CD player with Tube Output or Music Server

I play CD’s through an upgraded Audio Space CD8 player from Underwood HiFi. It can be played as solid state or tubed output. To my ear, the tubed output is smoother and seems to have more substance. It definitely sounds less digital through the tubes. I enjoy the player very much and it is definitely the best I have heard in my system compared to mid priced offerings from Sony, Rega, and Cambridge Audio.

The rest of my system is Maggie 3.6’s with W4S Preamp and ST1000 amp. I also run a Technics table with an Ortofon cartridge from KABUSA. The table is more organic and live sounding compared to the CD player.

Anyway… the upgrade bug is starting to itch so I visited my local hi end dealer in the Midwest.

He tried to talk me out of a CD player entirely. He attended the last Las Vegas audio show and was pushing a Naim music server and a DAC for around $5500. He tried to convince me that the Hi resolution capability of this combo would blow away a comparably priced dedicated CD player. He would not even show me his CD players!


1. What are your thoughts about what this dealer is telling me?

I am kind of convinced that I still want the dedicated CD player because I am not sold on computer audio. It just seems too hi tech for me....also, I am not so sure I need $5000 worth of Naim equipment to get the high resolution sound.

2. What are your thoughts about a good CD player that would be a significant upgrade that would sound live and smooth? I am thinking about the $5000 range new or around half much that used.

I appreciate any and all feedback!
My thoughts on what an audio dealer is telling you, easy, he's telling you to buy something that he carries so he can turn a profit for himself. I am in no way trying to bedevil the dealer. He's in business to make money. Go to another dealer and he will want to sell you what he carries. Just my opinion, nothing more.
I've had the Naim servers here from customers. They are no where near the SQ of a decent CD player or transport. They can be decent with a reclocker following them and a good DAC.

If you want a good CD player, get the PSAudio transport and PWD combo and connect them with I2S HDMI cable. You can do computer audio with the PWD later if you want to. The I2S can be driven from an Off-Ramp 5 for instance.

Another killer system is Off-Ramp 5 driving I2S to the Wired 4 Sound DAC2. With cables and Mac Mini, its under $5K total. Some reviews:

Combo also mentioned in the latest TAS issue by Steven Stone.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Look into a ModWright Oppo 105. It has digital in, so you can use it as a DAC and you also get a superb redbook/SACD player by all accounts.
OK for your dealer to pitch his product, but not allowing you to compare with a CDP is a red flag because he must feel that it would underpin all of his arguments re the sale he is trying to make. Who needs a dealer like this?

Personally I will stick with CDP's or transports and DAC's. It's simpler both in concept and execution. And with some careful selection you will be able to find such with a tone that is synergistic with your system and tonal preferences. They really do sound quite different from each other and its nice to maintain this flexibility.
Think about the EAR Acute 3. It's an outstanding tube based CD player with the added convenience of being a DAC too. Just add a Mac or PC, or other digital front-end, as the streaming source and you've got the best of both worlds.

There are other CD/DAC combos out there as well to consider.

Good luck
I'm looking into getting a new CD player and a dealer recommended a Tri CD player.
i think it is possible to combine a "server" with a dac, using the appropriate digital cable and get "better" performance than your cd player. i realize this is a conjecture, since i have not heard your cd player.

however, i have heard many cd players, dacs and transports and own tube cd players and dac and transport.

the digital interface can make a big difference.

right now, i am using the ps audio perfect wave combo with a fusion audio gold interconnect as a digital player and it has more of the tube characteristics than many tube cd players.

it is the best digital front end i have heard in my system.

i would even make you a hypothetical wager that i would prefer my digital front end to your cd player.
I would use a CD player. The best ones I've heard with a tube output is Cary.
You might want to consider an Ayon CD5s. This unit has a tubed dac and preamp output stage; as well as philips professional quality transport. The DAC can handle 24/192 via usb or aes digital in. Its built well; and weighs 50lbs. There are two used units listed now for a bit more than you mentioned was your budget...but in one box you get all of what you seemed to wish for...its a great sounding unit that should get you awfully close to the SQ and flexibility you desire. It also works great direct to amp; so you could possible eliminate a preamp.
good luck.
Concur w/ above. Your local dealer/retailer is trying to push those music servers for a profit.

At the present time, there is no music server or equivalent
that trumps a dedicated cd player. If you want a cd player, then purchase a cd player- do not settle for any less.

Additionally, that EAR Acute 3 is on my short-list to demo( as soon as I find one in a shop).

Happy Listening!
Don't overlook the Marantz SA 11s3. I got one a couple of months ago. I'm not an expert on SACD performance as this is my first one, but I was really impressed with its Redbook. In fact I was quite surprised. While not a 'tube' sound at all it does retain some of the warmth of tubes without loosing some of resolution that can occur with tubed units. It also has an input to its DAC section if you need it. I use it with an old CAL Audio transport for Jazz and I find that it really brightens up some of these old and rathur dull recordings. Moreso than just playing them with the Marantz built in transport. All in all I've very impressed, but I'm not selling my tubed stuff yet. :-)

BTW, don't forget that CDP's are all different and system synergy is very important.
I appreciate the feedback from everyone.

I am learning and it got me thinking which will always result in more ignorant questions. So...

I get the impression that the cabling between the computer and DAC or transport and DAC is very important to sound quality.

Is this true?

If so, is there emperical proof to support this or do we wander off into another whole great speaker wire debate?

My goal is simply to understand as the cabling question is going to be there unless one buys a CDP, so I hope that I do not offend anyone by asking.

