanism, the stock logic board of which is supplemented with a second board, apparently designed and built by Audio Note. The 11.7" W by 5.7" H by 16.2" D steel case contains a decidedly robust power supply, and a length of Audio Note's AN-V silver interconnect carries the signal to the CDT One/II's outputs: a choice of S/PDIF (RCA) or AES/EBU (XLR). The combination of this transport with Audio Note's DAC 2.1x Signature D/A converter was praised by AD as comprising a CD player almost unrivaled in "the ability to involve me in the magic of notes and rhythms." His conclusion: "Vigorously recommended." JA noted that the Audio Note's error correction "is better than that required by the CD standard, but is not as good as other current transports." (Vol.39 No.1 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)

Auralic Aries network bridge: $1599
The Auralic Aries network player, which supports the UPnP and OpenHome standards, has inputs for WiFi and Ethernet, plus a recently implemented input for a USB Network-Attached Storage (NAS) device. The Aries user must supply his or her own network router and DAC (digital outputs on the Aries include USB, TosLink, coaxial S/PDIF, and AES/EBU), and must also download the Auralic Lightning DS app—at present available only for the iPad, though Android support is said to be coming. Those requirements fulfilled, the Aries, whose curvaceous body conceals an internal WiFi antenna, can wirelessly stream up to double-DSD, and supports lossless streaming from the services Qobuz and WiMP/Tidal. As ML wrote, "The Aries presented a seemingly lower noise floor than my MacBook Pro. There was a sense of greater resolution, and an increase in dynamic snap similar to what I'd heard with the [Simaudio] MiND." (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

Ayre Acoustics CX-7eMP: $3950 ★
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, Vol.38 No.2 WWW; see also "The Fifth Element" in Vol.34 No.2 and Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Baetis XR3 media server: $7995
In a world of high-end media servers that support only two-channel playback, the multichannel Baetis XR2—described by KR as "a complete hardware-and-software package to which the user need add nothing but more storage"—stands out. Essentially a fourth-generation IntelCore i7 computer, the cooling system of which has been optimized for silent operation, the XR2 runs Windows 7 and uses JRiver Media Center playback software. During setup, an icon on the computer's desktop allows a Baetis technician to "see" and control the XR2 while speaking on the phone with the user; thus KR was up and running in no time: "After boot-up, I loaded JRiver's Media Center 19, clicked on a music file, and was able to play via S/PDIF immediately." KR put his multichannel aspirations on temporary hold, compared the S/PDIF output with that of other players and servers, and concluded that the XR2 "produced the best two-channel sound from every DAC I tried" at every level of resolution, including DSD-over-PCM. Turning to multichannel playback via the Baetis's USB and HDMI outputs, KR was equally impressed, observing that his go-to multichannel disc "had never, ever sounded better. Every instrument was right in the room, and well defined from left to right and from front to back. Luscious." KR's experience of the current XR3 version continues the recommendation. (Vol.37 No.9, Vol.38 No.9 WWW)

Digibit Aria Music Server: $6495 as reviewed
With their beautifully styled Aria, server specialists DigiBit have entered the hardware market with a prepackaged, dedicated music server that can play multichannel files. The Aria runs a heavily customized version of JRiver, and is available with or without an internal DAC, and with or without on-board 4TB or 2TB file storage, the latter as either solid-state or a hard disk; KR skipped the DAC, owing to its two-channel limitations, but opted for the 2TB hard drive. With the Aria's S/PDIF output connected to his exaSound e28 DAC and with Aria's app downloaded to his iPad, KR was up and running in 10 minutes. Oddly, the Aria's manual makes no mention of multichannel, but, as KR points out, "the Aria handles multichannel files with the same facility as it does two-channel. The only difference is that you need to ask DigiBit to install the appropriate ASIO driver for your device." Even so equipped, the Aria's built-in ripper did not do multichannel; apart from that, as KR wrote, the Aria was "a delight to use and makes no compromise in sound quality. Fundamentally, the Aria's sound was as satisfying as that of other high-quality, computer-based servers." (Vol.38 No.3 WWW)

Metronome Technologie CD8T Signature: $11,800
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. (Vol.36 No.11)

