I can't believe there is no difference

I just took home a Cambridge D500SE player to audition in my system. My favortite dealer recommends this player for anything below is $1500.

To give you some background, I had heard it before with a $4000 McCormick amp and Soliloquy 5.3 speakers. That day I compared it to a very expensive YMB player with the same setup. I could tell a difference but not that much really.

But what I can't believe is that the difference between the Cambridge and my $250 Panasonic DVD player is almost nil! The panasonic is known too be one of the best for video, but I'm sure is just average for audio. What is the deal?
Can someone tell me what I'm overlooking?

The Cambridge is using Tara Labs RSC Prime cables and a Tara Labs Special AC cord. The panasonic is connected via a Toslink cable to a Yamaha RXV-995 receiver. I know, I know... but that's supposed to be the next upgrade. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the player use it's own DAC with analog output and the the receiver's with when connected digitaly? The only thing I can figure is the DAC in the Yammie is as good as the the new 24/192 Crystal DAC in the Cambridge.

The slight differences I noticed, and these were only on maybe 1/3 of my CD's are:

1. the panasonic was slightly, very slightly brighter, but just as full. I hate to say bright, but it's just that the highs were a little more emphasized.

2. The Cambridge seemed to the slightest bit slower paced, maybe I'm confusing this with smoothness, I don't know.

I know the Cambridge is not an ultra-high end piece, but from what I've been told it should be significantly better than a cheap DVD player.

Then I hooked up the Cambridge optical (toslink) to the yamaha's DVD optical DVD input, leaving the analog hooked up also. I did a A/B with the remote between "CD" and "DVD" and noticed the subtle difference in brightness. So the only thing I can figure is that the panasonic DVD player/Yamaha combo gives me 99% what the cambridge does without having to spend another $400 plus cables.

Could it be that with a better amp, I may notice more differnce? Right now, I'm thinking allocating my funds elsewhere. I'm starting to lose confidence in the arguement for the source being so important.

oh yea, forgot to mention that I don't think it's the speakers because they're the strongest link in my chain right now. Soliloquy 5.3
Gunbunny: Check out my 12/04/01 post in your "Is my dealer lying to me?" thread! If your Panasonic sounds ok now, it will get quite a bit better with a better power cord (which you can use with a Harmonic Tech adapter, available for about $40) and some decent line conditioning. I'll say it again: the right DVD player (and that's the key-you've got to listen to them in your system-which you've now done) will probably sound better than many of the up to $1000 audiophile CD players. But it's got to be the right one and I think it's probably hit and miss. My RCA player has performed better in my system than my Arcam Alpha 8SE did, but I was recently surprised when a friend of mine and I experimented in his system and discovered that his more recent model Panasonic DVD player did not sound as good as an older version Arcam player. You've really got to try the stuff out and listen to it, but I can tell you unequivocally that my DVD player got quite a bit better with a decent cord and line conditioning, probably due to a less than stellar power supply.
I think that the amp is masking any differences in the sources. That said it has been my experience that differences between CD players are very much smaller than those between TTs.
I think you'd be right to upgrade the amp first, and then the source later. Otherwise you'd spend money on a source, only to be unable to hear differences. With a better amp you'll be able to hear improvements right from the start.
If I had a budget of $5k for a CD only 2channel system there is no way I'd spend more than about $800 on a CD player as I'm not convinced it's worth it.
Gunbunny, I think your hunch is a pretty good one. Why don't you borrow a good amp from your dealer and give it a try?
I have no personal experience with any of the components you mention, so my remarks will only be general in nature. The first sentence of your post, "I just took home . . ." is what leaps out at me. Possibilities:

1) The player needs to be broken in with some more hours of use before judging the sound.

2) Your suspicion about the amplifier not being revealing enough of source components could certainly be correct, based on what I know about previous Yamaha receivers (I used to sell them).

