Best Digital Source That Money Can Buy?

(1) Either single unit CD Player or Transport/DAC combo.

(2) no modded units please, only factory stock models

(3) please rank them if you can


A few come to my mind:

EMM Labs, DCC2 SE + CDSA SE combo
Esoteric, P-03/D-03/G-0Rb combo
Wadia, 581 Pro
first; i must re-form the question to be; "your preferred digital source regardless of price".

the word 'best' infers both that you've heard them all in a very familiar system and taken the time to compare them 'all' directly to one another. neither of which are very realistic for digital players. 'best' also infers some universal standard which does not exist.

all that said; my preferred digital source is the Playback Designs MPS-5. it is a one-box CD/SACD player which also can be used as a stand-alone DAC for a server based system.

i not only prefer the MPS-5 to any other consumer digital source i have heard; but also to a few hirez (up to 386/32) pro audio mastering sources that have recently been in my system. the best thing i can say about the MPS-5 is that it has taken digital a large step toward the performance of my Rockport Sirius III turntable; closer by a good margin than any other digital i have heard. these comments refer to both CD and SACD performance.

the MPS-5 has a vanishingly low noise floor, amazing level of detail, excellent micro and macro dynamics, is tonally rich yet naturally neutral, and is very non-digital sounding. it has no color of it's own and i particularly like that it does not have that occasional upper mids glare that so many other digital players have. it soundstages more like analog than other digital in terms of rendering ambient information and filling a room with's not flat sounding.

it sounds like music.

it's also set up to be used as a DAC for a PC server based source.....and it's DAC is programmable.....the MPS-5 does not use any off-the-shelf is unique to the MPS-5. it also uses one of the Esoteric transport drives. i've had mine for almost 2 months now and have yet to find something i don't like about it.

my opinion based on my experience with other digital i have heard is that the MPS-5 might be on another level compared to anything out there. but as i said; i have not had everything in my system to compare.

ranking other digital sources is as problematic as choosing a 'best'. i'll leave a ranking to others.
Why don't you instead list the other digital sources you've had in your system.

I just got mine and the new version also makes a mean slice of toast....

Just kidding!!!

Folks its really amazing....if you are in los angeles and you wanna audition email me

I second what Mike said above, especially about the upper mid glare that is missing from the MPS5. It works nicely with a Wolff Bohica 2 power cable and Stealth Indra ICs.
Hi Mike, has your MPS-5 completed break-in? How many hours of playing time did it take to stabilize 100%? Thanks, Guido
I'd add Accuphase DP700 or the 800/801 combo from accuphase in that list
I have a Burmester 069. I also have an Accuphase DP-700, but this is used for SACD only because the Burmester player is so much better for redbook. It is of course very expensive ($50k), but then without doubt the best redbook playback I have ever heard. It is very musical, resolved and has a three dimensionality and completely black background that I haven't experienced from any other player. I rank this player far above those rigs that are listed in this thread so far.
Guido, sorry for the lateness of my response, i had earlier missed your question.

yes; my MPS-5 has completed break-in.....about 2 to 3 weeks ago. i got it in early June, played it continually for 100 hours and it was very good. then over a 4 week time-frame i played it continually when i was at home so another 200-300 hours. since mid July i have not noticed any further change/improvement.

so 400-500 hours total......after about 150 hours you are 95% there.

i will be watching for the results of the mid-September digital comparison in Austin.
Cappuccio, congrats on the Burmester 069, i read Valin's review in Absolute Sound.....very nice.

i will look forward to getting a chance to hear the 069 for myself.....hopefully at RMAF or CES.

you can purchase a pretty good tt for $65k.

sorry....i could not resist. ;)
Mike and Cappuccio, reviewer for the 069 is reviewed by Anthony Cordesman. I read the review and although it started AC saying it as the 'outstanding peformance in every respect' later he started pouring caveat after caveats(some valid). Judging from sound quality description, it sounds like it performs more towards musical flavour.(a good thing)

For me though, the best is still the Zanden digital combo.
Spectral SDR 4000 Reference. Hands down.
I can't wait to see if you're right; I have the Spectral coming in next week :)
That's exciting Bar81! How many hours of break in will the Spectral require before it stabilizes?
I know, I can't wait :) It's a demo unit so it should be broken in but I hear the KX-R needs break in on every input and I haven't used the RCAs so it'll probably be at least a couple of weeks. Plus I will be getting several of the top end Siltech cables (ICs, speaker and power) to play with so I'll keep myself busy in the meantime :)
Bar81. You shd know by now I'm a conservative guy so it's gotta be right. I just confirmed the spelling of E-N-V-Y,
Happy Listening & tell us all about it. Pete
Bar. I think you shd check out some MIT cables. Pete
The Accustic Arts gear should be competive with anything out there for Red Book, but getting an audition is proabably close to impossible. It would be nice if the DAC came with USB.
Check my system ;) Thanks and will update.
Re: Absolute Sound Review of 069
If you read the review closely, it's evident that AC truly liked the Burmester,
but didn't feel it was a ''breakthrough'' product. AC ranked it slightly above the
EMM player and even preferred SACD on the latter to the Redbook layer on
hybrid discs played on the 069. Certainly at 60-65K that's not nearly good
A revealing reply by Robert Harley to a reader's letter states that compari-
sons of equipment to equipment meets with "resistance" from manufacturers.
I stick with Nilthepill, for me the Zanden combo does it.
Mike i've read about your praise for the Playback Designs MPS-5. Intriguing, especially since it is more affordable than your previous digital source. Have you heard this compared to the DCS stack, and if so, what did you think of it?
I like to add Bryston BCD-1 cdp or their dac BDA-1. I have the BCD-1 and it sound is the most analog sounding i have heard. Many reviews availiable on the web.
I'll pile on and renominate the Playback Designs MPS-5. I got a chance to hear it vs. the Emm CDSA-SE last week and much preferred the PD. (See my review in the Review section if you'd like to follow that in detail). Unfortunately, my chance to compare it to a dCS stack got deferred due to scheduling conflict, but we'll eventually get around to it.