MSB Universal Media Transport V: $6995
Based on the Oppo BDP-103 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray player—"a great place to start, and a player I'd already had in my video system for a year," said JI—the Universal Media Transport plays CDs, DVDs, BDs, and SACDs, as well as most popular music-file codecs (it has a USB Type A jack for memory sticks). The UMT retains Oppo's onboard video circuitry but uses MSB's own audio processing. Its use requires one of four MSB power-supply options, ranging in price from $595 to $5995. While reviewing MSB's Analog DAC (see Digital Processors), JI achieved good results with the UMT: "When I added [it] to the mix, [the system's sense of] 'thereness' notched up a nanotad." (Vol.37 No.4 WWW)

Oppo BDP-105D: $1299
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)

PonoPlayer: $399 $$$
Conceived by Neil Young, designed by Charles Hansen and Ayre Acoustics, and made possible by Kickstarter funding of $6.2 million—which is $6.2 million more than has been raised by anyone offering to create a digital player of no greater resolution than the Compact Disc—the Toblerone-shaped and unambiguously yellow PonoPlayer has an internal storage capacity of 64GB (bump-up-able to 128GB with the insertion of a microSD card); runs up to 8 hours on a single charge; supports sample rates and word lengths of 192kHz and 24 bits, respectively; incorporates separate 3.5mm output jacks for line out and headphones; and accepts all popular file formats (early pre-release reports suggested that Pono would create their own codec, but that has not come to pass). Files can be downloaded direct from PonoMusic or can be loaded using the company's JRiver-developed desktop application. JA noted that "CD rips sounded excellent through the player," but went on to say that "it was with hi-rez recordings that the PonoPlayer shone brightest." Used as a portable, the Pono "[had] the edge in sound quality" over JA's Astell&Kern AK100, sounding sweeter and warmer; and when he used the Pono to drive his big rig at home, JA said, "I didn't feel I had missed much of the music." The PonoPlayer also measured "very well," irrespective of its affordable price. In a Follow-Up, JA wrote of his experiences using a $70 Surf Cables adapter that allows the PonoPlayer's headphone output to be auditioned in balanced mode. His measurements uncovered a drop in the output signal's noise floor when so configured, and JA reported being "impressed by the increased 'drive' of the balanced playback." He concluded: "the word to describe the sound of this $399 player in balanced mode: transcendent." Class A rating refers to the sound in balanced mode, otherwise high Class B applies. Writing about the pairing of his own PonoPlayer with a pair of ADAM Audio A3x active speakers, ML wrote: "We're talking highly engaging music reproduction." (Vol.38 Nos. 4, 6, 9, 12, Vol.39 No.4 WWW)

Primare CD32: $2850
Primare's CD32 is a single-box CD player featuring balanced and single-ended analog outputs, a choice of three digital outputs (S/PDIF, TosLink, AES/EBU), and a USB Type A digital input, intended for thumb drives, via which the user can play MP3 files (but nothing else). The remote handset allows the user to select among three pre-conversion upsampling modes: the original 16-bit/44.1kHz signal, or the same datastream upsampled to 48 or 96kHz. BD praised the CD32 for allowing instruments to sound like their real selves, with "violins [sounding] articulate and especially captivating." The Primare's spatial performance was also impressive, as was how it conveyed the relationship between the recording space and the instruments within: "The CD32 allowed . . . guitars to pressurize the space around them in just the way an acoustic guitar—even an amplified one—will in concert." Compared with its predecessor, Primare's CD31, BD wrote that "the CD32 improved on all the areas where the CD31 was strong, and addressed the areas where it wasn't." JA's measurements gave the Primare a clean bill of health, noting in particular the player's "superb error correction." (Vol.37 No.6 WWW)