3) You may be listening for differences in frequency response, which can be quite similar in digital reproduction - excepting the frequency extremes, which your setup may not reveal to the fullest extent.

4) Continue to listen longer, without making judgement or trying to consciously deconstruct the sound. Digital source improvements often have more to do with things like resolution of fine detail, dynamic and transient expression at different frequency ranges and intensity levels, spatial separation and imaging solidity, and treble smoothness and naturalness. These are qualities in which subtle improvements may not leap out at the listener upon first blush, or which a comparatively inexperienced listener may need to first educate the ear in detecting. However, they will show up over more extended listening time as an increased sense of "ease" and suspension of disbelief without fatigue when playing music just for enjoyment. Instead of going back and forth (matching levels when you switch, of course), just put in the new player and listen to lots of familiar music you like (not necessarily "audiophile test" music) for a few days straight, then go back to your old setup and see if you feel the same.

5) The player isn't actually as good as your dealer thinks, or your setup is actually better than you thought. Both these scenarios are unsatisfactory, I'm sure, since you're clearly searching for improvement. But you would have to bring in both an unimpeachably superior digital source and amplification to make certain of this. Isn't trying to upgrade in little, affordable steps fun?

Good luck and happy listening.
I agree that you may need a more revealing system to notice the difference. I am sure there is a difference good or bad. I recently compared in my home a stock MSB link DAC and one tweeked by Stan Warren. I could tell the difference, small but worth it for getting Stan's upgrade. They basically sound the same (they are the same), but Stan's modded machine sounds more analog-like, the stock unit had a slight electronic glare to the sound (in comparison) that I did not notice until I switched to the Stan MSB. I doubt you would hear that difference doing the same test with your Yamaha.

A while back I tested a D500 against my cheapo Toshiba 24 bit DVD and could tell a difference.

You're correct in assuming that the TOSlink from your DVD player is a direct digital signal to the internal DAC in the Yamaha reciever. It's also not surprising that you don't hear much difference between the Yamaha DAC and the Cambridge CDP.

Have you tried a comparison using the analog outputs from the DVD player against the Cambridge? There's where you're more likely to hear the difference.

There simply isn't THAT much room for DAC improvement in a $400 CDP from a low volume mfr like Cambridge. By the time you subtract dealer markup, shipping, mfr. markup, advertising, the cost of the CD transport, controls, remote, etc., how much do you think Cambridge spends on their DAC section compared to Yamaha? And don't underestimate Yamaha's DAC; their experience in digital audio design is extensive and their buying power is vast.

While I'm not familiar with your Yamaha, its quite possible that its simply not capable of revealing much difference between two reasonably good DACs. Home theater A/V receivers are full of compromises; with the critical power supply and amp capacitors usually taking the back seat.

I'd say you should rearrange you're spending priorities. Forget about expensive cables until you've got electronics that warrant them. Until then, it's like putting racing tires on a Camry.
Well, Gunbunny, people here are always telling us to trust our ears, so my advice is to trust your ears. If you don't hear a difference between two components, the most likely explanation is that there is no difference. And given the state of the art these days, that shouldn't come as any great surprise, although it certainly is unsettling to some.
Since my dealer has the same model speakers at his place, I think I'll take my DVD player, along with the Cambridge and compare them with his amps. I know he has some Rogue Audio, and McCormick amps that are better than my receiver. These amps are out of my price range right now, but if I can't tell a reasonable difference with these amps, I know I won't be able to with any amp I plan to upgrade to.

I'll also try that good power cord with DVD player like Hdm recommended. I haven't listened to the cambridge with the stock cord. It makes me wonder two things.... 1. Is the DVD player better? 2. Do expensive power cords make an improvement?
Lots of good points above. The two I'd emphasize are that the Yamaha, while not bad for what it is, is probably the limiting factor in your system and you should address that first. I own the 5.3s(using seperates including McCormack DNA-0.5 Rev. A) and got a pair for my brother who has them hooked up to a Denon 4800, and the difference between the two systems is literally night and day. The 5.3s sound bright and the dynamics anemic with the Denon to the point where I really don't enjoy listening to that system even though I love the 5.3s.

