What is the best redbook CD player for 6K to 8K?

I am looking for the best redbook CD player for 6K to 8K that will project a 3 dimensional hologram-like sound image. I am considering the Mark Levinson 390S CD player. I am open for suggestions concerning comparisons between this and other CD players of equal or better sound quality. Universal players are out of the running since I own only redbook CDs. The fickle finger of fate has not made up it's mind about the next generation of media technology. So until then I will be patient and enjoy what I have.
I recommend the Audio Aero Capitole II.
It has an almost analog sound.
(As close to vinyl as I have heard yet.)
Used it will go for around $4,500, and the new price is around $9K I believe.

My two cents worth.
The only CD player that I've heard in this price range is the Esoteric DV-50, and it sounded mighty damn good. If I were looking for a unit in the $5-8k range, the Esoteric would be on my short list.
Redwoodgarden, I would suggest you put on your audition list the Accustic Arts CDP MKII, its a great sounding piece and is in your price range. Another player which is
outstanding is the Ensemble CDP which retails for $9000.00,
but either demos or used are also being offered at a price that fits the budget range you stated.

It's always a matter of personnal taste and system synergy, I have heard all three players and like the Accustic Arts and Ensemble better then the Levinson player.

The digital player I have owned that rendered the most lifelike 3D holographic image is the APL Denon 3910. It was scary.

Other players I have owned include Exemplar Denon 3910, Exemplar Denon 2900, Empirical Audio EMC 1-UP SE, Modwright Sony 999ES, Marantz SA-14, APL Phillips SACD1000, Shanling T200.
A vote for the 390S here. For me, it replaced a Wadia 270/27ix combo. I have moved further up with Levinson digital on that system, however after taking home several of the players mentioned above recently for my 2nd system, I ended up buying another 390S.

Your best bet would be to take home as many of the mentioned players as possible and hear them in your system. Digital is like ice cream, everyone has their favorite flavor.


Paul :-)
Audio Aero Capitole MkII SE or Exemplar 5910 would be my first choice. Both players are very natural and cast a very wide and deep soundstage with very 3D and life-like images. The Exemplar is a universal player, but its redbook performance betters many dedicated CD players that cost substantially more.
I would at least audition the new Audio Research CD7. It retails for $9,000.00. From all reports, this may be the most musical one-box CD player ever produced.
It might be a bit cheaper than 6k but I can say that I have had a wonderful experience with my SIM Audio Supernova CDP. The soundstage is very wide and deep and the resolution is precise. I can't say that I have heard a more musical CDP at this price range. It is a delight to listen to and I have no regrets after buying it.
Try a Linn Ikemi. With the right set up the sound is holographic. Also, the ikemi renders music in an analog manner not stepped like most cd players.*>)
I suggest to try to audition a NAIM cd player. As far as I experienced, this is also a very analogue like cd-player, unlike Levinson or wadia.
The new Bluenote Stibbert.
I am not going to say it is the best, but don't let the fact that the Ayre CX-5 is an SACD player remove it from your consideration set. The fact it plays SACD's is a bonus. The thing is an unbelievable Redbook performer and is a SIGNIFICANT upgrade to the CX-7e player across every parameter. If I had $6,000 to spend on a CD player I'd get the Ayre and never look back.
06-11-06: Mattkimb96
I am not going to say it is the best, but don't let the fact that the Ayre CX-5 is an SACD player remove it from your consideration set. The fact it plays SACD's is a bonus. The thing is an unbelievable Redbook performer and is a SIGNIFICANT upgrade to the CX-7e player across every parameter. If I had $6,000 to spend on a CD player I'd get the Ayre and never look back.
Mattkimb96 (System | Threads | Answers)
The Ayre is near the top of my list, too. I heard the C-5xe in a couple of rooms at HES in LA, and none of them had holographic sounding images, so I began to wonder if it was what I was looking for.

