Modded CD Player or Stock CD Player?

I am starting this thread in the hope of starting an active and productive discussion on recent experiences folks have had with regard to trying modded digital front ends versus stock front ends. I suggest the criteria for comparison include such things as:

1. Price Performance – “bang for the buck”
2. Reliability,
3. Other factors people use to assess each option,

[So you have a reference point on my system it now consists of all solid state electronics and very revealing speakers as follows...

1. Modded Denon 3910 (Hot Rod Audio Mods) and Stock Cambridge 840C front ends,
2. Soundstring interconnects,
3. Classe CP-60
4. Classe CAM 200 monoblocks
5. Soundstring speaker cables
6. Dynaudio C1 speakers on Dynaudio stands]

My own digital front end experience is likely similar to many others as I first encountered CD players in 1984 (a college friend had a NAD player and we were all a bit envious and in awe of him and his pop and hiss free format playing a rather expensive Police Synchronicity CD). After graduating I bought a near first generation Rotel player in 1986, followed by a used Sonographe that I kept until it died in 2001. I had a Rotel 971 for a while that was replaced by a better sounding (the technology keeps improving) Cambridge 840C that is now sonically upstaged by a modded Denon 3910. The move to a modded player was brought on by an interest in DVD-Audio and SACDs. I have a revealing enough system that the stock Denon was hard to listen to on Hi Rez recordings. The Denon used to sound awful on redbook also, but the modded Denon has a sound that is more detailed than the Cambridge AND a lot smoother like a very good analogue.

I am holding off completing my assessment on reliability as it has only been a few months, but so far so good. The performance has been outstanding and the price comparable (I got my stock Denon player at a discount) to the stock Cambridge CD player. The Cambridge is no slouch – I am keeping it as a back up and also would likely have it modded at a later date.

What are other people’s experiences with modded units versus stock?
I've owned a couple of Dan Wright's (Modwright) modified Sony players, one, a 9000ES, with only the SS mods he did retaining and beefing up the stock power supply, the other a Platinum Signature modded 999ES with tube rectified external supply. I've also heard the same mod he's done to a 9100ES, but did not get a chance to compare it to anything. The tube vs the SS mod was easy to hear a difference. The SS emphasized detail overall, while being more hard-edged (obviously) than the tube-output units. His tube analog stage makes a big difference; I found these players more refined and smooth, perhaps giving an edge to the SS as far as pulling out the last bit of detail, but paying that back in spades with their smoother, more musical presentation, which I ultimately found more engaging. I've also listened at length to an APL modified Denon 3910 which sounded very nice indeed (sorry, did not hear stock in the same system). I have no doubt that talented modders can make a significant difference from stock. OTOH I have had a modified DAC which did not impress me at all, but I'll not name the vendor because I purchased it used and have no idea if the mods were as stated. I also had not heard the stock version on that DAC. My current front end is a Modwright Transporter, which I feel is the best digital front end I've had in my system. It just sounds reveals things in a more natural and lifelike sounds more like real music. Again, I have not heard a stock Transporter so cannot comment on the differences. Disclaimer: Modwright is one of my clients as a photographer and graphic designer. I was using and admiring his gear long before he was a client. I've also had the opportunity to compare a stock ARC LS-2B to a GNSC modded version of the same, with the same tube in the same system an same music. There was no doubt to two of us making this comparison that his mod made a difference there, though obviously this is not a digital front end. My system has varied much over the years so no real point in listing it here unless someone really needs to know. Mods can certainly make a difference - whether it is worth it depends on the one doing the mods, the system you are listening through (how revealing it may be - mine is and has always been pretty revealing, though certainly not in the unobtanium categories where mice scurrying across the back of the recording studio can be readily heard), and your expectations of bang for your buck, which would be affected by buying new or used, or having a stock unit you already own modded. Also, throw in the mix resale value of modded units and how that may impact your decision. Some mods hold their value while others may not. That's my .02 cents.
In my system, modded digital players have far exceeded the performance of any stock player I have had (Marantz SA-14, Electrocompaniet EMC 1-UP SE), and as a result I have owned more modded players than stock players.

The downside is that modded players depreciate like bricks. You'll recoup just pennies on the dollar for any investment in mods.

Therefore, I recommend buying used modded players, provided they are from reliable companies who will service the players if necessary.
I couldn't believe the sound from my modded Music Hall vs stock. It was light years beyond what my CAL Alpha with a Pioneer Elite could do.
I own a Music Hall 25.2 modded by PartsConnexion as a transport, and I'm quite impressed with the sound. I can imagine the 25.2 with full CD player mods is also excellent.
My experience with my modded SCD-1 (RAM modifications) reflects what has already been said here.

I would say the closest comparison to my SCD-1 with a stock player (redbook only) would be the audio research cd reference 7.

If and when I replace my SCD-1 it will more than likely be with a new modded player (reputable modder).
I have two modded players ... a TRL modded Sony 2000ES CDP, and an ASI Tek modded Oppo 980H universal (nearly identical to the RAM mod for less $). The TRL Sony is substantially better than stock. The Weitzels take this player to a higher level altogether. My renewed vinyl/turntable interest revealed just how close the TRL comes to analog. It's that good.