Questyle Audio QP1R portable player: $899
The China-built QP1R, the size of which JA likens to a pack of cigarettes, is housed in a CNC-machined aluminum chassis, with Gorilla Glass (think: iPhone) front and rear panels. A metal scroll wheel with a central pushbutton dominates the front. On its top edge are a conventional rotary volume knob and two 3.5mm jacks: one for analog output (headphones), the other for both analog (line) and digital (optical S/PDIF) inputs. In the Questyle's OS, gain ranges for the headphone jack are user-selectable to suit specific 'phones. A wide range of file formats are supported at resolutions of up to 24 bits and 192kHz, the player supports DSD64 and DSD128 files in DFF and DSF formats, and the QP1R's 32GB storage capacity can be augmented with microSD cards. JA enjoyed the tactile feedback—a brief vibration—of the QP1R's controls, and while he had problems with the scroll wheel, he loved the player's Return button, which instantly brings up to the Now Playing screen. He also admired the sound, remarking that, with one file in particular, "the Questyle driving the Audeze [LCD-X] headphones was as good as it gets," and noting that, in comparison with his reference PonoPlayer, the Questyle had consistently greater low-frequency weight. Reporting from The Bench, JA noted that "the Questyle QP1R's measured performance was excellent." (Vol.38 No.12 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!" It took three years, but an answer finally came, when MF reviewed the Simaudio Moon Evolution 820S power supply ($8000). Although the 820S can simultaneously power two Moon Evolution components—other candidates include Simaudio's 750D DAC, 740P preamplifier, and 610LP and 810LP phono preamplifiers—MF tried the review sample on the 650D. He found that, "in general, adding the 820S tightened the bottom end and removed smear and edge from the top, while improving high-frequency extension and the sense of air around instruments. Instrumental three-dimensionality improved, and microdynamics were particularly enhanced, probably as a result of the far lower noise floor." MF's conclusion? "My advice to owners of Simaudio's Moon Evolution 650D: Go to your dealer and get an 820S to take home and try. Put it on a credit card if the dealer doesn't trust you, but be prepared to drop $8000—I don't think you'll be returning that 820S to the store." (Vol.34 No.11, Vol.37 No.11 WWW)

Simaudio Moon MiND network player: $990 $$$
Simaudio's Moon intelligent Network Device (MiND) is a network player for use in systems that already have a D/A converter and a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device—neither of which the MiND includes. Its use also requires a WiFi-compatible network router and, to run Simaudio's MiND app, an iPhone or iPad. The MiND itself, which is UPnP- and DLNA-compatible, offers WiFi and Ethernet inputs, and its all-digital outputs (AES/EBU, coaxial S/PDIF, and TosLink) support datastreams up to 24-bit/192kHz. Virtually all music-file codecs are supported, as is streaming from vTuner Radio. With the MiND connected to his home router via Ethernet cable (and to his Auralic Vega DAC via AES/EBU), ML was impressed: "Compared to my stock MacBook Pro running Pure Music 2 or Audirvana, the MiND appeared to offer a lower noise floor. There was a newfound purity to the sound of my NAS-based music that made possible a more musically engaging experience." The drawback: "When I tried the MiND's WiFi connection, I found that I could play without problem files of resolutions up to 24/88.2, but higher resolutions had frequent dropouts." (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

Sony HAP-Z1ES media player: $1999.99
One might not guess from its 16.75"-wide, 32-lb chassis that the Sony HAP-Z1ES is, essentially, a very high-quality iPod—albeit one that, in KR's words, "improves on Apple's paradigm in every way but portability." Not intended for use as a D/A converter—it has no digital inputs—the HAP-Z1ES combines a 1TB hard drive with a processor that can "remaster" any file to DSD128; a Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) claimed to improve the sound of compressed files; wired and wireless Ethernet connectivity for Internet radio streaming from one's computer; and the ability to play almost any two-channel music-file format, lossless or lossy, including DSD. The DSEE feature is automatically disabled for DSD files—smartly presumed uncompressed—while the DSD "remastering" can be disabled, if not conveniently. KR was unimpressed with its remote handset, preferring by far the control app available for Android and iOS, but was very pleased with the Sony's sound: "An integrated, single-box [file] player of the highest sonic quality." JA praised the HAP-Z1ES's "impressive measured performance." (Vol.37 No.5 WWW)

B

La Rosita Alpha: $2995
"Don't abandon your CDs. You can have Perfect Sound Forever, just as Sony said in 1983. What they didn't say then was that you couldn't have it until 2014." Thus spake ST as he endorsed the idea behind the French-made Alpha New streamer, use of which encourages listeners to rip their CDs to iTunes—to take advantage of its leisurely and thorough error correction—rather than play them in real time. The Alpha New contains its own 16-bit/44.1kHz DAC but does not accept S/PDIF data from a CD player; rather, it accepts datastreams via AirPlay or its Ethernet input. Manufacturer La Rosita does not believe that any hi-rez file can outperform 16/44.1 digital, and though the Alpha New can play any format or download, in doing so it will truncate rather than downsample the data. Apple MacBook owner ST observed that "inserting the Alpha New into my system was a snap rather than a snafu," and he set to enjoying, via the Alpha New, his favorite Internet radio streams. "I was astonished by the quality of the sound," he said. "I heard drums sound live: impactful, with no smearing of cymbals. La Rosita's Alpha New made Radio Swiss Jazz sound like analog LPs." (Vol.37 No.11)

