How Important Is The Cdp?


My current set-up includes PSB Stratus Mini's speakers, Cambridge AZUR 540 A and a Toshiba 3950 DVD which i use for cd playback only. I know this is a mismatch of gear, but i originally hadnly planned on using this equipment with each other, then shortly after had some money troubles so im stuck with this gear for awhile.

My system sounds OK at times, its somewhat musical but alot of the time the sound is jsut too harsh and fatuiging- guitar harmonics are especially grainy and shimmery, vocals seem to be yelling at me way too much and overall the sound seems unfocused and veiled.

My room is pretty small, about 10x10 with an open closet and Jon Risch acoustic treatments directly behind each speaker, side walls arent really treated at all. I know my room isnt the greatest, but somehow i get the sence that the room isnt the main problem im having, sure it could use alot of improvement but the bad sound seems to be coming directly from the speakers.

Im sort of confused on what is causing the harshness, some people say its my cdp, others say my amp and then theres a few who think its my speakers interacting with the room.

This brings me to the question on how important is the cdp? Ive heard many people say that the cdp makes very little to no difference and wont tame the harshness i speaker of. Others say the source is most important and that what im hearing is my speakers producing the crappy sound my cdp is feeding them.

Would a better cdp, or say a 1000$ DAC improve my system to the point where the harshness i speaker of will be mostly eliminated, or will it just show more weaknesses of my amp. Or will a better cdp just make my system only slighty less harsh by only taming some of the digital glare of cdp's?

What do you guys think? cdp causing the harshness, or is it the amp?
Buying a $1000 DAC to use in a $800 system ... is a little extreme. The harshness is most likely coming from the CD player. Without getting into the whole Toshiba giant killer discussion ... combination CD/DVD players, especially in a budget system, can be harsh sounding with CD's ... noteably in the treble region. The real question is ... given your budget concerns, what CD player would work out best for you? Off the top of my head, for CD only players, look at the NAD 521BEE or the Music Hall MMF CD25 or a (used) Rega. I am sure that there are others.

Regards, Rich
Eventually you will need to upgrade the source. This is were some of the harshness is coming from. A BVaudio SR 10 sound refiner will help. These do work and keep the op amps in the cd player from being over worked. The speakers are also part of the harshness as well. Not sure of your musical taste.But if you really want to hear your gear go with a crossover less speaker. You will be surprised at what resistors ,caps ..etc can do to the music!!

Good Luck!
both.there is nothing worse than a bad cdp driving a bad ss device. no offense intended. the good news is there is an explosion of good integrated amps and cdp's in the low price area. tubes are a little more expensive but they almost never sound harsh. Get out to a real hi fi store and lsiten to some NAD etc. You don't have to spend a lot of money. Check the magazines. Most give ecomendations for budget or entry level equipmnet. Sounds like you have beeen bitten by the audio bug. Good luck.
while gmood's advice isn't without its benefits, i wouldn't go with a single-driver speaker without being intimately familiar with the sound of them first.

there are those who believe that only single drivers reproduce music accurately, just like there are those who fear all things transistor and/or digital.

the truth is that crossovers, caps will only audibly affect the sound in a poorly designed speaker. these days, especially with active crossover design, these problems are pretty well nullified and i believe that a quality milti-driver speaker is capable of truer musical reproduction than a single-driver speaker.

this isn't to say that sing;e-drivers are no good, though. i've heard some amazing lowther-based designs that do things in the midrange that amaze me.

but, bottom line - it's not the technology, it's the implementation. oh, and to keep this on-topic - i subscribe to the linn system of hierarchy when it comes to audio equipment: the source is THE MOST important part.

think of it like this - nothing in the audio chain can improve the signal. all it can do is degrade it as little as possible. so, you want to start with the best possible signal you can.

also, i second the rega recommendation. a used rega planet 2000 is an excellent cd-player. the more expensive jupiter even more so. their electronics are also very, very good for the price. i can't comment on your current electronics or speakers, as i have no real experience with them.

