Arcam, Musical Fidelity questions...

So I need a CD player, mostly just concerned with good redbook CD playback. Mostly rock with jazz on occasion. I had narrowed it down to the Arcam FMJ CD36 or the Musical Fidelity A5, but as I've been doing research the thing that keeps sticking out to me is the Arcam FMJ CD23T with the ring dac.

So my question to anyone with experience with these players (or other suggestions for players I'm not looking at) in the mid price range (trying to stay around $2K). First do like the Arcam CD23 better than the CD36/33 and then how do you compare it to the Musical Fidelity A5. I realize this is subjective but would appreciate any opinions you'd like to give.

Thanks in advance for your input.
You might look at the Sim Audio Equinox for $2200 new or the Ayre CX-7 used. I have not heard the Arcam models you mention so no comment. I did hear the MF A5 and thought the Sim and Arye models mentioned above are better. You should be able to get in home auditions on any of the players mentioned except the Ayre (being in the used price range). Listen to all of them and buy the one that you like the best in your system.

Good luck.
I have auditioned the A5 and the Arcam FMJ 33 and really perfered the 33 but they were set up with different support pieces. I found it a little more musical and with slightly more depth to the soundstage. They were both very impressive but I did end up taking the 33 home. I have not experienced the 23 but I am completely pleased with the 33.
I heard the A5 out of the box and although it was very impressive I didn't have one of those out of body experiences. However a few weeks later after is had 200+ hours on it, it was the best I have ever heard. I would seriously audition it and and definitely make sure it has had proper break in time. It out "analogued" my resident Lector CDP 7T
This information may assist you in choosing between different Arcam products. Arcam has either stated or suggested that technological advance is the reason for the ring dac used in the FMJ 23 not being continued in the FMJ 33 and FMJ 36. I know I’ve read at least one magazine review where that view was stated as the company’s explanation. However, I’ve read elsewhere (sorry, can’t recall where) that the ring dac was abandoned because of its high fail rate in manufacture, which added to its cost and constrained supply. Of course, if the latter explanation is true, it has no bearing on YOUR choice of Arcam player. As a personal observation, the FMJ 33 was being designed and coming to market just when the impact of cheaper Chinese manufactured components was beginning to be felt, so European and North American manufacturers like Arcam were becoming ever more conscious of cost.

You probably already know from your own research that the ring dac was designed by dCS, the maker of the very highly regarded and expensive Verdi/Purcell/Elgar “stack” of digital front-end components.
The following two points should have been included in my original post:

1. It’s perfectly possible that dac design has advanced in the time since the FMJ 23 was introduced, so that the ring dac has been equaled or surpassed by the dacs in the FMJ 36. It’s also possible that other aspects of the design/parts of the FJM 23 have been improved on.

2. The only way to resolve the ring dac/FJM 23 issue is a side-by-side comparison of the FMJ 23 with the FMJ 33 or 36. Personally, I’d love to hear a shootout between all three. At 1/3 the cost of a new 36, the used 23 is certainly cheap. If you believe that you won’t give up much with the 23, I’d buy and use it while seeing where digital front end audio goes. It’s a truism that digital is the area of audio that is evolving fastest and has the greatest obsolescence.
I agree with your premise, the CD23 is the best value of the bunch. It's a tough call between which sounds better, the 23 or 33. I preferred the 23 by a small margin, due to its smoothness. The 33 is a little more forward, which some of my friends prefer.

I've listened to the 23 headsup against an A5 and preferred the 23. The overrall soundstage was wider and deeper, and there was better bass response.

I agree with the above poster, the Ayre CX-7 outdoes them all. But the main advantage is only if you're running balanced. If you're running single-ended, I'd say it's 5% or so better than the 23. If it's balanced, it's more like 15-20%. I switched from the 23 to the Ayre because I got a balanced amp, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the 23.
The FMJ CD23 uses completely different DACs and design than the FMJ CD33 and FMJ CD36. So using a 23 to compare the 33 or 36 to anything else is not going to be helpful. The 23 uses the ring DAC designed by dCS. Some people think it sounds better than the wolfson DACS used in the 33 and 36. I have listened to both the 33 and 23, and I liked the 23 better, but i still didn't prefer it to the Meridian G08 I also auditioned, but this is another price range. I found the 33 lacked the ability to provide cohesiveness to the musical elements in recordings. The 23 had a problem with timing, which I noticed while auditoning it with one album I listen to a lot.
I own the original FMJ cd-23 (not the text version) and it's been a great-sounding, reliable player. Decodes HDCD, too. (not sure if the newer players still do that). I have never a/b compared it directly to the newer 33 or 36 in my system, however.

