I can't really hear a big difference

Some of you might think I'm crazy, or deaf...


I just got a BAT VK D5SE, used, for a good price. I eagerly set it up, and compared it to my current CD changer (cost me abourt $200), a Sherwood Newcastle CDC 680.

The bass is fuller on the BAT, voices seem a little bit more smooth, but basically it sounds very similar, if not identical in some places to the Sherwood. I mean, it's HARD to hear the difference. The BAT also sounds softer, like the volume is turned down a tad.

My other components are: ML Aerius i, VTL IT 85...

When I upgraded my amp from an NAD 340C to the VTL IT 85, the difference was mind blowing. I mean, HUGE HUGE HUGE. This, costs just as much (even though I bought it used, and the VTL NEW!), and has hardly done much at all!!
My experience is the same.

Amps, huge difference
Cables, big difference
Preamps, some difference
CD Player, relatively little difference

Phono is biggest difference of all.
Life is like that. Remember, some folks insist that good CDPs should all sound alike. There's no guarantee that if you spend a lot of money, you will get a much different sound. In fact, you appear to be guilty of ignoring the most basic rule of audio shopping: Try before you buy. That may not always be possible in the used market, but that is one of the risks of the used market.
I was wondering what ICs you were using but you didn't list them with your system. That might be part of the issue. It could just be the poor sound of CD players in general.
Hi Dennis ,

I would not give up so quickly on the bat , Let it play for a couple of days then listen again.
Look into your cabling, both the interconnects & AC cords, which may be drastically restricting your end result. A quality source component, when choked via a compromised interface, may not work much better for you than your bargain-level changer.
I don't think that the differences in digital are that large. My Perp Tech trio with sony DV7000 transport was a significant upgrade over my old arcam player, but overall, I think differences in up to date digital products are small.
Bob knows. Also, most good equipment takes at least 3 days to warm up and sometimes a couple of weeks to really roll. The real test will be switching back out after 3 weeks listening. That should really tell you. Good luck. Congrats on the VTL.
well, the ICs i'm using are pretty generic. Audio research, I think the brand is... cost $25 or so. i have a pair of silver ICs coming to me in the mail, but they're not here yet. I'll see what happens when I add them.

yeh, i'm guilty of not listening to it first, but i don't have a dealer who will loan me out equipment. the sound is different, but i'm not necessarily sure that the sound is all that much better... i mean, it's much more subjective. the change in amp was DEFINITELY better... no one would say otherwise.

i'm amazed that the unit retails for 6K... that's 20 times the amount of my cd changer. 20 times!

i'm going to wait for the ICs, listen for a couple weeks, and if i can't justify the expense, i'll hopefully be able to sell it for what i paid, or close to it...

this has been very interesting though... changes in digital equipment don't seem to mean much, even in a system with relatively revealing speakers.
I believe the BAT is full of tubes. Maybe they are worn out? Changing tubes can make a huge difference.
I'll add my $.02, for what it's worth, in what I've learned over the last 3 years or so (a "newbie") in this field. Sometimes it IS about the little things, maybe (as some have pointed out) which applies to digital. I had an Audio Note DAC that sound a "little" better than my McIntosh MCD 7008. I thought, "what the hell, why have this" and sold it. Boy did I miss it. Point being, it might be a little better now, but when you don't have it anymore, you might notice it was was the "little" things that you liked! IMHO.

Did you eliminate the Numark DJ mixer from the chain?
I had a similar digital experience. I compared pretty much all the big name players you read about her on audiogon. They all sounded different from each other but the difference between any of them and my 10 year old Philips CD80 was not as great as I would have expected, especially given the price. My electronics are all CJ premier with audioquest cables and Thiel 3.6 speakers. A pretty revieling system with lots of detail.
Great posts. Something else to think about is whether the unit needs a good cleaning or alignment. Could be that the Sherwood is just a pretty good unit though.
Dekay... YES, i only use the mixer when i'm playing vinyl. the cd player plugs directly into the VTL, which is an integrated amp.
I agree with those that say you need to live with the new CD player for a while. When you switch back to the cheap player, you will notice the change more. It may be something big, or as simple as listener fatique from the harshness of a cheap player. Most likely the change will be in the little things that add up to a lot.