also, having a square room like yours is a nightmare acoustically. i'm glad to see you're using some treatments.
I've had one of the Toshiba 3950 DVD players used in my "quasi-home theatre" system.. I replaced it with a Toshiba 4900 and was surprised at the level of improvement.. I paid only $90 for the 4900, if you can find one, it's only $90, may be worth trying out to replace your 3950. I tried a little A-B test comparing the Toshiba 4900 vs. my Rega Jupiter, surprisingly you would have to listen closely to discern the Jupiter's improvements over the 4900(the Jupiter was noticibly better but I was surprised how close the 4900 came). Also there's a company on a-gon advertising mod's to the 3950.
Some good advice here. BTW, I thought the Toshiba was a smooth player? Granted I've never heard one so I can't be sure. For a cheap experiment you could try to get a $150 used Adcom GDA600 DAC. That's a pretty smooth operator. I had one for a while back when I had a peaky, trebly system. the Adcom was a good synergetic match. If you still have treble problems, then the problem will lie else where in the system or room. You may need different speakers. Good luck!
A couple of people have mentioned your speakers and I suspect they are off base. Although I have not heard the PSB Status Mini, it is a well respected monitor that retails for $1100. I just read through the reviews and it was mentioned that the Stratus Mini had a "neutral tonal balance", so I suspect the speakers are the strongest component in your system.

However, the speaker is listed as a 4 ohm impedence with a sensitivity of only 86db. Your amp could be having a hard time driving this load and this could be adding to your displeasure with the sound. I don't have any experience with this amp, but if it is unable to drive your speaker sufficiently, the sound you discribe could be a result.

I have not heard the Toshiba DVD player, but have heard many highly regarded DVD players used for CD playback. I have owned the JVC XA-SA600BK which ia an TAS recommended component and I have owned the Sony 7700 and Sony 9000ES which are highly regarded and expensive DVD players. None of these were even close to any of the dedicated CD players that I've also owned. Yes, all of my CD players were relatively expensive models, but they all handily trounced all of the DVD players that I have owned when playing back CD.

Sorry I don't have an answer for you, I just raise more questions! Regardless, this may be a synergy issue between your speakers and amp or it may be a source issue. I would highly recommend borrowing a different source or amp and trying it in your system. It should help you determine what component is causing your issue.


Unfortunately I think the DVD and the Cambridge AZUR 540 are contributing to the harshness. I think you can buy an NAD 541i (or whatever the latest version is) for about $400 and still have a CD play that you can upgrade your other components around. Even one of the cheaper NAD CDP players will give you an improvement and the NAD will never sound harsh. I wouldn't spend more than $500 on your source (new!).
The recordings themselves are causing you the majority of the problems. In SOTA systems, bad recordings tend to be more listenable but there are some that will sound harsh in any system. Try moving the acoustic treatments that you have directly behind the back of the speaker to the first reflections and see if it improves anything. Also, try placing something absorbtive behind you. Treatment directly behind the speakers really isn't too important if at all in the room treatment scheme of things.

If I'm not mistaken the Cambridge is a receiver? If so, the preamp section is probably causing you the most problems. In general, the preamp section in integrated amps and receivers are their greatest weaknesses for 2ch music. I started out upgrading my 2ch system by adding amps. While that brought an improvement, adding a preamp really allowed the system to come together. In terms of price/performance, CD players and amps are generally better than preamps.
Lazarus28 it's not the point of accuracy. I think everyone should hear a crossover less speaker. This will at least give them a starting point as to how much they prefer the sound to be coloured. Crossovers no matter how expensive will always effect the sound in one way or another.

I like different implementations of speakers..including the active ones. But the purist midrange I've heard comes from a speaker with no crossover.There are also multi driver speakers that do not have crossovers. Not easy to find but they are out there.

Once Dave spends time with a phase correct/ no crossover speaker.He will then be able to hear the changes in his gear and also know what way he needs to go with it.So many speakers cover up the music to a point where some can't hear the differences in the gear.So they go on guessing and using expensive interconnects and speaker wires as tone controls. There's no real way to explain it. If you listen to live vocals or instrumental acoustic recordings, this type of speaker should be on the list of auditions.

Happy Listening!
I wouldn't fault the 3950. I bought mine after reading the multiple AA threads and was pretty much amazed by it. Now, feeding a battery-powered Ack dAck!, it has taken over CD-playing duty from my $2K Sony XA777ES.

