Upgrading from NAD 521bee--need soundstage

I have a modest system in a small room and am upgrading my cd player. I am looking for improving soundstaging and for a more precise placement of instruments therein. I have a NAD 352 integrated amp driving Tetra 120u monitors (simple and fantastic!). Bedrock cables and lead-shot weighted Sanus stands. Hero interconnects.

I am thinking a used Arcam fmj23 or fmj33, but as I get up to $800-$1000 I start wondering about the new Rega Apollo or the new Marantz 8001.

Thx in advance.
Soundstage is best produced in the preamp and even moreso IMHO in the power amp.The important part is that the power amp be tube. The old nonsense about sticking a small signal tube in the output of a CD (all of which exceed your budget) is not going to make your source produce soundstage through the rest of what you have. My advice is both Rega and Arcam are fuzzy wuzzy, rolled off, muted British smoking jacket players get a Music Hall,at least you will hear what is there. It will make you think you had wax in your ears listening to those British players. Don't make the mistake of confusing unclear sonics for musicality. Hey just because its Czech really and not Chinese doesn't make them sound better. I have 5 real CD players and owned 7 since joining this variant of the audio hobby, the French one croaked in less than a year. The Music hall was my first "high End" player and it still playing like it was new 5 years later.... but in my 3rd system.
Contrary to Mechan's views, I own a Rega Apollo and can tell you that it throws a huge, precise, and well-focused soundstage. Plus, it has very good extension at the frequency extremes and sounds quite dynamic. It's a fantastic bang-for-the-buck player; it wouldn't have gotten all the great reviews if it sounded as Mechans suggests.

Also, after many years in this hobby it is my view that the best performance can be achieved by keeping the electronics chain mostly solid-state. The one area where I've had great success using tubes is the line-stage preamp. And it is usually much more cost effective than trying to find a tube amp that performs to high standards and has enough power to drive your speakers.

I've owned lots of CD players priced between about $800 and $4000. I'm currently using a Level 2 modified Oppo 970 DVD player from EVS. The EVS level 2 Oppo 970 is the most resolving digital player I've ever owned. If it's on the recording, you are going to hear it from this player. It is very, very good and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to maximize detail and resolution at a reasonable price.

It also has the benefit of being a universal player, playing CD, DVD, DVD-A, SACD and has an HDCD decoder. So, not only is it a great universal music player, but it is fantastic for watching concert DVDs. Oh, and it has a built-in remote volume control so you can connect it directly to a power amp if you choose.

The only potential downside is the fact that it has the build quality of a typical consumer level DVD player and it has no warranty from the manufacturer because it has benn modified. But Ric Shultz is a stand up kind of guy and I'm pretty confident he would work to resolve any warranty issues that may come up.

Lastly, this Oppo player has more dynamics, better bass drive and bass resolution than any other player I've ever had in my system. It's a really fantastic player and cost between $500 and $950 depending on the level of modification. Oh, and Ric Shultz will give you your money back if you send him a brand new player for modification and you don't like the results.


I have a stock Oppo and I've got to say that the build quality is awful -- cheesey, flimsy drawer and the control buttons on my unit don't work half the time when I press them. The remote usually works though and it gets a very nice picture. I'm sure the Schultz modified version sounds much better than the stock version, but it also costs much more. I doubt that you'll recoup anywhere near the cost of your investment should you decide to sell it before its poor mechanical parts quality causes it to fail...

Which Oppo model do you own?

I agree that the build quality is not up to the standard of most dedicated CD players, however I do not agree that it is "awful" or "cheesy". It is built to a pricepoint and even in it's stock form, it is very competent in that pricerange. BTW, the drawer is purposely built that way so it can bend/flex if pressure is applied to it. Also the buttons do require a firm press to enagage. A casual tap will not engage the switch.

I've not heard a stock Oppo in my system, but I can tell you that the EVS level 2 mod'd unit is an EXTREMELY competent CD player that also has great DVD, DVD-A, SACD playback. It is at least equal, if not better, sonically than all of the other players I've owned, including a couple of $3500-$4000 list price players.

