Shootout: AMR CD-77 vs. AR CD7 vs. Wadia 581se

Last week I had the pleasure of comparing three highly regarded CD players: the Audio Research Reference CD7, the Wadia 581se, and the Abbingdon Music Research (AMR) CD-77. While I am an audio manufacturers representative, I haven’t any dogs in this race (I have no financial, personal, or any other type of relationship with any of these manufacturers or their representatives). I have been considering upgrading the front end of my own system and had read quite a bit about the AMR, a small new company whose products I had never seen nor heard, only read about. Since the reviews of the unit were so positive, I decided to check it out for myself. The importer, Avatar Acoustics, put me in touch with there southern California representative, Brian Kyle of Xtreme AV. Brian was most gracious and allowed me to take an AMR CD-77 for a few days to evaluate. The particular unit Brian gave me had the latest output coupling capacitors, which I was told, made a substantial improvement over earlier units. Additionally, each of the six tubes in this unit only had one tube dampener on it. The AMR was designed (“voiced”) with two tube dampeners on each tube. Brian had removed one dampener from each tube in order to “adjust” the sound to his particular system (an obvious advantage of tubes). In his system, it sounded excellent, but more on that later…

With Brian’s unit in hand, I drove directly to an outstanding audio shop in San Diego that had both of the other units I was interested in comparing. The AR CD7 was in their “all AR” room, and the Wadia was set up in another room with Krell Evolution gear. On each system, I first listened to the CD player already hooked up, and then to the AMR. The same interconnects (top of the line Transparent Audio) and power cords were used for each machine to keep the playing field even. Lastly, I made sure that all of the equipment was warmed-up sufficiently.

The first system was composed of the following components:

AR Reference CD7
AR Reference 3 preamplifier
Two AR 610T power amplifiers (mono-blocks)
Wilson Maxx Series 2 speakers

On this system, the AR Ref 7 sounded lush and warm (remember, all the electronics are AR’s top-of-the-line tube gear, and that “warm” sound was expected). There was absolutely no hint of the dreaded “digital” glare that plagues so many other CD players. The system presented a convincing soundstage with very good presence. The midrange was excellent. Extreme highs & lows however, were lacking. After listening for a while, I realized that this “warm” sound (that was so seductive when I first started listening) was masking out the upper end detail that I knew should be there. Additionally, there should have been more mid and low-end bass. While the mid-range was strong, the over-all sound was tight and “compressed”. There was no sense of naturalness or openness in the music. Voices lacked the detail to make them believable. With my eyes closed, I wanted to be drawn into the performance; to be in front of the musicians. What I experienced was a powerful, overly warm audio system – the performers were never in the room with me.

Using the same cables, we swapped out the AMR. The difference was startling! That compressed dark sound was gone. The top end completely opened up and the detail was suddenly there. The low end also came out with weight and mass, but not exaggerated. Thankfully, there was no digital glare either! The AMR handled all the subtleties and dynamics beautifully. While the system still had that “warm” tube sound, the music had taken on a far more natural quality.

The second system was composed of the following components:

Wadia 581se
Krell Evolution 202 preamplifier
Krell Evolution 302 amplifier
Wilson Alexandria X2 speakers

As one would expect, nothing “warm” sounding here! This system had it all - lows, middle & highs, everything was there. Unfortunately, that includes a very digital sounding upper end. In fact the system was so resolving, that I found it hard to listen to (even though I know the associated electronics “added” to the sound, I will keep my comments limited to the CD players). Forgetting the digital sound for a moment, what came out of the Wadia was excellent. The high end was accurate and extended. Midrange was delicate and engaging. The low end was also strong and entirely there. Everything was as it should be, except that pesky digital glare…

Upon exchanging the AMR for the Wadia, the music (almost) sounded the same, but this time WITHOUT the digital glare! What a huge improvement! I don’t want to sound like an advertisement or something, but I was really impressed. From top to bottom, this unit did everything the Wadia did, but with the analogue sound of vinyl – no digital artifacts whatsoever.

