I've been surfing through Audiogon reading many of the posts regarding the sonic qualities of some of the top tier cd/sacd players. Some brands/models that seem to be mentioned often are EMM Labs, dCS, Meridian, Esoteric, Audio Aero, etc. These players, however, are in the tens of thousands of dollars. I would love to own one of these machines some day, however, finances do not currently permit.
For those of you that have evolved to owning a top tier player like those listed above, what players can you recommend that would give 95 percent of the performance of a top tier player, without having to pay the price of a top tier machine? What does one have to pay to get that 95 percent performance? Does a Rotel 1072 give us 95 percent of the sound? Can a $1000 player like the Rega Apollo compete? Or does one have to move up a more costly player like the Resolution Audio Opus 21 or Ayre Cx7e to obtain the 95 percent? ...or perhaps one has to move to the $5000 - $6000 category of player like the Cary 306, Ayre C5xe, or Bluenote Stibbert?
Unfortunately, I have not heard any of the top tier digital players. I would love to hear from those who have had the opportunity to own or audition the very best. We all know that extracting the last 5 percent of sonic nirvana is extremely costly! What is the best "bang for your buck" to obtain 95 percent of the sound of a first class player?
The "cheap" ticket to the top tier is with decks like Sony SCD-1/777ES, top Marantz, top Denon, etc., modded by credible builders like APL, Audiomod, ModWright, Reference Audio Mods & VSEI. $1500-$4000 plus the cost of the mule player does it.
The question is, what are the qualities that distinguish the top 5% of players, are these qualities important to you, and are your downstream components at a similar level of refinement? Cheaper players have improved greatly, but don't have the last word in palpable realism, top-to-bottom extension, dynamics, color, contrast, weight & body. I know I'm there with my mostly RAM-modified battery powered SCD-1.
I've not owned any of the top tier players, but I've heard the Esoteric X-03 and DV-50; APL, Modwright, and Exemplar modified Denon 3910s; and the Audio Aero Capitole. I've auditioned numerous players below this price-point as well--Electrocompaniet EMC 1-Up, Cary 303/300, Ayre C7Xe, McIntosh MC-201, Audio Aero Prima, Lector 0.6T, Unison Unico CD, Sim Audio 5.3 and Equinox, BAT VK-D5, Modwright Sony 999ES, Music Hall Maverick, Audio Refinement Complete, and JoLida JD-100.
Performance is, as everyone says repeatedly, "system dependent." But I endorse, for qualities of clean and balanced sound, any of the modified Denon 3910 players. Also the Esoteric X-03, which may be better on SACD and on the level of the modded players on redbook. The APL Denon 3910 may be give the most transparent and uncolored window into the music. For smoothness and warmth, the Electrocompaniet and BAT VK-D5 are wonderful, with the BAT a shade more resolving and dynamic. Probably the most dynamic player I listened to was the Lector 0.6T, and it also has some refinement and responds very well to tube-rolling with quality NOS. Audio Aero Prima is refined, but a bit rolled-off in the highs for my taste. Sim Audio players are built like tanks and are highly resolving and dynamic-particularly exciting for rock and jazz. The Ayre C7Xe is a splendidly refined player, very well balanced throughout the frequencies, but I'd venture to say it's best suited to SS amps or more linear tube amps as it choked the midrange bloom of my Cary integrated SLI-80. The McIntosh MC-201 is a fine universal player that I think works best with other McIntosh equipment. The Unison Unico CD sounded somewhat like the Ayre and Prima players, with a bit more bloom and less refinement and resolution. I bought the Cary 303/300 for synergy, versatility (several upsampling DACS, both tube and SS output stages, balanced and RCA outs, variable output), relative warmth, and overall build-quality. The Audio Refinement Complete is a great, great bargain and a very musical SS player (I have one).
Finally, in terms of best bang for the buck, I'd recommend the JoLida JD-100--unmodified. It is an excellent player, particularly at its under $1K price point. Dynamic, smooth, harmonically rich, exciting. It lacks that last bit of extension and refinement, but it gets, I'd say, 85% of the music--of all kinds--extraordinarily well. I played rock, Ellington and 60s combo jazz, opera, orchestral symphonic, and choral music on it and it got EVERYTHING wonderfully except choral, where it fell short in resolution and transparency for massed treble voices at dynamic peaks.
