Seldenr - I am currently in a similar quandry - my current player (CAL Icon MkII) is roughly the same age, and sounds so good I hate to give it up. My feeling is to go the DAC route. You can get alot of DAC for 800-1000. If you hate the way the transport works/sounds ... look for a used player or dedicated transport later to replace the Philips. You see alot of Theta gear on this site at unreal low prices. Good luck.
Seldener & Slingshot: I use the Icon MKII as a transport with the Bel Canto DAC and it sounds great. Out of curiosity I tried a friends new/used Meridian 506.24 player as a transport and could just detect a little more definition in the bass and mid bass, but it was very slight indeed and really could not hear a difference in the mids and highs. I have also been tempted by the Theta transports, which are said to wonderfull, but have decided to wait and see if SACD takes off. If it does I will trade the CAL for an SACD player and use the BC to improve its standard CD playack. If SACD flunks out then I will probably end up trying one of the Theta's. The addition of a good DAC (one that I enjoy the sound of) though has been one of the best upgrades that I have done. Regardless of which amp I use in the system (I switch between SS and tubes) it always sounds great.
The level of performance you have now would be surpassed by either decision. BUT the transport you now have will probably not last more than a few years. The idea of a separate DAC seems to be gradually dying out. I would hunt for a used (less than 2 years) CD player.. like a Adcom750 or the Rega Planet. Save the rest of your money.
Terrific help you guys! Question, do your replies mean that the improvements made to CD playback in general over the last few years don't apply quite as much to transports? I.e., do you think a 10 year old transport is still technically sufficient to convey a good-enough quality signal to a new DAC to justify buying a new the DAC for the old transport?
Hope that made sense! Your replies give me great comfort.
I don't think your transport falls into the best can be catagory, but some of the early 90's were the BEST that were ever made. The Phillips and the Sony parts from then were the best ever, current ones are NOT as sturdy, or as carefully made, nor do they use the 'best' parts anymore. (Though the top (only) Sony always have had great optical pickps)
The "best" Sony parts are in the SACD. And Phillips???
The current mid-fi Sony totally suck.
Seldenr, like you, I've been pondering these things. I like the idea and simplicity of a one box design, but have been intrigued with the spate of glowing reviews for inexpensive (relatively) dacs. I listened to Arcam 9 and Conrad Johnson DF-2. Not enough improvement over my Cambridge CD4se to warrant the expense. I've been listening to a new Assemblage 2.7 Signature dac driven by the Cambridge for a couple of days now (using bnc/bnc cable.) I honestly believe that you'd never find a new cd player for $948 (Assemblage price) that sounds this refined and musical. Excellent value for dollars spent. I figure that I can upgrade to a good used transport if the Cambridge expires and still spend less than a new quality one box player. You'd probably find a similar situation with your player, but a 10 year old unit could go at any time. As to the format quandry Dekay mentions, who knows how this will settle out? I've got hundreds and hundreds of cd's I love and have no intention of replacing in sacd even if the titles become available. I just decided to quit worrying about that issue and buy something that will let me enjoy what's available now.
I use an original Cambridge Audio CD4 (not the SE) as a transport. The best bang for your buck transport is an Aiwa CD Changer that sells at Best Buy for $79.95 - It is recommended by the Chicago Audio Society. It works good out of the box as is, but can also be modified by Stan Warren for around $250 into a giant killer.
