dcs puccini, chord red ref, meitner cdsa or nagra

anybody had a chance to compare any of these top of the line one-box cd players on redbook?
See Mike Lavigne's Review of Playback Designs' MPS-5 for a comparison of a new one-box to Emm. David Robinson also has a review in the works. There's further discussion of the MPS-5 over at the Audioasylum.

Emm labs sounded great. The nagra sounds ok, but I find it a little toy like to use. It has silly button configuration for play and stop. I dont know the chord. I have the model up from the Puccini. Very detailed player.

What are you planning to use it with?

MBL 9007Monos, Blowtorch Pre, Wilson Maxx2s, Taralabs Omega Gold, Zero Onyx ICs and Cobalt XLs. Looking for a combination of SOTA resolution and musicality.
Nice system. I like the MBL amps.

If you cant go a little further up the DCS line, I would try the Emm labs first. Dont get me wrong, the DCS is an amazing player and has volume control (you could sell your preamp), but their single box version while very impressive, struggles with musicality IMO when compared to the higher in the range DCS which are absolutely SOTA.

I do find DCS has no "sound" although the latest range is less "cold" sounding than the earlier ranges.

If you are looking for a musical player, which with a lot of people seems to mean "warm", you may find it leaning towards sterile. If your system is well balanced it can be just the right thing.

From what I can tell the EMM Lab while not as detailed, leans towards warm in comparison. It really is a very nice player and would just slot in without much effort I am sure.

Someone has mentioned a Playback Design SACD player. I dont know it, but may be worth hearing. The only problem with these kind of companies is their value drops very quickly and may be difficult to sell later.
when you say further up the dcs line - do you mean the paganini and scarlatti? i'd like to know how much better the paganini is vs the puccini.
also, i'm looking for resolution and transparency - not added on warmth.
Puccini is hard to beat in terms of resolution, transparency, MUSIC, flow, slam, soundstage, construction quallity, from all the one box alternatives.

A better remote control is needed only.

*Never heard the playback designs though, but former user of Emmlabs cdsa se and familiar with Esoteric line.
I would agree with Kops,

the DCS guys really do know how to dig out resolution. I believe they are the only CD player manufacturers that use a chip right at the laser output to look at the information before it is sent to the DAC section.

If you feel you dont need any "rose tinted glasses" on your system, go DCS. You will have resolution and transparency to spare.

Yes I did mean going further up the DCS range to either Panganini or Scarlatti. If the budget is tight, try to find an older DCS transport with firewire and use the latest DAC/clock until such time. The Scarlatti is perfection.
I am not sure about this new Playback Designs player. Seems as if one review (which may or may not be planted) is sturring the pot. What I do know is that it could easily be the ugliest player out there. So if you listen with the lights off and shut your eyes it may be ok.
Which sounds better: a very good vinyl set up or full Scarlatti set up?

06-20-08: Arbuckle said:

"I am not sure about this new Playback Designs player. Seems as if one review (which may or may not be planted) is sturring the pot. What I do know is that it could easily be the ugliest player out there. So if you listen with the lights off and shut your eyes it may be ok."

There's actually three reviews by Mike Lavigne, Ted Smith and David Robinson(his preliminary, but positive). Mike has no ownership interest in the maker and disclosed his long term relationship. Anyway, there's no reason those three would say it was good if not. Comparisons are to Emm's best.

The pictures don't do it justice, it looks much better in person, not ugly at all.

The dirth of reviews is due to the very recent release. For someone considering purchase right now, then they may not want to consider it; however, most people making purchases of this dollar amount can generally wait a few months if this seems like something they'd like.

I'll be adding a review in a couple of weeks, but my comparison will be to vinyl and lesser digital components. Still, it may have some value to some.

Regarding the Playback Designs player- I received mine yesterday and am enormously impressed. My previous digital was the EMM Labs CDSA SE. player. The Playback Designs straight out of the box, with 30 minutes of playing time betters the EMM Labs across the board. Most noticeable improvements were- much deeper, better defined bass - significantly blacker background - better image definition and soundstage focus and depth - more extended highs, without ANY glare or edge. One would expect that with several hundred hours of break-in the unit will continue to improve in the above areas, among others that I haven't noticed yet.

I much prefer the looks, and build quality, of the Playback Designs over the EMM Labs. An industrial designer was clearly utilized and it shows in the much more sophisticated look and substantial feel of the PD. The EMM Labs is a cheap, thin metal box with rudimentary design. I have to say that the look of a component is of, absolutely, secondary consideration when compared with it's sonic performance. And, I would doubt that the EMM Labs player was sonically hindered by the design/build quality. That being said, I think the PD is a way better package ergonomically and visually. The transport reads discs much faster and the remote works alot better, as well.

I'm writing this post in my office, down a hall from my listening room. In listening casually as I type this what keeps drawing my attention is how un-digitally natural this player sounds. I can't wait for it to break-in.
the Chord Red Reference got the highest rating EVER from hi-fi choice. hasn't anyone heard it?
@Maxx2man , I hear it in Munich, it was a relief when the Chrod substituted with the vinyl (Continuum)......

