Recommended Components 2023 Edition Disc & File Players

Disc & File Players:


Antipodes K50: $17,500
The made-in-New Zealand K50 works with Roon as both server and player, Roon as a server with Squeezelite or HQ Player as the player, or Squeeze as a server and Squeezelite as the player. It offers Ethernet, USB, I2S, AES3, and S/PDIF outputs, though the manufacturer doesn't recommend using USB. JVS found that the Squeeze server and Squeezelite apps were not as user-friendly as Roon, but using them to transmit the audio data via single AES3 to the dCS Rossini DAC "delivered the most transparent, detailed, color-saturated, vivid, midrange- and bass-rich sound of all options available to me." He also noted that playing files stored on the K50's optional SSD (sizes up to 24TB are available) sounded "a mite better—the extra transparency was noticeable" than playing the same files sourced from his NAS, or from Tidal and Qobuz. "Class A+ all the way," he concluded. (Vol.44 No.10 WWW)

Baetis Audio Prodigy X3 server: $4800 (without options) ★
In spite of having more bells and whistles than its predecessor, the Baetis XR3, the new Prodigy X sells for a lower base price. That said, a number of options are available—and KR's review sample had more than a few, including a faster i7 CPU ($200), 32GB of RAM ($280), a pre-installed SOtM USBhubIN port with independent clock board ($1200), and an HD-Plex linear 400W PSU with Baetis cryo-treated DC cabling ($1220). Used with JRiver Media Center and his own exaSound e28 multichannel DAC, the Prodigy X treated KR to "marginally less noise at [the] speaker outlets," a bottom end that was "a bit tighter," and "greater overall clarity." Kal summed up the Prodigy X: "Another evolutionary step in an already distinguished line." In his "Music in the Round" column for the November 2017 Stereophile, KR noted that the Prodigy X "is now running the latest versions of Roon and JRiver Media Center (respectively v1.3/build 247 and v23.0.22)." (Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

Burmester Musiccenter 151 MK2: $27,500
The 151 MK2 is a music server/network streamer with an internal DAC, a 2TB internal SSD, and a volume control. Operations are controlled with an iPad/iPhone app via Wi-Fi. There are analog inputs, and files can be played from USB sticks and external drives, or NAS drives; internet radio and music can be streamed from Tidal, Qobuz, and Idagio via Ethernet or Wi-Fi; and a CD drive allows silver discs both to be played and to be ripped to the internal SSD. The Musiccenter's DAC automatically upsamples/resamples lower-rez music to 24/96 or 24/192 and DSD up to DSD256 and DXD to 24/192 or 24/96. JVS enjoyed his time with the Burmester, concluding that "Music lovers who retain their love for silver discs will find them sounding even better when ripped to the unit's 2TB SSD, and those accustomed to file playback and streaming will find the Musiccenter's multifunction, multipurpose excellence a one-stop avenue to bliss. Through the 151 MK2 Musiccenter, music sings supreme." JA found that the CD transport offered superb error correction/concealment, which he felt was appropriate for ripping CDs. He concluded that the Burmester 151's performance on the test bench indicated excellent audio engineering in both the digital and analog domains. "It gets a clean bill of health from this measurer." (Vol.45 No.5 WWW)