I agree with Dgarretson. Modded Sony or Denon DVD players by APL, Exemplar or Modwright will do it. The primary differences will be in the sonic signature of the units...not their excellence. Search the archives for descriptions.
don't discount the great 2-box (transport + dac) options as well. A modded (the $500 package by Alex Peychev) Sony X707ES transport for ~ $700-$800 used will set you back a total of less than $1,500 and you will have an amazing transport that will help any mid-level dac be its best, and you may have a system that will surprise you compared to the big boys (I am currently going this way for one of my systems). Good luck in the journey...
The point of diminishing returns is about $19.95. That would get you the cheapest portable or close-out throw away CD/DVP player from a big box store.
Past that, it is a matter of value, which is subjective. Some folks would possibly consider a good mid-tier player, like the Rotel 1072 or Rega Apollo to be about 50% or maybe 75% of the sound of the top-tier. Some folks might find it to be 95%. Some folks could possibly even prefer the less expensive player.
It is going to depend on your preferences, quality of recording you own, and the ability of your system to be tranparent enough to hear the difference in various different players.
It is also going to depend on the depth of your wallet! Personally, I do think that spending significant extra dollars on a player that I feel is superior is money well spent. Currently I own three players, an inexpensive Sony CD/DVD/SACD player, a Quad 99 CDP-2 and a Resolution Audio Opus 21. Each is a great value, but I have the resources to own the more expensive Opus 21 and I think it is a good value. Subjectively, I think it gives me about 95% of the sound quality of a cost-no-object player. Although I could afford a more expensive player, the Opus 21's price is the spot where I'm comfortable with the return on my sound expenditure. Also, I'm frugal and refuse to spend big bucks on an adequate pre-amp. I run the Opus 21 (or the Quad) direct to my power amps. This makes them an even better value to me.
My experience is that a $1000 may give you about 50% of what the top machines will do. If you get to the $3-$6k machines, they will sometimes give you 100% or even better than the >$10k crowd. My opinions is that a modded Opus 21 (retail $5k with mods) will compete with anything out there. In stock form it will compete and beat some $10k machines, and crushes the $5-6k ones like Cary and Blue Note. In modded form I am not sure what will beat it regardless of price. Other $10k machines like an AA offer unique things such as midrange warmth and musicality others can't match....but it is down to personal taste and how much you want to spend. Just my personal opinions.
Forgive me in advance for my lack of listenning skill. I recently decided to re-visit the mid-fi journey by buying a Rotel RCC 1072 and after three continuous days of listenning, I have to say these mid-fi sound will give you listenning fatigue due to bright, metallic, cold and harsh sound. Yet it gives you a false sense of big bass. not a kind of tight bass but sissy bass. the soundstage is quite wide but not deep. High frequency is very high and will be harsh on bright recording. Etta James in "All the way" with several tracks are unbearable. Yes, it may sound better in details than the Pioneer or Technics DVD players but is it worth 700.00 ? For me it is not quite. Sorry Rotel fan. I owned a Krell CDP KAV 280 matched with the 400xi, and to me that heavenly tight bass, warm and opening vocals...Yes, I rather save up 4000.00 for a good CDP than buying under 1000.00 wimpy one. Live and learn everyday and I do learn a good lesson : All CDP sounds different and you will get what you pay for. Hi-fi choice of the year not the ears.
Well, the Opus 21 cost me 3X the price I paid for the Quad 99 DCP-2. Thank goodness it sounds better!
I've now owned 2 Resolution Audio Opus 21s and 2 Quad 99 CDPs (one version 1 and one version 2). I keep getting concerned about the relative value of the players, so I end up selling, rebuying, yada, yada. In cronological order I owned Opus 21, Quad 99 CDP, Opus 21, Quad 99 CDP-2. I bought all used here on AudiogoN.
Anyway, I bought my first Quad 99 CDP as an experiment to audition it against the Opus 21. It was not a match for the Opus 21, but I found it to be good enough to satisfy me for a while. I sold the Opus 21. A while later I saw a great deal on an Opus 21 and knowing it was the better player, I bought it. Recently I saw a pretty good deal on a Quad 99 CDP-2, so I thought, what the heck. I bought it to see if it could go toe-to-toe with the Opus 21. Well, it is pretty good, but it does not stand up to the Opus 21.
