You might want to try a cal audio DX1 or DX2. They can be had fairly cheap and have a nice warm sound and smooth sound. They also serve as a good transport if you want to upgrade to and outboard dac.
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I know there is no way you can get one for $500, but in my opinion the Sony SACD players are "overly" smooth. They more than compensate for that bright CD sound that we have tried to cure with warmer sounding components and never quite worked out. There may be models available soon at that price that can play DVD's too. Don't buy one yet. But keep it in mind.
Hi Widner. IMO you have two components in your system that tend to be a bit lean and have a reputation for being a little bright and analytical sounding. This is not to say that your equipment is not of high quality or what have you but I've owned and Acurus A150 along with the Acurus RL-11, ACD-11(which I still own as a transport)and had them connected using DH Labs and I found the sound the of this system to be a little lean and on the cold side. However, I paid a little more attention to my room acoustics and it helped my system dramatically. How does your room sound? Does it have sufficient sound absorbing materials in the room like thick curtains, book shelfs or carpet? This approach may help you identify more quickly the problem components even before you get your new CD player.
i'd recommend one-o-dem cheap tube buffer stages like the ase z-man, or a similar musical-fidelity unit - dunno its model #. i have an ase z-man that served me well until a melos tube preamp made it unnecessary. still kepin' it for a second system. ewe should be able to pick one up for ~$100.
personally, i don't tink it's worth spending any serious money on digital until the next-generation format gets settled, & software is readily awailable... i don't tink i'm gonna get any worthwhile improvement w/digital over my nad cd-changer run thru my melos preamp, even if i spend $2k on something used...
This isn't what you asked Widener, but I believe that you should banish from your system any component that is either not neutral or is dynamically constrained. So it worries me that you are going to add to your existing "brightness" problem by adding a warm or dull and compressed CD player. In my long trek in this hobby I have often fallen foul of this very predicament - only to realise that tolerating any colored or dynamically constrained component can cause you enormous expense trying to compensate for it. High end sound and components is not just about balancing up colorations to get a neutral result - matching one bright component with one dull one does not result in audio bliss IMHO. Therefore I would urge you to consider going to the greater effort of finding out what is causing the brightness, whether it be room, component or cable, and fix it first. I suspect my suggestion will not be good news, but I believe it will serve you better in the long run.
i generally agree w/ewe in trying to seek neutrality - not trying to balance a bright component w/a dull one, etc. however, in the case of digital hardware, the only way to awoid this, is to stop using cd's, imho... ;~) this, obviously, is not a workable solution, in many instances. *any* cd-system that is listenable has been *dulled* - either by accessories such as what i mentioned, cabling, or the cd-player/dac/transport itself.
Hi Doug. I think we agree. A friend of mine once commented on another's audiophilia nervosa as a "misguided wild goose chase for a musical result from CDs". I suspect there is a lot of truth in the suggestion that you are wasting your time trying to get a high end result out of a mid-fi medium like CD. But I am not sure that what is wrong with CDs is brightness, or that adding warmth or compression makes it sound any better. I really don't know about the Denon DCD-620 but the Denons I have heard did not strike me as bright, just lacking resolution and any musical magic. So I think Widener still has a problem with perhaps amp, speakers or room that might be best dealt with first.
I tend to agree with Redkiwi and Sedond's seconding on this one. Neutrality is the ideal goal. That said, you may want to ask yourself this question. "Do I want the best system possible, realizing the cost and effort may be prohibitive, or am I happy with a very nice sounding system that I enjoy." Neither answer is right or wrong. I think many times we lose touch of the practical in looking for the ideal. If you are looking for an enjoyable, not too expensive option, read along. I had a similar set up with similar findings as you when I started this audio thing many years back. I had an A150 as well and a similar qualtiy CD player. What made a big difference for me was to buy a CAL Icon MKII- used around 400 back then. I think they would be less now. It was a very pleasant addition to the Acurus at a reasonable price. It was a marked improvement over the very thin/tinny sound of my previous CD player. (BTW- that's what I think the weak link in your system is- I think you have already figured it out by your posting). Once I began significant improvements in other components, the CAL left my system for seperates.
If you think you want to spend time building your system piece by piece and experimenting, then the CAL may still be a good deal, as it will probably hold its value if bought used. If you are searching for true audio nirvana, the "as near as possible to the live event", I cannot more stongly agree with Redkiwi's post. Try to get neutral components. Just realize the slippery slope many of us (myself included) are headed down. (Albeit an enjoyable trip).
One more thing Redkiwi alluded to. Room acoustics: If your room has alot of glass, hardwood floors, framed art (with glass), or a lack of soft furniture, this makes a VERY big difference in the sound , turning the sound bright. There have been a lot of threads on room acoustics in the past, done much more eloquently than I can, so check them out. Alot of tweaks in this realm are cheap, and many are visually pleasant as well. That aside, I still think the CD change will help alot. Best of luck and happy listening.
i can't disagree w/what yure saying, but if widener's only source is cd, then i tink he's kinda stuck, cuz his amplification & speakers are ackshully quite good, at their price-points in terms of sound-quality & neutrality, imho...
that's why i suggested the ase z-man or similar musical-fidelity product. my experience w/the z-man was that it made my cd's listenable w/o really doing anything bad to 'em in regards to losing detail, or negatively affecting neutrality, and it was a cheap fix to my cd-system, where i mostly listen to vinyl & fm-radio anyways. from what i've heard about the cal-audio products, i'm sure they'd do the same, but $100 is less than $400... ;~)
it wasn't until i made a quantum-leap in improving my preamp, that the cd-player was ok on its own, but this costs quite a bit more than widener wants to spend.
while still relatively expensive, a great preamp seems to me the most economical way to get truly decent cd-sound, cuz a comparable leap in cd-player quality (and cost) had no meaningful sonic improvements thru my upgraded preamp. i found that retail $1800 alchemist, or retail $3k resolution audio cd-players offer no worthwhile improvements over my $500 retail nad cd-changer.
while a decent budget system will offer true hi-quality sound for vinyl, i tink yure stuck w/cd-players - either save for a killer preamp, or go on the cheap w/something like a z-man, or a used cal-audio for a bit more $$$. spendy cd-players weren't cost-effective for my system w/a great preamp, i doubt they'd be any more cost-effective in a lower-cost system, imho.
I tend to think that neutrality is relative to one's experience and preference. There are hundred's of people who swear that their $500.00 receiver and $200.00 CD player with stock cables are the ultimate in clarity and neutrality but who am I to judge if that's their experience. In regards to cables, software,room acoustics and sources, I believe this is where you'll find a lot of the brightness and glare originating from. If you upgrade your pre amp, then make sure that you have arteries(I would recommend Harmonic Technologies Truth Link's) that won't pollute or degrade the signals being transmitted. If you have a preference for poor recordings and your choice of software is the CD then you will hear exactly why some hate or prefer not to deal with them in the first place. However, if you have a capable pre amp, along with good sounding DAC's, cabling and good room acoustics, then you should be able to enjoy music on CD and not feel that your teeth are being grinded every time a cymbal splash happens. Is it going to sound like analog? No, not at all but that doesn't mean you can't and won't enjoy CD playback despite all of it's faults.