Okay......best single box reference CD player

I currently own a CEC TL-1 transport, along with a dcs Delius and Purcell upsampler.....what one box CD player out there can deliver dynamics, transpareny, smoothness and inner detail that will outperform my current set up. Meridian 808....???? Please let me know your thoughts....
Playback Designs
Esoteric X01
To all your needs,... and with a sense of ease and naturalness;
to my ears that is the AMR CD77.
But I can only imagine that there are a few others at this level and it all comes down to individual room, system and listener.
Trade your Delius for a Scarlatti DAC. I know it's not a 1 box solution, but you will be very pleased.
Try rhe nagra cdp with element 47 black widow cables
top of the line naim player in 1994. i believe it was the cd x. it came in 2 "boxes".

another great one is the cal tempest.
Most of the players mentioned are top class and you will probably satisfied with any of them. Put EMM LABS CDSA in your list also.
Another vote for AMR CD-77.

Seeing that you have dCS gear now, you may also want to give the dCS Puccini some consideration.
Another vote for the Playback Designs MPS-5. it is set up to work as a DAC for a music server so is quite future proof. it uses an Esoteric VRDS transport. it is also software upgradable.

here is a link to a review of the MPS-5.

What Esoteric VRDS transport is it using?

i don't know the answer to your question. it is very quiet and always reads the disc quickly and the first time.

i much prefer it to the Philips drive that was in my EMM Labs CDSD.
I have not compared it with players mentioned in your setup. I can tell you what I do know. I do know it is better than Simaudio Eclipse, and better dynamics than Esoteric ($6000 unit DV50) and Marantz SA-11s1. Andromeda has fantastic dynamic contrast, great detail and transparency, and a big sound, i.e. turn volume up and it will play very load with no distortion. It is $13.5K retail in USA due to poor dollar levels at this time. Andromeda also has a large offboard power supply.

Sorry my comparison is not more apples and apples, with higher price players. I did listen to X03SE in a store system, had not as much dynamic contrast as Andromeda, but sounded detailed.

I will go out on a limb and state that Andromeda CD player has one of the best dynamic range and contrast of any. It seems dead neutral as far as balance (warm v clinical). It has great detail but I have not compared it with the over $10k players, so I cannot state that it is best. Same with transparency, its great but no megabuck CD comparisons made. Thanks.

Audio Research CD-7 without question.
My Wadia 581se sounds pretty amazing...deep, warm and round, with lots of articulation at the top and a full, defined bass at the bottom. IMHO I believe that when you start spending 10,000 and up for a single boxed player that many of the percieved audio differences between these players are many times related to room acoustics, cables and power delivery choices.
If your willing to think out side the box, then the Linn Klimax DS is the BEST digital I've heard. It's like listening to vinyl.
A single box player that can "outperform" your current setup, particularly since you like your current setup, would be a bit hard to come by.

I've heard a very similar DCS rig and liked the sound a lot, particularly for its smooth, relaxed and musical presentation (perhaps at some sacrifice in dynamics and detail). One box players that I've heard that may give you a similar sound are the Nagra and the Linn CD 12 (I heard that Linn may be bringing it back). It's been a while since I've heard a Burmester player, but the one I heard struck me as being very sweet and smooth sounding.

I like the player I have, the Naim CD555, though it is actually not one box (separate power supply and a combined DAC/transport). This player does everything well, though it still has a touch of "transistor" sound to me (slightly artificial "edge" to the initial attack of a note -- a kind of hardness to the sound).
correction to my post above regarding the Playback Designs;

i said;

"it uses an Esoteric VRDS transport"

i had thought that all the Esoteric digital transports were VRDS and that there were various levels of VRDS. a friend pointed out to me that this is wrong. other levels of Esoteric Transports are called different names. so to be clear; the Playback Designs has an Esoteric transport; but i don't know which one it is. it could be the VRDS-NEO, but i seriously doubt that due to it's cost.

i hope this is clear.
Nova Physics Memory Player
I don't know how we can determine the type of transport much less anything else about the player considering the manufacturer doesn't have a website and the distributor hasn't even attempted to provide specs or much else other than grandiose bluster.
Ancient Audio Lektor Prime

this is a brand new product and a brand new company that only shipped their first product 2-3 weeks ago.

they have been focused on getting the product out and getting production processes nailed down.....and since most of the initial production run was already spoken for websites and brochures are secondary at this point. you have a right to your own opinion on this of course.

contact them directly with any questions.

