The Law of Diminishing Digital Returns

When is the sound good enough? Is that $2500 CDP $1500 better sounding than the $1000 player? I have read posts on members favorite CDP'S - i.e., Ayre, Opus, Sony, Rega, Arcam, Naim, Musical Fidelity, and countless others. I guess my question is: When you get to a certain price point (I am guessing it is in the $1000 - $1500 range) are players worth the additional $1000's in some cases for the 5% improvement in sound quality? There has to be a player out there that is really close to those $4k to $5k CDP's that is a pleasure to listen to (or even a Giant Kiler) for around $1000. Am I the only one who feels this way? Let's keep modded players out of this please. I am looking for your thought on players right out of the box that wowed you!
Audiophiles are willing to pay a significant premium for that additional 5%.

Out of the box, and available used, I'd recommend an Electrocompaniet EMC 1-UP SE. I've also heard great things about the Audio Aero Prima.
once you get into $2500 digital.... things get alot better like refinement and bass....
I believe the best price to performance at this time (and likely in the future too) can be had via PC-based audio. This is the route I have chosen to go, but won't be fully set up for a month or so (waiting for my goodies to arrive). Do some searches on computer sources at the different forums.

Those who have done it say a computer setup done correctly sounds much better than traditional sources at the same price point. I read a post where a guy got rid of his $6000 CD player after 5 minutes listening to a Red Wine Audio modded Squeezebox (about $750).

The reason PC audio is better is because the CD can be ripped perfectly (you can make as many passes as you need), encoded losslessly, sent out of the computer via USB or wireless, and then converted into an SP/DIF signal by a low-jitter source, ideally running off battery power.

I also recommend battery powered D/A as well. I love the ack Dack 2.0, for instance.
it has always been true that the search for the last 3db (in this case a metaphor) is the most expensive. the ultimate is the ultimate because, well it costs more then anything else - in theory at least superior engineering and manufacturing support the claim.

But if what you really want is permission to stop at a grand because you are "there" and there is no need to spend more, think hard about what Matt8268 wrote. From personal experience I can promise you that he will not be publishing a retraction after his goodies arrive...
Matt, I have a laptop sitting around collecting dust and am thinking about getting a DAC. But I am new at this, so how do you feed signal from PC to DAC? Do you need some kind of software? Not too many DAC out there have a USB port, but my laptop has a digital out. Please advice.

How we come up with these percentages (5% better) I don't know. I am guilty of the same rap. That being said, when I'm listening for an extended time: 5% is a big deal. You said you don't want to go mod, but let me just say, that it is a very good way not to be behind the digital eight ball. I just sold my Prima, but if I could have sent it back, and had it upgraded with their new transport, and their latest and greatest, I might have rethought purchasing a new player. Well, maybe not in this case, but most of the time. The Audio Aero Prima is a honey of a player. Can go tete a tete with the big boys. Their new one? Can only imagine, but I'm sure it is grand..peace, warren
sorry for the little mod schtick...just kept it to the concept not the brand..fwiw...
5% is hard to see, let alone hear, in my book. at the same time, those mod things get us into no end process. those modded things are hard to compare, and how do you know is there any better mod for some CD player when you're doing one? and you have to have the original player to compare is it any better or worse than modded one.

and let me 'quote' Laurie Anderson: define better...

and if it means more details, no thanks,i'm sick of all those newly discovered details in every generation of CD players. bring back musicality, please!
You've brought up a good point with the law of diminishing returns. I have been looking at several CD players over the past couple of months and now think that I may go with the new Rega Apollo. The new Forbidden City Turandot also interests me but we're talking twice the price.
I second much of what has been said above. I recently compared several CD players, all around $2k (used or new, depending). From the group, I found both the Electrocompaniet EMC 1-UP, and the Audio Aero Prima to be the best. They are both excellent machines, and, coincidentally, I have one of each for sale right now here on Audiogon! The only reason that I am selling both, is that I have found a modified version of the EMC which I am keeping.

Now, as to the original question, I can't imagine a dedicated player at around $1k competing with either of the above-mentioned players. And I firmly believe that the difference, if one could quantify it, would be much more than 5%. I do, however, believe that above (around) the $2k mark, the returns (for those of us who are not wealthy) begin to diminish rapidly.