The second point I'd re-emphasize is that hearing the differences in source components is significantly different than with, say, speakers. The differences in the high frequencies are usually readily identifyable, as you've apparently found, but the more subtle improvements may take a little while for you to notice or may require further system upgrades to allow you to hear them. Specifically, the background and space between instruments/vocals should become clearer, and this combined with better dynamics can start to make each component of the soundstage seem more "there" and in the room with you. Also, subtle details such as the complex tonal shadings of cymbals or the balance between the scraping of a bow on a string and the resonance of the body of a cello should become more natural(on good recordings, that is). As an example, I went from an MSB Link DAC, which is a very respectable product and a great value, to an EVS Millennium DAC and at first, like you, I was underwhelmed with what I heard. Mostly I noticed an opening up of the high frequencies but not much more. It wasn't until I switched the Link DAC back into my system that I realized how much more of the music I was getting out of the EVS DAC.

It could be that the DVD player actually isn't that bad of a CD player, but the bottom line is you've really got to address using a receiver to drive the 5.3s first, because you'll be constrained in your ability to hear differences in equipment(and hence make decisions on future equipment) and to fully enjoy the capabilities of your system until you do that. I really think that messing with power cords or any cables at this point is not going to help you in the long run, and probably not in the short run either. Sounds like you've got a pretty cool dealer and going to hear his system is a good start, but ultimately there's no substitute for hearing your system in your room, so if you can borrow a good preamp and something like a McCormack amp I think you'll quickly realize what upgrade makes the most sense. I've got more specific thoughts but have rambled on enough, so if you're interested feel free to email me. Best of luck.

I agree with the others -- Get the Yamaha receiver out of the chain for 2CH listening and the differences will become apparent. BTW -- if you are considering Rogue, look into some of the older Audio Research gear for sale on this site.. The price for performance is getting pretty nice. Good luck on your experiment at the dealer.
Good advise, good plan. Also, in my experience, sometimes you have to live with a component for a while before you can appreciate the subtle differences that make listening more enjoyable. Listen to just the Cambridge for a few days (or longer) and then switch back. Quick A/B camparisons dont tell the whole story.

Gunbunny, Another possibility is that your Yamaha receiver does all processsing and switching in the Digital domain. If it takes all of its inputs (analog or otherwise)and puts them through its A/D converter does all processing and then through the D/A and amplifies it, it is no wonder the Cambridge sounds the same. The limiting factors would be the same. While I am not familiar with Yamaha equipment, many units do this including the Lexicon MC1 and units like it. This is why I purchased a separate Analog preamp for analog sources and SACD. Aaron
Your test will exclude the Yamaha internal DAC, which for now, seems to be the heart of the issue. If you have a full refund warranty on the Cambridge, I think it would be best to break it in for as long as you can, then compare it to the Yamaha/DVD combo at home. If there's still little difference, it would seem to me to be a $400 (plus cost of i/c's) no-brainer.