CH Precision D1.5 SACD/CD player/transport: $41,000–$46,000
Base price is for the SACD/CD transport, which has TosLink, AES3, and CH's proprietary high-rez CH Link HD; two MQA-capable mono DAC cards add $5000. Control is via two coaxial knobs on the front panel or with an app for Android devices. When it's used as a player, all data are upsampled to DXD (24/384), and the analog output is processed with a reconstruction filter optimized for the time domain. Playing CDs, JCA reported that low frequencies had "seismic weight" and that stereo imaging precision and soundstage depth were excellent. He also noticed how good the D1.5 sounded at low volume. With the MQA-CD of Patricia Barber's Clique, JCA wrote that Barber's voice had a lovely, creamy texture, though as the music got louder, he detected some congestion. In level-matched comparisons of the SACD version of this album, he didn't hear as much creaminess on the vocals, though the presentation was not congested at high levels. JCA concluded that after several months with the D1.5 he never got bored; the music kept surprising him. In the test lab, JA found that with CD data this filter rolled-off frequencies above 15kHz because the review sample's firmware had selected an incorrect filter; JCA updated the firmware and reported on the behavior with the correct filter in the May 2022 issue. He wrote that with the new firmware, the transformation in the sound of the D1.5, when playing CDs, was qualitative. It "wasn't necessarily—wasn't immediately—a giant leap forward in absolute sonic quality. It was, rather, simply a major change in sonic character." Other than the frequency response with CDs now extending to –3dB at 20kHz, the primary measurable difference was the change from a relatively long, minimum-phase impulse response to an extremely short impulse response. (Vol.45 Nos.3 & 5 WWW)

dCS Rossini SACD Transport: $26,500
Unlike the earlier Rossini Player, which only played CDs, the Rossini Transport uses a new mechanism from Denon that plays both SACDs and CDs. The Transport outputs audio data on twin AES/EBU links, to allow it to send native DSD data and CD data upsampled to DXD, DSD, or double DSD (these both encrypted) to a dCS DAC. JA used the Transport with a Rossini DAC and was mightily impressed by what he heard. He consistently preferred the sound of SACDs played on the Transport compared with the same data sent to the Rossini DAC over his network, feeling that the low frequencies sounded more robust. "Once these words have been laid out on the pages of this issue," JA concluded, "I'll have to return [the Rossini Transport] to dCS. It breaks my heart." (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

exaSound Delta Server Mark II: $2999 plus cost of internal storage
Powered by an Intel i9-9900, this passively cooled music server runs exaSound's custom Linux operating system and a Roon Core, these stored on an SSD. An optional second SSD can be used for file storage. KR found the Delta to be more powerful than either a Roon Nucleus+ or a Baetis X4i, better coping with demanding DSP operations with multichannel and DSD files. "The Delta Music Server is the most capable server I have used, but it is far from the most expensive," he concluded, adding that the Delta is, in his opinion, what a Roon server should be. (Vol.44 No.4 WWW)

Grimm MU1 music streamer: $12,500 plus cost of internal storage (ex VAT)
The MU1 is based on an Intel twin-core i3 processor running a Linux-based operating system. It incorporates a Roon Core and is fully integrated with the Roon Server app. It can be controlled by rotating and pressing a top-mounted, bronze-colored disc. (A high-precision digital volume control and other functions can be selected with this control.) While its Ethernet and USB ports can be used to send audio data from the Intel board to a DAC, the MU1 upsamples PCM data and downsamples DSD data sourced from its AES/EBU outputs, using what Grimm calls a "Pure Nyquist" decimation filter hosted in a Xilinx FPGA. (Measurement revealed that this is an ultra–fast-rolloff filter, reaching full stop-band attenuation at half the original PCM data's sample rate.) JA very much preferred the sound from the AES/EBU outputs, finding that the upsampling of CD-resolution data reduced congestion, added depth to the soundstage, and increased the separation among acoustic objects in that soundstage. JA recommended the MU1 highly as a streamer, writing that it can also operate as a network bridge with legacy D/A processors that don't have USB or Ethernet ports, and that it can be used as the sole source component with active speakers that have digital inputs. A 1TB SSD adds $225; 2TB SSD adds $430; 4TB SSD adds $805. An FM tuner function is promised. (Vol.44 No.3 WWW)