Metronome CD8 S: $10,000
In his ongoing search for a $10,000 last CD player, AD happened on this most recent version of the Metronome CD8—a product he describes as "one of the most perfect-looking appliances I've seen"—now enhanced with a USB digital input. Inside its good-looking case is a two-channel, 32-bit AKM Velvet Sound chip capable of supporting up to 768kHz PCM digital and 11.2MHz DSD. That said, DSD compatibility is limited to using the CD8 S in USB DAC mode, since the Metronome's Philips CDM12 Pro2 (v.6.8) disc transport can't play SACDs. Given sufficient warm-up time, the CD8 S rewarded AD with good color and texture and an appealingly "huge" sense of scale. With a CD of orchestral music, "the spatial relationships among various instrument groups were convincing, and instrumental timbres—especially the brass—were believably well saturated." And, while listening to a 44.1kHz file streamed to the CD8 S's D/A converter, AD was "all but spellbound by the combination of clarity, articulation, appropriate roundness of tone, and complete absence of timing distortion brought to the music." While measuring the Metronome, JA found various examples of anomalous behavior, including the appearance of odd-order harmonics with 24-bit data, the appearance of power-supply–related sidebands, and anomalies in the way the DAC handled data sampled higher than 96kHz. (Vol.39 No.3 WWW)

Sony NW-ZX2 portable player: $1199.99
Billed by Sony as a High-Resolution Walkman, the iPhone-sized NW-ZX2 plays PCM files up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD up to 5.6MHz. Its onboard DSP capabilities include Sony's Digital Sound Enhancement Engine for bumping up lo-rez files to "near high-resolution sound quality"; WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities are built-in. The NW-ZX2 has 128GB of onboard storage, plus a 128GB-capable microSD slot for those who think more. ML enjoyed the player's "clean, incisive, lively sound," and while he found the Pono PonoPlayer had a comparatively "meaty and more colorful sound," he praised the NW-ZX2's overall clarity and ability to retrieve subtle details. He also noted the Sony's claimed ability to run 33 hours on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery, and its larger-than-average, pleasant-to-use touchscreen. (Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

C

Music Hall c-dac15.3: $549
The Music Hall c-dac 15.3 is considerably more than its model name suggests: It is indeed a digital-to-analog converter, with three inputs—USB, TosLink, coaxial—and 24-bit/192kHz performance, the latter thanks to its tried-and-true Burr-Brown PCM1796 DAC chip. Yet it's also a CD player, thanks to the inclusion of a Sanyo HD850 disc transport that Music Hall claims is mounted "mid-ship": nautical but nice! Like Music Hall's a15.3 integrated amplifier, the Chinese-made c-dac is supplied in black casework with a full-width (16.9") faceplate of brushed aluminum. Used by SM with the a15.3 amp, the c-dac 15.3 "brought [the] music forward and enveloped me in brilliant sound," with extended highs and snappy transients, if less smoothness and body than the NAD C 515BEE CD player. (Vol.37 No.6 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)

D

Tascam CD-200: $599.99
Built around the new audio-specific CD-5020A CD transport from TEAC, TASCAM's parent company, the rack-mountable CD-200 offers both single-ended analog outputs and coaxial and optical digital outputs. Features include a front-mounted ¼" headphone jack and, for the player's analog outputs, a pitch control with a range of ±12% (its zero point is securely detented). The CD-200 can also play disc-encoded MP3 and WAV files, and its asking price includes a remote handset. JM noted that the CD-200, used as either a transport or a one-box CD player, performed flawlessly, and added that the TASCAM was "the quietest affordable CD player I've ever used." Although its sonic performance was handily bettered by the "read-until-right" Parasound Halo CD 1, JM found "nothing at all to complain about" in the TASCAM—which, he hastens to advise, is "widely discounted." (Vol.37 No.8 WWW)

Deletions
Musical Fidelity M1CDT and Parasound Halo CD discontinued; Krell Cipher because of long-term reliability issues; Schiit BiFrost significantly changed since review; Resolution Audio Cantata Music Center not auditioned in a long time.



COMMENTS
Staxguy's picture

Class A

Audeze LCD-X: Why would you consider the Audeze LCD-X over the Audeze LCD-3? The Audeze LCD-3, though veiled, "digital" (too few bits of detail), and non-liquid, at least presents music as beautiful.