Trust only YOUR ears (or those of a trusted friend). If you can't hear a difference, chances are there IS no significant difference.
At a certain point when I started in this hobby, I had a problem because couldn´t detect effects swapping things in my system. After keeping an open mind and working on it, I learned that my setup had several curtains or "tinted glass" windows that didn´t allow me so see (hear) those changes.
The path that I followed included first the proper setup of the system, some of the layers or curtains were
-A/C related dedicated lines, power condidionter, P. C.
- Vibrationrelated rack, cones etc
- speaker setup room
To name some.
If a major change like switching a source almost give you no change, if I have this situation myself will start looking into these listed things.
To give you an example now I can detect easily differences in my system if the digital source has it´s audiopoint brass cones point up or point down under it.
So my advice is to keep an open mind, work on it.
It´s a good idea to bring the sources to the dealer for comparison, it might provide you with a good different perspective to compare.
Best of luck
The real problem is that digital is just plain bad to start with and you can't make it sound good,that is compared to analog,no matter what you do.
I'm not one of those guys who never wanted digital and have resisted it from the start. I bought a CD player when they first came out and have bought many since and I've tried everything in the book to try to make them listenable.
I noticed from the very beginning that something was wrong.I kept switching from one song to the other never listening to any song all the way through because I couldn't. They all sounded awful. Believe me when I tell you that I have tried everything. My bank account is many thousands of dollars short from my efforts.
I also wasn't reading any audiophile magazines at the time either. So don't tell me that they were putting the idea that digital was bad into my head as some engineers have suggested to me when I've told them about my experience with digital. I would get the '"Oh you must be getting that from those lunatic audiophile magazines." After I'd tell them that I didn't even know what magazines they were referring to they would always say that I wasn't use to distortion free sound. Or that recording techniques hadn't yet caught up to the digital technology. Those seemed like reasonable arguements so I waited and tried different players and cables and amps and external DAC's and more players, better recording and isolation . I tried everything that people suggested and no matter what, it still sounded bad. I've come to the conclusion that the real day that the music died was the day that digital took over audio.
So my suggestion is to save all the money that you would spend on digital and start buying records at swap meets and used record stores.
Makersmark, I've read your post with interest and I think essentially you are right. In my experience, setting up a good vinyl playback system costs about 10 times less than a redbook CD system, which is able to make music without causing listener fatigue. It is possible though, now that the recording techniques have improved. Nonetheless, to this day, I can't bear to listen to big orchestral classical music on CD. They just cannot bring it across. All the same, our reasonings won't solve Gun's problem, will they?
Im not surprised, you have to give it some time.....I don't believe A/B type test work. I had Odyssey Monoblocks, and NHT 3.3 and a Wadia 850cd player direct into the amps thats a high resolution system. Just for fun I replaced it was a cheap apex dvd player and suddenly my heart sank I heard no difference on at least the first 4-5 songs I listened too.....

But as time went on I did notice bass slam was all but gone and on certain uptempo songs the pace was lagging...maybe you have to give it some time and go thru each cd player for a week at a time most differences are quite subtle and will take time to discover...
I suspect your receiver might automatically convert all analog signal into digital, so it is ready to be processed into dolby surround sound or other theater formats then it is converted back into analog.
viggen.... may be. anyone know where I could find out about my receiver converting all input to digital and then back to analog? I can tell you it's not in the owner's manual.
I didn't read any of the responces, only your post. The only thing i can tell you is that any system is only as good as it's weak link. Belive me, in a very acurate high quality system you will be able to very easily hear the differences between different sources. A high quality preamp, amp, speakers will revail the differences in a big way between the Panasonic, Cambridge, YBA and others as you step up with the source. When it comes to well recorded complex music the differences will be very evident. What you heard was the Yammy and what it's capable of. The Panasonic DVD or Cambridge are probably the kind of source you should be using with the Yammy receiver. Spending more money on a higher end source will not yield much of a difference using the receiver. Unless your planning on a substantial preamp/amp upgrade i would stick with your Panasonic DVD and enjoy more software with the money.
The easiest way is to run analog only inputs to the receiver and then do the comparison. completely remove the digital connection as one of the comparison tests. There is probably not going to be a night and day difference between the 4 combinations. The differences will be subtle.
In response to Detlof; I absolutely do believe our reasoning not only solves Gun's problem but saves him alot of money&aggravation. Most importantly it allows him to start enjoying music again and quit wasting time trying to solve an insoluble problem.
I've listened to many very expensive supposedly high-end systems based around digital and the most I've ever been able to listen was about three minutes.
If you don't have a turntable go out and get yourself a good used turntable for a couple of hundred dollars or I've heard the new $200 Technics player sound better than any digital player. Oh and remember just because digital can play loud doesn't mean it sounds good.
while i agree that a receiver may be in fact the weakest link in gun's system, i'm also of a mind to agree w/detlof & makersmark - ya can't make gold outta crap. my system is very revealing, imo - melos music director preamp, a pair of meret re monitors (same drivers & designer as the artemis eos, if you're not familiar w/the meret's), being vertically bi-amped w/a pair of electrocompaniet aw60ftt's. in this system, a $3k resolution audio cd-50 & an $1800 alchemist nexus cd player offered no improvement over a $500 nad 515 5-disc cd changer. i really believe that a decent $500 cd player will get you 95% of the best $20k+ cd rigs out there. especially if you use a tube preamp to run your cd-player thru.