I prefer the top end of the Opus 21. It is more analog sounding to my ears. Across the board the Opus 21 is a bit more articulate than the Quad. My new speakers are very revealing, so the extra money spend on the Opus 21 is worth it to me.
BTW, I haven't heard it yet, but a buddy just bought the Consonance CD120 Linear, which is the non-oversampling version of this CD player. He is a retire music professor, composer and analog junkie. He really likes it. I think it was about $800.
Best sub-$1000 player is the Marantz sa-8001, which improves upon the Marantz 8260 in several ways. First, the TOC error problem has been solved. Secondly, its upgraded power supply significantly raises the transparency and dynamic range of this unit. And thirdly, although the SACD performance is roughly indentical to that of the 8260, the resolution on redbook playback has improved. The audible differences in recordings is astounding. You probably have to spend twice as much to buy something that improves upon the overall performance of the 8001. My system consists of an Audible Illusion pre-amp, Innersound amp and Martin Logan loudspeakers, with Cardas Neutral Reference cabling. I find that the Marantz 8001 sounds best when connected to PS Audio 300 at 78 Hertz.
I've spent the last year researching/auditioning this question. I've learned:
1) Good luck auditioning - Modded units, low production specialty jobs, etc.
2) Someone out there will swear that they've heard (almost all brands here) and the best is certainly (his brand here) over (every other brand here).
3) Mechanical reliability is an issue just about everywhere - especially with SACD capable units - regardless of price.
4) Upsampling is ABSOLUTELY essential, unless its UNQUESTIONABLY inferior.
5) Just about everyone prefers balanced outputs
6) The mod believers find great benefit in upgraded (usually tubed) output sections.
So: I ended up with a Cary 303 - reportedly more reliable than a 306 SACD or Esoteric X, defeatable upsampling, switchable tube/SS output section, balanced or RCA out and very good redbook sound at audition for $4k -not crazy in today's market. Although I also auditioned DCS and Esoteric as well the Cary 306 SACD, I couldn't definitively conclude that any one was "in a different leauge" on redbook performance. I chose good sound, versatility, and a manageable price.
It's still new and I can't offer much in the way of performance evaluation yet, but (FWIW) I did A/B versus the new Rega (@1K) which I have in my family room. The Rega is often cited as a value leader and it sounds very good. Off my quick A/B at home I would guess that most people would choose the Cary in less than a minute. Both sound very good, the Cary just sounds better - in this system.
I can empathize with your situation. I had a chance to listen to many top players and there certainly are differences: the best players (the Aurum Integris and Audio Research CD7 for example) do indeed sound markedly better than less costly players (my opinion of course).
However, having said that I would strongly recommend getting a top used CDP. The best CDP's of the past are still very good and offer much more value than brand new products. In my opinion, they simply sound much better than brand new CDP's of the same price. I ended up picking up an Audio Research CD2 ($1500) and am very happy with it. In my system, it is only bettered by far more expensive units - and I mean the best of the best. As an aside, note that the CD2 must be run balanced to produce good results. In any case, others I know have been very happy with older Meridian products.
If you don't have an aversion to used products, I think you will find that there are indeed many fantastic buys out there. Newer is often just newer - not necessarily better.
I'm sure this is heresy, but the difference in sound quality between my Sony CDP-M555ES (400 CD changer) and my megabuck Esoteric P70/D70 transport/DAC combo is virtually nil. So either my ears are waaaay bad, or the Sony is a damn good unit.
99% of the performance of SOTA for 5% of the price?
Ok, so this is NOT a comprehensive comparison. But it may nevertheless be interesting to some.
I was listening to all my CDs via 2 ganged Sony ES changers (CDP-M555ES) and I was pretty happy with the sound. The convenience of selecting any of up to 800 discs outweighed the supposedly better sound of my Mac MVP-851 DVD/CD player, so I hardly used it and eventually sold it since I owned no DVD-A discs anyway.