Gryphon Ethos: $39,800
Released at a time when new CD players in general are rarities, let alone ones that cost as much as a 2020 Alfa Giulia, the Gryphon Ethos entices with its user-selectable upsampling (up to 24/384 PCM or DSD128) and digital filters (seven PCM, three DSD), its USB-addressable D/A processor (up to 32/384 PCM or DSD512), its choice of single-ended and balanced outputs, and its "eye-catching and resolutely retro styling"—that last one according to JVS, who also noted that the DAC does not decode MQA and that the player does not play SACDs. JVS also found that upsampling CDs "to either DSD or PCM enhanced listening with additional air and depth. . . . I liked the upsampling feature a lot." Jason's conclusion: "The Ethos is one open, marvelously detailed, and fresh-sounding unit that makes listening an absolute joy." Measurer-in-chief JA added to that assessment: "The Gryphon Ethos offers excellent audio engineering." Because it plays only CDs, A+ rating applies only to its use as a DAC. (Vol.43 No.1 WWW)

Innuos Statement: $16,700 and up, depending on storage
A dedicated server from Portuguese company Innuos, the two-box Statement includes a drive for ripping CDs and features eight separate power supplies: three for each voltage of the motherboard; one for the CPU; one for the SSD storage device; one for the Ethernet Reclocker board; one for the USB Reclocker Board; and one for the USB clock. At the time of the review, Roon and Innuos were discussing how the two systems will work together, but the Statement could still be used as a Roon output device. Comparing the Statement with a Nucleus+ using USB connections to his dCS Rossini D/A processor, JVS found that the Innuos server's treble seemed slightly rounded, the presentation "a touch warmer. . . . The Statement warmed the piano and smoothed out the top in a manner that some would call analoglike or tubelike." JVS concluded that "In its flagship Statement music server, Innuos has created a transparent instrument that scores big in soundstage size and depth, dynamics, and bass reach." He was less impressed by the InnuOS 1.4.3 Web app, which he felt was best described as "a work in need of progress." In a Follow-Up, JA found almost no measurable differences in a PS Audio DirectStream's analog output whether it received data from the Nucleus+ or Statement via USB or from the Nucleus+ via Ethernet. In a series of listening tests, JA found differences between the Innuos and Roon servers difficult to hear with many recordings but ultimately agreed with JVS that via USB connections, the Nucleus's low frequencies were outclassed by the Statement's. "Not by much, I admit," he wrote, "but enough to matter; . . . the bass line had a touch more drive with Statement sending data to the PS Audio." (Vol.43 Nos.4 & 5 WWW)

MBL Noble Line N31: $18,500; optional Roon Ready module is $1480 ★
Designed to play "Red Book" CDs and, via its USB and other digital inputs, music files up to 24/192 and DSD64 (DoP), the Noble Line N31 is less a digital-audio Swiss Army knife than a luxuriantly attractive, 40lb monument to the idea of perfecting the playback of audiophilia's best-loved digital formats. Built around the ESS Sabre 9018 DAC, the N31 offers a full-color 5" TFT display—the MBL player recognizes CD text and displays title information—and features an SDcard slot for firmware updates, a choice of three playback filters, and a remote handset that lights up before the person reaching for it has even touched it. Listening to CDs and even a CD-R through the N13, JA was impressed by the "sheer tangibility" of the MBL's sound, noting that, with its Min filter engaged, the N31 "gracefully reproduced" one "overcooked" track, and that the differences among its three filters were "greater in degree than with other DACs." Through the MBL's USB inputs, even iPhones and iPads, their own volume controls disarmed by the MBL's USB input, offered "excellent" sound quality. JA originally raised an eyebrow at the lack of a network port and the fact that the player's filters can't be selected via the remote handset, but both of these issues have been addressed in 2020 production with the optional Roon Ready Input Module. As with USB, the networked MBL rendered music with an excellent sense of overall drive and low-frequency impact, JA found, with low-level recorded detail well-resolved. JA concluded his original review by saying that digital sound "doesn't get any better" than what he heard from the N31. He also noted that the MBL offered 21 bits of resolution—the current state of the art of digital audio. This prompted JA the measurer to agree with JA the listener: "Digital audio engineering doesn't get any better." Price is with factory-installed Roon Ready network module. Price without module is $15,400. (Vol.41 No.2, Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

