Absolute Best CD Players Out There Under $12k ?

Ok, I'm looking to upgrade my CD Player. It's the last part of my uber-headphone system and I'm hoping to get the best player possible for under $12k used. I know that affords me alot of options, and I imagine I'll do some travelling and testing before I buy, but I wanted some opinions first. Right now, these are the main ones I'm considering:

*Reimyo CDP-777
*Linn Sondek CD12
*Naim CDS3/XPS2
*Wadia 270/27
*Wadia 861se w/Statement mod from GNSC
*Meridian 808
*EMM Labs Meitner CDSD/Dac6
*Esoteric DV-50 with full mods from Reference Audio Mods
*Classe Omega SACD

I'm not so much into characteristics - the overall performance is more important for me. But I do need a player with great bass (both in extension, detail, and volume) as my headphones are a bit bass shy. Any reviews/comparisons would be much appreciated.
I'd add the new dcs one box player to that list. It's $14k new, but at this level it's probably worth a listen.
No1willfan, the way you phrased your question makes it almost impossible to answer. Yes, you put in your budget and the desire for great bass, however many of the CDPS you mentioned are wonderful pieces, but your leaving out the subjective factors of personnal taste and synergy with the rest of your gear. I have heard many of the players on your list and would pick the Reimyo CDP-777, however one not on your list, the Ensemble CDP, still is a favorite of mine but sounds very different than the Reimyo and matches up better in systems that are a little dull/lack dynamics. I own Accustic Arts new DAC that upsamples up to 32/384 and I found to be the best sounding DAC on redbook I have heard in my system. I didn't say its the "absolute best" in the world, but the best in my system so far and another great digital piece among some of the gear that you mentioned in your thread. So, there is no "BEST" but many fine pieces, so have fun audtioning untill you find what you like the best. With your budget range you should have lots of fun because you could afford some of the best digital front ends in the world.
Trust me, I know all about the subjective side to audio. I'm not *new* per say to this hobby, I just more or less wanted some opinions and suggestions of players to try out. I'm not going to buy on outside opinions alone (I'm not crazy) but it helps. And yeah, I know there's no *best*, just *best for me*, which is what I'll be looking for. But it doesn't hurt to get some opinions/suggestions/reviews first.

I would consider the Musical Fidelity KW SACD/CD Player.
I believe you will not be dissapointed.
I'm sorry if you took my post personnally, No1willfan, I was not trying to be nasty towards your question at all but be helpful. I gave you some suggestions, the Reimyo and Ensemble CDPS, and would also suggest/ask if your open to transports/dacs instead of one piece cdps? I believe you can get great performance for less money at times by matching different transports/dacs at different price breaks such as: 1) North Star transport with a Bel Canto 11 Dac- low end price wise 2) Either Accustic Arts Dac or Reimyo Dac with Ensemble/Cec/Accustic Arts transports for the higher end price wise. I have heard all of these different combinations and could easly live with any of them. I believe they sound as good on redbook as many of the CDPS on your least for less money. Hope this helps and sorry if their was any bad blood regarding my first response.
I agree that there really is no "best" at this level. I've heard most of the players on your list, and I chose the EMM Labs DCC2/CDSD combo. (The DAC6/CDSD would work equally well if you don't need a processor.) It's the most revealing, accurate, and musical digital front end I've ever heard, though some might prefer the Reimyo's softer presentation. Try to audition as many as you can, and make up your own mind.
The only machine listed that I have actually heard using phones is the Naim CDS3, coupled with Stax Omega II phones (a combination I own). This can be a quite analytical and dry sounding combination with some recordings. I think a lot of other players would also be brutally exposed by phones like the Stax.

The best I heard my phones sound was with audionote DACs (DAC 5 signature and DAC 4). The Audionote stuff is absolutely grainless, natural and harmonically rich and colorful. It is quite different from the more present Naim gear; my guess is that is an advantage with phone listening.

