The Entry Level #14 Page 2

I listened to the C 515BEE CD player with my PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers ($299/pair), NAD C 316BEE integrated amplifier ($380), and AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables ($299/10' pair) and Sidewinder interconnects ($65/1m pair). The CD player and amplifier sat on shelves in my PolyCrystal equipment rack, plugged into a Furutech e-TP60 power conditioner, itself plugged into a Furutech GTX wall receptacle via an AudioQuest NRG X-3 power cord.

A highly engaging musical experience
Unlike the Emotiva ERC-2, which had impressed me with its dynamic range and muscular overall sound, the C 515BEE sacrificed weight and extension for a smoother, more coherent sound. "Self-Obsessed and Sexxee," from Sonic Youth's dark classic, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (CD, DGC 24632; see "Records To Die For"), sounded appropriately sinister and compelling, with clear delineation of the thick, heavily distorted guitars and a good sense of air around the drums, but lacked some bass weight and impact. More important to me, the NAD showed off a really good sense of touch in the song's quieter passages—I could almost feel the energy of drummer Steve Shelley as he paired gentle taps on the ride cymbals with solid kicks to the bass drum. Further, the NAD didn't miss a beat when the song cleverly shifts from dueling minor-key leads to chunky major-key chords.

The NAD also sacrificed some tonal color and body for speed and impact. In "Woman Left Lonely," from Jukebox, Cat Power's beautiful collection of covers (CD, Matador OLE 793-2), time is loosely kept with wire brushes sweeping the head of a snare drum. Through the NAD, this sweeping sound was more of a metallic scrape than the breathy whisper I've grown used to hearing, which made the song sound as though it were played at a slightly faster tempo and created an illusion of greater detail. Through my Sony PlayStation 1, the wire brushes swept the snare head in a gentler, more relaxed fashion, conveying a greater depth of expression from attack to decay.

But the Sony lacked the NAD's spatial abilities, setting the song's musicians in a narrower, more two-dimensional soundstage. The NAD seemed to enjoy re-creating a performance space, pushing forward the sweet-toned guitars, moving the organ way to the rear of the stage, setting the drums dead center, and letting Chan Marshall's intoxicating voice hover above it all. On the other hand, the piano in "Woman Left Lonely" sounded too big and dramatic through the NAD, seeping into areas of the soundstage that should have remained free from its resonant clang. Through the Sony, the piano was more accurately scaled in relation to the other instruments.

But I loved the C 515BEE's way with "Lonely Woman," from Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come (CD, Atlantic 5182636). Remarkable for its many emotional twists and turns, "Lonely Woman" has got to be one of the most gorgeous and thrilling jazz compositions ever captured on tape, and the NAD presented it brilliantly, communicating the swagger, the longing, the sound of adulation in Coleman's drunken, weeping alto saxophone, all with impressive power and grace. For its part, the Sony offered a much mellower, more analog-like presentation, the horns especially sounding warmer, rounder, less burnished. This was good and bad: The Sony uncovered a fluid, acrobatic grace in the trills of the horns at the end of the piece, but missed the staggering impact of those same horns in the track's opening measures.

When I turned to "Running Away from Melissa," from the mps, the NAD reminded me that we'd recorded the album on analog equipment—tape hiss was clearly audible—and had accidentally recorded this track in mono. More important, however, the NAD conveyed the full range of emotion in the music. When the guitars shift from delicate arpeggios to heavily distorted power chords and the drums go from a soft snare pattern to a thunderous, full-kit explosion, I couldn't help but throw my arms in the air and clench my fists with the soaring music. For a brief moment, I was almost there again, on stage at Maxwell's.

A note about MP3s
They sounded surprisingly good through the NAD C 515BEE. Toward the end of the evaluation period, my dear (and totally hot) friend Kristen asked me to create a mix CD for her upcoming dinner party. Of course, I made not one but six mix CDs, and littered them with provocative tunes like "Je T'aime . . . Moi Non Plus," "Fever," and "Sweet Bacon." Before wrapping the discs in black silk and dousing them with eau de toilette, I tested them out in the NAD. I figured I'd just listen casually while tending to other matters, but the sound was so vibrant and compelling that I was invariably drawn back into the listening room. Through the NAD, it was easy to ignore the timing errors and squashed dynamics that typically make low-bit-rate MP3s so unsatisfying.

Abandoning the CD?
Have you heard? The word on the Internet is that major labels will abandon the Compact Disc by the end of 2012. This is big news. It's all over the Facebooks. Even Natalie and Nicole are talking about it.

"Why would they stop making CDs?" Nicole asked, innocently.

It was a cold Tuesday night and we were at the girls' apartment, listening to Natalie's new records. Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy had just come to an end, and she was now cueing up In the Grace of Your Love, the excellent new album by The Rapture. She carefully lowered the cueing lever of her Music Hall USB-1 turntable and raised the volume on her Audioengine 5 loudspeakers.

"I haven't bought a CD in years," Natalie said. "Nobody listens to them anymore."