having lived with the Playback Designs for 3 weeks now; it is remarkable that any brand new product could work and perform as perfectly as this has.
You should disclose that you've been dealing with the distributor for quite some time and have received favorable pricing on other purchases.
I can understand that, but it's just strange that we can't even get a basic spec sheet. I would love to audition the unit in-home as it meets my primary checklist items (VRDS/VOSP transport and digital inputs) but I'm not sure they would permit that for a person not in the US atm.

i am an open book. if someone cares about such things they can read my posting history; i hide nothing.

i would remind you to disclose you are a commercial dealer in competition with the distributor you refer to. while i personally think your intentions are honorable from your point of view others should know about where you come from.

many/most prominent posters here have close relationships with dealers and manufacturers.....or even have become part of the hifi business themselves.....it's the nature of the culture of this hobby. if someone asks me about my relationship with any dealer i will and have told the story.

ultimately; each poster's credibility or lack there-of is earned with what they say over time.
It was clear to me when I read Mike's review here and at the Asylum that he has a long-term relationship with the principals of PD. I don't and I'll be adding to his review in a couple of weeks.

Website for Playback Design MPS-5

Nothing comes close to Analog. But I will answer your thread. Audio Research CD7 is a darn good player. It is the best I have heard. I am sure there is better out there.
I'm not convinced that there is a best.

I suspect very high end CD players may just reassemble the bits in unique ways that helps differentiate the resulting sound and justify the price, but I'm not sure that any of these variations are necessarily better or more correct overall than others...just different.

There is only so many bits on a CD. IT doesn't cost a fortune in my opinion to build a CD player capable of reading most of them correctly without loss (computer cd drives do this all the time) and then use them to correctly construct the analog waveform needed prior to hitting the amp.
My vote is split between Spectral SDR 4000s and Metronome Kalista integrated.
Ahhhhh...after all of this, I think that I will keep my dcs Delius and Purcell and have Nick Gown at True Sound make a few updates on my CEC TL -1 transport. Like a divorce...sometimes it is '' cheaper to keep her ''.
dCS Puccini, simple as that.

I heard the $20000 dcs Puccini at a dealer recently.

It sounded as good as anything I've heard probably, but can you explain to me what exactly the dcs Puccini does better than say good players in the <$5000 range that justifies the cost? Also, how does it accomplish it?

06-23-08: Mapman said:

"I heard the $20000 dcs Puccini at a dealer recently.

It sounded as good as anything I've heard probably, but can you explain to me what exactly the dcs Puccini does better than say good players in the <$5000 range that justifies the cost? Also, how does it accomplish it?"

The question is, "did you hear anything you'd be willing to pay $15000 more for." If the answer is "yes" then it doesn't matter how or why, it's just that you want that and are willing to pay. If the answer is "no" then buy the $5000 unit."

Whenever you spend $10000, $15000, $20000 or more on digital equipment, all you know for certain is that someone will replicate it's performance within the next 18-months for half the price. You'll always be waiting for the 18-months for the latest performance advance to get cheap, or, at some point you'll jump in because you're happy with the price/performance ratio. That point will vary with each person. I'm guessing that you're not there yet.


Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to do any comparative listening to determine whether the Puccini did anything extra special for certain. Also, I am highly skeptical that anything new or earth shattering is still happening at the high price points in regards to CD playback that really matters.

The thing is for $20000, I expected the dealer could give me something concrete to justify the cost of the Puccini in terms of what made it sound better than others. I mean he gave standard justification in terms of using "only the best parts" and all, and it was obviously built very well and very stylish, but he would not offer me anything concrete in terms of a technical explanation of how this mattered to produce better sound. Once he determined that I was a computer systems engineer, he really backed down from trying to explain anything.

THe rest of the system was very high end tube tube amplification and the Magico Mini 2s with all high end Nordost cables (probably over $100000 in the system total).

The thing that struck me was the smoothness and fine detail of the presentation of the massed violins and violas in a symphonic work which was very lifelike. I'm curious how much the Pucinni contributed to the overall result. I did not get to listen to enough material to listen more critically.

I'd be interested if anyone has a/b listened to the Puccini and any other more affordable units and could offer some insight regarding the differences, if any.

Mapman, it doesn't sound to me like you're going to buy a $20,000 player no matter how good it sounds.

Still, parts are only part of the equation. Most of the top players today basically use off-the-shelf parts and a designer develops the boards, chassis and software to combine it all together. Seldom, lately, is there a proprietery part that only one make has. Often a billet aircraft aluminum chassis is the single most expensive part in a player and that only adds hundreds to the cost.