My guess is that the Linn would sound good too, because it is very smooth and relaxed sounding. I would also bet that the DV-50 would be to your liking as well. It has bass/mid-bass that is a touch warm, and, it too, is quite relaxed in its presentation.

My bet is that the detailed and analytical quality of the EMM Labs gear could be a bit much with some phones, particularly Stax electrostatics.
As you can see everyone agrees on the exact same CD player (sarcasm).

That's why a question like "what's the absolute best" really can't be answered since everyone has different preferences.
It would be good to hear about the differences between the EMM and Reimyo from folks that have listened to both in the same system.

SACD playback is still the best sound in digital. If you want the best of both worlds look for a Marantz SA-1 SACD/CD player. You will not be sorry. I had sold my $22K Wadia combo after hearing the Marantz SA-1.

I've heard both in my system, and I preferred the EMM. It was a close call, but I thought it was more dynamic, a little more resolving, and a bit more "accurate" sounding. The Reimyo, to my ears at least, was warmer and had a little bit of tizz up top that I didn't like. But, remember, that's in MY system. I don't think you can lose either way, as both units represent the absolute state of the art in digital reproduction. In my system, and with my listening priorities, I liked the EMM a little better.
I had the Wadia 270/27ix combo. I demo'd a Levinson 389S and immediately sold the Wadia combo. Now the 390S is in a second system and I have the Levinson 30.6 dac, and I use my Sony SCD-777ES as a transport.

To me, the Wadia house sound is grainy and has a sheen on it that is rather unpleasant.

Players I've liked:

Cal Audio Icon MKII (years back)
Gamut CD player
Levinson 390S

Try as many as you can. The more things change with digital sources the more they stay the same. Think of it as flavors of ice cream. Will you pay more for buttercrunch or chocolate chip?


Paul :-)
I have heard good things about APL Denon 3910. You can look up my recent thread on this issue.
Great Northern Sound Resolution Audio Opus 21..................you have to hear it to believe it!
From your list of stock units I'd pick the CDSD/DAC6 or DCC2 without second thought.

There are some to tell you that EMM is not that great. It is because they are not aware of the DRAMATIC improvement (night and day) the new CDSD transport is compared to the previous Philips SACD1000 based EMM transport.

My favorite headphone digital is the Wavelength Audio Cosine DAC with a good transport (consider Audio Note's new CDT2/II) though the DAC may lack ultimate bass depth. Or an Audio Note DAC. Also consider a Wavelength Audio USB DAC. That's what my new headphone system is: USB. ALL that music right there!
I have listened extensivly to the CDSD/DCC2 combination and wasn't overly impressed.

True - the sound is grainless and the resolution is excelent, but to me the EMM combo is too much on the cold/analitical side to my ears.

The latest dCS Verdi LaScala/Elgar Plus with Verona external clock, that my close friend ended buing, sounded just so much more natural, although at almost twice the price.

Based on that expirience, I would seriusly consider the latest dCS integrated player or the Reymio, everyone is raving about (although I have personally not heard it).

The dCS gear is absolutely state of the art, but it's interesting: I had the exact opposite impression as you. I compared the full dCS stack with the EMM DCC2/CDSD combo in my system, and I thought the EMM had superior resolution and dynamics, and was a good deal more natural sounding. (I find that it's stunning clarity often gets confused with coldness or brightness.) Also, the EMM accomplishes with two components what the dCS needs four to do. That's not a small consideration for the space-challenged among us. Just my humble opinion, of course.
No1willfan - there are many players that are not Meitner-sounding. Many of the ones that you mention are great, including the modded DV50 and Wadia 861.

Funny how some set the Meitner as the height of their bar.

A competent man, no matter how loud he shouts and tries to make his business look bigger or better out of financial considerations would not have to resort to self-promotion like the one is obviously doing at every lame opportunity here, do you think? I'm getting rather tired of him...

To whom are you referring as the man who has to "resort to self-promotion like the one is obviously doing at every lame opportunity here." I'd be curious to know.
Deb - Maybe I'm missing something here.