A audiophile colleague visiting on a business trip spent some time listening to my system and encouraged me to consider getting a high-performance DAC to feed from the 555s. I thought that might be the way to have both convenience and performance. So I bit, and started looking for a DAC. Well, you know how things go I ended up WAY over my original budget and ended up with an Esoteric P70/D70 combo, which had glowing reviews as a state-of-the-art CD playing system.
I also decided to improve the CD selection interface by adding an Escient E-40 changer manager and a 3rd M555. Now I had a great video interface to catalog, find and select my CDs and a capacity of 1200 CDs. I ran changer optical to the Escient and from there via S/PDIF into the D70 DAC. I was also using a 4th M555 as a staging unit for newly purchased CDs. This unit was routed directly via its analog output to my Mac preamp, with the Toslink output sent to the DAC.
After getting this all set up, I finally sat down to listen to all these options and make some comparisons of sound quality. What I heard (or didnt ) really surprised me. First, I matched all the levels from the different CD playing options using a pink noise disc using headphones (which I used for all comparisons). I find that headphones really let me concentrate on the music in its little nuances better than using my main speakers.
Soooo, heres what I found
1) M555 analog to PA vs M555 optical to DAC to PA Indistinguishable from each other. Maybe the M555 transport was the limiting factor? Or the Toslink was canceling any improvement from the D07 DAC vs the Sony built-in DAC?
2) M555 optical to Escient S/PDIF to DAC to PA vs M555 analog to PA Indistinguishable from each other. At least the Escient conversion of the optical input from the M555 to S/PDIF into the DAC didnt affect the sound quality.
3) P70 transport via dual AES/EBU and clock sync to D70 DAC (upsampling at 176kHz plus word sync) to PA vs M555 analog to PA Esoteric better (music overtones, microdynamics and bass fullness), but I had to listen REAL hard to find this very small improvement. Over the loudspeakers, this subtlety was lost.
In a nutshell, I was pretty disappointed. I fully expected the Esoteric combo to wipe the floor as many here often state about one piece of equipment or the other. So what do I do now? Sell the Esoteric and use the cash for other stuff? Get new ears? Maybe all the trash talk about Sony changer capabilities is just that .talk.
Cal good post and reflects my POV. There is a point of diminishing returns. Not to say the super expensive players are not woth the "bang for the buck". If I were spending over $5K I'd look for a used Jadis DAC. But as you say if you can get 90% of the sound quality from a lower cost unit , then why not, especially if you have a tight budget. I had a Rotel and a NAD cdp. Then I went with a Cayin 15. Blew out the water the NDA and Rotel. Here we can't compare on a % ratio, the Rotel and NAD were not even in the same league. Then I went with a Cayin 17, which can be compared to the Cayin 15, both in the same league. The 17 offered 10% improved sound quality. 10% doesn't seem like alot but in audio terms 10% is a nice gain, IOW a justified upgrade. If another tube player comes along that I feel can best the 17, I may go for it. As long as its areasonable asking price. I pd $1K for the 17 so am willing to fork out $2K if I can get another 10% better resolution. But that 10% gain is doubtful, 5% may be more like it, and that may not be enough to justify spending another $2K.
Does the Audio Aero Capitole present a 8X's(800%) better musical image vs the Cayin 17? All I know its 8X's the price.
It's interesting to see some of the experiences here. A year ago, when I contracted for a new home, I - as you might expect- began the search for some new equipment. Specifically, I wanted a second turntable and a pair of speakers. During the course of that research I saw a used Shanling CD player at a very low price. I asked the dealer to switch out the Esoteric CD player he was using for the MBL demo and use the Shanling instead. I've always been a bit skeptical of differences among CD players and would not have been surprised to hear little/no difference. Instead, the difference was dramatic. That started the process of looking at current players which I partially described in my post above.
Overall, I did not hear vast differnces when I was A/B ing similarly priced players. I found Ayre vs ARC, Esoteric vs Accuphase, Cary vs Musical Fidelity (etc) sessions inconclusive. However, I also tried to include one cheaper player in every A/B session. The differences were always audible - and usually pretty convincing to me. The new Rega fared best of the cheaper units. I hope this provides one more data point for you.
PS - I ended up buyinng 2 players: A Rega for my den and a Cary for my listening room.