Anyway, you'll either hear a difference or not. If you hear a difference then you'll ask yourself, "Is it worth it to me or is there a better option for me for less money?" Buying audio equipment based on the parts is folly, when one poorly selected part can negate all the "best" components.


My question is not about what specific parts do, that really doesn't matter, its what does the product as a whole do to justify the cost?

Is there any specification or measurement or measurements available that can be used to quantitatively identify when a CD is performing above and beyond? For example, what does a billet aircraft aluminum chasis do to improve the sound? How can the improvement be measured? Or is it just a matter of throwing the kitchen sink into the build at all costs and charging accordingly?

I have no doubts that a phono system cannot be overengineered for example because a phono pickup is sensitive to vibrations and subject to certain laws of physics in order to perform optimally.

A CD players job is to capture all the bits of a disc and convert it to an analog waveform and then deliver the analog output to the next device downstream, usually a pre-amp. THe bits are either detected or not. You either get them all or some % of what is there. Does it take a $20000 CD player to get them all? Does the $20000 CD player do a better job of producing the resulting waveform more accurately or does it provide some flavor or coloration that makes it sound unique, if not better? If so ,why?

I generally will make an investment if needed to produce better results in my system. I probably just need to spend more time auditioning some of the better players ideally in my system to see if it can make a difference the way I know for example that a phono setup can.

My gut feel is that there is an absolute limit to the sound quality possible with CD format and that after 20 years of commercial application the cost of achieving it should not be so high.

I suspect that spending too much here is overkill, but I am anxious to be convinced otherwise.
I hope you don't if I don't respond point by point, but I will respond to two or three.

A billet aluminum chassis is one of the very best shields of RFI and EMI radiation. In digital components or analog components placed near digital components RFI and EMI can degrade performance seriously. A great billet chassis cost the maker several hundred dollars each, excluding development time.

In optical readers, just like in analog, damping and stability of the transport is important. The fact is optical readers do NOT capture all the bits. Because of that, error correction is needed and the quality of the error correction can vary greatly. (Thus, hard drive based musical servers actually sound better than many optical systems). I won't go into jitter and clocking errors, but those are critcal to the ultimate sound. Anyway, just focusing on the transport, a generic piece as you'd find in an Oppo is under $50, while the very best is several hundred dollars. Just like in analog, the op amps, transformers and circuitboard quality all have a clear impact on sound.

Thoughout digital, each part has a generic, functional part that's $10 to $50 and a high end part that does the same thing, better, for several hundred dollars. It's easy to do a cost comparison and get up to a few thousand dollars.

Getting to $10,000 or $20,000 is all about the designer's implementation of all the pieces in such a way that it's better than the competition, as judged by sound. It's kind of like a Linn turntable. You can't justify the price by it's relatively inexpensive parts that have only slightly changed over the last 30-years. I'm sure you can think of a $10 piece that Linn improved their TT with and charged $500 for it, at least so long as it took for someone to come out with an alternative part for less.

There are at least a half dozen approaches to TT design. You can see the differences and they're relatively obvious. With a digital device there are just as many options to solving the problem of good sound, but they're way less obvious to us non-designers; therefore, we listen and make our decisions based on sound.

I don't think there is an absolute limit of sound quality possible with CD, but we're fast approaching the level of where it matches analog in the qualities that we analog lovers hold dear. We're just now reaching that limit with the expensive machines. I predict that Moore's law will make sub-$5000 machines available within 2-years that match and/or surpass today's $10,000 and over machines.

I didn't want to wait two years, so I went ahead and spent the bucks.

In my opinion, Wadia, DCS, and Esoteric are building cost-no-object multi-component machines that are on an entirely different level than anything even at $20k. Since superlatives are thrown about with such regularity in audiophilia, there are simply no words left to convey how special these are.

Does the sound justify the cost? Yes. The law of diminishing returns does not apply here.

What does this sound like? Remember the first time you ever heard a real audiophile system? It's just like that. Magic.

Of course, there are many satisfying CD players to be had at a far lower cost. I personally feel that the source is absolutely critical for proper playback. Alas, there are slim pickings for CD playback in the sub-$5k range.
Dcstep, thanks for the info.

My ears tell me that no two cd players sound the same. I have it in my plans to give some higher end players a listen over time and see what I hear and go from there. I think the CD is probably the place where I might find a good upgrade/improvement if I look hard.