With regard to anyone who has stated his/her opinion about Meitner, it was precisely that... an opinion.

How is somone's opinion of Meitner gear self-promotion?

From your comments, you are referring to a specific individual, and the last I checked Ed Meitner hasn't posted in this thread.

If you have an axe to grind with whoever "him" is, I'd appreciate it if you'd take it somewhere else! I personally learn alot from valueable opinions of others, including the ones who prefer Meitner.

hey deb - you do realize that alex (aplhifi) is one of EMM's competitors, don't you?

ed meitner has never posted in this thread.

jtinn is an audiogon member who sells meitner stuff and he hasn't posted in this thread.

andreas koch has never posted in this thread.

in fact, it only seems that satisfied customers (myself included) have ever posted pro-meitner in this thread or anywhere else on audiogon.

do you have any proof before you throw out crazy accusations? or do you think he's paying a competitor to speak well of his products?
Deb, I sure don't understand your point, but this might explain it better:

Deb's TRL DV-50

How can you comment on the RAM player since you've never heard one? I see, since APL is the "enemy", anything else is REALLY good. :-)

I am sorry I can not provide the link to a TRL modded DV-50 (just like yours) which was for sale here on Audiogon not long ago. I hope you can figure out why it was sold.

Here is a clarification about stock Digital performance.

When it comes to pure CD reproduction, cost no object, the latest Zanden combo is what you really want.

If SACD is a must, then the latest EMM Labs DCC2/DAC6 or DCC2 is the only ticket, cost no object.

RE: Teajay
Just wanted to let you know that I definitely didn't take your comment personally (I know you all know nothing about me) and as far as I'm concerned there's no bad blood. I'm certainly not opposed to transport/DAC combos; It's just that they tend to be a little more expensive and even though $12k is a lot of money I know it will be hard finding some of these players (even used) in that price range.

To everyone else I'm sincerely thankful for the the responses and suggestions. Keep them coming as much as possible! Every bit helps. I certainly plan to audition as many as possible. In case anyone's wondering the rest of my system is:

Sony MDR-R10 headphones

SinglePower Supra tuned specifically for R10s w/Ken-Rad VT231 input tube & Matching Sylvania VT231 output tubes

Virtual Dynamics Nite II Power Cords (for player and amp) and ICs

Thanks for all the responses and to Deb: I really don't want to start a fight. So everyone please try to keep it civil and please refrain from putting down other players or people's opinions.
Oh, and I also wanted to note that I phrased the title of the thread the way I did for a reason: "Absolute Best CD PlayerS", as in plural. I know there's no actual "best" as too much of it is personal preference. I just wanted to compile a list of some of the best players out there in my price range.
One last thing: Concerning the EMM Labs players, what's the difference between the Dac6 and DCC2?

Hooper -> the dCS stack I'm reffering to is 3 box solution. (You can run it without the external clock with small quality penalty, and then you have only 2 boxes).

Since you mentioned 4 boxes, I assume that you have listened to the older dCS stack - Verdi transport + Purcell upsampler. The latest transport I'm reffering to - Verdi LaScala - has the upsampling option built in, and is better sounding than Verdi + Purcel combination (for whatever reason).

I agree with you that EMM has superior resolution and dynamics. The problem of EMM gear is, that to my ears, it is a bit lean/cold sounding, the midrange lacks body and natural warmth. The EMM is like Valhalla cables in this regard - there are many ppl who swear by them, and as many (me including) who think that they sound "clean but thin".

I must also note that I have only listened to both EMM/dCS combinations on Redbook CD, so I cannot comment on their SACD performance.

It well may be true that EMM is superior on SACD, as Alex said. I personally do not care about SACD.
no1willfan - the dac6 (and dac6e) is a multichannel DAC. the difference between the dac6 and the dac6e is that the dac6e has two sets of outputs, one balanced, one single-ended. the dac6 only has one set of balanced outs.

the dcc2 only does 2-channel, but also has a 2-channel version of meitner's fantastic preamp built in, so you don't need a separate pre.
RE Lazarus28: Thanks for the clarification. Is there any difference in sound quality between the two? If not I really wouldn't need the 6 channels with my system being a headphone system and all so I guess I'd be looking for the DCC2.