Métronome c|AQWO: $25,000
Métronome t|AQWO: $26,000
A combination of Métronome's c|AQWO D/A processor ($26,000) and t|AQWO transport ($24,000), this four-box SACD/CD player—each of the two above-named units has its own outboard Métronome Elektra power supply—provides the lucky owner with a means of not only playing the hi-rez layer of an SACD but also upsampling it to DSD256 or to 24-bit/384kHz PCM, the latter transformation also available to Red Book CDs. (Refer to the full review for details on the combination's output and input options, which defy description in a brief précis such as this.) JVS enjoyed the Métronome combination and singled out the c|AQWO DAC for its "non-fatiguing, easy-on-the-ears sound that some would consider analog-like." Writing from his lab, JA noted that the t|AQWO transport's error correction was "one of the best I have encountered." Apart from "disappointing" jitter performance via its AES/EBU and TosLink connections—all was well via HDMI—the c|AQWO DAC "did well on the test bench." (Vol.43 No.3 WWW)

Pink Faun 2.16x music streamer: $22,000 as reviewed, with S/PDIF and USB I/O cards
Storage for music files is optional with this expensive, dead-silent streamer from Holland, and it has no built-in DAC. As a streamer, though, it's an all-out effort. "Its huge size and weight and [custom] Lamborghini Orange front panel shout that out loud," KR wrote. The CPU on the motherboard is liquid-cooled by copper tubes coupling it to a large heatsink on one side of the chassis. The heatsink on the other side cools five large power transistors. Proprietary, sealed Oven Controlled Crystal (Xtal) Oscillators (OCXOs), available in standard or Ultra versions, are used for the system clock, the motherboard, and each of the I/O cards. The "headless" Pink Faun is controlled by the Roon app, which can run on a tablet or laptop. KR was impressed by this streamer's performance with both stereo and multichannel files, writing that it was sufficiently transparent to permit him to hear differences among DACs and reconstruction filters. "The Pink Faun 2.16x Streamer is, sonically, as perfect a stereo source component as I have used," he concluded. (Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

Roon Labs Nucleus+: $2559 without audio file storage ★
The first hardware product from software specialist Roon Labs, the Nucleus+ combines an Intel i7 processor/NUC board with 8GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD solid state drive, the latter hosting the Linux-based Roon Optimized Core Kit (ROCK) operating system and Roon server software. Also provided are a single gigabit Ethernet port, USB 3.0 ports for conversing with external drives and/or USB DACs, a multichannel-friendly HDMI port, a Thunderbolt 3 port, and an internal bay for an HDD or SSD drive. Use of the Nucleus+ requires a Roon subscription ($9.99/month, $699.99/lifetime). When JA tried the Nucleus+, he found he had "nothing specific to say about the sound other than that it was always excellent." KR described his efforts at pressing the Nucleus+ into service as a multichannel server. His results were encouraging, although DSP execution was a mixed bag, depending on sample rate, the operation desired, and the strain they put on processing power. Upsampling in particular "seemed to drain the tank." In a 2020 Follow-Up, JA found that the sonic differences between the Nucleus+ and the considerably more expensive Innuos Statement server were small. (Vol.41 No.8, Vol.42 No.3, Vol.43 Nos.4 & 5 WWW)