I heard several, and actually owned a couple of single drive speakers (including one using the famous diatone driver) and it just doesn't work for me. Personally, I can't see it working for the vast majority of folks out there. Yes, the midrange is excellent, however everything else suffers.

I have not listened to any single drive speakers that would retail for more than about $2000, so I may be missing out on the best, however, a $2000+ speaker is not in most peoples budget. Personally, I could afford it, but don't want the tradeoffs that a single drive system would bring.

No thank you, I'll keep my 2-way monitors.......



I had a small room like yours for 2-3 yrs and they require the most accoustic help you can get. I treated side walls, floor (carpet) and ceiling (fiber panels) and got nice improvements. I also got front wall treated as you now have and was even better.
Another aspect to consider is power. Do you have any treatment or dedicated lines?
What about vibration tweaks?
I read from your post that money is tight and you have to stay with room / components for a while.

IMHO I'd try to tweak what you have now. This way you can get improvements that might satisfy you for the time been and t will yield far more better sound once you get the chance to upgrade source or other components.
Proper setup is the foundation of audio enjoyement.
Good Luck
No problem Reubent they are not for everyone..What speaker is ? For someone who owns the Reference 3A MM De Capo and liked it. You sure are negative about non crossover speakers. Go figure! Or did you forget your speakers don't have crossovers? LOL

Here's one small town builder. Who builds these to order, The cost is around $1500.00. Just the two 8 inch drivers used in this design cost around $800.00. These speakers will do 30hz bass and everything in between. You do not need to spend over $2000 to get a nice single driver speaker. No crossovers saves quite a bit on cost.Here's a link FTA 2000 . The Omegas are also very nice.

The reason I have waited so long in trying this type of speaker is because of people ..who have made negative comments. No speakers perfect..but for the people who haven't lived with them..listen for yourself in your own home before you rule them out.
Sorry for hijacking your thread David.
I have the 3950 in my system. It was an improvement over my Pioneer DV-353.


When compared to the AMC CD8b, Cambridge Audio Azur 640c, Arcam 73t, Rega Planet 2000, Creek CD50mk1, or Cary 308. It falls completely flat. I have had all of these players in my system.

The ONLY time the differences were not notable was when I was using the pre-amp section of my integrated NAD C350. Once I had bypassed that section with a higher quality pre-amp the differences were obvious to audiophiles and non-audiophiles alike.

I had a friend's girlfriend over who sat down and told me point blank "no f**king way CDPs will sound different" and she was completely blown away by how different, and better, all of the CDPs sounded in comparison to the Toshiba.

The Toshiba is the weakest component in your system. It is not bad for $100 and it is tolerable, but it doesn't compete with $500 CDN players, let alone $1k USD players. The only reason I'm still using mine is that I had to buy a laptop for grad school instead of a new CD player :)

If you'd like to chat feel free to e-mail me,
Oops one more thing I forgot to add.

The Toshiba is incredibly sensitive to electricity quality.

I have two outlets near my stereo setup. After some re-arranging I had noticed that my soundstage had fallen flat , there was little depth to the recordings, and fatigue was increased.

I could not pin it down for the longest time. Then one day when my roomate was cooking with the kitchen's exhaust fan on I heard a hum through my speakers which went off as soon as the fan was shut off.

I moved my power bar to the other outlet and everything returned to normal.

I have noticed harshness from the Toshiba that is not there with other CD Players.

You can search the forums for my roundup or I can e-mail the link to you if you like.
I know my room isnt the greatest, but somehow i get the sence that the room isnt the main problem im having, sure it could use alot of improvement but the bad sound seems to be coming directly from the speakers.

Your perception notwithstanding, speaker-room interaction--along with software--really is the biggest factor in sound. (And there's no way your brain can really sort out the sound coming from different directions.)

Make sure there's a thick carpet on the floor, break up the primary reflection points on the side walls (open bookcases work well), hang a tapestry behind you. I can't tell you which of these will and will not work, but you should try them all--and none of them will cost you much.