RE Aplhifi: Thanks for the Zanden suggestion. I've never even heard of them. FYI I'm just looking for a superb redbook player. I don't own any SACDs and I've put too much time and money into collecting my current CD collection to switch now. So I'm not looking for a SACD player unless it also happens to play redbook CDs really well.

no1willfan: no difference in sound quality between the two, no.

the EMM gear does redbook better than anything i've ever heard, although i've not heard many of the uber high-end players.

since he's too modest to mention it, aplhifi also has several extremely well-regarded units. you'll notice that he says best "stock" performace. he believes that his modded units (based around different players) outperform these stock units mentioned here.

i cannot say whether or not they do, as i've not heard them. they're really popular, though.
It seems the EMM Labs combo is mighty popular on here. Interesting. Can anyone offer a good review on on the Reimyo, CDS3, or CD12?

Yeah, I listened to the older dCS stack. I have to try to audition the new setup or find someone who has it. I've heard a number of people accuse the Meitner of being "thin" or "analytical." I certainly wouldn't call it warm or lush, but I think that "cold" sound that many hear is the unit's awesome accuracy. That's just my opinion, of course, and many will probably disagree. To my ears at least, the EMM is very natural sounding, but it isn't warm, and it's super-revealing nature might turn some off. By the way, the EMM's SACD playback is absolutely stunning. It's the best I've heard by far, but I can't claim to have heard everything out there. In addition: Were you listening to the EMM with the Phillips transport or the CDSD? The Phillips was pretty mediocre; the CDSD is in another universe altogether.

Alex: I was seriously considering the Zanden setup--much to the chagrin of my bankbook, I might add--before I came across the Meitner. I had a chance to audition both in my boss's system (the EMM was using the CDSD transport, which is a quantum improvement over the Phillips, as you probably know). While I loved certain things about the Zanden--notably it's ease of presentation and overall naturalness--it was a bit TOO warm and "slow" for my taste. The EMM had equivalent or superior transparency and resolution, and was a bit faster on transients, IMHO. And this was listening on redbook. I know a few people who own the Zanden, and they rave about it--and I can certainly see why. It just wasn't my cup of tea. And, at this price level, ya gotta follow your instincts. By the way, I love your products. I've heard several of them at various people's houses, and I've been consistently impressed. Congrats on bringing SOTA performance to the masses.
Ya know, I wonder if the "cold, analytical, super revealing, accurate" nature of the EMM Labs combo might balance well with my tube amp and warm/musical headphones? I'm thinking those tubes might help warm up the sound a bit while retaining the uber-revealing nature.

A lot of EMM owners are using either tube preamps or tube amps. Personally, I prefer good solid state, but if you like the warmth and naturalness of tubes in your system, I think they're a good match with the EMM. As you say, it might help to warm things up, if that's your preference.
I definitely prefer the tonal warmth that tubes can provide. Especially with my Supra that uses 6SN7s to their full potential. It provides alot of sound options when selecting tubes. I'm thinking an accurate, neutral, and revealing source might be the perfect blank slate I would need to sculp the rest of the sound with tubes. I already love the superb tone and musicality of my headphones. Combined with great tubes it's a magical combination but it really needs some real "oomph!" on the front end which is why I was considering either the EMM Labs or Reimyo which I also hear is incredibly accurate and non-intrusive.
Hooper -> I have listened to the CDSD/DCC2 combo with EMM optical cables throughout. Once again - I think that EMM combo does many things extraordinary well, and I can see why ppl rave about it. It's just not my cup of tea.

I have listened to the both dCS stack and EMM combo through Nagra PL-P preamp and Nagra VPA monoblocks fitted with KR845 tubes.

