There are other, more knowledgable folks that will likely respond to your post but I'm going to give you what little input I can. While you can't make a silk purse out of a sows ear or improve on the source, you may be too critical of your software because of your current CDP. For your sake I hope that is true.
I no longer spin the silver disks and that doesn't mean I'm anti-digital. Among the CDP's I've heard that have done a wonderful job on reasonably well engineered CD's are the Capitole and the Meitner gear. The latter is an incredible front end for the digital enthusiast. I didn't expect to hear such detail with all the subtle nuances and air between the players and without any detectable digital glare. To my ears it rivals very good analog. But, when one has such a player you tend to listen to software that is pretty darn good. I don't have any seat time listening to poor quality CD's as a guest listener.
The Wadia's are very highly regarded and have a loyal following. The Naim and Linn upper line CDP's are known for their analog sound. My hope is that your library is better than you believe and if your software was made after '91 or so, it's probably up to the task even if not of audiophile quality. I doubt very much however that any player will make a bad CD tolerable on a high end system.
Lugnut offers some good and thoughtful comments. I recently aquired an Audio Note CD 3.1x cd player that has really made a marked improvement in my system. Great detail, air, dynamics and superb bass all the while remaining smooth and rich sounding. I have a Blue Circle 21.1 preamp with NOS tubes that, to my ears, has some real synergy with the AN cd player. At a much lower price point, I think the Scott Nixon Tubedac+ with 3Xac power source and a good quality transport may suit your needs.
Well, I own a Wadia 861. I've had it for 1 month now so my experience is not extensive. A lot of my CDs are also from the BMG & Columia House CD clubs. Most of the CDs are post 1990. I also have music on better quality disks. I usually go for the music rather than the CD label. It is a bonanza for me if I can get my music on a good CD label.
I do have some older CDs like Heart "Dreamboat Annie", Andreas Vollenweider "Down to the Moon" to name only 2 that are 1986 & 1982 resp. The Heart CD sounds very good thru the Wadia & the Vollenweider CD is also good sounding but it doesn't hold a candle to.......................the vinyl copy that I have of the same album!!
When I hear the Down to the Moon album I'm immediately reminded of the sound of the vinyl equivalent & I am disappointed with the CD. However, my disappointment is CD vs. vinyl (the age old peeve!) & not CD player-to-CD player.
FWIW, I think that your CD collection will sound just fine thru the Wadia.
I agree with Lugnut that any hi-end CD player will not make your badly recorded CDs tolerable.
A tubed output stage will have a diff sound from a ss machine. However, tubed gear can also be designed to be neutral in which case don't look for forgiveness there either!
The Audio Synthesis DAX Discrete handles less than stellar CD's with aplomb. You could purchase their Basic DAC with your budget. If you want a digital only system perhaps you could apply your preamp budget and go with the Variable model direct to your amp.
You might be surprised how good your bad CD's will sound on a good player. When I moved from older Theta source gear (poorly recorded CD's sounded quite harsh) to my current Resolution Audio Opus 21 cd player I was surprised how much better some of my 'bad' CD's sounded. If you are able, try out some of those players on your list.
It is a myth that a good CD player will make bad CDs sound badder. I have CDs of bootleg recordings from the 1920s. They sound (relatively) fine. I also have alot of CDs from the '60s on forward. If you have a system that highlights the high-end of the spectrum, the deficiencies of the recording might be more noticable. I guess the question is whether you want something that will mask the sound versus the truth. My current cost-no-object system plays these deficient CDs much better than my previous system. If you get the Wadia and only play CDs, you can skip the preamp.
Get the absolute best sounding CD player for your system. If your system is reasonably well balanced, then badly recorded CDs will sound like badly recorded albums, but only in rare cases will they be unlistenable. If this sounds like too many "ifs", then an outboard parametric equalizer is very effective at reducing high frequency harshness and/or tubby bass.