Also, I know this is anathema to many audiophiles, but play around with your tone controls a bit. Not the purist approach, I know, but if it sounds right it is right.
The CDP is very very important, but I couldn't agree more that the system needs to have the proper synergy. If you had a few dollars I would definitely use a true CD player the Music Hall is a giant killer. It sounds like there are numerous other potential problems. Fatuiging "yelling" is a combination of probably clipping the amp into low efficiency speakers. Of course poorly recorded software will yeild that kind of sound.
In your system $1000 for DAC or another desired CDp should be invested solely towards speakers since it will improve it better for each buck spent.

$-spent-for-CDp/$-spent-for-speakers is approximately 1/10 scale if especially talking of CD-players above $500 new.

The original poster already has good speakers. Following your argument, since he has a $100 (list price) CD player currently, he should have $1000 speakers (1/10 ratio), right? Well, his speakers are actually 11X more expensive than his CD player right now. I think his speakers are just fine.

Also my system is obviously misconfigured following you logic. My CD play cost $1500, amp $1000 and speakers $2500 (all new, list prices). Are you saying I should buy $15,000 to match my CD player? Or are you saying I should only use a $250 CD player with my lowly speakers? I don't think so...

BTW, my current system is the best combination I've ever owned.

Lastly, one of the best systems I ever heard uses a digital front end that is 10X more expensive than the amp and 3X more expensive than the speakers.

I don't believe that any price ratio is going to fit every situation.


I agree with TIC on two points: The original poster's speakers are fine, and dollar ratios for components are pretty much meaningless. But I also agree with Marakanetz's general point, which is that speakers are far more critical than digital sources, and returns to scale diminish rapidly for the latter.

As for the original poster, a new CD player is not going to solve his room problems.

OK, I tried to respond to everyones post...

Rarl- Yes buying a 1000$ is a little extreme,but i was just using this as an example of what might tame the harshness in my system. And I must note that the treble is not whats bothering me- its actually the thing i like the most- its more in the midrange, especially with guitar harmonics. Thanks for the recommendations, the Music Hall looks nice.

Gmood1- What is this sound refiner you speaker of? Does this have similiar results as placing ferrite clamps on the AC power cord? Kind of like filtering things out? And I disagree that my speakers are causing the harshness, the harshness seems to be upstream , as if my speakers are magnifying it. Id like to hear a single driver full range system though...

Lazarus28-"think of it like this - nothing in the audio chain can improve the signal. all it can do is degrade it as little as possible. so, you want to start with the best possible signal you can." This logic makes sence, and part of the reason why when people recommend my speakers are too blame , when theyre relatively good, and im using a pretty cheap amp and cdp, is astonishing.

Gregadd- No offense taken , I obviously agree with you that something is wrong or else i wouldnt of made this thread. And im kind of curious as to why youd recommend nad? As far as i know Cambrdige and Nad are in the same level, so this wouldnt make sence to me to upgrade to nad. Also, you are correct ive been bitten by the audio bug = )

Xiekitchen- Thanks for the recommendation, but the next player i get will hopefully be more reliable than the toshiba ( ive heard bad things about its reliability).

Im lazy right now so ill respond to the rest later.
Here's a link for the BvAudio SR 10 Sound Refiner.The sound refiner does a lot more than filter emi.The difference is very noticeable. Your soundstage will become more focused.The highs want jump out at you either.

Dave thats no surprise about disagreeing... most have to defend their purchases. It's all good though.I have been down the same road.The only way to understand is to experience it for yourself. The Sound refiner will help but you do need to upgrade the player as well.If you lived near, I would let you try the modded version in your system. You would be in for one helluva surprise!

Good Luck!
phiilps sacd 1000 and conrad johnson cav50 integrated tube amp.Or musical fidelity makes something called a tube buffer.
The only way I got rid of the harshness was to move over to SACD. I know this is contorversial, but I could still feel redbook harshness on some pretty expensive players. And YES vinyl enthusiasts: there is still some harshness on SACDs, but it's way down to the point where I don't notice it anymore. I noticed that getting past the 200 hour mark on speakers and amp helped as well. New system?
All I'm saying that between $100 CDp and $500 CDp is a large gap in performance but stepping to another $500 up in general is not.
Stepping up by $1000 for the speakers or the amp I think is much more efficient towards the system improvements.