A dealer in Denver is trying to become a PD dealer and take one to RMAF. I hope that works out. (I can't bring you all over to my house).

the naim 2 piece cd x from the 90'a.
Without doubt, the Orpheus Heritage Dac and Orpheus transport! Especially if you love analog master tapes and the best vinyl.
Without any doubt the best today available digital front is dCS Scarlatti, forget Payback designs, EMM labs, Zanden and others toys, I dont own it, but if one day I have the money..., and sorry I have one EMM labs combo that is vey good
Newly, so when did you compare the Playback Designs to dCS? I'm trying to work that out, but a conflict has kept it from happening. Can you be a little more detailed in your description of the differences?

I've compared the PD to Emm's CDSA-SE single-box unit. I preferred the PD by a good margin. My detail review is available elsewhere on A'gon.

I agree with Newly. I use a good transport (Lector with aftermarket clock) through a dCS Purcell to send 24/176 dual AES into a Scarlatti DAC. My digital cables are LessLoss RCA between transport and upsampler, LessLoss dual AES to Scarlatti ($250 apiece for the three wires a while back). The sound is sublime, even with the long signal chain. I had an Elgar DAC prior - a top notch unit as well, but not in the Scarlatti's class.

Start saving now to snap up a used Scarlatti DAC at half or less new price, once enough units have been in the field for a while and fickle audiophiles jump ship. I won't be one of them.
has anyone compared these esoteric and expensive products to an amr 77 ? if so what were the results ?

it helps to have a personal criterion for the designation "best". in my case, best means, least timbrally inaccurate, relative to the sound of an instrument, not the sound of a recording.
I wonder has anyone compared the top players with some of the smaller exclusive brands like the Soulution 740 or the Vitus SCD-010 player???

I have the Emm Labs CDSA player and a friend of mine compared it to the DCS Puccini. He enjoyed the mids and high from the DCS much better than the Emm Labs but the Emm Labs had much better bass. (With his system of course).

I wonder if the Vitus and/or Soulution would be the best of both worlds?
I forgot to mention that my friend used the DCS Puccini directly into his poweramps. Wonder if you put it through a pre the bass would improve????
JB0194, you mention that you agree with Newly.....

are you saying that you think that the DCS Puccini is 'best' compared to the others that Newly mentioned.....which infers he has compared these units?

Without any doubt the best today available digital front is dCS Scarlatti, forget Payback designs, EMM labs, Zanden and others toys, I dont own it, but if one day I have the money..., and sorry I have one EMM labs combo that is vey good

or that you really like the Puccini and prefer it to others you have heard?

these are two quite different things to say. i am still waiting for Newly to answer DCstep's question about whether Newly has actually compared the Puccini to those he mentions or is he just guessing.....specifically has he compared the Puccini to the Playback Designs (which has only been on the market since mid-June).

btw; the Puccini may be best but i have not done any comparisons to venture an opinion about that.
Mrtennis; a friend did recently take delivery of his Playback Designs, a few weeks later he sold his AMR-77. i believe his AMR was not the very latest version.

we discussed his opinion but as it is second hand info i don't think i should post it.
Mikelavigne said:

"Mrtennis; a friend did recently take delivery of his Playback Designs, a few weeks later he sold his AMR-77. i believe his AMR was not the very latest version.

we discussed his opinion but as it is second hand info i don't think i should post it."

I heard the same thing about a month ago from a MPS-5 purchaser. It could be the same person that Mike speaks of, but all I have is an email address.

BTW, Playback Designs will be at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. My MPS-5 will be the source in the Sounding/Sumiko/Rowland high end room. They'll be driving the new Vienna Acoustics reference speaker, "The Music", with Rowland amplification. Stop by and bring your CDs. This appearance is unofficial, but approved by PD.

A response to my 8-30-08 post appeared this morning then promptly vanished.

To that poster:

1. I agree with Newly in that the dCS Scarlatti DAC is a part of the best digital source I have ever heard - nothing more, nothing less.

2. I have not directly compared dCS Scarlatti gear to your CDP, nor does the original poster set such a condition. He did ask that stock gear only be mentioned and I am at fault for mentioning my modded Lector CDT. FWIW, I alternate listening with a stock dCS Verdi transport and use a dCS Scarlatti master clock in that configuration. The sound is equally, maybe even more sublime - IMHO, as good as it gets absent a dCS Scarlatti transport.