Are you running a new CD player in your system other than the Pioneer listed in your published system here on Agon??
@Mapman my reply to your question is simple as that:
If you think you have already a good system (speaker+amplifier one match) then for that kind of money, ask for a home demo with your 5000 player (or at least loan one) and you will know the answer.
For many years now I was listening of the capabilities of the "perfect cd sound" only now after the dCS Puccini home demo I enjoyed my huge redbook collection so much (with dsd upsampling) and considering my previous top gear.

So only that way (listening home to your system) you will eventually know the answer to your question, everything else is speculation and I do not wish to push puccini, just listen foryourself or get over it and enjoy your music anyway.

Now if that is going to make you open your pocket is another story, hopefully in Europe it's easier for us to buy it.
Mapman asked Dcstep:
"Are you running a new CD player in your system other than the Pioneer listed in your published system here on Agon??"

In fact I am. I was going to take some pictures and update my Virtual System this weekend to reflect the addition of a Playback Designs MPS-5. The Pioneer stays in to act as transport for the discs that the MPS-5 can't handle, DVD-A in particular.


Yep, the only way to know if an investment like that is worth it is to listen on the target system in the target room.

Ironic isn't it that we discuss subtleties of high end audio in a place where we can't really listen to a darn thing?

you're right, I'm listening right now internet radio though from my pc...
The notion that one has to merely wait for superior products to appear at lower prices because of increases in computing power ("Moore's Law") does not necessarily hold. It is true that most manufactures are captive to basic parts (transport mechanisms, DAC chips) that are made by big manufacturers. But, it is hardly true that these parts are improving. In fact, basic DAC chips are designed to serve many functions, and increasingly, doing basic redbook decoding is less and less a priority and chips have been going down hill in terms of their abilities on that front. That is why many manufacturers of premium units horde old chips and pay a premium for chips that are 10-years old or older in design and no longer manufactured. Even designers who have not been able to do this have admitted as much (I believe Charles Hanson of Ayre has said this).
Yet some are already working with 32-bit DACs for new upsampling schemes. Those 32-bit DACs are under $50. What's better, a new 32-bit generic DAC or a ten-year old 16 DAC built like a brick sh*t house?? I don't know and I think that a lot depends on the designer's skills.

Just like a Wall Street hedge fund manager, Charles is good at "talking his own book." There's more than one way to skin a cat, particularly in digital technology.


You're scaring me. Are you saying that some premium manufacturers charge a premium for older digital CD technology because older CD digital technology is better?

I love antiques myself. Antique technology may hold value for historical and collectible reasons but when someone tells me that older digital technology is inherently better than newer digital technology, something doesn't sound right.

From my equipment and listening experience, I believe that most common stock CD players today are way better than high end players from 10 years back or more.

Though any digital format, like CD, must have some inherent technical limits, whether realized in practice or not, digital playback is one area that should continually benefit from new technology innovations and the cost benefits that come from marketing successful new technology products over time.

Multi-format DVD players are perhaps more popular than CDs these days. Perhaps that is where the current advancements are occurring most rapidly and catching up or perhaps even surpassing that of pure CD players?

Very interesting topic and discussion, by the way!
I don't think that's what he's saying at all. It sounds like he's making a valid point for many things, in that products produced before heavy commoditization in the field are often times better in quality than newer products, which may also have different priorities going into their design. Of course, that's to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

With regard to the comment about "stock" CDPs now versus units produced 10 years ago, my Wadia 861se GNSC Statement unit would beg to differ and raise you a Meridian 808.2i to boot.
Some ultra-premium manufacturers, such as Zanden, and Naim (for their CD555 and CDS3 player), use legacy chips that are no longer made. Whether they are charging more because of this, or for any other reason, it is hard to say. But, a manufacturer that uses such chips must factor in their scarcity, and must limit production because some parts have to be held in reserve for repairs and servicing the product for years to come.

By the way, the Audionote DAC-5, which uses "primitive" technology is, to me, one of the very best DACs on the market. I also agree with Bar81 that a GNSC-modified Wadia is no slouch when compared to just about anything out there.
Guys, I'll withhold judgment on sonic merits of specific high end players until I do some more listening, but I must confess all the talk about some of these vendors using older, scarce chips is a big red warning flag to me.

If I drop a small fortune on a player, I want to be assured that parts exist and it can be kept running indefinitely. I would probably also expect a pretty decent warranty?

Also, I've noticed that many recent ultra high end players listed here on Agon seem to go for much less than originally paid for whatever reason, so rationally, one must factor depreciation into the buying equation as well.