When I got the AMR home and hooked up to my system, I was floored again. Music from this machine is engaging and full, as if it has layers. Bass reproduction is far superior to anything else I have hooked up at home. I had never heard bass like this from a CD player. The midrange was detailed, open and accurate. No digital glare from this unit at all. My CD’s sounded like they were vinyl - I didn’t want to stop listening. It was pure joy listening to music through it!

Now that I told you all of the things I enjoyed, I’ll tell you a few things I didn’t like about it. The AMR is big and heavy. Let me rephrase that; this thing can give you a hernia! I’m told that all that weight helps keep out vibrations. If you have to move the unit around a lot (as I do), you will have to keep eating your vitamins! I wasn’t terribly impressed with the styling of the unit either. At $8,500.00, I want the machine to look as great as it sounds. Some may like the styling, I didn’t care for it. In regards to what is important, the music, I did find one weakness: The upper end of the music seemed to be a bit thin – lacking in fullness or weight. Yes, I’m being critical, but it was audible. After returning the unit to Brian, it was explained to me that this lack of weight in the upper end was do to the second set of tube dampeners not being installed. This explanation makes sense to me. I didn’t notice the thinness at Brian’s home (all warm sounding tube gear) or while listening to the AR equipment. Perhaps I heard it while listening through the Krell system, but I would have attributed it to the sound of the Krell equipment itself. Adding or subtracting dampeners or changing the tubes themselves will have a profound effect upon the sound. I am fairly confident that the second set of dampeners (as designed) would have corrected this slight shortcoming on my system.

As far as I am concerned, this is an outstanding machine. My criticisms are negligible especially when considering the price of the AMR. Unless I can find a machine that sounds as good and easier to pick up, this is the unit I will be buying.
Ken G.
i disagree with your assessment of both the arc and amr players. however, you should listen to your own ears.

i will suggest that you audition the marantz 7s1. i have heard it twice, and an audio dealer who sells both the marantz and audio research players, suggests that the marantz is warmer than the audio research.
I was excited to read your comments until I realized that you compared three enticing cd players on two totally and polarizing systems..... I guess it is hard for me to make any sense of the review as the Wadia had the deck stacked against it with the Krell gear. Just my opinion, but would you want to compare all three players using all the same gear?
Another pointless "comparison". Unless you have the gear in the same system (ideally in your home system) and that system doesn't have components with questionable "performance", there's no use wasting your time.
Not to pile on, but I would never evaluate any gear through equipment, like those big ARC amps, that uses a lot of negative feedback -- your description of what was wrong with the sound of the ARC CD player ("While the mid-range was strong, the over-all sound was tight and “compressed”. There was no sense of naturalness or openness in the music") was the sound of negative feedback. The extreme abilities of the AMR to layer space offset this somewhat.

I don't dislike ARC gear, owning an ARC CD player and ARC preamp, but their amps sound like hell to me.

I think shootouts are largely pointless and I also do not agree that all of the same equipment should be used for shootouts. Lack of synergy among components will make otherwise top gear sound average or bad, and much of what is heard in shootouts is synergy (or lack of it). My experience has been that it is best to evaluate a component in a system that is recommended by its manufacturer and to buy components, after extensive in-home demos, that work well with my gear. For example, every $5k CD player will work fabulously well in some system, somewhere: the key is to assemble components based upon synergy. Thiel makes good speakers and Krell is very good solid-state, but put them together, especially with cabling like StraightWire, and you'll become a music hater.
I know the members are beating you--say with a wet noodle-- but while I do agree on their points--- my input asks: How many hours on any/ all of these players??? Sometimes dealer products (and systems)for demoing, don't have the 3/4 hundred hrs.time on them that they need.
The second system was composed of the following components:

Wadia 581se
Krell Evolution 202 preamplifier
Krell Evolution 302 amplifier
Wilson Alexandria X2 speakers.....


krell and wadia = fire and water.
throw in wilson = gasoline to fire.
There is NO WAY to seperate the various contributions of the various components in these systems to the sounds that you describe. The only way to choose a CD player for your own system is to play it on YOUR system. Human nature might also introduce some bias for the player that you are toting around. Aolmrd1241 has a point that Krell and Wilson both elicit strong feelings in and of themselves. I'm not convinced of their absolute neutrality. What a given CD player does to improve/harm the sound in these systems might do exactly the opposite in another system. This is no way to compare players. Jmho - Jim
Since everyone else is complaining, I will state that I enjoyed reading your comments. Obviously there were limitations to the auditioning process but there almost always is. Getting three such players into one's own setup is extremely difficult: getting them into a setup "ideal" for each is nigh on impossible.

