no. must have front end with hdcd capabilty
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??? From what I was always taught, if your Rotel has the capability to handle the HDCD processing then you could use practically any player and still get the benefits of HDCD (as long as you connect them correctly). If "HDCD-ready" means the chip/processing is there, then you should be OK. You do have to use a digital connection between the player and Rotel.
I used several transports with both the Adcom GDA-700 dac and a PS Audio dac, both of which never failed to detect HDCD on properly encoded CDs. My current player also processes HDCD. For your situation Chadnliz, if you run the Rotel as a stand alone player you will have no problem processsing HDCD encoded discs.
I have compared several HDCD discs against non-encoded CDs with same program and have always perceived a positive difference wjth HDCD.
As long as the HDCD enabled DAC receives an exact copy of the datastream on the disk it will recognize and decode an HDCD encoded datastream. Some transports (Wadia 270 for example) apply dither to the data from the disk to generate a new datastream with larger wordsize (> 16 bits). This will destroy the HDCD encoding of the original datastream. Only a few transports do this, and all allow one to disable dither if desired.
Some jitter reductiion/resolution enhancement devices (Genesis Digital Lens, AA DTI Pro series among others)perform the same function and will also destroy the HDCD encoding unless dither is disabled.
I wasn't aware that the ARC transports had this feature.
99% of all transports pass along an unaltered datastream.