all that said, i *was* able to get a worthwhile improvement from digital playback - to the point where i actually enjoy listening to cd's! ;~) it didn't cost an arm & a leg either - $122 will get you an art di/o dac from fullcompass.com. then, spend ~$100 to tweak it, or send it to wayne at boldercables.com, if you're not a diy'er, & he'll do it for ~$200. search this site, & audio asylum's digital forums for info on the di/o. or, go here for a *lot* of info, especially on upgrading it, all in one place, w/lotsa links, so even a compleat electronics idiot (like me!) can do upgrades him/herself:


doug s.

Sedond said "i really believe that a decent $500 cd player will get you 95% of the best $20k+ cd rigs out there"

Thats it he nailed it right there!! I totally agree.
yup, eantala, & why spend megabucks in search of that elusive last 5%, when, for <$500, you can get at least the last 4% of it w/a modded art di/o! ;~)

doug s.

Sedond, you have make alot of sense to me, unfortunately some try SO hard to convince themselves there is such a HUGE difference between certain components when at best the differences are minute and subtle.

If you have to try so hard to hear differences between Component A and Component B, and component B cost substantially more than A forget it, stop right there it isn't worth it..
When some people say they can't hear a difference, others, instead of telling them not to buy the more expensive product, tell them that they need to buy some SuperSignature cables, their components arent up to par, they need room treatment, they need to spray green liquid on their cd's, etc............BOTTOM LINE..IF YOU CANT HEAR AUDIBLE DIFFERNCES,SAVE MONEY, DONT BUY IT!!
Right now, that's exactly where I stand. Not buying it. While I don't neccessarily believe that that the Cambridge is not any better than my DVD player... I think an amp or pre-amp upgrade is bumping the CD player on my priority list.
yup, save the money for software! :>) or, if ya *must* buy hardware, spend it on speakers - this is one area where there really are large differences, even between excellent product - so many different ways to skin the cat here: horns, ribbons, conventional dynamic drivers, walsh drivers, plasma drivers, etc...

doug s.

Keep the Yamaha as preamp??
If you're not in a hurry to spend $$, check your Yammie to see if it will function as a preamp. If so, you can shop for a satisfactory power amp and won't lose FM tuner function (provided you use it). I did that with my Parasound receiver and was pleasantly surprised to find that its preamp section operated as Class A and had excellent performance when coupled with a power amp. Though I had planned to buy a preamp and tuner, I found I really didn't need them.
Gun, besides speaking to a factory rep or a knowledgeable salesperson, you can only listen to difference sources on your receiver and if they all sound alike, chances are its running and AD conversion on all the sources. But this is just a speculation. Not alot of receivers do this.
On the newest issue of HiFi Choice or HiFi something or another, they gave the Cambridge 500 something 2 out of 5 stars.
To bypass the A/D-D/A process on the RXV-995 just go thru the R & L Front inputs on the 5.1 Analog Bypass inputs. Whether you choose to use it as an Intergated or as a Preamp you will be avoiding all Digital Processing leaving you with only the volume controll in the signal path (some units will perform balance function also).