The CD Player Lie?

Okay...the title is sensational, I know and it's NOT a lie of course, but read on.

Quite recently I had a chance to seriously compare a Jolida 100A, Rega Apollo and a low end modified Oppo. The oppo cost under 300 bucks. The Jolida was also modified and cost over 1500. We also tossed a Sony BD-320 Blu-Ray player into the mix.
Speakers were Magnepan 1.6 driven with a Odyssey Stratos, but we also had a one year old pair of Merlin TSM MMe's on hand along with Creek, Music Hall 25 and Rotel power. The Rotel 1080 was fed through a Rogue Metis (no mods) as was the Odyssey.

While none of this is ULTRA high end electronics, it's good stuff and the speakers are very much world class in transparency.

Here's what we found:

The best sounding player in the group was the least expensive in the Oppo. It had a shallow soundstage, but it's leaner mid-bass was truer to vocals, especially male. The Jolida sounded too thick by comparison, though it was smoother in the highs. The Rega Apollo came in second or first depending on what you wanted. It had a deeper soundstage, but also seemed a bit bright and overly crisp. It was a subtle issue and perhaps different interconnects would help. The Sony Blu-Ray player was a complete surprise. While it was bright like the Rega, it also seemed to extract more articulate bass info, to the point where we checked it's menu for any bass enhancement settings. In the end the Sony, which costs under 200 dollars, produced a viable and enjoyable sound that we certainly found livable, and downright fun.

After several hours of messing around we decided that ALL of the CD players had subtle differences, and all had weaknesses and advantages, especially switching to different systems. It was much like good speaker wires and MUCH less of a difference we had heard 10 years ago with various players. The rapidly improving technology has certainly shrunk the disparity between high end and mid fi by a large margin and you get an ever smaller set of diminishing returns when you step up to costlier CD players.
I had found this exact same result with my system last year, but this was a better test with more variety. My new system will be getting all new components, but I consider the new CD player the least important link in the chain, even compared to cables.

This is what we heard and agreed on. Certainly the "sense" of this hobby will generally not agree, especially if you just spent a fortune on a CD player. It probably DOES have different characteristics, but that's not always going to make it synergistic with the rest of your system. A Oppo beat the Jolida hands down with the Magnepans. There was no doubt. And the Sony did very well.

And that's the truth, at least according to our ears!


Robert B
Aren’t all those CDPs close in price? I mean there was no $500 - $1,000 disparity among the lot, right? I’d think that a wise way to examine different CDPs personally.

I feel the Oppo are an over achieving line of digital products to begin with, and digital in general has made some really great strides in the past few years… especially in the past few years.

It’s no wonder each came off as different sounding, either. Different isn’t a bad thing BTW. Using a DV980 & a SCD xa777es with a Bel Canto DAC3 the disparity in sound did not show the disparity in their prices… $175 v $3000.

Without the DAC in play, the oppo IMHO was within a few percentage points, 15? 20? 10? And of course they were different sounding and had their own fingerprint on the staging.

I like or can live with, both sonic fingerprints of the Oppo and Sony line. I Sold the xa777, still have the 980, and now have the BDP 83. Using the BC D3 the BDP 83 comes a lot closer to the sound of the XA 777, but fails in the bottom end to completely cover it. From recollection Sony usually has a quite dynamic depiction and strong bass performance, generally speaking.

Money matters. A lot of money in a CDP and the nature of this digital age sets the point of diminishing returns lower, and the margins of gain smaller… but I doubt myself, if I had the jack to throw into a uber high end CDP, I’d say it was anything nearing a close race with it v any other CDP. My ego would be bruised too much probably. Gratefully that ain’t gonna happen.