Finally, I also agree that the future of digital sources is computer-based, as Matt has suggested above. I have no doubt that some very good systems can be built right now, but I've decided to wait a while for that technology to further mature.
1000 players do not do it. Simple you get what you pay for.

How good are your speakers and amps?

Once you cross over(no pun intended...)and decide you want more quality in your music it is my belief that one should spend perhaps that extra 20% eventhough there is not a matched 20% improvement. If this is a real quality system then you can spread that extra cost over the life of the system and enjoy it while doing so. If you keep the system for five years then that extra $1,000.00 comes out to $200.00/year or about 75 cents per day and a really good system is certainly going to last much longer than five years.
I have found CD players in the $200 range are good enough for my ears. I have several with different DAC's and a DAC on my pre-amp also. I have compard them carefully and the difference, if there is one that is audible, is not enough to be meaningful to me.

In comparison, I have a sub working at below 50 Hz and I can tell the difference when this is turned off, even on simply male vocals and at very low SPL levels. I find speakers improve dramatically up to around $1500. Above $1500 the improvements definitely diminish but are still audible. Unlike, CD players and SS amps, the differences between speakers of similar high quality from two manufacturers(at any price) are almost always immediately apparent and audible.

To me CD digital audio, after 25 years of evolution, is at such a good and consistent level of reproduction that it is now the recording/mastering studio quality, my room and the speakers that make the big differences for me.
the devil is in the detail and the price, however, compact disc players cannot create information which is not there to begin with. I recently did my own 'shoot-out' using my mcd 205 mac and s22 revox(under 1k new)with a relatively new wadia 302. Anyone looking for a 5% difference in overall presentation, would have been disappointed. late december i compared the same two players with a cyrus 6 and 8, and although there were differences, no drama there either. with ipods and turntables as sources, and so many great used components at a fraction of their original price, investing in a 'last-great' cd source may not be the best way to spend 'mad' money.
As others have brought up; it ain't the 5% or whatever value that percent is; it's the difference in the finished product. That means what you now hear makes listening 50% more enjoyable.
Imagine two photos of the same subject by different photographers, one being a talented artest and the other a technically proficient hobbiest.
If one tries to quantify the differences between these two photos, the percentage difference would be small because they would both offer you much the same information on absolute terms.
However, that small percentage will likely be the difference between that which stirs you and that which is merely interesting.
The differences can be huge or small...depending on how well you know your other components and how well you've done at putting those together.

If the rest of your system is 50% away from being all that it can be...another 5% may be a little hard to pick up on, not the icing on top of the cake you may have wished for.

Unfortunately, the goose bumps are at the end of the game...

These percentages we come up with are ridiculous!! 5% better? Better than what? Take TVAD's cdp. He has a killer player. I had an Audio Aero Prima. Yes that was a killer player, to me. Now, TVAD's player costs more than twice mine. Does it sound twice as good? Well he may think so, but I doubt it. You may think it's (after listening) 25% better. I may think it's...and on and on and...Me? The justification, the spin,$$ and of course the ole tympanics are directly related to 20% of_______. got ya!! Get yourself a mod and be done with it. Case closed.
Excellent analogy, Phaelon.

Dollars spent NEVER correlate to an equal percentage improvement gain in audio. But, that 5%-10% improvement achieved through spending double is often the difference between excellent hifi and real music in your listening room.