>>Does the Audio Aero Capitole present a 8X's(800%) better musical image vs the Cayin 17?<<
Of course not but it is clearly superior in all respects. As Tvad points out the ancillary components must be complementary. I suspect the chance is quite high you would not hear the difference in your rig.
Tvad raises a good point. I've heard a big famous tube amp , $$$, and really colors the sound. It wouldn't make much sense to have a $15K Jadis DAC/trans combo hooked up, nor a Capitole. I've also haerd speakers that posses their own strong distinct coloring. A good player can only play "clean' if the other 2/3's of the system has purity.
Marty, you might not hear the differencec in those $2K-$4K mentioned, but its there. On the right system you can hear the difference. Small, but significant when you consider listening over an extended period of time. After a few days you'll know which is the A, the B, the C player. Maybe personal taste comes in on the judgeing, if slightly. .
Bob if you can't feel the $2200 player is the much better investment over the $450, then maybe your Arcam is overpriced?
Many audio dealers say that the quality of your source will bring the biggest difference in your end result. I don't know, as I certainly hear considerable differences between DACs.
Further, people say a great transport makes a huge sonic difference. This claim is based on the fact that if you loose information (bits), or the bits get altered in some way, this info is gone forever.
A great transport, by definition, should be rock solid, built like a tank, eliminate any vibration, pickup the information with precision, and have the smallest jitter. If you look at so many transports in high end players, they are cheap, run of the mill, plastic, flimsy affairs. It bothers me that any player at or above $2,000 is built this way, and I see it as greed. Spend the least on parts, and charge the highest amount.
So, I hope more audiophiles will bring some enlightenment to this difficult topic.
Saxo, I agree with your audio dealers who believe that the source component is the most important. A mid-fi system that is merely listenable with a CDP source, usually becomes quite musical after substituting a TT source. I don't think any other component swap can quite pull this off.
When modding a CDP, I always compare each change to two fixed reference points: at the low end of the scale, an old PS Audio Lambda II/Theta Gen 5a combo; at the high end of the scale, a nice Lyra/Graham/VPI TNT TT. After a certain point the comparison to the old transport/DAC combo becomes so hobbled as to be irrelevant. But the comparison to the TT is always nip & tuck. Each source reveals relative superiorities & deficiencies in distinct vectors of the listening experience. There is no clear winner without admitting to subjectivity in weighting & summing up the differences.
As remarked by Tvad, I think this nip & tuck also characterizes comparisons between the top CDPs, to the point that there is blurring of subjective and objective impressions at the top of the heap.
That said, when comparing components it may be useful to believe that convergence on "the absolute sound" only begins at 8 or 9 points on a scale of 1 to 10. There are few components these days that score below 5, but there are certainly many mid-fi pieces that cluster in the 6-7 range. I try to imagine a second 10-point scale that spans say from 8 to 10 of the first 10-point scale. Using this convention, a hi-end component that scores 9 on the first scale is perhaps 5x better than a component that scores 8 on the first scale. As silly as this method may seem, it certainly correlates well with the stratospheric MSRPs at the hi-end of the hi-end!
To those of you that have taken the time to respond, thank you! I was hoping that a few owners of the top tier machines such as dCS, EMM Labs, Reimyo, Wadia, etc would also contribute to the discussion as well. The reason I say this is because I believe it often takes more than a quick A-B comparison of machines to distinguish the sonic differences. I'm not discounting the opinions of those who have had the opportunity to audition the top tier machines, but I think that an audition in someone else's system is not a fair evaluation of a particular product's attributes. We know the sound of our own systems the best. I'm guessing that owners of top tier machines have only moved from one top tier machine to another instead of moving "up" the quality/price (assuming there's a correlation) ladder. Since there is no one "best" player, each of these top digital players vary on their sonic presentation, depending on system synergy and personal preference.