Secondly, I agree with Bob on cables. $25 cables are a choke point. It is like putting cheap $25 tires on a Porsche. With cheap tires, a Porche will perform like a Chevy Cavalier.

I own a VK-5se and I'm very happy with its performance.
Mine was also used and had to go thought some hoops.
I had two tubes loose from shipping and swiched balanced
innerconnects several times before I was happy. Also you might
remove one of the feet and place one in middle so you are using three feet(nordost points worked well for me). Not sure why but made a noticeable difference. Also the lense could have a film
on it. I'm not saying is everything(I just ordered a aero audio)but I have no intention to sell it either. Is yours
the 24 bit version? It should say on the back.
My experience with CD players is that the average ones sound like average ones. When you hit a really good one, you will know it instantaneously.

Having said that, i have to agree with several of the points made above.

1) Each component will only be as revealing as the system will allow it. As such, putting low grade gasoline that is equivalent to piss into the gas tank of a Ferrari will only net you the performance of a Yugo. I would venture to say that the interconnect that you are using ( probably Acoustic Research ) is killing the performance potential of the player. You do need a better set of interconnects. However, putting a brand new set of interconnects, especially silver which takes longer to break in, into the system may COMPLETELY skew the systems characteristics for a long period of time.

2) Digital gear takes a certain amount of time to fully settle in. As such, i recommend leaving it on 24 / 7 and giving it a few days before really passing judgment.

3) Tubes also take a bit of time to settle in. As such, this further reinforces point 2 in your specific situation.

4) Digital gear, especially cd players, transports, dac's, etc.. seem to be quite sensitive to power cords. While i am not suggesting that you should rush out and buy a high dollar power cord, i am saying that a good power cord can actually clean up what you are hearing and produce a more liquid presentation.

5) The old saying "you don't know what you've got until you lose it" can be very true with audio gear. Give yourself some time to acclimate yourself with the BAT in your system once it has fully settled in and then pass judgment on it. It may take you some time to fully realize / hear all of the subtle detail that you are hearing with it. Once you've reached that point, try going back to your Sherwood and see if you can hear a difference. To be fair though, have your Sherwood "warmed up" for several hours before putting it back into the system. If you can leave it plugged in and turned on in a different part of the house prior to putting it back into the system, that would be best. For this "test", pick a few good tunes and concentrate on how each player presents them to you. The better your listening skills, the more obvious the differences should be. This is not to say that one will be "better" than the other, just that i'm betting that they will at least be "different".

6) Experimenting with tubes can definitely bring about differences in tonal balance, amount of detail, noise floor, etc... As such, i would ONLY go this route if you can hear a noticeable improvement with the BAT after doing an A/B test with the Sherwood as mentioned in point 5. If the test in point 5 confirms that you don't hear a worthwhile difference after you've got the system fully dialed in with the BAT and cable situation taken care of, i would suggest selling the BAT and living with the Sherwood so long as it makes you happy. While the Sherwood is surely not as impressive in terms of reputation or looking good on a system list, the money recouped from selling it can be put to use in a manner that does bring about an improvement for you or put towards more music.

Good luck and keep us posted. Sean
PS...The Sherwood will probably sound better with better interconnects also.
Dennis - My take on audio gear has always been that if I'm "upgrading", the change should be very noticeable and much better - as you say, nobody would suggest this is not an improvement. I'm not searching for that last .1%, at least at this point in my life, but I'm willing to drop the $$$ on something that is clearly an improvement and have done so multiple times.

With a very good set of speakers, changes to amps and preamps (and certainly from receiver to decent separates) were of the can't-miss-the-improvement variety. Some were jaw-dropping, some were significant, and some were just nice improvements. Many "upgrades" didn't produce the sense of clear improvement. This is always disappointing, but the piece gets sold and I move on.

I tried several different CD player and DAC upgrades to no avail - I didn't even think they sounded different, much less better. There was no way I thought I could tell the difference a/b'ing them. Again, this is not comparing them over a month with very detailed listening - this was going back and forth over an evening or two, so I'm not saying there was absolutely no difference or improvement, just that it was more subtle than I was going to worry about.