3. My comparisons, fwiw, are to my current source, but with a dCS Elgar DAC and to an earlier source I owned for years, which consisted of an Ensemble Dirondo transport >> Stealth varidig Sextet BNC cable >> an Audio Note DAC 4.1x Signature DAC. Both were immensely satisfying digital sources and quite costly.

4. I needn't be held to some comparative standard, yours or any others', to express an opinion. You know very well that, even if I directly a/b'd my source with your CDP, our systems (including rooms) are completely different otherwise - making my opinion of said comparison just as subjective as the opinion I actually have offered and, arguably, less biased than yours since you "have a horse in the race".

5. My 8-30-08 post had zero to do with Newly's possibly sarcastic reference to your "horse". For all I know it sings with angels' voices but, frankly, that's irrelevant to me.
Jb0194 said"

"I agree with Newly" and
"I needn't be held to some comparative standard, yours or any others', to express an opinion. "

Newly said:
"Without any doubt the best today available digital front is dCS Scarlatti, forget Payback designs, EMM labs, Zanden and others toys,"

Jb0194 is entitled to all the baseless claims he desires to make. I just think that he shouldn't be surprised if someone calls him on them.

Claiming that the Scarlatti is better than the Playback Designs, Emm and Zanden without actually comparing is not an "opinion", it's a bold faced (fill in the blank).

hi mikelavigne:

why did your friend prefer the playback designs, given the amr's flexibility for changes in tubes and sampling rate ?

that is, in what respect did he find the playback designs a superior unit ?
Mr. Tennis, rather than post hearsay, i'll e-mail you his e-mail address and you can ask him directly. we did not discuss any tube rolling or different AMR set-up choices. he typically calls me on the phone and it may take awhile to find his e-mail address.

i will e-mail this to you later today.
Mrtennis, I haven't compared to the PD to the AMR, so I can't comment on that, but many of us would consider the "amr's flexibility for changes in tubes and sampling rate" to be negative. If changing a tube can improve the sound, then that implies a weakness in the designer's unit as distributed.

I think those two things (circuit design and sampling rate) are the designer's responsibility and would hope that I couldn't improve upon the designer's choices.

BTW, I never have figured out why people put tubes in DACs. Is there any technical advantage to doing this?

Will Playback Designs be at CES this year and if so what venue.
Jonathan Tinn told me that PD would be at CES. I'll write him to see which venue.

hi dave:

the term "improve the sound" needs to be defined.

i will define it subjectively as any change in performance that i prefer is an improvement in sound. thus, changing the tubes in a tube component presents an opportunity to improve the sound. any change in the sampling rate is an opportunity to improve the sound. any change in power cords, interconnects, etc., is a chance to improve the sound of a stereo system.

if you imply that reducing inaccuracy is the definition of sonic improvement, then you and i disagree with the concept of improvement in sound.

you and i have had this conversation before. ultimately, the owner of a stereo system will do what is feasible to create a presentation which satisfies his/her sonic priorities. from your perspective such efforts may not improve the sound, but rather make it worse.

i personally prefer components which allow the owner to affect changes in its sound. hence, i prefer tubes, tone controls and other user "controls" to allow me to voice the sound of my stereo system according to my wishes.

tinker and listen. one man's trash is another man's treasure.
hi dave:

let me add another point.

i think the sound of any component can be improved by changing caps and resistors, based upon my subjective orientation of "improve".
Until now I did heard the Vitus only at the show, but I have heard the Soulution and I doubt that the Vitus can be better in equal conditions, and certanly Soulution is very very good, so good, that it changed my mind in relation of the digital front, perhaps the old formula transport and dac is not necesary, perhaps Soulution is the solution, but MBL, and Scarlatti are so very good...
Thanks Emigene,

Haven't heard both the Vitus and Soulution player. The only thing that I have to consider is the price. The Soulution player is more than twice the price of the Vitus, but probably not twice as good. If the Vitus is only slightly less good I'll happily go for that unit. I also have a Vitus amp so I assume there must be some synergy there as well.

I wonder if I would miss the fact that both the Soulution and Vitus don't play SACD.
In SOTA electronics to go from 96% of the highest quality available to get the 97% you MUST to pay double, if you have a system that give you 45% and you want to get 50%, you only need to pay a little more, in relation to SACD, is not yet dead?
Before to move your money please hear Vitus, SOULUTION, MPS-5, and why not Memory player, it also deserves a great attention, for me one of the three best transport, if it is a transport.
>>to go from 96% of the highest quality available to get the 97% you MUST to pay double<<

Two questions:
1. How did you determine that?
2. How do you measure the 1%?

Thanks in advance.
Mrtennis, I'm afraid that you confuse "improve the sound" with "change the sound". ;-)

hi dave:

i have basically posited the concept of "improve the sound" as a "change in the sound" that is preferred.

thus, improving the sound implies changing it and preferring the change.

you have not specified what you mean by "change the sound".
i suspect that improve, in your view, means less inaccurate.