Based on my experienced with a modded Oppo 103 in a tube Headphone Amp based system I recommend looking into a modded Oppo 103 or modded Oppo 105. Mods include master clock.
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Look no further than the Marantz SA-15S2B SACD/CD player designed by Ken Ishiwata. It is the limited edition KI-Pearl. The only difference is the transformer is not covered with a copper shield. Otherwise, if you look at the interior boards of the SA-15SB and the KI-Pearl, they are identical twins. The player weighs thirty pounds with their excellent transport and produces a very rich and smooth organic analog sound with outstanding imaging and dynamics. You will not find a player anywhere under $5K that can better its performance. It only costs $2K.
Having a CD player modified is absurd. In most case's mods are done adding a tube stage to obtain a richer, more analog sound. There are certain players that are somewhat sterile and bright and others that are warm and relaxed. Marantz, Luxman and Accuphase are near the top of the chain with the most organic analog sound. Marantz offers the best value on the market if you after a very smooth, full midrange, with warmth and bloom that is closest to analog. It makes more sense to switch out the fuses with HiFi tuning fuses in the Marantz that will improve the organic, analog character without the need for mods.
I would highly recommend a MHDT Havana dac and use your Jolida as a transport. I just bought a MHDT Havana Balanced and have only used it with my Oppo BDP95 as a transport, but man oh man, does this thing sound awesome! I do have a fairly good analog rig that I normally prefer, but I also have lots of CD's (and no interest in streaming them...) and with the Havana, it's a really close call between analog and digital. Sound stage is amazing, but the thing that really hit me (and worried me when I bought it) was the bass. Before (through the Oppo), it was kind of "that bass is really good" and with the Havana it's "that bass player is really awesome"... it just brings you straight into the music.
Yashu..I have not listened to Ayre or Cary spinner's. But have listend to their other components. I have no interest in buying a player that is not from Japan. Why? Japan has always made the most musical sounding CD/SACD player's on the market. As most are aware, Sony and Philips invented the Compact Disc in 1980 and that same year Denon built the worlds first CD player which was a commercial test model for recording studio's. All the American and European Audio manufacturer's that make CD player's buy their Transport's from Japan. Japan puts musicality first in voicing their CD player's and will always be ahead of the game.
Rrog, let me explain. My CD3 is quite analogue-sounding, the trouble is with early digital. My listening is 90% classical and strings sound warm and sweet, in fact instruments sound more natural or organic than vinyl (well, vinyl does have some colorations but that's why we love it).
The early period of CD mastering is in a word harsh. My post stems from the fact that I have a massive amount of DG recordings from their rough years with the harsh highs and the over-mic'd brass.
I'm looking for any ideas to make these CDs sound tolerable. My 12 x 16' room is very well damped, although I am going to hang another acoustic panel on the rear wall corner.
My cables are Cardas and there's no money currently to upgrade.
It's been my experience that those old CDs you speak of may just be beyond saving. Like you say, they were mastered poorly due to the limits of tech back then. I've seen folk pass on equipment that I know is good just because it couldn't resurrect a poor recording.
I have a cabinet full of CDs that I no longer listen to because of that. Even supposedly remastered classics like "Dark Side of the Moon" are tolerable for only one listen. Yes, the remastering is commendable but in the end, forgettable.
The harshness still comes through in the form of slightly over emphasized instrumental location which supplants the edginess they engineered out. In short, it still doesn't sound like a modern recording.
I'm presently looking into a Marantz SA-15S2B as maybe the way to dig out the music without surrendering the recording to those old digital artifacts that you speak of. It's gotten good press and is in your ballpark concerning funds.
But it will have to handily defeat my TEAC PD-H600. As for the Ayon, I compared my TEAC PD-H600 to it and the TEAC acquitted itself admirably. It had slightly less body but after a few minutes, it wasn't even noticeable, and still equalled it in about every other aspect. Definitely a case of diminishing returns and not worth the extra money, IMO.
You're going to get a lot of recommendations but I"m afraid you can fit all of our views on that grain of salt. You've got a lot of experimenting to do so good luck in you search and do let the rest of us know what you've decided.
All the best,
I appreciate the comments, Nonoise. I'm not looking to change this new ARC; it performs well in every way.
"The harshness still comes through in the form of slightly over emphasized instrumental location which supplants the edginess they engineered out."
This statement says a lot to me. I was thinking about using a Rane or dbx EQ for the problem CDs; both these units have constant-Q. This EQ concept has been discussed many times on the forum.
Lowrider57, I missed that you settled on the ARC thinking you were leaning in that direction. Everything I've read about an ARC CDP has been very positive and I'm happy you've found what works.
As for the EQ matter, that is beyond my understanding having no experience in it but again, from what I've read, when properly implemented, it can do wonders since you're taking your room into consideration.
Here's to lots of happy listening,
Lowrider, Have you considered an inexpensive CD player for listening to the old CDs and the ARC for the better sounding CDs? I also use the CD 3 MKII in my system, but I also own several other CD players. One in particular that rounds off the edges in the upper frequencies is the Rotel 855. I don't know if this is something you would consider, but I thought I would mention it.
Lowrider, FWIW I like Rrog's suggestion re having a 2d CDP that will accommodate older CD's, especially if it is a tubed unit because that allows you to tailor the sound to your system as well as the CD's themselves. Works for me.
BTW, I've found that cheapo new production JJ tubes can also help solve that highend harshness you hear in old CDs. Amperex's are a great tube, but they are not always the best regarding the delivery of the tone that you want, i.e. they are not universal (even though some folks act like they are).
Re using an EQ. That won't really help I think. You will be able to bend the frequency response BUT you will not be able to eliminate the harshness, only reduce the level of it. This has never worked for me.
Reviews say the Oppo 105 is a giant killer but it's out of your price point at $1200. I was looking for a transport to feed (via Spdif coax) my new Lampizator 4 L4 Dac so I went with the $500 Oppo BDP-103...it's supposed to be well built and full featured (and hopefully a good and reliable transport) but is lacking most of the extra audio upgrades...It might still sound pretty good for your CD collection and considering it's a Blu-Ray DVD as well it will literally play any silver disc under the sun as well, just in case. Good luck