Not only this, but it (3) is a personal luxury product, with a gorgeous headband, ear-pads, and wood ear-cups.

There also is the issue of it (3) having phenomenal bass, on the non-Fazor version.

The LCD-X? It sounds like absolutely nothing. By nothing, one means about $600.

Audender Flow

Giving that you are Stereophile, this would be great in the Class C department. It has DSD, etc. and decent specs, but no balanced out, so no headphone enthusiast would consider using it.

Chord Mojo: A great DAC/amp. Great that you have it in Class A.

Sennheiser 650/600: certainly very comfortable, but no match for the 580. ;) While neither sounds like shit (the 600 is more natural), they lack any detail and air, although their true comfort makes them fantastic computer speakers. Still, Class C.

HiFiMan 400i: Shouldn't it be the HE-6? Where is the HE 1000? This is Class A guys.

Sennheiser IE 800: Where is this? Perhaps more detailed and fast than the HD-800 and only $1000. ($800 US). Obviously, no imaging like the HD. What an amazing headphone, the HD 800.

Omissions: Shouldn't the class A be the Stax 009 and perhaps some excessive (read: expensive) headphone amplifiers? Om.

Class B

Apogee Groove. Ok. Great. A pro-audio device.

Audeze EL-8: What? Ok. This one sounds like shit. Ok, have only heard the closed. Great cheap price ($699) and design job by BMW, but terrible sound an not even a part of the LCD-2. What a looser.

Audioquest Nighthawlk: Huh? Wah.

B&W P3: Why the P3 and not the P5 or P7? Isn't the quality of the P3 pathetic? Sound, gentlemen, sound.

CEEntrence DACPort: Ok. Great device. How about more CEntrance. Great specs.!

Master & Dynamic MD40: Is this a poor men's clothing magazine?

PSB M4U: Shouldn't this be Class E?

Class C:

Audioengine D3: for $149 a great made device with great components. However, the sound is worse than the stock Intel audio chip you'll have in your PC. Does have less hum and noise than an-in PC chip, though.

Overall: Where are the audiophile components?

Sorry to be a party-pooper.

dalethorn's picture

Mostly agree. Headphones don't seem as accurately covered here as the big stuff. Maybe the headphones and other portable gear should be covered entirely by Innerfidelity, in Stereophile Recommended Components.

Glotz's picture

Naw, just haughty, arrogant and disrespectful.

They reviewed various products for the magazine, and this is the list they came up with. The classes are explained in full, in relation to the other products's performance that have made the list. Older products, sometimes equally capable as current products listed, are removed due to age. Lastly, most reviewers have their own benchmarks and their own opinions about component performance, hence their choice of placement in the classes.

You can disagree all you want man, just do it with a modicum of respect. If you want to start your own magazine, go for it dude.

K.Reid's picture

Glad to see this mighty monitor included in Class A restricted low frequency. Very well deserved and impeccably engineered at a fair price. Most importantly it sounds great. An excellent effort by the folks at Technics. It's obvious they care about and love music by making a product like this.

Anon2's picture

I read JA's assessment of the Arcam A19 regarding its ability to handle low impedance, high volume listening.

I wanted to add my own, perhaps less scientific assessment of the Arcam A18 predecessor model.

I have my Arcam A18 integrated connected to Canton Ergo 32DC speakers whose impedance range is listed as 4...8 Ohm, 87 dB by the manufacturer. The owner's manual for my speakers, of about year 2000 vintage, states that the speakers can be "unhesitatingly operated with any standard amplifier" (with some small qualifications later in the manual).

Stereophile's tests of other Canton speakers show that the speakers tend to operate more towards the 4, rather than the 8 Ohm range of input impedance.

I have used my Canton speakers with my demo model Arcam A18 for several years now. I am not a loud volume listener, but I like room filling sound. For a benchmark of my listening, I will say that audio show rooms, for example, are, for the most part, way too loud.

I did a test this morning. On the integrated's volume range of 1 to 99, I did some listening around 38 on the volume scale. I listened to a Chandos recording of Bryden Thomson's LSO recording of Vaughn Willams's 8th Symphony and assorted string works (Chandos 8828, a great audiophile recording still in circulation). This volume is adequate to fill the room amply with sound. Vaughn Williams works will require a bit more gas-pedal than other orchestral works.