So, yes, the conclusions one can draw are limited. But is there any audio review that isn't conditional?

Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts.

I’m pleased my post elicited so much feedback (even the shortsighted ones I disagree with)! In an ideal world, I would have had all three machines set up in my own system, that’s obvious. However, given the constraints of time and not wishing to tear apart the dealer’s demo rooms, I am pleased with the information gained.

On both systems, the AMR sounded substantially better than either of the other units it replaced. Was there a high degree of system synergy? No – but that answer applied equally to each machine (less so in the case of the AR) and thus has little relevance. The comment that carries the most weight, to which I don’t have the answer, is how many hours each machine had on it. If I can find that out, I’ll be happy to post it.
I think you can compare CD players or preamps in different systems and still get a good idea of how they sound.
The only real synergy occurs between speakers and amps, but a good pre or a good CD player will sounds good everywhere.

Thanks for your shootout.
Kgproperties: Does the quote "No good deed goes unpunished", have a ring of truth for you?

I want to thank you for the time you spent conveying your experience with the player and the different equipment used. The most important thing you shared was how it sounded to you in your system, which is your personal reference. However, I do not recall you mentioning what you compared it to at home.

Thank you again for your input.

Jonathan Tinn
Chambers Audio
(I do not carry any of the products mentioned above)
What would be your home system K? Anything like the above first or second system? And now do you have synergy? Apologies if your system is listed, I did look around.

Nothing wrong with making the dealer work by lugging around a heavy CD player or amp etc. One of their (B%M) values is being able to mix up their equipment for your ear's benefit. I even enjoy watching the salespeople that are smokers huff and puff. The effort maybe even does them some good.

No offense to all the good smokers on Audiogon.
The dude compared 3 CD players, you'd think he committed a felony.

FWIW: AMR CD-77 got a nice write-up in #56 January Hi Fi+ Canadian Mag.
Very interesting comparisons you made and thanks for posting your thoughts here for the perusal of others.
Please be reassured however that the vast majority who read what you posted will be neither so pedantic nor critical as some of those who have made comments.

You never stated this was a 'shoot out' or a definitive assessment of any player, and obviously you were well aware of the varying strengths/weaknesses of each system you placed the CD-77 in. Ancillary components were listed and I'm sure we all have experience of Krell and AR amplification and what the resultant sound will be like?

Evaluating the AMR-77 as you did is far, far better than just doing so at home, in your own system, as if for instance you thought the CD-77 was overly lush or lacking in bottom end through your own system you can draw on what it was like in the other two systems and realise that the fault lay in your amps/speakers/cables.

When it comes to purchasing a component obviously nobody should do so unless they have heard it in their own system, but you have done this whilst also gaining valuable additional experience of the CD-77 in two systems of almost diametrically opposed qualities.

You should be congratulated so once again, thank you for taking the time to share what you heard.
Thanks again for all the feedback. Differing points of view have always been a part of this hobby/obsession. There were two comments I wanted to respond to; namely how many hours were on the units I evaluated, and the components my own system is comprised of.

After checking back with the dealer, I was informed the AR machine had been on display for about five months, and the Wadia about four months. I know that most dealers will burn-in new machines when they arrive to assure their equipment is sounding its best. After four plus months, I would be reasonably confident that both these machines were “broken in”. The AMR unit was also fully broken in as it was one of the early arrivals. The new output coupling capacitors were only in the machine for a few weeks, but had been burnt-in by the capacitor manufacturer prior to being installed in the AMR.

