Review: Playback Designs MPS-5 CD Player

Category: Digital

1st impressions of the Playback Designs MPS-5.

briefly; The MPS-5 plays redbook and SACD's; it can also be used as a DAC for a music server as well as as a transport. i do plan on getting into server based music and so i like that part. the MPS-5 is also set up so it's software is easily upgradable.

Playback Designs is a new company. this is their first product.

at 1:40pm PDT today the fedex driver pulled up and dropped off the box.

finally; after 5 weeks without.....I HAVE DIGITAL AGAIN.

mine is one of the first 2 units shipped, and the first to arrive. i had heard a prototype a few months back and made a decision to replace my EMM Labs SE Combo with this new product. i had not compared the my EMM Labs Signature directly to that prototype; but i did like some things i heard and made the change.

first; the packaging was perfect and easy to unpack; i was playing music in about 2 minutes after openning the box. the player itself is very handsome; fit and finish are impeccable, a beautiful aluminum case, brushed silver metal on top and black anodized on the bottom. the remote is similarly elegant, and feels very nice in your hand. large, easy to use buttons and it's back lit.

the EMM Labs never had this level of industrial design; but prior to that i owned the Linn CD-12 and before that the Levinson dac and transport. performance is my only criteria; but i also enjoy audio jewelry assuming it can deliver the sonic goods.

how does it sound?

my very first impression in the first 30 seconds was big and bold. the Playback Designs uses a transformer based power supply instead of the switching power supply of the EMM Labs SE Combo. i wonder if that is a factor here.

i must point out that my EMM Labs SE Combo was packed up and shipped to it's new owner in late April. so my aural memory of that is 5 weeks old. OTOH i owned EMM Labs for 5 years, and the SE for the last 2 years. so my sense of that is pretty good.

i'm hearing a sound that fills the soundstage to a greater degree, and the bass seems to have more authority.

beyond that initial impression; like any brand new digital player; the sound started off somewhat congested, sluggish and closed in. after about 45 minutes things started to open up a bit and i could hear farther into the soundstage. it's now been about 90 minutes of play and things are getting more interesting.

it's still somewhat closed in on top but i'm getting more lively micro-dynamics and a bit more transparency in the mids. the bass is getting cleaner and tighter, a few more hours and.......

i like where this is going.

anyway; i'll be breaking this baby in over the next week or so and will continue to offer impressions.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
EMM Labs CDSD SE Transport, EMM Labs DAC6 SE
now at approx 4 hours and my whole digital reproduction reference is significantly changed.

my above comments related to the first couple of hours; as i studied the manual i had a very familiar disc playing on repeat, Burmeister II. i had heard how things were changing cut by cut. then i took some time to post my very 1st impressions.

45 minutes ago i started playing some of my best reference discs; and i must now state that i have never heard any digital that has this level of resolution, while having a wonderful combination of solidness and bass slam, and with a wonderful ease and naturalness. i hear far into musical textures, each musical line has it's own space and decay and transient events are superlative and unique in my digital experience.

i have heard a few digital masters played back and this tops my recollection of those experiences.

i will stop for now as where do i go from this.

anyone who has one of these on the way is going to go nuts when they hear it. i just called a couple of friends to see if i could get someone here to make sure i've not lost it. they didn't answer.

i could be mad.

stay tuned.
ok here are links to pictures of the Playback Designs MPS-5. i had to use a 70mm--300mm VR lens for this as my shorter focal length lens is not yet here.....and i'm not much of a photographer to begin please be gentle.

the MPS-5

back of MPS-5

on the shelf turned on

the remote

the remote has a phase toggle and a dim button to turn the front panel lights off, the remote is also back lit.....very nice and feels comfortable in your hand. the buttons are big enough and well placed so i quickly got a feel for it.
Excellent review, great room. Obviously, serious music lover. The room is the thing, all else follows.
among other things, I am jealous because the remot is backlit.

As usual, all the audiophiles are at least one step behind mike.

Mike and others help convinced me to get the dartzeel amplifier and then recently I hocked some silver, some gold, and sold my soul to the proverbial devil to get the dartzeel preamp. Now I have an even wider monkey grin but of course this may well be the next evolution in cd players. It looks nice and cute too! I wish players would provide more information on the track playing. My marantz reference lists the track name for sacds but not cds.

Mike keep us posted on your progression and how does the sacds sound?