Review: Consonance CD-120 Linear CD Player

Category: Digital

Review attempt #2
First off, thanks to all at A'gon as I would never have brought my system up to its present level without this site. And thanks for getting me back in debt.
Now to the Consonance CD-120 Linear. Its a beautiful unit in an understated way. All brushed aluminum with six buttons, three vertically arrayed on either side of the drawer and display and that's it. Even the product description: 'cd 120 linear high-end compact disc player' is printed on the lower right in very small lettering. Nice. Weighing in at 10k, it has a substantial feel but not overbuilt to the point of a bank vault as seems the trend nowadays. At back are gold plated outputs and an IEC jack, as it does benefit from a better power cord.
My tastes have gone to world music, light jazz, vocals of any sort and acoustic. I find them to be involving and satisfying in a way that rock, alternative and the like fail to do for me now.
To my ears, balance is key as I don't want any part of the frequency spectrum to dominate. That and I don't want congestion or homoginizing of sound, making it difficult follow the music. Well, balance this unit has and it excels in unraveling the music. At first, it seems a bit polite until you realize that everything in balanced and has a full and natural presentation. You can follow any and all parts of the music and end up reveling, gestalt like, in the whole. I find myself picking out various lines, styles, and interplay that was not possible before. I can even tell when an engineer plays with the recording as background level changes become very apparent but this is not to the point of distraction. It just goes to show how utterly revealing this CDP is. Unraveling music to the point of a natural recording venue is quite a feat and this unit does it in stride.
Highs don't make you wince. Cymbals shimmer and decay in all directions, Even long, high notes decay well into the music as it plays: its soooo easy to discern and follow. Vocalsist sound quite real as you can hear the notes forming in their chest and throats. There's more anatomy to the singers making it more realistic. Drums have ther own distinct, separate, tuned sound making them more 3-D. Drumkits are spread out before you. Guitars are sublimely rendered. Plucking, fingerplay, strumming with the base of the fingers or nails are easily discerned. Cellos have that initial bite followed by the pull of the wand. You can folow the intensity of that pull to the end. Spooky good. Piano has that crisp tinkle of the intial hit, no matter how soft or hard. Good recordings allow you to hear the interplay of the adjoining strings as they vibrate in sympathy. Foot pedals are heard as they play on the notes. But all of this is not to the point of distraction. Its just more realistic.
Norah Jones had overstayed her welcome in my rotation until the arrival of this CDP. Its like hearing her for the first time. Her voice is so sweet and tender, powerful and frail when called for. To hear her trail off and vary her voice to the end, followed by that last breathy exhale makes her appear to be in the room in front of you. The same goes for Diana Krall. Yes, her voice is sexy and husky, but not as much as my old Rotel RCD-971 portrayed. She has softness and delicacy and she, too, can play her voice as it trails off, giving that illusion of being there. It seems that anything that is on the recording is going to come out upon listening. I can even hear the breathing of a guitarist, taken in large amounts, spaced apart. as he plays difficult passages. It makes for a very real presentation.
I can't really comment on soundstaging as I listen in the nearfield. Suffice to say that I can detect music about two feet outside the speakers and the soundstage is at least 7' tall, down to the floor, when called for. Image don't waver and are very stable.
If I seem to concentrate on detail and delicacy over forcefulness and ham-handedness, this is due, in part, to my speakers and my preferences. My speakers are Decware 1.5s and they complement the Consonance very nicely. The main driver is an inverted cone that fires up and outwards with only the ribbon tweeter (3000Kz and up) facing the listener. The sound is difuse yet alive when it reaches my ears and I now prefer this to the 'in your face' that most other speakers portray. Instead of muscians being in your lap, you are at the venue. So my descriptions may make this unit sound effete and poilite but that would be a big mistake. Dynamics and transients are powerful and handled with aplomb. There's just no exageration. Maybe its because there are no digital filters, opamps, up, and over sampling to round out and approximate the sound. Maybe this is closer to a 'master tape' sound. I can't really say although I like it alot. I've never felt the need to replace my Rotel as I found the sound of the units I've listened to, in my price range, to be just different, not better.
As for how this fares against SACD, I going to go out on a limb state that this player, on Redbook, is on par with SACD. Granted, my exposure to SACD is very limited but what I heard didn't impress me much. I recently got a Sony DVP-NS90V dvd player that has SACD and it sounds like crap compared to the Consonance (the video is fantastic by the way using the HDMI hook-up). The sound is noticeably weaker and closed in. I know this is not fairly representative of SACD but I'm keeping to my price point and realize that there are SACD units out there that will give this unit a run for the money. but, again, at what cost?
My only caveat is a drawer with a mind of its own. In the first week or so, it would close right after opening about a third of the time! Now it meerly amuses me when it occasionally happens.
In my search for a new CDP I had hoped for someone to take the success of the stand alone 16 bit DACs and incorporate it in one box CDP and it took Opera Audio to do it. Bravo Opera Audio! I know that Audio Note did it before but not for the masses and at a price they could afford. It seems the Chinese wre content to follow and not inovate and here they lead with the Consonance CD-120 Linear. One only hopes that others will follow since this is better sounding and less costly to build.. This unit set me back $800 and its money well spent. It's music to my ears.
By the way, I got this from Quest For Sound and Stephen was a pleasure to deal with.