Have you heard the Ayre create a 3D image? Only tubed CD players have done this in my experience.
Thanks for all your help. I have checked around and found local dealers for Esoteric, Audio Research, Sim Audio Moon Products, Mark Levinson, and Ayre Audio. Audio Aero Capitole looked promising, but the closest dealer is in Canada, so that's out. Esoteric has potential, but they don't have redbook CD players. The UX-3 universal is a step up from DV-50 universal and may have the redbook playing quality that I'm looking for. At $9,000 the AR CD-7 is a bit over my budget. A used one will will fit my needs, but I'll have to wait since it just came out. I've heard that the CD-7 is the best sounding redbook player under $10,000, maybe at any price. Also on my short list are the Sim Audio Super Nova, and Eclipse, as well as the Ayre C-5XE. I've already heard the ML 390S. Now comes the fun part: listening and comparing. Let me know if any of you come up with some more ideas. Thanks again.
either a used Linn CD-12 or used EMM Labs DAC6--CDSD Transport. both can be purchased for around $8k. to my ears they are at least as good as anything else.

i did have a used DAC6/CDSD for sale but it is now sold.
staying wiyh a one format machine makes perfect sense,you get the biggest bang for the money...
dodson da218 dac with a good transport will be a killer redbook playback. As good as it gets in its price class.
As one box players go, I really like my ARC CD3MkII, but it's ubder your budget. So may be ARC CD7 will be a better choice for you.
Redwood garden, you may also want to add to your auditioning list the TEAC X-03 SE which is in your price range when new. The X-01 gets in your range when used. Even though you listen solely to Redbooks, do not worry to much if a device sports supplementary formats capabilities. . . just choose the unit whose Redbook sound pleases you the most. . . . and remember. . . the 'best' simply does not exist!
Resolution Audio Opus 21 with GNSC mods is fantastic! The modified Denon players already mentioned are also supposed to be excellent, although I have not heard them. I used to a mod skeptic, but was blown away by the mdoified Opus. And, typically you save some coin going the modified route. Highly recommended!
I don't think the stock CX-5 would be in the same league as the APL or the Theta though. Tvad could answer that question regarding the APL I think.
Jp1208 (Answers)
Regarding Ayre C-5Xe vs. APL Denon 3910? I'm afraid I can't as haven't heard the Ayre in my system.

The APL Denon 3910 is the best digital I have ever heard in my home. The Exemplar Denon 3910 is excellent (I own one now), as is the Modwright 999ES. The Exemplar is more balanced top to bottom than the Modwright, but it's really a matter of personal preference. The Modwright Denon 3910 has just received an excellent review on Enjoythemusic's Superior Audio website.
I bought enough equipment as store demos. At least the stuff I bought last several generations after their models were retired even. Perhaps if you go this route, you could get the real top end CD players and still are within budget. I am skeptical of private sales. But store demos seem pretty safe.
RWG,keep an opened mind to the modded players, they make mince meat out of the stock players.If you liked anything stock in the Esoteric line then I suggest you try and find a Theta Compli and send it to Schulte at the Upgrade Company or call Alex at APL. If you do not want modifications then I second Mikes opinion on a used Linn CD-12.
"keep an opened mind to the modded players,"

Right on JP, and please be understanding of those original manufacturers when they look at you real funny like, the day you bring them that little beauty under warranty, just because it stopped working prior to the expiration of the warranty. And be even more understanding of their incredible sense of humor, when -- laughing their head off -- they point at that obscure little finprint on the warranty card which -- truth to tell -- did warn all and concerned about immediate, sudden and catastrophic loss of warranty coverage upon the machine even being smelled by unauthorized hands, let alone lovingly yet radically 'improved' by a solder-gun-happy modder-genius.

As usual. . . Caveat Emptor!
Guidocorona, can't speak for anyone else, but when it comes to the digital players I re-design, I am honoring the original "factory" warranty they have, regardless of the failure. Actually, there is nothing much to break in a digital player except for the Laser Pick up or some of the motors which can be easily replaced. We have also signed mutual agreement with Esoteric and have their 100% support, so there is nothing to worry about, really.