In regards to my own system, the primary components are:
Viola Cadenza preamplifier
Cello Audio Palette
2 Cello Duet 350’s (bridged)
Cello Grandmaster speakers (with the Dynaudio drivers)
All interconnects fully balanced Viola silver, or Cello Strings
Power is supplied by four dedicated 20 amp lines (fed by ceramic fuses – not circuit breakers) using #10 THHN solid core copper wire into cryoed Hubble hospital-grade receptacles.

The only weak portion of the system is the front-end, which is currently a Camelot Roundtable MK II. With the AMR inserted into my system, (other than my previous comments) the results were breathtaking…
I have had experience with the AMR and must say that it is a very naturally engaging player that is exceptionally well voiced from top to bottom. Imaging is very dimensional and portrays good front to back as well as side to side soundstage portrayal.I was very impressed with the fit and finish of the player. I think you did a good job of reporting what you heard in each system and people may form their own opinions about the said playback systems. I really like your system set up and good luck in your front end search ( sounds like you heard a clear winner).Cheers Dennis

First, kudos to you for going to the effort to evaluate these players yourself and for sharing your thoughts.

I am curious about something, as I have listened to three similar players, two of them in a showroom and all 3 in my home system head-to-head (the AMR came from a different dealer than yours did). The Wadia I demod was a 581i, and I demod them head-to-head in December so I am not sure if the AMR had the new capacitors yet. The AR CD-7 was the same model as far as I can tell. At the showroom, did you try putting the AR CD-7 in the Krell system and or did you put the Wadia with the AR tubed gear? I think the AR would show better high and low frequency extension when paired with the Krell gear and the Wadia similarly can be better if there is one tubed piece involved somewhere (as in switching the AR pre-amp in for the Krell pre-amp in the Krell/Wilson system). Also, depending on the player the Transparent cables will have an effect. You may want to consider a more mix and match approach before you finalize your decision. It depends on how "analytical" the rest of your system is.

I did not find the AR CD7 to be so lacking in frequency extension, and in general found the 3 players to be a bit of a tie in peformance but for varying reasons (but I did not have the new 581 se, which might put it in a different league from the previous generation 581i). I felt that the AMR had it all over the CD-77 for bass control, and similarly the Wadia killed them both in that regard, but paired with the solid state gear I was very impressed with the highs and lows from the CD7. Nevertheless, I was pleased to see that both of these tubed players were considerably better than the tubed CD players that I had heard a year or so before.

For a just little more $$, I liked the T+A D-10 a lot and felt it was very analog without the loss of detail. I demod it in my home system, and it sounded quite a bit different than at the dealer where the system was fully tubed gear. It is also a very attractive piece that comes in any color you would like. Another dealer in SoCal carries that line. It does give up a little bit on the high end, but the analog-like sound is impressive. Again, be careful with the cables if you get a chance to demo it (sounds like your home system is well set up in that regard) I noticed that there was higher than average cable and power cord influence with this player. Also, you may want to consider the higher end players from Audio Aero if you have not yet sealed the deal on the AMR.

Good luck with the decision.
Hi folks, I have a somewhat off topic question. If two brands are making/designing a SOTA CDP, one brand is a well known, well established one with big R&D department (let's say Audio Research) while the other one is a smallish company with only 4 co-workers handling all the production (let's say AMR), I wonder how is it possible for the small company to make a better product (with a selling price that is competitive with or even better) than the bigger company? I mean the bigger company has an economy of scale and it has a bigger R&D department (which is related with more know how).

hi chris:

better is subjective. thus, to say that the amr is "better" than the ar is a matter of opinion, and therefore, your question about big and small companies relates to the company design philosophy.

some people will prefer the ar and others will prefer the amr. the preference has nothing to do with company size.
Chris: Bigger companies have bigger overhead and generally need to charge more to cover their greater expense. This does not always mean that the product built by the smaller company is going to better. Also consider the fewer people handling a production the less likely there will be quality control issues.

Just something to think about.

Chris, I beg to differ as size of the company does not matter. If it did, we all would have Sony or Philips gear throughout. As you know, a great design is not based on economics but the ability to understand how to get closer to the soul of music. Economy of scale helps to keep the price down (e.g Logitech Touch).
I want to know which company Ken G. represents?

I think his assessment / report was outstanding. I look forward to more of his demo sessions. Thank You.