Associated gear
TAD moddified Cayin CA-30 tube intergrated
Decware 1.5 speakers
Maplesahde Ultraribbon interconnects
Mapleshade Golden Helix speaker cables
Cypress subwoofer
Herbie's tenderfeet, Grungebuster 2 CD mat, Halo tube dampers
older version Tube Audio Design Cryo'd power cord for CA-30
GTT Group power cords for Consonance CDP & Cypress sub
Silclear on all connections
Lotus Groups cryo'd Pass & Seymour 5362 outlets
You have done an excellent job of describing this piece. I have heard it myself and thought it does an excellent job. After reading your comments I realized why I enjoyed this player, it is a simpler design than most players but it is truer to the music in its presentation.
I haven't heard the Linear but the previous iteration was good. I preferred it to the lesser expensive and ubiquitous British players. IMHO This Brand has not recieved the recognition it deserves for the most part. I own an Opera/Consonance tube amp. My only affiliation with them is that I live near the distributor and have visited the shop he maintains on a fairly frequent basis. I have no ther conflict of interest to disclose other than that Stephen Monte (the distributor and Agon dealer) of Quest for Sound offers a discount to our local audiophile society on most items.
How lucky you are to live so close. I agree that Opera/Consonance hasn't received the recognition they deserve. On '' there is a review on the Consonance Cyber 211 tube monblock (retails for $4995) that the author states is right up there with the Audio Note Ongaku ($90,000!) that he used to own. He kept the Cyber 211.
Thanks for your kind words. I didn't realize how much goes into a review until now. It's harder than it reads. I tend to ramble and go off on tangents trying to convey my thoughts while staying on topic. I couldn't have said it better than your last sentence. Perfectly succinct.
Very good review of the CD-120 Linear - curious have you ever compared it with the more expensive CD-120 ?
No, I haven't. I have to admit that the CD-120 was the first CDP that got my interest but I couldn't afford it at the time. Either way, I'm glad I waited.
Let me just add to this that I have had this player for about 2.5 months now, and I feel it is the best CD sound I have had in my house (Original, Eastsound, Audio Refinement, Audiomeca, and more). It doesn't wow you with what it does - it wows you with what it doesn't do. It doesn't fatigue you, nor make you want to change discs looking for ones that will sound good. It does everything right in an understated way, and allows you to just listen to the music and not focus on the technology....
Singleguy - I have had the CD-120 Linear since this past September and feel it is the most analog-like player I have heard. Now I'm not even listening to albums all that much since CDs are sounding so good.
Bob - I know exactly how you feel. My albums are getting very lonely nowadays. I'm enjoying CD's that I had relegated as being unlistenable before. Can't figure out how the CD-120 makes them sound so listenable and enjoyable.

I'm wondering about the Ref 2.2 Linear now...I might look into trying one of those out. Wanted to ask about the Qinpu A1.0x - how does the Linear pair up with that?

Very interesting review, Nonoise.
However, Consonance does makes two types of 120 player. They make a NOS version, which is the 120 Linear that you have described, and an OS version which is the CD 120 (with no Linear in the title).
There is also the 120-10, which is an OS valve version of the 120.
The same goes for the NOS Ref 2,2 Linear, and the OS Ref 2,2 Mk II.

