Review, Cayin CDT-17A Tube Output CD Player

A tube CD player from China, how good can it be?

This was the first question I asked myself when I heard about the Cayin CDT-17A. But after reading the reviews from Audiogon, Audioasylum and reviews from Hong Kong, China and Japan, I thought that it could be an undiscovered jewel for audiophile in the US. Also, I learned that the major components used in CDT-17A ($1,795) are similar to those of other name brands such as Cary 303/300 ($4,000) but at less than half of the price. So I decided to give it a try.

It took a while for the player to deliver to me but it finally arrived last week. Anxiously, I plugged it in and turned the power on. I immediately fell in love with the beautiful blue light that glowed around the display and control panel. Even though it sounded good from the time I powered it on, I decided to let it break in for a few days before I gave it a serious listen.

This unit is a front loading player. The loading mechanism is smooth and quiet that can only be found in a more expensive high end player. The front panel has a power on/off switch, a 5-button control and a 2-line text display. It looks simple but elegant. On the rear panel, it has a pair of balanced and unbalanced outputs, a coax and an optical for digital outputs and an AES/EBU. This player uses two 24/196 Burr-Brown PCM1792 DACs. Each channel has its own dedicated PCM1792 DAC. There are four Russian made 6922EH tubes, two each used for balanced and unbalanced outputs. Useless to say, it comes with a full function remote control.

Since it is a tube output player, I wanted to know how good it performs on the midrange so I chose “Best Audiophile Voices” as my first CD. When the first track, Jane Monheit's “Over the Rainbow” was played, I immediately noticed that her voice was warmer, fuller and made me feel more relaxed and involved.

Jacintha's Danny Boy from "Here's to Ben" is a wonderful piece played on this player. It sounds like you were sitting right in the center of an empty huge music hall listening to her singing. It is so quiet and airy. The air surrounds each of her note and breath. The sound ripples through the air to every space of the hall.

I said "wow" when the “Poem of Chinese Drums” in Burmester CD-3 was played. The thunders of drums sounded so deep, powerful and reverberated as if I never heard it before. Each strike to the drum was so clear, vivid and so alive. It was like Yim Hok Man and his teammates were playing right in front of you.

When I played Yo Yo Ma’s “Japanese Melodies” I found the depth and soundstage of Matsushima Ondo was beyond what I can believe. I was able to clearly locate the Japanese instruments (Shamisen, Hayashi) on the stage behind Yo Yo’s cello.

When “Live at the Misty” was played, I was again totally amazed. Though I have played this CD so many times in the past, this was the first time I heard female voices in the background noise. This player brings out more details of the CD and is more transparent and airier, so I was able to distinguish the male and female conversations in the background. This made me feel like I was sitting in the corner of a crowded Misty in Roppongi, sipping on a Martini. The sound of congas on track 3, “Dark Eyes” also seemed so real. It was as if the conga notes were jumping out in front of me and I could just reach out my hands to grab them.

When I put on “Waltz for Debby” by Bill Evans Trio, it gave me the same feeling of liveliness as “Live at the Misty”. The background noise including the clicking sounds from the waiters putting away the plates made it seem as if I was dining right there.

From build quality, sonic performance and price perspective, Cayin CDT-17A is definitely worth buying. If you are looking for an excellent CD player but do not want to pay high dollars, this is the one for you. You will find it a bargain.

For reference, my system consists of the following components:

Wilson Watt/Puppy 6
Transparent Ultra speaker cables
Krell FPB300cx
Acoustic Zen
Mark Levinson 320s
JSP Superconductor 2
Cayin CDT-17A
Thats great. Thanks for sharing. I would give it a try but.... I am trying to buy all American, or at the very least, all North American. Canuckistan makes some fine audio products too!