Silky and soft highs II: CD reference tests

I've been in some interesting discussions here recently regarding high end CD players and have heard a couple at dealers recently, including the DCS Puccini which certainly has to be considered one of the best.

I currently own a very modest Denon player/recorder that is sounding the best of any player I've ever owned in my current system at present.

The flaw that I have heard most frequently in CD players over the years that I notice and bothers me when I hear it is what I think is commonly referred to as graininess, often recognizable as sibilance in the high end. I hear it most easily when present in long drawn out violin notes at a certain pitch, for example, possibly a result of jitter in the analog signal due to clock or other issues in recreating high frequencies from the digital stream correctly in the analog waveform. I suspect better CD players do a better job in general of avoiding or perhaps even masking this somehow if in fact it is inherent in the CD formats limitations.

I'd like to know if anyone can suggest a CD recording I might own that I might use as a test for how well my player handles this? Also any info regarding what to listen for to determine sound quality would be appreciated.

General discussion of this topic is also welcome.

most of todays cd players handle 'reference' discs incredibly well(even cheaper ones). the sonic shortcomings you're refering to are most often in the recording, a by product of the mastering of the disc itself.
I second what Jaybo said, and would also add the amp you use has quite an effect on the sound as well.

What you say is probably true, but, that aside, I'm wondering if anybody can suggest something to listen for from a passage of a particular CD that they have heard differences with from player to player so that I can see what I hear on my system for comparison. I'm looking for something specific to listen for that clearly separates a better player from a lesser one, all other factors aside.
here are two reference cds i use:

1) holly cole don't smoke in bed, track 1. observe sibilance.

2) bob james and earl klugh, two of a kind, track 3. listen to cymbal at the beginning of the track and then listen to the nylong strings of an acoustic guitar.

please let me know of your experiences using these discs.
I have Bob James and Earl Klugh "Cool" and Earl Klugh "Move".

Anything similar worth listening to in these?
I've recently revisited several CD recordings in the Jascha Heifitz Collection series on RCA Vistor Gold Seal.

I must say that these are some absolutely striking recordings both in terms of sonics and performance, among the best I have heard recently.

Specifically, I am currently listening to The Mozart Concerto #5, Sonata, Quintet CD. The Concerto #5 piece was recorded in 1963 and is quite exquisite!
0ne of the tracks I use for comparing things is Diana Krall's cover of "A Case of You," from Live in Paris. I think it's a pretty good recording, and with just her and the piano and the room, it seems a pretty revealing test. If I get you, it does not have the kind of highs you are looking for though. John
Shelby Lynne (track4), when played though my Rotel pre/pro it sounds fine but though the Adcom dac her voice seems to breakup at times. Nora Jones (sunrise)and Cat Powers (a few tracks) same thing. The Rotel seems to mask CD problems more but the Adcom sounds better 98% of the time. When I burn a copy the problem goes away.
A common theme emerging seems to be that many problems with CDs start with the recording itself and that different units do different things to compensate or not.

I'm still struggling to determine how much of a resulting good sound from CD source is due to higher quality or more accurate reproduction (harder/more costly to achieve) versus performing various signal processing tricks in the digital domain to make things sound "better" (easier/less costly to achieve).

To me its analogous to what makes a good digital image. You can have a better camera with better optics, A/D converter, etc., the technology for which is expensive But the picture can still be made to look better via use of filters, image processing enhancements, etc., the technology for which is veryy common place these days and not as expensive.

I suspect the same things go on with digital audio as a rule.
Mapman, I think you're onto something. The upscaling DACs seem to be doing something more, so that old CDs, from 16/44.1 masters of old sound better than their analog counterparts of the same masters. I've got some old Telarc LPs from the late 1970s. I can hardly stand listening to them on my TT, but the CD versions sound very, very good on my Playback Designs MPS-5. As you know, the MPS-5 has a proprietery upscaling DAC that takes the CD up to DSD levels, but there has to be some alogarythm filling in the blanks, adding life and exorcising the digital glaze.

It's funny, it took LPs of early digital to capture forever the horror of that. I can't believe that I actually thought those LPs sounded good back then!!! I can't stand them today, but the CDs of the same master are just hunky dory on my MPS-5.

Do "better" CDs sound superior to their ordinary CD versions when compared on the MPS-5? The answer is "yes, but not a whole lot." Comparing the CD-layer to the two-channel SACD-layer on a hybrid SACD, the SACD layer is superior, but if the gap was 50 vs. 100 on my old Pioneer, it's now down to 90 vs. 100. Now, with the MPS-5, my purchase decision is now mostly down to cost, where before the MPS-5 I might pay twice as much for vinyl or 1/3d more for SACD I'm now largely indifferent. When the SACD is available, then I'll usually spring for it if it's only 1/3d higher or so.

If you can know beforehand, it really comes down to the mastering engineers' choices. Generally reissues of non-audiophile release will sound better than the orignal CD, due to different balance levels, compression, etc. which you now easily hear. This comes into my decision process, in addition to fomat vs. price.


I'm wondering if some of the enhancement tricks played with digital processing of lesser digital source material can be introduced via separate digital signal processing devices of some sort as opposed to having to change out the entire player to achieve much of the benefit?

I think the big attraction that caught my ears way back when with some of the original digital recordings on vinyl (and CDs once they came out), like those on TelArc,was the large dynamic range encoded. I think I have a few TElArc lps around still...I'll have to give another listen.
Mapman, people are doing things, like adding tubes, to try to enhance "digital sound", but I haven't heard anything like taht that works yet. For now, I think you'll only get it with a high-end DAC.

I've been doing some critical listening this afternoon with a variety of CDs and vinyl.

I've reached the conclusion that Jaybo was right. The issues when they occur are mainly in the recordings.

Jaybo, you the man!