My current CDp $600
Amps(I biamp with Sunfire SRA bottom and VTL MB100 top) $1800 and speakers $2200.
Making wise decisions are much more important than money spent. It's hard to generalize. I don't believe in price ratios as much I think it generally ends up pretty close to the suggested ratios when most of us have finished building our systems.

If I have a dream system in mind, I believe in obtaining components to build around. If there's a $1000 DAC that you really like (and I think you can get one that won't embarass itself in any system), then it might not be a bad idea to get it and build around it. Of course nobody knows what's going to happen in the future and with technology moving along, perhaps achieving a balance and constantly upgrading rather than establishing cornerstone pieces may be the way to go. Depends on what you want to do.

Marakanetz, you're still talking about price ratios here. Keep in mind that a $500 CDP is 5X the price of a $100CDP whereas a $1000 CDP is only 2X the price of a $500CDP so you should expect the performance leap to be less. However, the same can be said about a $100 speaker vs a $500 one and a $500 speaker vs $1000 speaker. Take $2200 for example (the list price of your speakers). Spending an extra $1000 probably won't buy you as much extra performance as spending $1600 rather than $600 on the source (given that wise choices were made at all price points). Then again, I probably would spend it on amps or speakers if I think my source is good enough, especially since digital technology moves quicker than amps and speakers in general. IMO there are a few sweet spots along the price structure of each component. Speakers and amps tend to be higher in price that's all.

If you are curious about the benefits of a quality DAC, there is an inexpensive way to find out if it works for you.

Simply do some homework on DACs, determine the going rate (price) for some popular DACs, buy it, try it, resell it here if you don't think it was a good value. There are some great DACs priced between $350-800 that seem to get a lot of play on this site. It is likely that you could buy one of these (or a couple of different ones), try it and resell it for little or zero loss as long as you keep it in pristine condition and keep the packaging.

Some examples of DACs that get high praise, are inexpensive and resell quickly are:

Scott Nixon DacKit or TubeDac
Ack! DAC

If you do your homework, you should be able to try a DAC with little exposure to depreciation. Heck, how fast can the price drop on a <$500 unit? Some of these DACs are very good and are so popular that you could likely resell in a couple of days.

I hope you find audio nirvana!


(Tom In Cincinnati)
I found a listing for the muscial fidelity X-10 V3 $399 tube buffer available mail order from
i cannot, under *any* circumstances agree with gregadd on this one.

all the tube buffer does is further distort the output signal, by design!

if you like the sound of tubes, get a player with a tube output stage or mod your player to have tubes in the output stage. don't run the signal through SECOND output stage just to add the "tubey" sound to it. all you're doing is altering the signal by running it through more pathways.

remember: if adding something into the audio chain (other than maybe an upsampler, which at least has some theoretical benefit) alters the sound audibly, it is degrading the signal. period. the tube buffer cannot improve the signal it gets. it's like adding a pouch of dirt to the spout of your kitchen spigot - you may like the taste of the water that comes out of it - but don't say it's as pure as it was before it got there.
I tend to think that your source is very important, but this may not necessarily equate spending huge amounts of money, or even more money than you already have spent on your source. After all, a lack of experience with the source in question may result in the same sort of characterful sound that you are disenchanted with now-regardless of price or its reputation. Maybe it is more important to consider what sort of sound you are hoping to achieve with your system. I mean, What is better to you? There very well may be another cd/dvd player out there is tonally more in line with what you are looking for and that will hold you in good stead within whatever budget limitations you have set for yourself. Maybe not. However a little experimentation with the components that make up your system- those you can borrow, rent, or return, will yield results, regardless of price, and you will gain experience determining what is best for you- confidence in the real value the purchase you have made really offers you within the context of your system, when the time comes to put down some serious money.
Nah, this time just a number of bucks instead of ratios...
thats where it starts,its more tolerable with mid fi stuff hooked yo as long as its at least half way good,and then using the best source you can afford.But believe it or not some say the source doesnt matter.
ck out $99 amp