The "emperical proof" is what you hear, not what someone tells you they hear.
If you use good 75 ohm digital cable I suspect that you may find it less important than other cables in your system. By way of example I have been using a 6' Cardas cable for a number of years and have been happy with it. As I recall it was cost over $200, which is probably cheap in comparison to a lot of the high end alternatives. I recently needed a longer run for an experiment and bought a 15' run of Belden from Blue Jeans (cost $25). Maybe its me, maybe its my equipment, whatever, but I could not distinguish the difference between these two cables. This would not have been so with IC's or Speaker cable.

And yes, I'm sure there isn't much difference with digital wires from other wires when it comes to forum user opinions. As Tpreaves sez it " what you hear not what others tell you". Knowing what I know now (no matter how little that may actually be) I wish I'd started out with the Belden in the first place. I'd have fewer unused cables in the drawer and more money in my pocket to buy music.
Find a tube dac or tube CD player you like. If it has inputs like the E.A.R. Acute, then even better for adding digital sources down the road. You won't sacrifice, because it all runs through your reference DAC. Makes sense to me.
I don't think there is an easy answer to your question. A lot of people have found that a computer or server into a good dac to offer great sound. There are theoretical advantages (low jitter, no problem with error correction on the fly because data is held in a buffer), but then, in theory all bit perfect formats should be the same, but, many are finding differences in WAV vs. FLAC and the software used. I heard a comparison myself and preferred WAV over FLAC files. In short, all the issues on how to implement computer/server have not been resolved as yet.

As to subjective impressions of what is best, opinions are all over the place. A friend of mine really likes the clarity and detail of the Naim NDS set up over the top of the line Naim 555 CD player. I actually prefer the CD 555 sound myself (warmer, greater weight, less of a hard edge to the initial attack of notes). I own both.

The server has, at least for now, replaced the player because of the ease of access to my music collection afforded by the server. There is quite a bit of hard work involved to get there though--particularly editing metadata on classical CDs. I've done almost 2,400 CDs so far, and I am a bit more than half way home.
Why not both? Aesthetix Romulus is the Pandora (DAC with USB and S/PDIF) with a CD transport built in. Haven't heard it yet, but I intend to very soon.
"I am learning and it got me thinking which will always result in more ignorant questions. So...

I get the impression that the cabling between the computer and DAC or transport and DAC is very important to sound quality.

Is this true?

If so, is there emperical proof to support this or do we wander off into another whole great speaker wire debate?

My goal is simply to understand as the cabling question is going to be there unless one buys a CDP, so I hope that I do not offend anyone by asking."

I don't think your questions are ignorant. As long as their honest questions, who cares? Theres no need to justify them.

With regard to your cable concern, I'll add a couple of things. First is that cables do make a difference and can enhance the sound quality of your system. Second thing is, don't carried away with them. Quite often, I see people put the importance of cables equal to, and sometimes even more, than other components. I believe thats a mistake. I would suggest that your pick your components first. Once you have everything in place, then start looking into cables. If your expectations are too high, you might be very disappointed. Also, if you're reading equipment reviews, its sometimes easy to get caught up in the description of how the cable sounds (or any other component, for that matter), and loose track on the real improvement you can expect. I'm not questioning the honesty of the reviewers. Its just very difficult to convey how a piece of audio gear sounds using only words.
I have Esoteric K-01 SACD/CD Player where DAC section has two digital inputs and thus I can use it with my server, Musica Pristina Virtioso. If you recall, this SACD/CD Esoteric Transport is considered best in the world Still, question what so ever, the same recording played as digital file from Musica Pristina sounds MUCH better then optical (CD) disc played by Esoteric Transport. Same DAC, obviously used.

Do your own conclusion.
A tube lover wanting a new CD player. Can I suggest an Audio Note tubed DAC. I have the 3.1 SE and it is TRULY MAGICAL, 5687s tubed heaven.

You have the same realisation I came to, that having tubes in the path are good news for decent CD replay. However, it is not the only story.

I firmly believe you also need:

1. None Oversampling (treble smoothness to die for)
2. No Brick Wall Filter (remarkable improvement)
3. Bass texture and weight to get the blood flowing
4. Tactile and detailed bass tones
5. The famous midrange of tubes well done
6. Transformer coupled output for dynamics and load tolerance
7. Top quality caps and tantalum resistors, silver wiring.

All the above come in spades with the Audio Note DACs. And don't panic if you think they are crazy money. I went for the Kit version at Audio Note Kits (Canada). It was a breeze to build and I have a 7k+ DAC for 2k.

Check out my build pages here:

You could use your existing CDP as a transport, or buy a second hand CEC belt CDP for 800 US and you are done.

I use both a CDP for normal CD replay, and a Mac Mini with M2Tech EVO for my music streamer.

Ping me if you need further info.

How complicated is it to build an AN DAC? I have soldered new capacitors in large Advents, but this looks like it this would be at a higher required skill level.
I have enjoined two CDPs with tube output stages: EAR Acute and Ancient Audio Lektor Prime. Both companies' most recent offerings allow digital input; the Lektor Prime/Air also has a second analog input allowing it to be used as a pre-amp as well.
I've owned several VERY ($10k+) high end CD/SACD players and recently experimented with a server/DAC setup and I was stunned at how subtle/non-existant the SQ difference was between the two.

The choice comes down to what you like. I personally miss the human/machine interaction of a disk player (call me crazy) and having to change disks and manually clamp it down, etc.

From a pure performance standpoint I think it's becoming VERY difficult to justify a high end player. But this hobby is much more than just performance for most of us so things such as tactile feel, pride of ownership, aesthetics and more all matter.

Trust your ears and heart and get something that you will enjoy regardless of what your dealer may be pushing.