CD transports; do they really matter

In my pursuit of total sonic harmony, I have been investigating whether a CD transport ( to replace my bulky and aged Luxman CD player ) would be a good option.  I had an interesting conversation with the manufacturers rep of a respected brand regarding his companies CD transport.  He basically said its all in the DAC, the transport, as long as its not a cheap component, does not make much or any difference. So, I ask does it really matter?


it might not make big difference with DACs that offer strong jitter suppression, like my Benchmark DAC3 (with Asynchronous Rate Converter), but will make some difference with most DACs.  Higher end transports tend to have higher slew rate of digital output, minimizing effect of noise "riding" on the signal that can move moment of level recognition (threshold) back and forth in time (on jagged signal slopes).  In addition higher quality transports most likely will have better quality, quieter supplies injecting less noise. The best would be high end transport with high slew rate output, that you can perfectly impedance match to cable and DAC.  Toslink outputs don't have characteristic impedance problem (reflections on impedance boundaries), but have slower transitions, making it more susceptible to noise induced jitter.  Jitter of digital words in time domain translates to added noise in frequency domain - noise that is proportional to signal level, non-audible without signal - basically affecting sound clarity.

If you can rip your CDs into a storage (could be a hard drive or a server) and either play directly via connecting to a DAC, or stream via a network, it’ll simplify things.

Transports mattering, or how more expensive devices are better is not the question - a transport is just a mechanical winder with a laser reader which then sends the bits to an external DAC.

A CD player itself is a transport, it just has the DAC within the same case. But step back and think - its more profitable for people within a specific chain if you buy two devices instead of one: manufacturers, distributors and sellers. Are two devices better than one? Could be. Could not be if the one device is made well, if noise is suppressed by ensuring proper shielding.

In certain ways two devices are worse for sure - more materials consumed, more power used, more space needed, more heat produced. Things add up.



First, does the transport matter… yes. High end manufactures take mass produced transports and isolate them and provide very stable current. They go to great lengths to get the best stream of bits out of them.


However, it is a stream of bits… which you can get from a local file, 0r a network drive, or a streaming service. If it was ten years ago one would look for a great CD player (Transport, Streamer, and DAC). But today it is old technology. Today and the future is about streaming. A good streamer and DAC completely replaces a CD player as a digital source. You can buy a combined streamer, storage, and DAC, or individual. But the future is streaming… not owning physical or digital media. My streamer (using Qobuz) sounds the same on red book CDs and vinyl and frequently better with high Rez. There is no longer a compelling reason to buy a CD player unless you love playing with physical things.


BTW, from a historical perspective it was physical media, then rip CDs (copy a digital file to a storage device… like hard drive), then copy files to a network drive. All historically interesting, but something in ten years folks will be laughing at… you did what? Why?


Coincidentally, Ayre Acoustics released a new CD player today, the CX-8.

Also apparently  Ayre's best DAC  is on board, and includes both streaming connectivity in, as well as digital and analog out.