Chris regarding your question it depends on the cd collection or vinyl collection one has....if I had thousand of vinyls I'd invest in the best possible analogue and a good decent one box cd-player, but since I have thousands of original cds I'd invest in Scarlatti if I could.
For the moment the dCS Puccini transfroms my red book cds in what was promised many years ago...MUSIC, something that even my former Emmlabs CDSA SE could not do in such degree, so I could only imagine what the Scarlatti can achieve!
@ Maxx2man - Chord Red Reference got a mixed review from HiFi News (UK). You may want to check it out.

@ Kops - did you change from CDSA to Puccini ? How do they compare. I know that you were a huge fan of EMM.
I couldnt say whether a top of top of the line vinyl playback or the Scarlatti is better.

The Scarlatti is stunning and I doubt any analogue system has the dynamic range or noise floor of the DCS. The usual complaints people have towards digital playback I dont think exist with the Scarlatti. I guess only you can decide in the end though.
Why don't you try Metronome T2i sig or new transport converter combo T3A/C3A , Spectral SDR 4000 on red book is better then Scarlatti.
@Elberoth2- Adam, yes very recently I changed, I've let dCS Puccini to burn-in and this weekend I had a shootout with the new Emmlabs owner and 2 more audiophiles, well the Puccini having much wider soundstage, more transparency (it's like a shower in music!) more live and vivid but as smooth and above all it was the first time I understood that Emm cdsa se had some kind of glare and blurr and mixed some instruments, although I still think cdsa se it's still a fantastic player, Puccini is another league and very musical too.
The most impressive thing is what it does to plain vanilla redbook cds with dsd upsampling!!!
All the cabling was the same and both players used 2 Stealth Dream digital power cords.
And the whole feeling of construction and extra options is amazing. I have not connected yet directly to my amplifier so I still have things to check.

For me both players (Puccini and cdsa se) are the most exciting balance of smooth musical sound but also precise and revealing (even warm sounding in a good way). Some experience with non-oversampling dacs was dramatic, yep these dacs masking the music but hides things in attempt to be musical as I concluded the hard thing is to keep it musical but with all the information and right timbre as well and in that area new dCS and Emmlabs are among the best representatives.
Metronome make some great sounding players. The T2i signatrure is good. The Spectral SDR4000 may be good, I havent heard it, but it is the ugliest player in the world closely followed by the Playback design.

No matter how good the Metronome is and the Spectral may be on red book, they cannot compete with a SOTA SACD player playing SACD. Although having said that an SACD is only as good as the recording...
Chadeffect, my friend, the Playback Design MPS-5 is not ugly at all in person. The pictures have not done it justice. When you see it in person I think you'll agree.

I nominate the Chord as the ugliest, funkiest design.

Hi Dave,
Maybe the pictures i have seen of the Playback design have been unfortunate.
The display looks cheap which is a bad start.

The Chord equipment sure has a look and probably the cd player suffers the worst with the cd lid placed like that. Their amps i have heard sounded very good. I can see why some wouldnt like the fussy design though. Nicely finished when you seem them up close.
The Playback Designs display is bright. Since it's not blue or green it photographs harshly, but in person it's VERY easy to read and understand.

most important is the sonics and then the looks and of course a reliable and well-known manufacturer especially in digital gear.
That's very Meitner of you ;) My philosophy has always been reliability first because no matter how good a unit sounds, if it's not working you're getting zero performance (i.e., less performance than any working CDP). Of course, if the sonics aren't there, then all the reliability in the world isn't going to help you :)
i do not disagree Bar81 that's what I said first about well known manufacturer with reliability for example Accuphase, dCS, Esoteric......but sonics as well!
Chadeffect, Nagra and Chord don't play SACD, and Meitner is lousy with red book. And how many DSD SACD-s are out there with decent sound?
when i started this thread, i was looking for opinions of these players' ability to play redbook - not sacd.
The Playback Designs player looks like one of the vintage VCR players from the early 80's. Maybe it is different in person, but it does look cheap. I can't believe they would make something that expensive that ugly.
Arbuckle, it's not ugly at all in person. Hopefully a professional photographer will soon take some shots with proper lighting and you'll see the fine finish and actual "handsome" exterior that goes with the superlative internal technology.

Concur, although I think it would have been fine if they had kept the edges straight instead of having them draw back. For me though, my big issue with that player is the scarcity of information; you would think that if it was using an Esoteric transport, that would be prominently indicated. I don't have 10K of faith in me.
Looks like a brethen product of PurePower.
Check out their Pure Power Audio Power Supply (APS) for similarities

Bar81, your lack of faith is understandable. I wavered myself and got on the phone with Jonathan, Andreas, Mike Lavigne and others. Given my appetite for risk, it was worth it, but I'd suspect that most would not find that risk acceptable.

Frankly, besides the comforting discussions with the principals, the words of Mike, Ted Smith and David Robinson are what really set me in motion. I think most prospective owners will want to wait until another CES has gone by, some reviews show up in print and a few more dealers sign up. The risk profile will drop over time.