Nice read … good thoughts… I’m sure that was real fun to do… and great that different types of speakers were in play too.. Thanks.
room,amp and speakers with all the rest having a lesser degree of affect with better sound...
I'm not surprised, not surprised one bit-since I reached a similar but more diverse conclusion long ago. Consumer Reports,Affordable Audio, The Sensible Sound, Corey Greenberg, Julian Hirsch etc, all have your back Robert B.
I think that we all know that every piece of audio equipment sounds the same. It has been stated many times that two amplifiers of equal power will always sound exactly the same. Cable upgrades are a conspiracy of right wing capitalists to steal from us and power conditioners are, well, thier just communist. Everything sounds the same. I used to have a pair of Magico Ultimates driver by all Japan Kondo electronics and pure silver wire and then someone brought over a bose wave radio and it sounded EXACTLY the same. I am currently in the process of selling off things to finance the new bose wave with MP3 capability, that is so new it must sound........... well, the same.
Davt, What Robert B was pointing out-was the tremendous amount of value to be found in rationally priced CD players. Nothing more, nothing less.
Good for you and your friends on the experiment.I say,who cares what anyone else thinks?You hear what you hear and you are the one that has to listen to it.I don't understand why some folks have to have "approval" from someone else to qualify what they hear and like.I was once caught in this trap and I'm glad I came to my senses.
your conclusions do not surprise me.

A lot of what people perceive as good or bad in CD playback is purely subjective and a matter of preference. Different strokes for different folks (and systems). Nobody agrees on the best wine or flavor of ice cream, etc. etc. Its not hard or expensive to get good digital as a source these days. Getting the sound you want from teh system as a whole is a lot harder and possibly also more costly as a rule.
Dave, none of the players sounded the same. My point is that the lowest priced of the lot really came quite close to what the "better" and far more expensive player was doing. The Jolida cost 7 times more than the Sony and I think the Sony was worse in some respects and clearly better in others. But the Jolida, a well respected machine, did not walk all over Sony.
I've also auditioned much more expensive CD players and I've generally come away underwhelmed. This has not been the case with speakers and amps where I think most higher end gear does sound better across the board.
But CD players have come a long way and the biggest strides in the format as we know have already been made, and trickled down to mid-fi. I'd never "expect" a 3000 dollar player to beat a 300 dollar one without hearing the evidence 1st. As I like to say, "The high end is not about price."


Robert B
Sorry, I was did not mean to critisize your findings, I have also demo'd many items and found the cheaper was better to my ears. My Classe CA2200 is an example as when I demo'd it I did not know the cost and compared it to top stereo amps from companies such and Mc/P/S ect. I liked the Classe the most and was very happy to learn it was the cheapest of the bunch. I was more attempting to make fun of the idea that some people have that everything sounds the same or that if it is more expensive it must sound better. Also, the retail of audio often has little to do with the cost of manufacture or the value. You presented a detailed and well thought out review, my goal was to make fun of our assumptions not your presentation.
The same things happens with all gear. Yes even amps, preamps etc. Price alone is no indicator of sound quality. Just as important is how it mates in your room, with your wire and other components.

Nothing new here and something all us Aphiles must always keep in mind. Your post is truth and is also truth for all gear!!!
I am curious as to what music you were using for your comparisions.
the hobby is subjective. robbob, what you concluded from your study of cd players applies to all components.

it's all a matter of taste. what is better for one is not better for another. this has been stated many times.
Davt, I know how disappointed you are in your hig-powered Kondo gear, especially after it was equaled by Bose. I feel your pain.