FYI, I am NOT referring to the cost of one modded player over another. There are plenty of listeners who prefer modded machines costing significantly less than mine, and I am not about to disagree with anyone's personal preference.
Tvad, Thank you
In response to some of the requests I got to elaborate on computer-based audio, I started a new thread with some info:
With what I heard in my system, it is pretty tough to beat the Bel Canto DAC2 I am currently using. I compared it to a more expensive dac. Yes, the more expensive dac was better, but it still did not make me want to sell the Bel Canto. I really was looking to hear big improvement and got dissapointed by a hair splitting differences. It wasn't worth it. Now back to Warren's point. I am thinking of moddig the DAC2. I think I can bridge that small gap between it and the performance of the more expensive dacs. Looking for a good modder, I am considering TRL. $550 that they charge for a mod is way less than the difference I need to pay to obtain a new dac that's going to beat the Bel Canto by a significant margin. So, point of dimishing returns for me in my system started at around the performance of a $1000 dac. May be my system is not revealing enough, but I have doubts about that.
Well the diffrence between digital players for the most part is SMALL. I have a older 500.00 player and a newer 3500.00 player. there is a difrence yes about 10% at best.
I can make a much bigger diffrence swapping tubes much bigger. Buy a very good player, spend the money and upgrade your speakers. Too many people upgrade everthing else forgetting the speakers. I kept my 500.00 player and purchased 22,000 speakers there are huge diffrences actally between players but you need other great componants FIRST
dac is what makes the difference, If you cant hear the differecne between 200 cd player and 1k you have tin ears>
I had a $400(retail) Marantz 5-disc changer in my system for 7 years. Wanted to upgrade. Bought a modified Music Hall CD-25. This was a significant step up. CD-25 was over $800. Then I bought the Bel Canto DAC2 and it was again a significant improvement over modded CD-25. DAC2 is $1350. From here on, anything I auditioned never resulted in the level of improvement I was able to achieve with stepping up from $400 5-disc changer to $800+ modded CD-25 to $1350 DAC2. There are definitely difference between $200 cd player and a good $3500 player. And these differences should not be subtle. I personally never heard a good $200 cd player.
phaelon-i agree with your example as 'art' , but the retrival of 1's amd zeros has been a flawed 'hi end' media from the beginning. after all, the format was developed as a replacement for the audio cassette not the lp. upon its introduction, the cd entered a marketplace where lp's were less than 20% of worldwide sales. the technology as a reference was(and is) a distant second to analogue. aside from the usual surface noise anomalies, vinyl is still in a league of its own. the two driving reasons for the marketing of the cd were portability and profits. the ability to sell music libraries all over again.
phaelon-i agree with your example as 'art' , but the retrival of 1's amd zeros has been a flawed 'hi end' media from the beginning. after all, the format was developed as a replacement for the audio cassette not the lp. upon its introduction, the cd entered a marketplace where lp's were less than 20% of worldwide sales. the technology as a reference was(and is) a distant second to analogue. aside from the usual surface noise anomalies, vinyl is still in a league of its own. the two driving reasons for the marketing of the cd were portability and profits. the ability to sell music libraries all over again. the spiraling aftermarket for hi end cd hardware depends on tin ears to survive at lease another few yearsnumber51
Hi Jaybo,
It wasn't my intention to suggest that digital is superior to anologue or even to broach the subject. I was trying to address the difficulty some people have trying to justify the proportionally high cost of sliding up a few points on one of those dubious "pecententage improvement" scales.

Early on, Hollywood identified a quality, some actors possessed, that seperated them from the many other talented actors who were more than capable of meeting the demands of a script. They simply called this quality "it".

As a measureable percentage, what does Clint Eastwood bring to a film that another competent actor cannot if truth to the script is used as the measure. Now, we all understand why an actor like Eastwood demands a much higher fee than other actors who could skillfully play the part; so if we can equate that script to an lp/cd, then we can understand that we are not really paying a lot more for a few percentage points but rather the emotional involvement associated with those points.

Mattcone- I hope I'm addressing the meat of the issue you had in mind.
What are "tin ears" missing?

In the early days of CD, expensive high order analog filters were necessary. Nowadays, oversampling allows for very simple and cheap analog filters to do the job.

In practive this means that even the cheapest DAC's have THD + Noise of less than 0.002%. An expensive high quality pro studio grade 24 bit DAC might get you down to THD + Noise of less than 0.0007% (roughly one third less noise and distortion).

Since high-end speakers typically have a THD of 0.3% at best, an improvment in the third decimal place on a DAC seems rather fruitless.

All DAC's, even cheap ones, have distortion numbers that are hundreds of times less than compared to a speaker or to what people can typically detect in blind tests. Perhaps they only test people with "tin ears".

For those who seek audible improvement from the third decimal place of one percent of distortion and noise, my hat is off to you; you must have amazing hearing! Do you find even the very best speakers disappointing?
03-02-06: Shadorne "Do you find even the very best speakers disappointing?"

Mabe, mabe not; it depends. The individual components of an audio system are like the tools of a painter; it takes more than brushes, paints and canvas to make a masterpiece;
it takes an artest. And, it's not about tin or golden ears. Considering the amount of time I once spent cranking "Dark side of the moon" into my headphones, I seriously doubt my hearing is what it once was.

I tried twice, with analogies, to demonstrate that art can't be measured. I regret that my efforts came up short. I can think of a third analogy concerning one's search for a soul mate, but that would get me into way too much trouble. Good listening.