Fair enough. There are certainly a lot of different ways up the audio mountain, and I don't think one is necessarily more valid than any other. The Meitner certainly isn't infallible--nothing is--and there are plenty of other, equally deserving options out there. Good luck!
The CD-12 makes everything else sound broken.
The CD-12 makes everything else sound broken.

Is that hyperbole? Or, have you actually heard everything else out there?
RE: jennmoor@earthlink.net

Interesting opinion. I know that was a widely held one back in '98/'99 when the CD12 first came out. But I've heard from a good number of people that there have been many better players that have come out in the last 5 years - mostly in the DAC department. A friend of mine who used to sell Linn products said the transport is still one of the best out there but the DAC is lacking compared to some newer players. In fact he said that's the reason Linn stopped making them - because there was no way they could change the design without sacrificing some quality so they just decided to discontinue it.
If I may jump in, I should like to mention my preferred CD/SACD player of record, the single box Teac Esoteric X-01. I have posted a short review here on audiogon where I compared it to the Bel Canto PL1-A and the Bermester 001. See:
I have not heard the EMM so I am not going to comment on it. I have heard the CDS big stack two years ago, but only once. While I did like it enough, it did not leave a strong impression.
Since my original audition in NYC, I have listened to the X-01 several more times, at length especially at a friend's place. My initial subjective impressions of extremely elegant yet unadorned musical accuracy stand. I am planning to acquire a unit next month.
Do consider the Consonance Droplet CDP. It costs a lot less than $12K. You may like it and save a bunch of money at the same time.
My EMM CDSD/DCC2 with the Stax Omega 007t headphone system is glorious, with all images well defined and little or no harshess or hashiness on any kind of music, even lesser-quality recordings (popular music). The Staxes can sound buzzy or weak or bass-shy on lesser-quality CD players. The sound is better through the direct line outputs of the DCC2 (as opposed to the preamp outputs) into the Stax amp.
RE: Guidocorona
Thanks for the suggestion. I'll definitely add it to my list.
hey guido - you're in austin, right? if ever you'd like, feel free to make the short trek to san antonio if you'd like to hear the EMM stuff at mi casa.
I don't think the Consonace Droplet belongs in any discussion of best cd players under 12K. At its' price point it is very competitive but with the others mentioned in this thread it is entirely out of place.
Thanks for the additional suggestions guys, they've all been added to my list.

I'd still like to get some opinions about the CD12 and CDS3. Does anyone here own them or atleast heard them?
I own a CDS3. I have not had the opportunity to do any direct comparisons with other top CDPs or DAC/transport combinations, but I've heard many others in systems that I am familiar with. The CDS3 is a very capable player. It has very realistic dynamics and the kind of projection that makes it sound like the musicians are present in the room. There are other machines that give one a better sense of fine detail and delicate "air" on top, but they tend to be less "substantial" (sort of spectral and less solid in imaging terms). The CDS3 is an engaging player that makes you sit up and listen, but it is not harsh and fatiguing. It is not as dynamic sounding as some other Naim players, like the CDX2, but that player sounds mechanical and artificial by comparison.

I also like Audionote DACs (particularly DAC 5 signature) with virtually any good transport. This is quite a different presentation than the CDS3, but very appealing. The sound is more liquid and relaxed, but it is not dull or sluggish sounding either. It may not be as exciting sounding as the CDS3, but it is a beautiful, coherent and luscious sound.
I used to be of the opinion that the Reimyo was at the top of the pile, but I nevertheless used the Exemplar 3910 as I wanted not only redbook. Recently with the new Exemplar 5910 I have tried the Halcyonic active isolation base. It made such a major inprovement that I now have to go back to consider what improvements it might make under other players. It may be that the platform further improves everything, or it may be that some are more greatly improved than others resulting in a foreshortening of the differences among them.

The Halcyonic also vastly improved my vinyl system. This unit has greatly complicated my life and of course given me sound that I thought was impossible.