I would very much like to know whether you listened to both versions before choosing the Linear. If so, can you tell us how they compare?

Strangely, the OS Droplet owners on Audiogon do not seem so pleased with their purchase, so I wonder whether the NOS Linear is not better because it does not have oversampling.

Mechans, above, mentioned that he is close to the Quest for Sound shop, and they sell both versions of the Ref 2,2. It would be very good if you (Mechan) could report on this difference between the two types of Ref 2,2 (NOS versus OS). There is a slight difference in price, the OS Mk II being slightly more expensive than the NOS Ref 2,2 Linear.

Quest for Sound also sells the OS Raysonic, which has had good write-ups by an Audiogon member. Again it would be good if you could report on that machine in comparison.
13d3tube - I used to have the original CD-120 24/96 version and now have the CD-120 Linear. To my ears the Linear is more analog-like and enjoyable to listen to; it's almost like listening to an album. Just to give you an example I have the Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Time Out" on both the CD and the $30 200 gram reissue. The record sounds wonderful but I feel that the CD on the Consonance CD-120 Linear actually sounds slightly better.
I find that remark very useful, Bobgates. However, I think the present CD 120 is 24bit 192KHz multilevel sigma-delta with synchronous upsampling.

I don't know how this differs from the older CD-120 24/96; but it might be better. Did you listen to both models when you chose the Linear?

A number of people talk about time smearing with the OS, and this could make the NOS better. However, if Consonance continues to make both types, there may be a reason. One might be more anaog-like and the other have better sound staging, or something of that sort.

Has anyone compared the two REF players?
13d3tube - Good point; I had one of the early CD-120s when they first came onto the market; bought it from Quest for Sound. Unlike the newer CD-120s, which are silver, this unit was all black including the faceplate. Possibly the earlier CD-120 did have a lower sampling rate and doesn't sound as good as the latest version. This might be a good question for the distributor of the Consonance line.
Great review, nonoise, and hoorah for Opera Audio!

I had the original CD-120 and it was an oversampler. It's highs were
obviously a problem, as they were smeared, and hazed. This lack of clarity
affected all frequencies. I am running an Audio Note/Lambda combo that
runs circles around the old CD-120.

Now that OPera Audio has come out with a NOS version of the 120, I may or
may not try it again. I think there is more to my front end's supremacy
beyond being NOS.
I listened to the OS and the NOS Linear. While I enjoyed both I kept thinking that the purity of the tone in the NOS was much more to my liking. I wouldn't call it comparible to a good analogue system. I will say that it is more in line with single ended triodes but weightier. The Os by comparison was richer sounding but struck me as more colored but still very clean and truer sounding to me than the vast majority of CDPs.
As always it's a matter of personal taste. I kept being drawn back to the NOS for it's simplicity. It nor the OS versions are the last word in any parameter you can think of, but it was very compelling and involving. That is if you are not seeking euphonic or rolled off sound. If you are seeking the British sound which is not my cup of proverbial tea, I would stick with those players. these are sooo much cleaner sounding. The best part of all is the price is remarkably low for either. list for the Non OS No Op amp version is about $900 list.
Yes I bought it and use it as my daily CDP. I listened to the reference which is much weightier but did not posess the tonal or timbral beauty of the less expensive little brothers. I wanted something that didn't give me the impression that I was getting artifact. One word of warning it is exquisitely sensitive to defects in the CD and the inherent simplicity results in it reproducing what it can and will pick up. No filters, corrections interpolations here.
In Sum I can't tell you how pleased I am with it, nothing I have heard comes close and for the money it is a true bargain.
Mechans - that's a very good assessment; I definatetly agree that the NOS Linear is not quite as good as the very best vinyl analog but is still quite respectable.
I have had a CD 120 Linear for a few months now and it is the first CD player I have ever had that I actually like to listen to. Before that, I listened to CD only because I had to. The main feature for me is the excellent PRaT. I don't remember getting this much enjoyment from my Naim CD player. And this wonderful PRaT comes without Naim's finicky bits and pieces. I don't think I have put a single CD in this thing that sounded bad. I had to get used to the presentation though. Many CDs sounded like a complete remix of the same CD. Although my system doesn't do soundstage and imaging all that well, the things I heard coming out of it lead me to believe that this would image well on systems that are set up for it. Highly recommended for those that like LP more than CD.