With that said, I agree with Tvad that one's associated components must be capable to revealing the differences in players. I've listened to a $500 Cambridge player and the $2200 Arcam FMJ CD23 and believe there is a big difference in performance. It may not be 4x better than the Cambridge, but the difference to my ears is worth the price differential. I posted this thread because every now and then a new, hot component comes out that is given rave reviews by audio magazines; one such component is the Rega Apollo. Reviewers speak of the Apollo very highly, but they fail to make comments comparing this machine with the very best. I know it's not fair comparing a $1000 machine to a $XX,XXX priced machine, but it would be very interesting to know what we, as aspiring audiophiles, are missing out on. Another example is the $3000 Ayre Cx7e; it's another player that has received critical acclaim/awards. How does this player compare to the best? Magazine reviewers probably don't want to tell us in their reviews because it poses a degree of negativity towards a product that may very well be a class leader at a certain price point.
Martykl and Fatcataudio...Thank you for your comments. It's refreshing to hear that "a $1000 player will give you about 50 percent..."....and to hear that a highly recognized player such as the Rega Apollo is a good player...but doesn't compare to the Cary 303. Those are the types of comparisons that I want to read about.
Most audiophiles, when they're in upgrade mode, want a "step" improvement....a "wow" factor upgrade. The purpose of my thread was to try to determine:
i) how much one would have to spend to achieve the next step improvement (and to also determine how many steps there are to reach the top)
ii) at what price point you one gets close to sonic nirvana without spending five figures ie..bang for your buck.
Past a certain price point, only we can decide how much more we want to pay to extract that extra few percentage points of performance. Once you reach the top tier of players, I would think that differences between them should not bring about a "wow" response. Top tier players are like fine wines; they all taste good, but it depends on your personal preference.
I appreciated the comments regarding modded units. I knew that modded units would be part of the discussion. There seems to be a big concensus regarding the quality of sound from these types of machines. If I wasn't living in Canada, I would seriously consider auditioning these units.
I think speakers make a much bigger differnce. In my experience, upgrading the player has only made very subtle improvements.
I went from a Denon carosel player (300 bucks) to the Rotel 1072, then later I added a Bel Canto Dac2. The improvements were only slight between the additions. I also heard the MacCormack UDP and it was better than the Rotel, but again, only slightly, for 3 times the cost.
I compared the Jolida 100 side by side to the Rotel, same equipment. Each had their strengths and weaknesses. The Rotel was better for Jazz and better recordings with less instrumentation. Clearer and more delineated. The Jolida did better on raucous rock music. Not as crowded, reduced the "wall of sound" effect.
Hammer raises the issue I've been spouting off here on this thread and for the last time. On a clean system, that is both the amp and speakers have purity/cleanness/fidelity/accuracy you will notice the difference between player A and B. It is highly doubtful the Rotel completes with the Jolida/tube outs. I've heard a Rotel, its a very poor source, extremely colored/aweful resolution. So source is not the single most important component. Speakers come first, then amp, then cdp. Truly almost every speaker I've heard has its own coloration, and even worse I've heard several tube amps with extreme coloration. Until you get these 2 components rectified, its pointless to start looking fora clean/HIGH RESOLUTION cdp. First speakers. Do you have clarity/hz separations? Good, now move on to amp. Have clarity/ fq dynamics? Good , now you are ready to move into finding a high RESOLUTION cdp. In that order. Do your DD.
Just because you said it again (and for the last time) doesn't make it right. It's simply your opinion and your preference. Personally speaking, the best systems I have ever heard had at least the same amount of money (if not more) invested into the front end as in the amplification and speakers.
My two closest audio buddies and I all 3 have spent significantly more on our front end components than on our amplification and speakers. BTW, one of these buddies sold his Jadis to buy a less expensive amp that he preferred.
As always (IMHO) "there's more than one way to skin a cat", "YMMV", "two wrongs don't make a right, but they may compliment each other", etc......
"man, you system makes that horrible digital glare sound really clean and loud!"
Another example is the $3000 Ayre Cx7e; it's another player that has received critical acclaim/awards. How does this player compare to the best? Magazine reviewers probably don't want to tell us in their reviews because it poses a degree of negativity towards a product that may very well be a class leader at a certain price point.