The Oppo is a little different story. That's because the stock version is quite good. The 980 is a fairly substantial improvement over the 970 ... especially in terms of audio quality, smoothness, lack of digital glare, etc. With the mod, while positive, there wasn't as much of a leap forward in the sound. However, since the new superclock and other changes affect the video capabilities as well, it's a definite keeper for HT duties.

I agree with Tvad's value assessment regarding new versus used gear; but I plan on keeping my players for the long haul. At the same time, both mods were under $1K and their sound has been compared to the Ayres, Esoterics, and Wadias of the world. So given the choice between paying $5K+ for higher end stock or modding for less cost, I go with the latter.
I purchased a use Sony SACD 9000es with Vacuum State Level 4 upgrades, and had them bring it up to Level 6 for a minimal charge. All told, including the used purchase price ($400) and the price paid for the mods ($1800), probably around $2200 has been spent on this player, and it is probably worth around $1200 on the used market.

I haven't found a stock player at even $2000 used that can touch this unit. I am going to bring home an ARC CD7 to compare it to one of these days, just to see how it stacks up. The stock SCD-1 wasn't even close to the Level 6 9000es. I expect the CD7 to beat it, but how much better it is will be interesting.

If you figure the mod is well-thought out (most of the modders listed in this thread have done hundreds or thousands of CDP upgrades and all have been well reviewed), and perhaps you paid $1500 for that mod; you would be quickly looking at a $4500 upgrade if sold at retail. In addition to the cost of the player, you can get into some rarefied air pretty quickly without spending a bunch of money.

I have a feeling that when I upgrade, I will be purchasing another "already upgraded" unit, probably Modwright Platinum truth, Wadia with GNSC mods, or an SCD-1 with VSE upgrades. Those units in the $3K range used probably are as good as most anything on the market.

Any idea why modded players aren't more popular? They seem to offer, by far, the most bang for the buck.
I don't want to derail this thread, but I'm interested in how Dawgatching would characterize the improvements in moving from a VSE level 4 mod to a VSE level 6. I currently have a VSE modded level 4 DVP9000ES, and have been debating about whether it would be worthwhile for me to allocate my funds there, or if I should invest in power conditioning or separates (but that's a whole other story...). Basically, and arbitrarily, if moving from a stock DVP9000ES to a level 4 unit represents a 50-point performance increase, how would you characterize the performance increase from the level 4 to level 6?
Modded = best sound for your buck and worst return on your investment. If you buy used modded, you can try several diferent units if you feel the need and have minimal risk on resale.
Leatherneck1812 has summed it up concisely and on the mark.
But remember if you elect to go used there might be a wait. Some modded players (like the TRL) rarely come up for sale. The used market is far from perfect, so patience is the key.
So far it seems the majority opininion is that modded is THE way to go, and the price you pay is reduced resale value over stock. That said, you may be less inclined to upgrade as often, so your trade up costs may be less of a negative. It will be interesting to see if any later posts counter the "modded trumps stock" feeling the threads show so far.

Well, the background is quieter (I went from level 4+ to 6, I believe) frequency extremes are more present, the player is fuller, not quite as "digital" and overall more realistic. It is hard to say exactly the full extent of the upgrades, as I had nice components at the time, but as I have upgraded my amplification (first to a SMC-modded DNA-125 and Dehavilland pre, then to a super nice Karan integrated, and now back to the DNA-125 and an SMC modded preamp (best yet in my system) the digital playback just keeps getting better and better. When I first heard the upgrade done, it was noticeably better, but the differences are even more pronounced as my system improves around it. I am pretty much sold on upgraded pieces at this point, between my SMC units, the VSE Sony, and Modwright and GNSC stuff I have tried in the past.

Did you see the new clock upgrade? the internal unit is fairly affordable at $600. If you took your system to full Level 7, it would cost you less than $1000, and sound wise, if it is indeed a step up over the level 6, is going to sound spectacular.
yeah, that has been my experience on most of the electronics. Also, there is a difference between just "mods" and "upgrades". Having a designed upgrade route is key. If you look at upgrading used units, the cost really isn't that bad: probably no worse than buying at retail and selling used here. For example, you could get an SMC Audio modded RLD-1 preamp for $2300 (mods plus a used unit) which probably has a re-sale of $1400 or so used. If you purchased a new preamp for $2500, it would be tough to re-sell used for more than $1300 or $1400.
Dawgcatching, yeah, I saw the info about those new VSE clocks...very tempting. My only real concern (besides money, which is an issue) is that the enhancements brought by the mods might actually go beyond my system's ability to resolve them. But it sounds like what you're describing are some pretty discernible, and desirable, improvements to the unit's sound. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Yeah, you will get more resolution the better your system gets. If you get that Level 7 mod, you probably won't have a "limiting" CDP until the rest of your system is worth $30-50k. I haven't demoed a bunch of other CDP's at home (the one I did demo, McIntosh MCD201) wasn't even in the same ballpark. I am still trying to get a loaner on an ARC CD7 to see how it matches up.
Who is the best mod specialist ?
Who is the best mod specialist ?

Julie, Linc and Pete