T+A MP 3100 HD SACD/CD player: $22,275
This impressively well-engineered, "Roon tested" hi-rez player includes AES/EBU, TosLink and coaxial S/PDIF, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and USB serial data inputs as well as a USB Type A port to play files on a storage device. It even has an FM radio tuner. A choice of four oversampling reconstruction filters allows the user to tailor the HD 3001's sonic signature. JCA concluded that "Treble tones glisten like light reflected from the facets of a diamond, and also seem especially relaxed—no digital glare. Bass, while not louder than with other digital sources, has more sturdiness and depth." On the test bench, the T+A player's measured performance was beyond reproach, though JA warned that those rare preamplifiers with an input impedance of less than 1k ohms should be avoided. (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Wolf Systems Alpha 3 server: $7795 as reviewed ★
Wolf Systems Alpha 3 SX server: $9895 as reviewed
Wolf Audio Systems specializes in configuring eighth-generation, six-core i7 processors for use as silent (no cooling-fan noise) music servers with prodigious computing power—leading KR, Our Man in the Round, to wonder if there existed a sufficiently powerful Wolf to meet the demands of multichannel playback (!) of hi-rez files (!!) with DSP and/or EQ (!!!). Wolf suggested he try the Alpha 3 High Fidelity Audio Server (HFAS), which supports JRiver Media Center and Roon and offers 16GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD for internal storage, and a TEAC Blu-ray transport for ripping and playing CDs. KR was impressed with the Alpha 3—and by Wolf's semi-customized owner's manual and telephone and VPN support. He noted that "the Alpha 3 never blinked, blanked, or unceremoniously rebooted itself; it worked silently and reliably." His verdict: "a great choice for playing hi-rez files of multichannel music." In his review of the premium Alpha 3 SX version—the SX stands for "Stillpoint/eXemplar Audio" and refers to grounding, vibration management, and RF/EMI rejection technology designed by those two companies—JVS wrote that "from the very first notes, the Alpha 3 SX's neutrality came as a breath of fresh air." JVS also auditioned the Alpha 3 SX with the optional Flux Capacitor USB clock card ($600). Without the clock card, he found that "the magic was lessened." With the USB clock card, depth was "quite good, if not as deep as through my reference Nucleus+ with external linear power supply." JVS felt the Wolf server was a better match with darker-toned ancillary components but summed up his review by writing "Match the Wolf Alpha 3 SX with the right components, and you may end up howling for joy." (Vol.42 No.1, Alpha 3 WWW; Vol.43 No.5, Alpha 3 SX WWW)


Bryston BDP-3: $4495 ★
In February 2017, Bryston upgraded their BDP-2 digital player to BDP-3 status, with refinements including an even faster Intel Quad-core processor; a Bryston-manufactured integrated audio device (IAD) in place of a soundcard; a custom Intel Celeron motherboard; a bigger power supply; and two additional USB ports, for a total of eight—three of which use the faster USB 3.0 protocol. Bryston's tried-and-true player now supports up to 32/384 PCM and DSD128. The BDP-3 supports Tidal, and can be configured as a Roon endpoint. LG sent his BDP-2 to the Bryston factory for conversion to BDP-3 status (a $1500 upgrade) and found that the new media-player software displays more album art and metadata; more important, he found slight improvements in sound over the BDP-2, including improved bass extension and clearer, more open, more detailed presentations of well-recorded choral music. LG'S current reference. (Vol.41 No.1 WWW)

Melco N50 digital music library: $5499 incl. 3.84TB storage
The slim, Roon Ready N50 includes internal storage and has two Ethernet ports and four USB 3.0 ports, one of which is optimized for sending audio data to a USB-connected DAC. KR found that the front-panel controls and the small alphanumeric display worked fine for setup and basic music selection, but quickly realized that the Melco Music App running on an iPad—there's no Android support—was essential for selecting music and making the Melco enjoyable to use. Once the N50 was connected to KR's local network, the app's "Library" choices included every audio file on every device on his LAN. He summed up that the Melco "lets you engage with the music and does nothing to intrude on that engagement. That's its role, and it performs it well. Crucially, it does nothing to degrade sound quality. Especially when playing from its internal storage, the N50 is responsive." (Vol.45 No.6 WWW)