I think for 10K, there should be something in writing besides what's out there.
06-25-08: Bar81 said:
"I think for 10K, there should be something in writing besides what's out there."

Well, there will be printed writing. Playback Designs is only into the second month of a new product launch. Reviewers actually have in hand production models, rather than pre-production prototypes. If you wait for the print reviews, then you'll be looking at $15,000, not 10k.

Print, verbal, digital, they're only words. Changing the format of the words doesn't change their value. As always, you need to consider the source and place your reliance accordingly.

Anyone actually considering a purchase should consider the validity of the reviews of Mike Lavigne, Ted Smith and David Robinson. They're on record in writing, maybe only digital, but that's my point, putting it on paper doesn't change it's value. A serious prospective buyer must also consider that waiting for other reviewers and, in partcular, waiting on a printed review will cost $5000, because the price will certainly have increase by then.

This is a classic risk vs. reward analysis. Your point is well taken, but we're in a digital age and information is available quicker than it used to be. You either take advantage of that or you don't.

That wasn't what I was trying to say. I don't particularly care if it's on a web page but where are the complete specs *including* transport type?
The transport is an Esoteric SACD/CD. Web site to come... ;-)

Which one? It would be fantastic if someone could just indicate from the pdf file at the bottom of this page (note that there are multiple implementations of VOSP as well as VRDS) which particular VRDS or VOSP implementation is in this player:

VOSP is all they want to say, for now.

Too bad, hiding the ball isn't the way to make potential customers comfortable.
I don't get your point Bar81. The ball is not hidden. Is not the VOSP line one of the very best??? Is selection of a particular model going to change your decsision as to whether to give it a listen or not?

What if TEAC built a custom part, based on the VOSP, to fit their chassis or include something not in the stock line?? If Emm used Phillips and PD used Esoteric, would that fact alone make one totally unacceptable and the other a top candidate?

VOSP or VRDS, the fact that the company that tries to market such an expensive product doesn't have a web page is very ... weird.

I would like to know WHO designed this products and what are the specs.

I have a strange feeling that I'm not alone.
is it DSD or PCM native?
There will be a Playback Designs web site, they've just focused on production of the product first. They're building production capacity right now and meeting current demand.

Getting ahead with marketing is an easy mistake to make. The current strategy is apparently working for them and will be enhanced as production develops, reviews come into place and they're ready to face the market's full force.


you mention redbook playback. The Emm lab and DCS give you the choice of playing either SACD or redbook disks. The bonus i guess being they upsample rebook to dsd.

Why do you find redbook playback bad on the Emm lab Teddybear?
I would recommend this giant slayer of a DAC
namely, the Accustic Arts Reference Tube DAC2.
It has been compared to the likes of dcs/Emm/Chord and many preferred it instead.
Check Teajay's head-turning review at
Accustic Arts Reference Tube DAC2

It was his reviews of Accustic Arts DAC Mk3/4 and later the Tube DAC that attracted me to check it out and when the homework was done, I bought a DACMk4 first and then the Ref Tube DAC as in accordance with his DAC evolution. Teajays very detailed reviews portrayed the same findings I had when auditioning Accustic Arts when compared to other brands, so it was quite easy to decide.

Could not recommend it earlier as Teajay mentioned recently that it was no longer being brought in into the States as AAudioImports, the former distributor no longer markets it. Then later I found that Accustic Arts has changed hands to another US company called Musical Sounds recently. Thus it's still a good and viable option for you to check, assuming you are from the States. Their new accompanying transport called the Reference Drive 2 should also be launching soon (this was shown at the recent Munich show)

The new US distributor is at the below URL

Musical Sounds
Chadeffect said:

"you mention redbook playback. The Emm lab and DCS give you the choice of playing either SACD or redbook disks. The bonus i guess being they upsample rebook to dsd."

The Playback Designs MPS-5 also upsamples to DSD. My redbook library took a GIANT leap forward when I added this piece. It sounds wonderful with redbook. Now I need to dig around to find a disc that I've got both in CD and SACD to see how they compare. The CD reproduction is so incredible that I don't find my self switching over to SACD or vinyl now. It really organic, detailed and rich.

Sorry guys,

the point I was trying to make was whether it is a SACD player or not is not important.

If you do go for an SACD player (I understand this thread is about a good single box for redbook playback) the bonus is that if you play redbook on it it will use the DSD upsampling and obviously if you do play an SACD disk you gain from its greater resolution anyway.

I have a pretty good SACD player and it makes little difference whether I play redbook or DSD. They all sound amazing. Very rarely do I find myself complaining about the disk type. If its a good recording, its a good recording!
where is the playback designs manufactured? also, who is the designer?
06-30-08: Maxx2man asked:
"where is the playback designs manufactured? also, who is the designer?"

USA; Andreas Koch.
Andreas Koch ? The former vice president of EMM Labs ? Never knew that he handled the design part at EMM. Always thought that he was an export manager.
I've heard that Andreas used to work for Emm, but I don't know in what capacity. He apparently has really good digital designing chops, no matter what his assignment was at Emm.