So, a new level 2 mod'd Oppo 970 cost $939 ($790 for the mod, $149 for the stock player). Wosrt case, you could lose $939 in a couple of years if it dies and you choose not to repair it.

The last 2 dedicated CD players I bought were a $4000 list price player for $895 used ($3105 lost from new retail price) and a $3500 list price player for $2000 used ($1500 lost from retail price in one year). Considering the mod'd Oppo 970 sounds as good or better, which is the smarter deal financially? So, even if the Oppo dies a premature death relative to these expensive dedicated CD players, it was still ultimately cheaper to own. Oh, and it plays CD, DVD, DVD-A, SACD, etc., which those other players couldn't do.

"I call that a bargain, the best I ever had......"


Hi Reubent,

I have the Oppo 970HD. I gave it to my son to use in his system and he is mainly concerned with its video performance, which is quite good.

I don't doubt that you are getting excellent performance from your modded unit and the Oppo's ability to play just about any disc format is a nice plus. My main reservation is spending $800 to mod a $150 player. To some, like yourself, the resulting performance will make the expense worthwhile. I just think that one needs to take a step back and consider whether or not putting a Ferrari race motor into a VW Bug is the best way to go.

In many systems, I believe you'd be hard pressed to hear a significant difference between the modified Oppo and a stock Rega Apollo. However, I haven't made the comparison, so that's simply my best guess.

Obviously the Redbook CD format has limited resolution to begin with, so my feeling is that claiming any huge performance differences between competent players is merely hyperbole and probably a moot point. Personal preference and system synergy will determine which CD playback unit a particular individual will prefer. In my estimation the overall quality of the system that the player is hooked up to will matter much more than any perceived performance differences in the CD players themselves. And this is coming from someone who has tried a lot of different DACs and CD players in his system. Yes they all sound different, but more often than not picking one unit over another hinges on accepting certain trade-offs and one's listening priorities. I can distinctly recall preferring a particular player for it's stringed instrument reproduction and a different unit for reproduction of brass instruments. Additionally, the bass and high frequency performance of each unit was slightly different... and so it goes...

I absolutely understand your reservations about spending so much for any mod'd unit. It is a value decision every perspective buyer will need to make.

For me it was a gamble I don't usually accept. I'm frugal to a fault and typically wouldn't buy an unknown quantity like this particular player. But I saw one here on A-goN for a decent price and jumped on it. I couldn't be happier with the sonics (yes, 1/4" aluminum panels would have been preferred).


I think your reasoning is sound and you are looking at some of the best suspects in your stated price range. I do not agree with Mechans comments in these ways: 1) I own a Music Hall CD 25.2 (stock) and an Arcam CD23. They are not in the same league. The Arcam is in my main rig and the MH is in the BR which is not about to change. His description of the Arcam does not match my ears or experience. The Arcam is the most analogue sounding player I have heard in your price range and I feel it has a very good soundstage. I had already switched to a tubed pre when I got the Arcam (which replaced an Audio Alchemy player, DAC and DTI setup). I understand from others the Arcam may be a bit bright and forward in an all SS setup. I just do not hear the digital glare with the Arcam that I do with the Music Hall (my BR system is all tube seperates except the CD player so yes the glare is from the MH). I have not heard an Apollo, which I would love to AB against the Arcam or hear from those who have. I have heard the Arcam vs the much more expensive T+A player in my system which was better but at 4x to 5x the price.

2) In my experience again when I went from a SS pre to a tubed pre and this made a huge difference in the soundstage, width and depth. Prior to that I had upgraded my speaker cables and interconnects which also improved soundstage. I have changed in a tube amp to my system but there was no real difference in soundstage. The power amp going tube from SS would be one of the last things I would be looking for help with sounstage, unless you are going way up in quality and money. BTW, I have also have had a Denon 2910 and a 3910 in my main system as well. Neither sound better to me than the Arcam. FWIW, YMMV.

Another consideration might be a good used 2910 with a used Bel Canto DAC2-probably $1000 to $1100 for both. Both are good values right now on the used market.