I just want to add that I definitely think BAD CDs are BAD no matter how good your system is. I say this because my own system's ability seems to be greatly dependent on the quality of the CD I am playing. Next time I am going to Taiwan, I am going to buy A LOT of CDs... that is if I can stand the smog.
A high-end CD player will allow a top-quality CD to sound up to it's potential. I own the Audio Aero Capitole Mark II and I was really amazed how well it revealed what is a quality CD and what is not. An example would be a box set of the Motown Collections as released on the Motown Label. I really enjoyed these CDs until I was given a box set of many of the same recordings released on Rhino. The Rhino CDs relegated the Motown CDs to my car's Cd player.
I think that a CD player of the quality that you seek will not add perfection where quality is lacking, but this is not the reason to not buy one. You will find that you will no longer be futzing with bass and treble controls as a high-end Cd player will allow the original mastering of the Cd to come through.
So, to answer your question, Yes, while a high quality Cd player will not 'fix' a recording, it will play even copies of copies of CDs to reach full potential.
Recommend? Take a look at the Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista SACD/upsampling CD player. It can make good redbook CD's sound amazingly close to SACD's and "bad" CD's sound pretty good.
Bad CDs will not sound great on whatever CDP - but they will sound DIFFERENT!! So you have to hear if that different sound is what you're after.
I own a Wadia 270/27ix combo and in teamwork with the PS-Audio 300 PowerPlant there is not a single CD in my about 5000 pieces collection which sounds unbearable. No secret, though, that this gear will send you to highest levels of listening if the software is RIGHT. For me Wadia just does the MUSIC right!
So - you have "to decide which is right and which is an illusion"...(The Moody Blues on "Days Of Future Passed")
My fellow audiophools have said it all....buy the best darn CDP you can afford....
Thank you for all your responses (very informative I must say),
but is not it true that some players (tube cdp's especially???) are doing better job in masking deficiencies in sound quality. I understand that there in no cdp that will play BMG CD like it was Chesky Record CD, but I believe that some must be doing better job then others in that department ? Am I right...
What does it mean "the best darn you can afford"?
Does that mean that if the budget is $20k one should go for Burmester??
There are lots of tricks with digital audio to make it sound different. Heavy clampings, tank-ish constructions, hi-res pics taken from the development lab it's all all to grab your pocket without substantial playback improvement and investing onto it therefore should be very limited.
The price of a raw materials on CD-players that are mostly ICs is getting more cheaper and its quality increases with newer more precise tech-s applied. Hence the price on the digital playback at least should not increase and there should be lots of possibilities getting less costly unit with greater performance. Another way to vary the CD-player performance is playing with feedback levels. At different settings the output will be lower or higher along with the different responce to a load and freequencies. Certainly the deeper feedback will have more linear responce and lower output voltage. This combination of feedback and output voltage on digital playback can be quite differently "interpreted" by further amplification components that as you may know have also different feedback, sencitivity, input impedance, etc etc... characteristics that may or may not by in SYNERGY with your source.
Tube output is a special case that can be applied to any CD-player so the meaning of "tube CD-player" should be considered as misconception or another trick to involve marketing since it's just a pair of dual triodes in inverting differential connection that inverts phase 100% i.e. giving 100% local negative feedback stage. This buffer you can add-on to any CD-player just by simply buying <$100used Musical Fidelity X10 tube buffer that no doubt would act on poor CDs and cheap CD-players quite beneficial.
To my personal knowlege Dennon and Pioneer are the brands that use THE latest models of chips and have highest standards for the digital playback. You will never overpay if you shop arround these components and in case of bad recorded CD you may add-on Musical Fidelity X10 buffer or Equalizer and turn it off whenever you don't need it for the good ones.
I'll take some exception to the general recommendation of "buying the very best you can afford" and spending your wad on a digital front end. I would first make sure that the differences between what is available in $2000 price range that is abundant with damn fine players (even less if you buy used) are both perceivable, and most of all worth the added $3 grand to buy some more-state-of-the-art $5k unit. Though it may sound better to you, it also may not at all, and then what a waste of scratch that would be!
