Best CD Player for Classical Music?

I realize that a CD player that is good for classical is good for anything, but the reason I was specific is because the classical section of my CD collection is the fastest growing section. And not being very familiar with classical music I rarely heard it live. But now I'm going to more concerts and I'm looking for a CD player that can get me close to what I'm hearing live.

To be more specific, most of my classical listening has been through my system and not live. But when I hear it live it sounds softer, smoother, and flows more naturally. It sounds effortless, unforced, more relaxed. I then realize how "hard" sounding classical music sounds through my system. It may be that it's digital that makes it sound hard, but I'm not going analog right now so please stick with the CD player recs : )

I'm looking for something for my headphone system. My headphone amp, a Grace 901, is a highly resolving amp so a quality source really shines through. My favorite instruments are the cello, violin and piano and I would prefer to find a CD player that excels at making these sound natural. I'd also like something that is not too forward.

Maybe I'm crazy thinking I can find what I'm looking for in a CD player, but please let me know if you have any recommendations. I'd like to find it if possible. Thanks.
I'm listening to classical only - well 95%. My solution after many and long auditions and decision making is what Wadia does with their DigiMaster algorithm. Give it a try. I never heard a beter piano coming from a system (am a pianist myself).
Good luck!
I'll second the Wadia for classical music. It does an amazing job at resolving the detail, color, and tone of acoustic instruments, from solo to full-scale orchestral. It also has the capability of throwing a realistic soundstage, just like a live performance.

Out of the box, the Wadia can sound a little etched. Brought to its full glory with the proper tweaking, it is wonderful.
Budrew ... I know for me that when I started to attend live classical performances - or POP performances for that matter - I came to the same conclusion as you - real music was soooo much sweeter than our stereos present it to us.

On top of that, we as audiophiles have become enamored of the "open and airy" sound ... which generally moves the music in the opposite direction of the real thing.

So the same thing you experienced began my quest for "the absolute sound" of what I hear when I attend a concert. Here is what I have learned so far ...

a) It is not about any one component in your system
b) The single most important factor is likely your room
c) Concert halls sound different (almost certainly it is a different hall from the one the music you are listening to was recorded in)
d) Different seats in the same concert hall sound different (not only tonal differences but perspective differences)
e) Instruments sound different from one another (piano A <> piano B etc)

So ... now that it sounds impossible ... what do we as audiophiles do? I think you started at the MOST important point - the ease and grace of live concert music. Though there is "bite" at times, there is seldom "edge."

I have found that as I tuned my room; changed components; repositioned speakers ... as I have moved towards the effortlessness you described, that instruments also sounded more real, more alive, more palpable.

If I were to start anywhere, it would not be a component first. It would be speaker location and then it would be room treatment - first you have to be able to hear what your components are really giving you.

Good Luck and Good Listening!
Excellent post. I can't agree with you more. To me, the #1 thing is your room, #2 is the recording and pressing and #3 is the rest. #1 and #2 together is about 80% of what you hear and the rest 20% is your gears. So, after achieving a certain level in your gears, keep upgrading doesn't get your money's worth because #1 and 2 play such a part in your sound. I listen to 100% classical music (vinyl) and I also attend concerts frequently. I find record playback is the only thing that gets me closer to life concerts.
This is great information. The Wadia seems to crop up in other contexts
as well, but I wonder if it may be too forward for headphjone use or too
bright, though many recommend modding it to alleviate these issues.
FWIW, I tend to prefer a mid-hall over first row perspective.

While I agree 100% about the room, I'm looking for something for my
headphone system where room interaction is a null issue. Because of
circumstances I'm listening to headphones a lot these days. My main
system is great with classical, the only issue being the Audio Note DAC
is too forward for headphone listening (to my ears). I also agree that the
recording and mastering make a big difference and this is why I've not
adopted SACD since the recording can make a bigger difference than the
technology (though the Channel Classics SACDs are exceptional).
You might want to check out the review of the BAT VK-5SE cdp at It was posted today
I listen only to Classical, I attend live performances, (Davies Symphony Hall in SF), and I play in an amateur orchestra. If you like chamber and solo music only, the Rega Planet 2000 does a wonderful job. I doesn't open up as much as it could for large-scale symphonic literature. Massed-strings have sounded a bit harsh to me since moving up to a better system. I went the SACD route and have found that, with every recording thus far purchased, the string problem has been solved. I couldn't feel more relieved.
Jdaniel, What SACD player do you have? Chamber and solo music is my
main interest. I know there is a growing catalog of SACD classical titles.

My first experience with live classical music, and how sweet it can be,
was at Davies Symphony Hall where there was a performance of Arvo
part's work some years ago.
I have the Marantz SA-14 version 2. I find that the benefits of SACD are most impressive in large-scale orchestral music. I can *barely* hear a difference in chamber and solo music. If you like the latter, maybe SACD isn't necessary. (I should point out that the Marantz is a two-channel only.)
Did you compare the Marantz to any other SACD players?
The wadia is a very good choice but for your taste in classical music you might also check out EMM and Audio Aero. Emm is too new and diccicult to audition but you can probably find an Audio Aero. I tested it against the Wadia and I bought the Capitole Mark II from Audio Aero. For less money the Audio Aero Prima might just be your ticket.
Did I compare the Marantz to other players? No. I wanted a 2 channel player, which meant either the Marantz at 3K, the Krell at 4K, or the Classe at 8K. The press has been mixed on the Krell, and I must say I was never thrilled with the looks! (I couldn't afford it anyway, and yes, I know looks are not supposed to matter.) Being that the Marantz was the only one I could afford, it made the decision easy. There were also some good reports on the Marantz version 1 regarding its 16 bit and SACD playback. I'm just glad now that I can get back to listening to the MUSIC.
Room acoustics, power and vibration control will make you or break you. Power and vibration control affect digital playback more than most people reallize. As for lack of edge and a 'live' vs 'digital' sound, my vote is for belt drive transports. Redbook only, though.