Several months ago, Muse's Model 9 DVD player started showing up used at very good prices. I had read many reviews that raved (and then some) about the performance of this player. I've always liked Muse's philosophy and reputation. And, I want the best sound I can have without having two dozen boxes to get it, and since I really like HT too, I thought that if this was an excellent CD player (which is what the rave reviews focused on), then it was a near-perfect addition as it would be dual-purpose.

So I bought the Model 9 and put it in my system. This time, there was definitely a noticeable difference. Switching back and forth between it and my Sony DVD-S7700 as a transport into a highend processor, the Muse was much smoother and more musical. Playing some Coleman Hawkins, there was no doubt that the Muse made it sound more like a real saxaphone.

What was interesting to me about this, in addition to the number of strike outs I had experienced in the same arena, was how much more difficult it was to describe this improvement. Every other time I had upgraded, I had no doubt that an open-minded, but uninterested, by-passer would admit that the upgrade made the system sound better, even if they thought the price was crazy. I'm not sure that this would be the case with the Muse upgrade, though I have no doubt that anybody who has ever had an interest in music playback would readily identify it as a significant improvement.

Anyhow, there are a bunch of reasons why the BAT might not be able to show it's true colors to you, but there are also many of us who have experienced the same thing. I'm not as persistent as many on this site, but I wouldn't spend a lot of time with it if you find it basically disappointing at first blush - sell it and move on. Just my opinion. -Kirk
This thread is an interesting commentary on the psycology of the Audiophile (and I say this as a full fleged member of the club).

We automatically assume that the more expensive piece just has to sound better than the inexpensive one, and look for reasons why the expensive unit doesn't decisively trounce its inexpensive cousin.

The other side of the coin is to ask why the inexpensive piece sounds so good relative to the expensive one - but that's a hard road for us (me!) to travel!
Why would the Sherwood sound louder than the BAT? I'm having a hard time A/Bing them because of this...

A little more listening, and the BAT sounds a LITTLE bit more realistic on piano, but the Sherwood plays voices more forward and full... almost an emphasis on the voice over the instruments, and it sounds real good.

The BAT also has less background "hiss", when that is noticeable on the recording.

Still planning on waiting for the new ICs to come, and break in some... I'm pretty skeptical though.
Ditto on the cabling issues. Also, I'm sure we all "listen" for, or "hear" different things. Certainly most modern digital playback devices have very similar frequency response measurements. My system is probably not that much more resolving than Dennis' (except for the cables), but I find that changing even the transport can mean the difference between audio nirvana and audio hell! Objectively, the difference is probably small, but it is the difference between wanting to get out of the listening chair after 20 minutes or sitting all evening in the dark with a big grin.
Component output levels are not standardized, Dennis. Level-matching will therefore always be a challenge when comparing components. If the Sherwood's output is higher, and you're not properly compensating for that, it would explain a good deal of what you hear.
John is right, once you take it out after a few months, you'll realize what you're missing. It's subtle but imporrtant in musical terms. Ghostrider is also right about the psychology of audiophiles. Good one!
The other headache is that upgrading is not a simple process. Sometimes the best components need the better power accessories, cables, and so on, to shine. Also the BAT probably does best in an all balanced system, that is one using XLR connectors, which I take it the VTL does not have provisions for.
Try new interconnects and a good power cord like the JPS Labs digital, for a month. Be patient. If after a month it still doesn't sound better, then you can post and tell us all how we're full of shit!
This hobby is like eating the forbidden apple: there are things to know and to learn, but doing so often costs a bundle and may lead you down the garden path paved with good intentions.
DTM, Bomarc makes a very valid point in that output levels need to match to make an accurate comparison. If you have access to an inexpensive (Radio Shack) sound meter try adjusting the volume of the Sherwood (lower) to match the BAT's. I think the BAT's strengths will become more self evident once you get beyond the volume differences.

My non-SE VK-D5 was a clear winner (in my system) compared to 5 other ($3500-$5000 retail) contenders.
I went from a Rega Planet 2000 to a Meridian 580/24 and the difference was huge. The Meridian is much more detailed and dynamic, it transformed my whole system.

I do believe the cables are choking the sound on your system Dennis.