Shoot me an email, I will gladly take that Kondo junk off your hand for a good low price, lol.......
Too find the better of medicority doesn't really mean anything. Digital (as is anolog, in our hobby,) is very difficult to achieve properly. Many of us here have spent tens of years (in education of theory, electronics, music, acoustics, psychology) and tens of thousands of dollars in investment and audition of gear. What you have experienced is the first rung in a long ladder. I hope you continue the trip upward.
I have the Sony. Blu-ray and DVDs are fine, but I can't stand listening to cds on it. My old Arcam cd72 sounds much better.
The more expensive equipment is expected to sound better and therefore is listened to with a more discriminating ear.
The opposite is true of inexpensive equipment. We are surprised it sounds so good in the first place. We relax and enjoy the music.
But over the long haul the inferior and usually the lower priced equipment will reveal it's weaknesses.
It would be nice to know more about the system and your room.
For the life of me, I don't see how anyone can draw any conclusions from listening to quite a few different components, within a short period of time. This gets very confusing. I can't tell you how many times I've compared changes during one session, and picked what I thought was the best, and only to decide after long term listening, over multiple sessions and MANY different recordings (days or weeks), that I made the wrong choice. When comparing things too quickly, the positives jump out immediately, but over long term listening, the negatives will start setting in, and wear on my nerves.

I think you may have selected the player that you found to be the "easiest" to listen to (forgiving), and will probably be the most boring, in the long run. The system synergy thing goes a long way, and in most cases, a component change may require some other changes, elsewhere in the chain, to better compliment the change in sonic character, which may be heard with a component change.

Oh, and the "shallow" soundstage of the Oppo is a common characteristic of less expensive players/dacs, and can be a turn off for many, especially Maggie users.

And, if you're going to throw a Jolida in the mix, you should have used one in stock form. You're comparing a player that sounds different then what the vast majority of JD100 users will be hearing. Even simple tube selection will make or break the player, within a particular system, and once modified beyond the basic level 1 mods, the original intended sound of the unit is lost.

And to anyone who thinks everything sounds the same, God bless you! I wish everything sounded the same to me, so listening to music can be just an activity, instead of a hobby.
Thanks for all of the comments.

I've owned a LOT of gear over the years and often found that the high end doesn't always provide the best quality sound, especially with electronics and cables.

For the record I've never owned a boring system. Music makes that impossible and no system is ideal for every mood I may experience. Sometimes I want a BIG sound, dynamic and room filling. I want the CLUB experience, which sure is not about imaging! And at other times I want to listen to a solo vocalist or trio of strings. Enter Merlins or Magnepans. The speakers are the leading man in the creation of great stereo sound. The amp/pre is the romantic lead. And the CD player, cables and associated gear are bit players.

10 years ago, or perhaps 6-7, I would have said the CD player was higher up the chain. But the truth, at least to my ears and many fellow audiophiles, is that the CD player has hit a plateau of excellence, where even modest players do great things with music. Yes, you MIGHT find a better player, but you're also likely to make a lateral move at best as well. Or worse, find you older player was better at certain things.

Some of this could be said for the entire hi-fi business. Heck, I have a Definitive Technology system for my large home theater. I don't use it for music much, but it can do surprisingly good things when I do. Great audio continues to trickle down into the lower end and mid fi.

These are my thoughts and experiences based on a lot of years of messing with gear and owning it. When a friend let me know he had just spent over 4K on a player he called me over and we listened and compared. We were not impressed! But we may have never known what was up without a "cheap" 1000 dollar Marantz to compare it to.

As I and others have said, system synergy is key. But my point here in the end is that if you have great speakers matched to a great amp, a CD player is lower in the food chain than in previous years because they've made such huge strides even with 300 dollar machines. I was 100% honest in saying that I hear more dramatic differences with cables than with CD players these days!



All was well and then you brought in a bottle of wine.

Folks do in fact, agree on wine, BTW.... once they've had a couple bottles, they'll agree they're all loaded. Past that there
may be an argument or two on the sound of the music. ;-)

I think price does play a part in a thing being made well and performing well. So long as value is no consideration.

More importantly though is the synergy of the whole of things. The synergy of it all is also determined by the builder… and we all call that preffs.

Personally, I’ve heard boring rigs. Music which had me of a mind to leave it on only for ambience, or background as casual conversation took the lead. Music which sounded so bland as to simply not capture any part of me whatsoever. It wasn’t the music either… it was the rig playing it back. That was a system I’d not have bought with someone else’s money.