Then, for some higher octane listening, but with the volume set at the same 38 position, I did another test. I listened to the great recording of Don Juan, with the Cleveland Orchestra, and the late great Lorin Maazel (CBS Masterworks MDK 44909). If I had finicky neighbors adjacent to my listening room for this session, they might have complained over the volume in some sections of this work.

After listening to these CD tracks, I put my hand over the unobstructed top ventilation grate on the Arcam A18. After feeling the heat, which was almost imperceptible, I then put my hand to my cheek. After 5 seconds the heat from my cheek was noticeably warmer.

I'd guess that John's assessment would apply particularly--without mentioning brands--to low efficiency low impedance speakers, of the 84-85 dB and/or 4 Ohms nominal varieties. But for my speakers the Arcam never seems over-taxed, and certainly never clips with the music and volume settings that I employ.

If you are a moderate-to-room filling volume listener, have stand-mount speakers of 87-88 dB, and 8 Ohm nominal impedance, and love peerless sound, I'd say buy the Arcam A19 without hesitation. I'm not a dealer or a professional, but that's my assessment. A reader wrote in the Stereophile review of the A19 that he found the A19 to be a big improvement from the A18. My dealer says that if you have an A18, you can probably live with it without going to the A19.

Other publications, that score products in their reviews, show the Arcam A18/A19 models garnering the highest scores of the Arcam integrated amp line-up.

Those are my two cents on the Arcam A19.

makarisma's picture

What about products from companies such as T+A, YBA, Linn, McIntosh, etc., all of which also have outstanding models in the listed catagories?

pablolie's picture

based on the reviews, it seems to defy logic you give the Benchmark AHB2 a class A rating, and the NAD M22 a class B. to quote your own review, the AHB2 "failed to be as lively or exciting as the NAD". oddly enough, the word "loss" is not mentioned anywhere in the M22's review, so it surprises me it shows up in the recommended equipment guide.

sharethemusic's picture

i am the proud owner of raven audio amplification. "THE RAVEN" a 3oob tube based integrated amplifier. There can be no better amplification in the world. You see right thru the music. Your are drawn into it. All the details of the recording are there.Is there colorization by the tubes? Not sure.i can only tell you the music sounds exactly as intended and as natural and neutral as can be.it is rated at 15 watts per channel..Some may not understand. Raven audios 10 watts,is another tube companies 40 watts and solid states 80 watts. It is in the power supply and voltage regulation that all the power of god on earth is unleashed. the power is more than enough to fill my 20x 20 room with blasting clear,warm glorious sound. i have owned mcintosh,krell ,NAD AND MARK LEVINSON. There really isnt anything but maybe my old mac that sounds even close to the raven. andy rothman sharethemusic@aol.com

Ladokguy1's picture

I know Art Dudley has used Auditorium cables as a reference for several years, any reason they are not listed in Recommended Components?

AndySingh's picture

Hello

I went to my local store - Overture Audio, and auditioned the GoldenEar Aon 2 and Dynaudio Emit M10.

Listening to the M10's, I am surprised they (or other Dynaudio products) have never been reviewed on your site.

Is there a Dynaudio review on the horizon?

Glideyork's picture

Hi,

I bought the Dynaudio m20 few weeks ago. I'm not really expert, but I think my amp (yamaha r-n500) is not enough powerful for these speakers. If you make some emit reviews, could you give us some advices about the good amps to associate with :/

Thanks for all the other really interesting articles.

AndySingh's picture

Speaking to Northwoods AV of Grand Rapids, MI, I was told that Yamaha Aventage 750/760 would be a good choice for 4 ohm speakers such as Dynaudio Emit M20.

The dealer claimed he was running Magnepans off of these. For a stereo setup, this receiver would do, however they probably only support 4 ohm impedance for front left and right.

The power output would not be a concern for a stereo setup.

gasolin's picture

I use the Marantz PM8005 and that is the smallest amp i would recommend for the Dynaudio emit m10's

z24069's picture

There are some fine choices on the Transports, Digital Processors, Preamp and Amp listings. I am puzzled however at the total lack of mention of any Esoteric Audio product. They are current products well known for their performance and musicality. What criteria being utilized could yield a recommended components lists where at least one of their products (or more) would not make it into the results?

Waves200's picture

Oh to live in a country with a reasonable rate of exchange! Our local Velodyne distributors have the DD+ 15-inch sub listed at the equivalent of almost $2000 more than the listed RRP is in the US. By the time that customs and excise is added to the cost, and the retailers have added their markup, you would be paying almost as much for the 15 inch model as you would for a new family car!

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