I worked in a shop that sold Arcam (and Meridian, among other things) during the late 90's to early 00's and had the chance to get product training from the Arcam factory reps on the features/benefits of the Ring-Dac design when it was first coming to market in their players. It certainly was ahead of it's time in 1999 for a $2k player and I suspect that's why they can still hold their own today and sound great. I spent time in the shop listening to the cd 23 compared to the then-current Meridian 508-24 and bought the Arcam. I just couldn't justify the huge jump in cost for what to me was not a night/day difference in sound. To me the Meridian was a touch dryer-sounding and there was something about the Arcam player that really reeled me in to the music.

The main reason the Arcams no longer use the Ring-Dac is that they only licensed the technology from DCS for a short period of time. I never heard of the difficulty to manufacture/reliability issue as a reason to discontinue it although I suppose that's possible. I suspect cost was probably a bigger factor, though. Also, the Ring-Dac in the Arcam player is not the full-blown spec found in DCS gear, rather Arcam used the major elements of the DCS design to create a custom chipset to be used first in their Alpha 9 and later FMJ series players. It's like getting the low-fat version of the DCS stack, Sounds great, without the guilt! If you are on a budget, you might want to try to find an Alpha 9 which will cost less than an FMJ series player and still have most of the performance.

As for comparing the sound to an Ayre or MF, I can't help you there. But my experience with the FMJ series Arcam is that it's very well made gear and it's fair to say the performance will hold it's own against more expensive equipment from other manufacturers even today. Of course it's all a matter of personal taste when you get to that level of performance anyway. Good luck! JZ
I really appreciate all the responses, I agree that the Ayre would probably be the best of the bunch but while my amp to my pre does run via a balanced connection. The pre does not have a balanced input for the CD player, so I think the 5% bump in performance I'd get over the CD23 (running single ended) is probably not worth the $1,300 more (used) that I'd have to pay.

As a pure value proposition it appears the CD23 is the way to go. I'm waiting for the FMJ CD23T to surface and then I'll try to pick one up.

Thanks again.
Trestles, I don't know if they still have it, or if you are interested, but the Arcam FMJ CD23 I tested (not a 23T) was a demo model they were selling at Accent on Music in Mount Kisco, New York. I felt bad not buying it after the taking it home to demo it.

I A/B tested it at home vs. my Denon DVD-5910 and found my 5910 was much better sounding (probably because of the new Burr-Brown 1792 chips -- seems anything with these chips is much better than previous generation chips on the market in the same price ranges, the Ayre C-5xe is another example which also uses 1792s -- for instance all the items that have the chip seem to be getting A ratings or top ratings in whatever class they are in, which to me seems a sure sign that the chip itself has more to do with it than any individual engineering done by a company using the chip). If you are willing to spend 1k more after finding a 12% discount you can have the Denon 5910 which will play everything including CD, and I find the CD on it worlds better than the Arcam 23... That's just my 2 cents worth.
Thank you Jkalman you've sent me off in a whole new direction and I'm now very interested in the Denon DVD-5910 (which is surprising because I never thought I'd by anything Denon). You're right the Burr Brown 1792 is getting great reviews everywhere. I also really like the idea of having one box for everything that performs at at an audiophile level.

One question I have after doing some research on the unit: there is an outfit that advertises here on audiogon called Underwood Hifi and they do a a mod to the 5910. The mod brings the price up to around $5K. It is obviously difficult to audition an upgraded unit so my question is does anyone here have experience with these upgraded units or are they able to discern whether they appear to be worth it. I certainly don't have the techinical skill to do so...

I have demoed the CD 33 and MF A5 at the same time in an A-B comparison. The CD 33 is precise, clean, articulate. The MF A5 is in a league of its own, exceptionally musical and special --demo them and decide for yourself. My vote goes to the MF A5 hands down.
I had a cd92,then sold it.Bought a cd 33,liked it up to a point,but ultimately time has proven that I wanted a cd 92 again,it totally pulled me into the music,unlike the 33.
I'm an idiot, I didn't look at any posting dates except Coffeey's.