In general, price does indicate however broadly, it’s degree of performance. Wether that sort of performance is in fact your cup of tea or not, is another bag of worms.

Price also is a separator. It sets various devices into different boundaries. Lower the price and there are far more entries to be considered. Raise it and the air gets thin there pretty quickly. So too does the number of people who have gotten one for themselves. So there’s some degree of ignorance or a veil surrounding the more costly affairs in audio.

Mix in the invisible threshold of diminishing returns, which has value underpinned to it, and performance itself then begins to decrease, subjectively if not altogether objectively.

The thing is this IMO, there’s an awful lot of good to great out there, and it is made excellent by how it’s all put together a lot of the time.

Improving a piece’s setup into a rigg for one thing may mean you have to use different cabling, or isolation gizmos, than you would for another thing to see them at their best. If no attention to individual setting up of different components is a part of the undertaking, then the results of injecting several likewise items will yield several differing results… as one would expect going into such an event.

The cool factor is the attempt itself. The ‘let’s see what if we…’ approach. Curiosity fuels every past time withit’s devotees, to this degree or that.

A more insightful endeavor would have taken longer and more moves to see which could be made to be at it’s best,, irrespective of the costs for each CDP. With one CDP using tubes, the tubes themselves could have been roled, despite the arguments of it’s modifications.

Perhaps a more pertinent foray would have been to have a few CDPs all of the same topology and closer in costs with which contend.

Nevertheless, some experience and more importantly fun, was the result. That’s always a good thing. That is too, what it’s all about right? That fun thingy?
Actually, there's a lot of convergence in judgments about wine, at least for the best samples. If you're skeptical about this, correlate the scores given by top critics (say, Tanzer, Parker, and Wine Spectator) to the major offerings from Bordeaux in a given year; they can be close enough to make one wonder why anyone prefers one critic to another. The situation may be a bit different among closely matched wines at a price point; here personal preference may result in greater variation.

Maybe something is similar in digital. While one might be hard pressed to find "objective" differences amongst "value priced" sources, with the differences looking more like preferences, the situation might be quite different if you threw a SOTA digital source into the mix. Here, it would not surprise me if listeners converged on a clear preference for the SOTA sample over all of the value priced samples. (I'm not claiming, of course, that SOTA price is neatly elated to SOTA performance.)

BTW, the Jolida, as noted, seems responsive to tube changes.

Let me put it this way. I own a VPI scout with Lyra Dorian and a CEC TL51x transport with Wadia 12 DAC. If I would have spend €1000 less and on my digital source and a €1000 more on my analogue source my turntable would sound a lot better but I doubt you could really tell the difference in sound with my CD player.
You're listening to the wrong cd players if they all sound the same. A little research will give the names of players with distinctive and superior sound, some much better than a VPI Scout.

I know there are better CD players around. But they tend to cost more then a turntable of equal quality. I know someone who has a Jadis JD3 PRO drive. The Jadis costs about €7000 new, a VPI Scout with benz ACE costs €2600. The Jadis is a little better the Scout. He now bought a Musical Fidelity M1 with SME M2 arm and a Transfiguration Spirit MKIII cart and that combo is so much better the the Jadis whil costing about the same.

lat weekend some friends and me compared a Luxman D-05 CD player vs an Acoustic Signature Samba mkII with a simple soundsmith cart. I think the Luxman was about €1000 more expensive. The Turntable was a lot better. We were using a Luxman L-507u amp and DSS monitor speakers.

You can check for options.

A CD player I know that sounds different is the AMR CD-777. It is a tube based CD player. It sounds different but not sure if it is better.

I paid about €1800 for my VPI Scout with Lyra Dorian. The Scout was 2nd hand the Lyra new. What CD player, new or second hand can beat that combo you think. At the same price range. It sure isn't my CEC TL51x with Wadia 12 DAC.
You can't compare a cd player to a turntable until you know the sources are accurate. Mostly you're listening to differences in mastering.