As far as making bad recordings sound better; I'd agree, no CD player is going to accomplish that. I've recently gone over to a quite wonderful Wright-Sound AG1000 preamplifier (from his dealer line). That unit has 'tilt' controls for 100hz and 10khz. They have a bypass switch as well. These are not 'tone' controls, but 'tilt' controls - someone more smarter than me can splain how they differ but my poor understanding of such things is that tone simply boosts or lowers the specific octave, while tilt actually 'tilts' the spectrum around that octave...did I get that right?. I've found that I can do some bit of fudging that will definitely improve the listenability of some poorly mixed recordings and make them much more enjoyable than they were with a pre with no such controls. They've worked brilliantly on several bad recordings I've tried them on. I don't know which other high-end pre's offer this option, but it may be a better way to address the problems you wish to solve with a better front end. I can highly recommend the Wright pre as an outstanding pre as well.
Try Electrocompaniet for the most liquid and smooth sounding player I have heard. I own a Simaudio Nova which doesn't make terrible CD's sound great, but for example it allows me to listen to bright 80's pop cd's like David & David or Genesis without running for the door.
Marco, I disagree with your assessment that no player can improve the sound of a poor digital recording. The Audio Synthesis DAX Discrete certainly makes a lot of CD's more listenable. Like you, I am technically not up to the task of describing why, but I will assume that the DAX Discrete accomplishes this, in part, with over the top oversampling.
You mentioned your Thiel 3.6's. I have a pair also, and have recently moved to a dedicated room with 4 dedicated power circuits. While I am hearing new details and clarity, I (and especially my wife) am being irritated more by the edginess of the Thiels. I have an Arcam FMJ 23 player. I recently auditioned some Martin Logan Ascents and some Sonus Faber (Cremona Auditor and Grand Piano) and was very impressed. So, you might consider focusing on the speakers vs. the CDP. Good luck and keep us posted- I am in a similar boat.
The only answer to this question is vinyl. Bad redbook sounds bad no matter what. I have an Audio Aero Cap, and although it makes these recordings sound "better" than many other players, they still sound congested, compressed, and veiled.
Bsal; You sound much like the felllow i bought my AA Capitole from. since he already had a huge vinyl library he didn't see the value in such a gifted CD player.
He took the financial hit in selling it 'used' and I got a really sweet CD player and I don't need to go and buy tons of vinyl.
Such being the case we can all agree to disagree and we can all enjoy our music.
Jeff, I can relate, somewhat. I own the Capitole's little brohter, the Prima. As sweet as any cdp, I've heard in this price range (and higher too). 90% of the Capitole. And that's 90% of greatness....as you already, know. I'm considering some serious modifications by Steve Huntley of Great Northern Sound. Waiting on some more info to help me rationalize the $1600 mod...He's done amazing things with the Waida. Now the Prima. Something to look forward to. peace, warren
That is true about LP playback, on HE 2004 (and on few other occasions) I have heard in one room newest Wadia 35k$ rig vs. Clearaudio (do not know price for it) Wadia seemed very good to me until I had hear LP – it was another league, sad...
But even though buying LP playback, LP records seems to me too much hassle. But I had thought the some about tube amplification and now I'm waiting for Supratek. So who knows. I'm going to try high-end cdp, if it will not work for me (like SONY SACD did not work) I will think about obsolete LP :)
What about Audiomeca mephisto II, is it analog sounding making bad CD civilized listenable player ?
How it compares to recommended by you AA Capitole?
I can second Warrenh's nomination of the Audio Aero Prima. Very nice sounding unit, resolution doesn't compare with what is available on vinyl or the better digital sources however. Perhaps the mods would improve the resolution.
Absolutely, Jeff. I haven't given up on CD and I agree that the Cap is an amazing player -- one of the very best available.
Nonetheless, I can tell you that my $2000 VPI Scout/Dynavector vinly rig absolutely blows it away, especially with older recordings, which are mostly what I listen to.