Natalie was exaggerating, but are her words closer to the truth than we realize? Writing for DailyFinance, Rick Aristotle Munarriz examined the topic in further detail, pointing out that big-box stores like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have been slashing away at their CD inventory, while, Apple, and Google have all recently introduced cloud-based music-storage services. The change is happening whether we like it or not, argues Munarriz:

"Wireless phones and tablets are making music portable for those that don't see the point of dedicated MP3 players. Digital music stores are beefing up the quality of their tracks.

"If you don't feel it now, wait until you see how few 2013 model cars will come with CD players. As music streaming gets easier and more seamless, the percentage of music fans that don't have access to digital music will continue to shrink."

When I asked NAD's Greg Stidsen about this, he responded, "As recently as last year, CD sales were still slightly more than downloads, so we think 2012 is too soon to discontinue CD production. Our guess is that CDs will continue as long as retailers want to buy and sell them. Another factor is that there are still many major markets around the world that do not have reliable access to the Internet.

"The problem will eventually be end-of-life parts as overall CD-player sales decline and new parts and tooling become too expensive to initiate."

Meanwhile, in this issue's "As We See It," Art Dudley writes: "I believe there is still room in the marketplace for perfectionist-quality CD players. But I also believe it's now the duty of anyone reviewing such things to ask every one of their manufacturers: How many disc transports and converter chips have you set aside so that those expensive machines can be kept in service for more than a few years?"

According to Stidsen, NAD has an ample supply of transports and DAC chips on hand for their CD players—good news, in my view. "While we are now seeing a leveling off of [CD player] sales," Stidsen said, "we'd be happy to be the last company producing CD players."

For now, I'm happy with the NAD C 515BEE. I'm buying the review sample. While it's unlikely that my band will get together again anytime soon, at least I can relive the magic of our last show by listening to the CD.

Now, please excuse me while I practice my rock-star poses.


soundboy's picture


Have you considered reviewing the Onkyo C-7030 CD player?  It's one of the few single-disc dedicated CD players on the market from a mainstream audio manufacturer, yet it comes with Wolfson DAC and a street price of about $200.00.  I think it may be good competition for the NAD C 515BEE (Onkyo, at one time, was the OEM for NAD's audio components).


Stephen Mejias's picture

Yes, I'd like to hear the C-7030, and maybe also one of Onkyo's more affordable integrated amplifiers.

audiopr's picture

I still can't decide between the Marantz CD5004, Emotiva ERC-2 and now the Onkyo c-7030.  Basically, Im just waiting for your review on the Onkyo 7030 so I can make a decision.  Any chances you will review this palyer in the near future?  Thank you.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Sorry about the wait, audiopr. I'm working on several loudspeaker reviews right now.  The next CD player I'll be reviewing is the Parasound ZCD, but that review won't appear until our September or October issue.

Devil Doc's picture

I didn't. Wish I had of. I hear Big Marie (Hunchback of Notre Dame reference) constantly.


Stephen Mejias's picture

I also wear earplugs when I'm in extremely loud bars. But I always feel like a dork about it. The girls make fun of me.

pulleyking's picture

Hey do you still use the Wharfedale Diamond speakers or only the PSB Alpha B1?

Stephen Mejias's picture

After I listened to the Wharfedales, they went to Bob Reina for a complete equipment report.  After John Atkinson did his measurements, the speakers went back to the distributor.  I've been using my PSBs happily ever since. 

The next speaker I have coming in for review is the Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 45 ($400/pair).  (That's SM45, for short.)  Looking forward to it.

pulleyking's picture

Haha me too it's been a while since you did a speaker review.

judo's picture

While I find your articles reasonably entertaining I can't help but wonder who you are trying to impress with your constant referral to women in your articles. I doubt that few, if any, readers care about your attempts at romance. The magazine is called "Stereophile"- let's stick to the music and save your musings about women for some blog, social media or local tavern. 

Stephen Mejias's picture

I'm not trying to impress anyone and my references to Natalie and Nicole are hardly constant, but I can't help but write about what I know. 

The point I think I'm making is that the joy we get out of our systems and our music has a lot to do with how we live—the comfort of our homes, the objects with which we surround ourselves, the people with whom we share our thoughts and time, and all the other big and small things we experience every day. 

You'd be surprised by the number of times people ask me, in person and via e-mail, about Natalie and Nicole.  Apparently, they do care.  Why does it bother you?

Natalie and Nicole make my life happier and more interesting.  I think they also make the column more interesting.   

simpsonjp's picture

Wine, Women and Song. Man you talk all you want to about women, they are truly an inspiration.

Stephen Mejias's picture


simpsonjp's picture

Did anyone record your bands live show? If so you should offer a track or two on this web site.  

Stephen Mejias's picture

I'm not sure, but I'll find out...

Stephen Mejias's picture

Well, I don't think there's a recording, but I posted some video footage here:

Bob Ellis's picture

Hi Steve,

If you could have one or the other, price no object, performance the only object, which would you choose?

Al from Hudson Avenue's picture

That Onkyo C7030 is pretty hot out here.  It would be moderately fascinating to see what you think of it.

Dig this scenario:  Older person with a 20-year old player that bit the dust.  Suspects that a current $200 player might sound as good as a $500 1993 player.  Doesn't want to eat cat food.  Onkyo?