Rotel Diamond Series DT-6000 CD Transport/DAC: $2300
As well as playing CDs, the DT-6000 has three digital inputs (coaxial and optical, these accepting PCM data up to 24/192), and a Class 2.0 USB input that will accept PCM data up to 32/384, DSD data, and MQA data up to 24/384k. However, despite being called a "Transport," the DT-6000 doesn't have a digital output. It uses the well-regarded ESS9028PRO DAC chip. HR wrote that with CD data his more expensive R-2R DACs "did not better the DT-6000's beat-keeping and boogie-stomping." Streaming well-recorded piano, the Rotel offered "clean, fast, well-sculpted authority," HR decided, and while he felt streaming was clearer, smoother, and more open than CD playback, contrasts weren't as sharp, the presentation less physical. "Music from CDs sounded denser and more fortified than music from Qobuz and Tidal," he concluded. (In the test lab, JA found that while jitter was nonexistent with CD playback, it was high in level with streaming audio via USB. He also noted that the Rotel's error correction playing CDs was superb.) Overall, HR described the DT-6000 as a "well-built, great-sounding, reasonably priced CD player." (Vol.46 Nos.2 & 3 WWW)


Cyrus CDi-XR:$2999
KM found that this diminutive, well-finished CD player from the UK offered greater weight and punch than the same music when streamed via a Denfrips Ares II D/A processor. However, on some recordings he wrote that "this manifested as tonal thickness and a loss of transparency. Streaming tended to excel at treble, detail, and upper register air but often gave up some presence and weight." The CDi-XR is "a good CD player and a solid value," he concluded. In the test lab, JA found that the Cyrus inverted absolute polarity and that its error correction was not as good as that of the best players or transports that he had measured in recent years. (Vol.45 No.4 WWW)

Aurender N10, Sony DMP-Z1, Volumio Primo, discontinued. dCS Rossini Player, replaced by a newer product not yet reviewed.

JRT's picture

The listing includes, "Topping Pre90: $599 plus $249 for the Ext90 input extender"

Topping's more recent A90 Discrete, aka A90D ($599) seems to include similar preamplifier functionality as the Pre90 at the same price, including the relay switched R-2R attenuator, and facility to add the Ext90 ($249) input extender. However the A90D also includes a headphone amplifier, which is not included in the Pre90, and the A90D uses discrete electronics in the audio amplifiers.

I am suggesting that the A90D might be a good subject for future review; and in the review bundle, it might be worthwhile to also request the aforementioned Ext90, the D90SE ($899) DA converter, and the SR2 ($219) modular three shelf aluminum component rack, which has suitable geometry, is designed for use with these components.

This isn't SPAM. I have no financial interest in this, have no affiliation with Topping or any of the vendors. I was merely considering updating my old home office setup, maybe.

Indydan's picture

Can Stereophile please remove all MQA enabled equipment from the recommended list?

mieswall's picture

Well Torquemada, why so shy?
Along with those A+ sinners of BelCanto's, CH Precision, dcs, EMM Labs (average cost of the heretics close to US$31,000), and also those more modest but equal sinners of GoldNote, IFI, Meitner, Sonnet, etc; why don't we also include Bob Stuart and Peter Craven in the bonfire and joyfully watch them burn? We should also declare Michael Gerzon a black angel (after all, most of MQA ideas were conceived by this AIA Gold Medalist devil).
And beware Fremer, Serinus, Austin (and every other one suggesting the earth isn't flat, btw): Don't you dare praising MQA again! We are watching you!

Kal Rubinson's picture

Why? I think people who want it and those who don't are equally well served by the information.

(Posted by someone in the latter group.)

miguelito's picture

Devices supporting MQA also support most other standards - I don't see a reason to remove them. Also, I have some MQA albums (some white-glove albums were done extremely well) so I want to be able to play those going forward.

JRT's picture

I noticed that the front page does not list the annual Recommended Components articles in the footer. I think that adding that listing or adding a single link in the footer to a page loaded with a collection of links to those annual articles might attract more page views.