At it's price point, the Ayre CX7e is an excellent player. Although it gives a taste of the CX5e, it is no CX5e (which costs twice as much). In saying this, I am not casting any negative notions on the CX7e. In fact, it has the place of honor in my second system. However, for my primary system, I currently have Alex Peychev's APL 3910 (with AKM DACs) which, for about the same money as the CX5e, is in a higher league than the CX5e (in my humble opinion). For more details of my comparative impressions of these players, please see my posts on other threads. Several audiophiles who compared the APL 3910 to players costing as much as three times it's cost, claim that it either bested those players or held it's own against them. But as sublime as the APL 3910 is, it is now significantly bested by it's big (and more expensive) brother the APL NWO-2.5 which is Alex Peychev's brilliant original design that uses the excellent Esoteric UX-1 VRDS NEO transport and chassis. The NWO-2.5 is being heralded as a major milestone and the cutting edge of digital that is on par with (or better than) the state of the art for vinyl. However, the fact that I recently ordered a 2.5, does not cast any negative notions on my APL 3910. Each of these players is a stepping stone on the path to musical Nirvana.
Calgarian, you were hoping that some owners of top-of-the-line digital sources would recommend players whose performance is just shy of the top tier players but without their cost. If no one obliges, this information can be gotten indirectly by reading the reviews by these owners and then seeing to what degree a less expensive unit manifests the fine qualities discussed in those reviews. One typical difference between a top tier player and lesser one is that the former usually do many more things well than the latter. This is especially evident in the recent superlative reviews of the NWO-2.5 posted on the APL Forum: http://www.aplhifi.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=558
Thanks once again for everyone's responses. I wanted to update everyone on my quest for a new digital player. In two weeks, I should have in my hot little hands (just in time for my 40th birthday!..Nice gift to myself huh?) a new Ayre C-5xe. Given the fact that I've not had the opportunity to audition the EMM Labs, Reimyo, Wadia, Esoterics, Zandens...etc, I'm hoping the Ayre will provide me with a significant "wow" factor upgrade from my current Arcam CD92 player...and bring me one step closer to audio-nirvana. calgarian
You may be happy with your new unit, a self-fulfilling prophecy. But to get back to the subject, I suspect a plot of audio goodness against cost would show a curve that started to reach asymptote a bit about a few hundred dollars and that would be essentially flat above $1500. But such a curve would need to ignore mystic, and be based on blind evaluation.
I think you would do great with something like the Ayre C-5xe. You are getting a top of the line CD player along with a top of the line SACD and DVD-A player, which means you can play all the formats out there right now in stereo. I have compared the C-5xe with the dCS stack and the differences are not large enough IMO to spend the extra money, perhaps 3-5% at most (if I must put a number on it) and the differences were all in the harmonics. I hear those harmonics on the C-5xe BTW, they just aren't as palpable.
The only problem is, the dCS stack was running on the B&W 800Ds and the C-5xe was running on the 802Ds, so it is conceivable that the largest part of the difference was the different woofer sizes and drivers between these two speakers (the mid and high ends of these two speakers are exactly the same though, so that wouldn't be a part of the issue).
I didn't read all the responses. I came from analog(which I still have). My APL Hi-Fi Denon 3910(my version) did it for me. Yes, I've heard better, but better costs big bucks. I'de also like to voice my complaint against audiophile recordings. I'de like to mention a few non-audiophile recommendations. Tony Braxton's "Secrets", Santana's "Supernatural", Lyle Lovett's "Live in Texas", k.d. Lang's "Ingenue. These cd's, or parts thereof, are why I listen to music-not the Diana Krell,etc. that "sound" better.
Could not agree more with you on your observations of non-audiophile recordings although if recordings sound as good as the Santana one I frankly don't care if it has an audiophile designation or not. I am going to check out the Toni Braxton.... KD Lang songs of the 49th parallel certainly gives Ingneu a run for the money and if you have not give Eva Cassidy a listen get her time after time CD. Actually all of her CD's are outstanding.
Mattkimb, thanks for the heads up about Eva Cassidy. My diatribe had to do with my getting two XRCD's on ebay. One was over $35, and I listen to $1.95 cd's from Rasputin's more. Divide 2 into 35. Sure some aren't worth listening to. I want to point out that Dire Strait's first two lp's are much better than their other stuff-at least in my opinion. I have to admit Diana Krell's cd's are well recorded. Why do we listen to music? Doesn't it have to do with how it affects us? I guess I'm in the minority here, or am I?