Just purchased a Cary CD-500 from Johnny R at Audio Connection. It will be my last CD player, it sounds that good on my system. It also plays HDCD's and upsamples from the remote. The player retails for $3000.
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The Cary CD500 is a great player and especially good at it's price point.
You could also consider something like the Bel Canto Dac3.5 MKII and the Bel Canto CD3t transport. Would put you just a tad over the $5k mark, but makes a killer setup (and very flexible with all the digital inputs)
***Cary and Bel Canto dealer disclaimer***
Hi Mrtennis, the way I understand it, the tubes-or-no question may be less relevant than you might think (though I'm certainly not doubting your experiences in the least), but generally it may come down more to 1) whether or not a piece has been modified or not and 2) who's doing the modding - what their overall level of experience level at modding is. Modding in this case is relevant because in fact so many makers out there are just plain cutting corners in order to compete, even in the over-$5000 category! It's industry-wide, but with CDP's it manifests itself in players that are typically either very good or near SOTA on the digital side internally, but in the still crucial analog domain they are anywhere from acceptable to just plain dismal. If manufacturers weren't so determined to cut corners in areas where they know consumers aren't any paying attention then it's likely modders would be out of a job overnight. But, if you will take the time to see for yourself, there are plenty of modders out there...a bad sign for manufacturers - a good thing for us maybe, but only if you can find an ethical modder. When it comes to modding in general, it turns out, that from a modder's perspective and when considering what particular piece of gear to mod, you really don't know if a given piece will respond well to all the tricks of the trade of modifying or not until you actually try it to start with and see. Sometimes you come up short: a fair amount of work and experimenting only to end up with a piece that doesn't actually sound all that much noticeably better for the effort. Something about that piece may be telling you that it's somehow inherently not worth modding. It COULD be a matter of trying a different approach in order to tease out a better result, but this is really more a matter of the overall skill and saaviness of the particular modder than perhaps anything else, but sometimes you may still end up with a rock. But, also sometimes you end up with something that's pretty dang good indeed...and then again once in a while you get something out of it that, as an experienced modder even, just blows you away at how good it can sound and I think that's what any modder that's worth his salt lives for. The confusion here for most people may be that not all modders are created equal. Some seem to be patient and persistent experimenters and take the time to actually LISTEN the results and think things through. Other modders are far less likely to experiment on their own and time and again choose to stick to a standard way of doing things that others have already pioneered...which all too often tends to be outdated ways of doing things. These folks tend to do lots of what's called "parts swapping" and try to do so according to a 'recipe' that is hopefully good in every situation (which it usually isn't) in an attempt to take out for themselves the 'case-by-case' complexity that this art otherwise calls for. They may or may not listen themselves to the results. What's likely worse is that these sorts of modders tend to charge rather high prices for their work...in my mind it amounts to gouging and in the minds of many audiophiles who also see what they are doing in the way that they market themselves it may amount to so much snake oil. But, these sorts of mods almost always sound at least something better than stock, but it's just that their inherent value will be considerably less than that from an ethical modder. Ric in my own opinion is one of the all-too-few ethical modders. His pricing reflects a very low overhead as he will gladly tell you and this fact currently results in a marketplace in which Ric enjoys the contradictory circumstance of being (again in my opinion) both the best and least expensive of the modders I'm aware of. I suppose that amounts to a "plug alert", but there it is. Hope this helps.
how about changing the question tto "best player under $5000, with a classic tube character " ?
for example, is there a player that sounds like the havana dac?
i ask this question, because i think my trusty audio note cd2 , circa 1990, may be in a state of disrepair, or very expensive repair, and so i may be looking for a cd player myself, which has a tube sound like the mhdt havana. i am not aware of any.
Hi Mrtennis, didn't mean to imply to anyone that I actually have Ric's OPPO, although I've considered getting it at some point. Currently I use a Ric Schultz-modified Behringer DEQ-2496 as a DAC. He modded the power supply, upgraded the DAC chip and completely reworked the analog output stage and it blew me away even though the mod cost was less than $350 at the time. But, I've gotten to know Ric by talking to him on the phone at various times for the past couple years and found him to be very forthcoming on all things audio. Although we've discussed the Oppo 95, what really got me going on it was reading the user reviews online. I've been in this hobby for 40 years and reading all that time. After you've been doing that for that long you do indeed begin to realize how to "read between the lines" on a lot of topics and I did notice something diffrent with these reviews: it was something of a 'there-are-rave-reviews-and-there-are-rave-reviews-and-then-there-are-reviews of-Ric's-Oppo-95' kind of thing, for me. As if folks just couldn't begin to imagine anything ever sounding better, at any price. You may not care to put all that much stock in that kinda thing, especially when it's coming from someone else, but after my time spent in this hobby I can say that that kind of thing does in fact really tend to stand out and catch your eye. But, I leave it to you, if you're interested, to take the reading of reviews from here.
The Cambridge Audio 840C is real steal at $1500. I had to spend many times that amount to find something better. The Cary Audio CD500 gets the thumbs up too but do budget for a decent power cord is third party feet to optimise it.
Hey Mrtennis, when it comes to tube-based CDP's I'm not necessarily the one to ask since I've always managed to do well by solid state (at least so far, anyway). Although I've considered tubes in the past for a variety of gear, for me it has not yet come down to purchasing any, so I have no direct comparisons there.
Hi Kiwi, I do indeed recall that the 840c turned lots of heads when it came out. But, what I later found that looked even more intriguing was Mr Sprey's (Mapleshade) mod for the DacMagic which is said to use the same DAC stage as the 840c. The mod provides what is likely a badly needed upgrade for the power supply (and the stock power supply looks to be only real criticism ever leveled at the 840c) and adds a better AC cord and vibration control as well. Looks like for $800 you can get what promises to offer sound that improves upon the, like you say, already excellent 850c. I have to wonder how good it would indeed sound hooked up to a good music server. I believe Mr. Sprey to be another one of those good modders, but I myself have only tried some of his wiring products (which I'm very happy with) and not his electronics yet.
I owned an Cambridge Audio 840C for several years and thought very highly of it. I remember auditioning many more expensive players at the time of purchase but the 840C held its own and then some. Outstanding resolution for a $1500 player. Like most CD players tweaking improved it further. I used a Nordost Vishnu power cord and mounted it on Eben Cold Rays. I've not heard the tweaked DacMagic so cant comment on it. It might use the same DAC but does it also incorporate the 32-bit Analog Devices Black Fin DSP or the Q5 upsampling from Anagram?
Know what you mean on that Kiwi and ordinarily I agree with you. But, in my book Mr. Sprey is also one of the very few modders I feel I can trust implicitly. In fact, as far as I'm aware anyone apart from Ric or Mr. Sprey personally I'd have to think twice about, if at all. If you want, see my post above here on the 24th for my own 2 cents on all that.