put some felt around your tweeters on the baffle

get some cheap cotton prints and put a layer of polyfill above them then tack them to the ceilings and walls, or get some surplus wool blankets. make sure to mount an inch or two away from the surface so the sound can be absorbed twice, once going in, once going out

if you don't get the amp, put a resistor in front of the speaker to mimick the sound of a tube amp. you can cheaply fashion a zobel to short across the speaker terminals to get rid of noise above 20,000 cps. (yeah, i know the speakers don't go that high and you can't hear that high)

do the mods to the player
i guess the link didn't work anyway it's a pilot receiver for sale on audiogon
make some solid stands for the speakers too, some sandbags on top couldn't hurt. get the speakers away from the walls and corners, (hard to do in a small room I know) at least get them well off the floor
Dave, my room is about the same size as yours, and although my system is different than yours, the high frequency sounds quite harsh, too.

I didn't make any treatment in my room since the walls are surrounded with open closets, table, bed, and other stuff, and the floor is carpet. My speakers are located more than a foot from side and back wall. I tried to locate them further away from the walls too but it didn't help to reduce the harsh high frequency sound.

The following is my system:
CDP: Nad C521i and Toshiba SD-4900
Amp: Dared VP-20, a 18w per channel push-pull tube amp
Speakers: Von Schweikert VR-1 on a 26" metal and heavy stand.
ICs: Signalcable Analog Two
Speaker/PC cable: Transparent cables

Now my next plan is indeed to work on the room treatment, but I am wondering if there is anything wrong in my system as well, can you guys give me some opinion too?

Dave & Clo:

Since I wrote my response about 2 months ago, I have been on a bit of a journey with my systems. In my bedroom, I was pairing a vintage Marantz 2240 receiver with a Music Hall CD 25 cd player and Omega Super 3 speakers. The Omegas are high efficiency, single driver speakers ... the types that are normally paired with tube and SET amps. I was using Signal Cable interconnects and speaker cables.

The set-up sounded pretty good with most types of music, but when I was listening to some 50's era Sinatra, at the point where the brass fanfare would kick in ... the music would start screeching and sound almost cartoonish. I tried a number of things ... first I replaced the Marantz receiver with an Arcam receiver ... it made a neglible difference. So, I sold the Arcam and re-introduced the Marantz. Then I replaced the Signal Cable interconnect with an IXOS 1001 Silver Gamma interconnect ... a $ 200 copper/silver hybrid cable that Accessories4less has for $50. The sound cleared up a bit, became fuller, and increased in detail. Then I replaced the Signal Cable Classic speaker cables with Signal Cable Silver Resolution speaker cables. The honkiness disappeared and the sound really started to click.

So, what made me focus on the cables? It was because most music sounded pretty good, but some music sounded off. So, I had a system that was mostly OK , but needed tweaking, not a make-over. I went with silver hybrid cables, because I have had good luck with them (Better Cables & IXOS) for use with digital sources. The Silver Resolution speaker cables were a pleasant surprise and mated well with the IXOS. Fortunately, the cost was also fairly low ... $50 for the interconnect and $200 for the speaker cable.

I just wanted to relay my experiences, as it sounds like we have similar situations. Hope this helps.

Regards, Rich
Do you have any power "treatment" in your system? Where do you have your components, rack?
My amp connects to a Transparent Cable PowerLink Plus Power Cord which directly plugs into the room's power outlet. For my CD players, I just use their stock power cord that go into a basic power conditioner. My amplifier is on a metal/wood coffee table while my CD-players are located on a 2 inch wood plate on the carpet. Does the setup sound ok? Thanks.
Do you rate the highs obtained using either CD source (CDP & DVD) with the same CD the same i.e harsh highs?
Specify what's your basic pow. cond.?
We use a pair of Lowther bass reflex speakers; plenty of accurate bass and the detail is incredible. They are used as an alternate for audition with a pair of much more expensive Samadhi floor standing speakers. The lowther bass reflex speakers are worth about 950 used.

Such a deal.
Well you cant correct what starts out from the cdp.Why try to compensate for problems that start at he front that should have been taken care of in the first place,get it right the first time with a decent source.