Elizabeth, you are absolutely right on about the late 80s, early 90s Sony transports, they were like bankvaults in construction. Sonically,not bad either.There are real world everyday usage issues like access time, reliability and chassis rigidity that are real factors. Please consider these before purchasing. Sony is a company that goes all out to prove a point, untill the marketing dept. steps in and starts cost cutting. Thats why the SACD-1 is most likely to be their best one in that format. As time goes by, its all downhill
Seldener: The DAC would just be the first step in your case and would give immediate gratification. With a DAC however you will have the added expense of a good digital IC as well as a good power cord and isolation components (if you involve yourself with these things). Elizabeth is correct in that DAC's seem to have fallen out of vogue, which means that used prices are even better at this time. Adding a low to mid priced player would certainly improve your source from what it is now, but considering the rest of your system it would just be a compromise. Good used DAC's are available for under $1000. The trick is to figure out which one is to your liking (I personally do not care for many of the $1000-$2000 ones and couldn't care less for most of the one box players in this price range as well - retail price). Yes, your transport could go at any time, but on the other hand it could just as well continue functioning for many more years. When it does go just replace it, if you have not already done so beforehand. Good one box players are available for as little as $1500 on the used market which is another option. I do not intend on replacing existing software with the SACD versions, but would like to take advantage of the format if the software does become readily available, which I am already set up to do (by just replacing the transport). In the meantime I do not feel that I have compomised on sound quality within my budget constraints.
I've decided recently to jump into the same boat you're in (to mix up analogies). I've sold my Meridian 500/518/566.24 to use my ancient Philips CD-80 as a transport to a Perpetual Tech P-1A and P-3A. In general, the sound from the new system just whomps the Meridian (and the Meridian was definitely no slouch.) It's a temporary solution until it becomes clear whether SACD or DVD-A will succeed or fail. Although waiting for the next step is difficult, I've been very pleased with the build quality of the 33 lb. Philips. If our house is ever bombed, it's one of the few things that I'm sure will survive.
Bottom line: The quality of current, cheap DAC's is such that you can get a significant improvement over prior generation top-of-the-line equipment with very little investment. It's good to wait 'til the format issues get straightened out.
Dekay, did you compare the 506.24 as a standalone to your Cal/Bel Canto? How did that comparison go?
-Another fence sitter with a 6 yo. CDP(micromega2)
I was once told by a technician that a Phillips CDM9 transport, which was one of their better mechanisms had an estimated useful life of about 3500-4000 hours. Whether that is true or not, I don't know. If your player has a lot of hours on it, I would consider replacing it. I have a 10 year old Marantz cd94 that I have used for many years as a transport with Theta and Micromega dacs. However, I could not stand to listen to it without a jitter reduction device.
The Aiwa mentioned above, in its stock form, is comparable as a transport to the Marantz (not bad considering its price). A used Theta Data Basic (mentioned above) will imho outperform the Marantz and many other transports.
I am in the same boat. I have phillips cd-80 about 10 years old and am considering upgrading to a tubed unit either a CJ or sonic frontiers unit any suggestions? Thanks
The Rotel RCD970 and 975 have the CDM9 if you want one as a transport
Prfont: Of course I did, are you kidding? When I get any piece of gear in my home (especially one that does not cost me anything) I audition it up one leg and then down the other. I preferred the sound of the Icon II to that of the 506.24 in my system (when running them om their own). The CAL was richer and a tiny bit more forward sounding with a heavier bottom end and fuller mids. The 506.24 had more detail going for it but was just not the sound that I like in my setup. However in my friends system which has full range speakers, and is a SS amp/tube pre combo system, the 506.24 was my preference as the CAL had too much bass and on this we both agreed. I guess that it is always best to audition first.
If you have an "old" philips deck with the venerable 1541 DAC chip, you can easily mod it for 1x non-oversampling.
There are threads over in/on audioasylum on the subject.
Preconceptions aside, you will be amazed how good it can sound.
Share and enjoy...
I have a Sony ES87 changer that has been left on for over 9 years and played nearly everyday ALL DAY LONG (for my pet birds) and myself when I was 'sort of' listening. So that's 9 years times 365 days times 10 hours a day...32,850... a little off for the odd times and that's way over 24,000 hours of playing CDs on one machine that in 9 years time never broke down. (currently the data cable from the optics to the circuit board has an intermittent short and I am to lazy to try to fix it but if I do it will STILL play for how much longer???