Short report on EAR Acute CD player
I will not attempt here to do a full review, but will make some comments about this CD player, because I think it could use some more coverage on Audiogon; it is a very nice player, depending upon your interests.
I've been struggling with CD sound for several years. The problem is that, as one's gear gets better and better, the problems with CD sound can become increasingly annoying, especially in the treble. I've had some good CD players in my home over the last few years: the Wadia 860; the Linn CD12; the Wadia 860 with GNSC mods; one of the Ayre players; and the EMM CDSA. I had pretty well settled in with the GNSC-modified Wadia, but last fall rejuvenated my Linn LP12 and got a new Koetsu Black. As good as the Wadia is, good Lps gave me better detail and an easier, more relaxed and natural high end. In fact, I was beginning to despair of ever listening to CD's again...and I have a lot of them. (I should add that I listen mostly to classical music.)
I was using an EAR 834P phono pre-amp, and really liked it. It made me wonder about the EAR Acute, which has gotten some favorable press, but some criticism of build quality. Curiosity finally overcame things (as the pound kept rising), and I sold some piece of gear, and used the funds to buy an Acute. It's been in my system for about 6-8 weeks. I've done no tube-rolling...yet.
The positive things you may have heard about the Acute are true. It is as close to tube analog sound as I've heard from a CD player. EAR starts with an Adcom unit (which are darn good units, in their price range) and rebuilds all the analog parts, as I understand. The end result, on the outside, doesn't seem very fancy, and the transport is just a simple plastic drawer. The Acute certainly doesn't have the rock-solid feel of a Wadia. On the other hand, it costs quite a bit less. And what I really cared about was the sound, and in that, I got what I wanted.
Detail retrieval is excellent, although the GNSC is better. It's the highs in the Acute that make it special, to me. Like analog, they are a bit warmer, easier, and more relaxed--more mid-hall--than the Wadia. Indeed, the images seem further back from the speakers with the Acute than with the Wadia. The Acute is more forgiving of the sharpness that one finds with digital recordings of massed strings (a particular concern for this listener). Presumably, one can tinker with this further by rolling tubes, and I intend to play with it. But the bottom line is that the Acute is providing me listening "access" to some CDs that I had found fatiguing in every other CD player I'd listened to.
Now, that having been said, the Wadia does a few things so well that I'm not sure I'll let go of it. Reproduction of piano is especially solid, full, and exciting. Jazz and pop usually sound great on the Wadia. That stuff sounds good on the EAR, too, but overall, it's a bit softer presentation. I've got to do more comparing.
So, count this as a vote in favor of the EAR Acute as one of the most analog-like CD players floating around out there--at least of those I've heard--but that includes some players that have also been described as "analog-like."
I'm using Harbeth Monitor 30's (very revealing, but warm), an Essex sub, various electronics (all tube), and Cardas Cross cables.