Most of the efforts in digitial are aimed at making it sound more analogue, so why not go to the source?
It's only in the audiophile world that people are trying to make digital sound like vinyl. Real progress in audio reproduction is being made by those who are trying to make digital (and to a lesser extent analog tape) sound like the signal coming from the microphone feed. It's important to note that absolutely nobody says vinyl is accurate when using this rigorous standard of comparison.
Tube technology- the best!
I have heard most of them...
Wellfed - sorry, I missed your earlier response to me. I'm not up to the task either of splaining' this stuff, but I'm not sure that I'm expressing my position well, from your response. Yes, I do think one CD player can do a superior job at creating a more listenable presentation of the same CD...no doubt about it. I don't doubt that the DAX player you mention is up to the task of doing just that. I also do like the sound I've heard from the few tube-output players I've heard as well. While I've heard some purist say that's BS. Dunno, but they sounded pretty damn good to me.
What I was positing in my original post was that no CD player, or turntable for that matter, is going to take a recording that is poorly miked and or poorly mixed in the recording stage, and make that recording sound like anything more than a well presented piss-poor recording. Oversampling or not. Oversampling may just fill in the blanks with some fabricated details which makes the digital format itself sound better to some ears, but there's no f&%ckin' way it's going to alter what was done at the mixing boards and in miking a performance. So if the poster was asking about making digititis mo'betta, then OK you folks saying there are damn good redbook players out there have no argument from me. But if you are saying your DAX player is going to correct for a recording where the highs are exaggerated and overblown, leaving the lows in the coalbin....well then, I have yet to hear that, and I'd really like to understand how that may work?!
I'd like to correct your statement that confuses some members arround here:
No player even should/must/suppose/ought/oblighed to make or alter the sound of bad recorded/lo-end/poor-sounding/ CD/LP/SACD/XRCD/DVD-A/DLP/MLP/CDD/BCD/BSCD/ABCD/ETC...
Same applies for the well recorded media(s).
It it understandable that no player will make audiophile grade recording from low grade recording. But some player are doing better job it this department then others (for example I had head that Meitner gear as good it is with quality CD's it is making bed recording sound even worse). Question is which one are the best in this department of easing pain from bad CD being in the some time high-end performers with good ones.
You realy shouldn't look in "that department"
It more depends on the further components than on CD-player.
I'm not sure, because I have lately upgraded my amp from Musical Fidelity A300 (still using as a preamp) to Clayton M100 monoblocks, and difference is much smaller that I have been using perpetual technology P1/P3 DAC/upconverter with my Arcam. Unfortunately because of unreliability and interference I had to sell it. Later I have bought SONY 9000ES SACD (total downgrade toward Arcam) so source is quite important, I'm not telling it is the most important but I can hear real difference and got a feelling that in my case it is a bottleneck.
Some of the players do have tha tendency:
I've never looked inside the box of such but I would assume that in some of them they should have some dynamic circuitries that would boost bands to it's linear responce once they become less-tolerant(this proccess is realy called a compression that isn't realy suitable for most of the hard-core audiophiles). A regular red-book LedZep II CD with ultra-lo-fi recording quality sounded fantastic through GamuT CD1(BTW fits well onto your budget new or used).
A professional preamps and proccessors have these features switchable and adjustable. Getting a player with tube output implies to applying a maximum 100% feedback to the output signal which can compress signal to the wider bandwidth.
I'd recommend checking on the latest Pioneer DVD player with 120GB of hard drive. The initial CD information can be transfered to HD with digital error correction clock that would fill the "gaps" in digital samples(that can occur initially during mastering on any of the CD especially the older ones depending on the release number) thus "curing" the data before the playback of any DVD or CD with pretty darn high resolution proccessing. This unit you can check through Costco wholesale where you can have an unlimited return policy so trial is absolutely free. It features DVD/CD/player/recorder/pro-scan/
Just for my own curiosity despite being pretty darn satisfied with my digital rig I'd go there and try to keep you a company:-)