Let us know how it goes
After more warming up and listening, it sounds like the BAT is more laid back, subtle, maybe even timid. I feel like the music is kind of hesitant, when it comes to rhythm, compared to the Sherwood. I know this must sound crazy.

Does anyone live in the DC area who would like to come by sometime in the next month or so, and listen to this set up? I'd be interested in another opinion.
Why does it sound crazy? Just because something costs more and has tubes doesn't always make it better.
Dennis....It may also be the case that you need time to develop an ear for this kind of thing. Knowing what to listen for (along with your own tastes) takes time and experience.
i'm almost beginning to think maybe the tubes are going out or something. more than half the time i think the sherwood sounds BETTER.

maybe i need an ear.. but DAMN, it's almost impossible to hear the difference. i may send it to BAT, get the DAC upgrade and have the unit checked out before i resell it... that's after the test i do with new interconnects.
I recently sold my Linn Mimik CD player to purchase a Karik but circumstances caused an extended delay. While waiting for the Karik I resorted to my cheap sony CD player to get me by. I had done listening comparisons between the Mimik and the Sony in the past and found the differences to be quite subtle - particularily a/b comparisons. It was only with extended listening that I truly began to appreciate the strengths and refinement of the Mimik, and the utter noise that came out of the Sony. It got to the point that I almost stopped listening to music on the Sony because in my high resoluton system it eventually became downright grating. When the Karik finally arrived what had previously seemed to me a subtle difference suddenly became a critical night and day difference. the Karik satisfied all of the expectations previously set by the Mimik but with even greater resolution more finesse - and I soon gave the Sony to the Goodwill Society.

Regarding the differences in volume levels of your CD players, it could be the output levels of those particular players but also the absence of grating noise and distortions that make the BAT seem softer.

- the Sony CD player was an early 90's $300-400 player.
Dennis, some people, some of them real professionals in audio design work, some experienced reviewers, and a whole lot of just everyday music lovers, maintain that you cant tell a difference between any two modern cd players in a blind test with levels matched. Maybe they are right. I have always imagined that I heard differences, but I could be totally wrong. What does seem to be true is that the differences between cd players these days, if there are any, are more and more subtle, and insignificant compared to the diferences you can make just be moving your speakers around. If the sherwood does what you want a cd player to do, why bother with anything more expensive?
dennis, i own two units, a BAT and a cal alpha/delta combo. they are very different as is your sherwood and BAT. i think you have fairly described how a BAT can sound if you are using the sherwood for a "reference". i could do the same for my two units. if i use the BAT for a reference i would say that the cal alpha/delta was up front sounding and it favored vocal, instrumentals, and small groups. i would say it lacked in ultimate detail resolution and could be a bit bright. i would say that the soundstaging was reduced by the lack of resolution (detail), but that same lack of detail could smooth out some upper-mid range glare on poorly recorded cd's. i have also said that i thought the cal had a better sense of pace/rhythm. BUT with the right amp and speakers the BAT can create a soundstage which is limited only by the recording. on the BAT a bad recording will still sound bad but an excellent one will sound outstanding in all respects.i can't make the same statement for the cal units. incidentially the BAT has a substantially lower output than the cal units, as well as the tuner - we are talking 6 to 9db in musical output, so you have to crank up the volume control. i enjoy using the two units depending on the cd i'm going to listen to. Also, FWIW the differences were not as well understood when i was using a stereo tube amp of modest power which was slightly bright itself. they became crystal clear when i up graded to larger tube monoblocks which were much more neutral and revealing. the last was just lucky synergy. good luck.
hey paul, it's not that the sherwood does what i want it to do. i mean, it does sound good, but i feel like it could sound better. and maybe i'm just trying to get something out of a format that cannot supply what i'm looking for... guess i'm just shocked and disappointed that i didn't get that same jump the way i did when i switched out the NAD for the VTL.
Nice post Newbee. Sean
The bottom line is, if you can't hear a difference, you can't hear a difference. We are all born with different abilities.
Dennis, have you tried Meridian 508.24 or Cary 303/100?
No, the BAT is the first high end player I've tried. Plan is to wait for better interconnects. If nothing significant changes after that, and some more listening, I'm going to try some other players. Buying used means I won't lose much.