FWIW - many modders help with repairs should that become an issue.
>>keep an opened mind to the modded players, they make mince meat out of the stock players<<

Not always.
Mac Mini plus a Wavelength Cosecant USB DAC. Investing in a CD player now is like buying a cassette player after the begining of the CD revolution.
Alex, I am delighted to see that you have lately addressed some of the considerable outstanding APL customer service challenges. I do understand perfectly that not being the OEM makes it more difficult, as control of parts sourcing is per se more limited because of the additional steps of indirection. On the other hand, some of APL's service issues do not seem to have been resolved as yet, although their older e-trails have mostly being clensed from the APL fora by Mr. Rainwater, I presume.

DBLD, I am not personally interested in modders 'helping out' with a repair. I personally rather prefer a clearly defined and legally binding statement of limited warranty, from an original manufacturer. Of course, not all OEM were created equal. . . once again. . . Caveat Emptor!
Guidocorona - You are correct, and that is legitimate concern, as much as the AudiogoN resale value of a "modded" machine...which is usually not that good. If you go that route, you’d want to keep the piece for quite some time.

With my statement above, I meant to clarify that an owner of a modded piece is not "up-the-creek" with no one to fix the machine should there be a problem.
If you bought a new cdp would you consider keeping it for quit some time? Or would you sell it and take a loss like anything else that is new? If you buy used and get a good deal you can turn around and sell it for what you paid for it. This way you can test the waters with different players if you want. It is a buyers market right now during the summer months so if you want go and pound on those retailers. I still vote for used and upgraded.
consider the 2 box naim cd x, vintage 1990's.

this was the only digital playback system which didn't have the usual "digital" signature.
Guido, when it comes to the actual manufacturer not providing spare parts, and exchanging units that failed under warranty for the new and inferior model, there is nothing anyone can do about it, including me. Companies like Denon, Marantz, Sony, Pioneer, Esoteric and more, are actually providing the parts needed for the repair.

Since I am used to de-bug Sony Pro gear costing millions, ANY consumer product is like a "baby toy" job, IF parts were available. :)

, I guess I do not believe in revolving-door equipment. I purchased my first CDP in 1984 (a MCIntosh MCD 7000, replaced it in 1994 with an EAD P100 D7000 Mk. 3 combo. Replaced these in 2005 with Esoteric X-01.

Alex, supply chain challenges are one thing, poor customer communications are another, both concerning units in need of repair, and new order status. I am delighted that Mr. Rainwater has taken it upon himself to freshen up APL's image by purging most traces of customer dissatisfaction from the APL fora, and that APL has since been able to address a good number -- if not the totality -- of long outstanding customer situations.
All I know is that my Marantz SA12 and Denon 2900 after upgrades plays equal to or better in some regards than the UX-1. The Upgraded Theta Compli and the APL 3910 with the AKM DAC's and tube output stage would be in a completely different league. Only a retailer would be making claims that a stock unit could compare. Get above 20k which would be mostly separates and those stock players would give these a run for there money. Basically at this point it would be down to tastes. One person who has the Theta also owned the UX-1 with the G-25u. He sold those because the Theta was better. Maybe he will chime in someday. The modded units really give you more of everything! Definitely the open 3d image.
I find it amusing that modded units are always compared to the Esoteric UX-1, whose audio implementation is intentionally almost an afterthought, rather than with the X-01 Limited, which is optimized for Audio only. I do admit that my only exposure to modded unit is limited to A heavily reingineered APL 1000, whose Redbook and SACD performance was painfully disappointing when compared to a not even completely broken in Esoteric X-01 original version. I suppose/hope modded players have evolved since then. Yet, the owner of that APL 1000 has sold the APL very quickly and purchased the X-01. So did I, after listening to his modified 1000. . . . to state it bluntly there was no contest.
APL 1000 has sold the APL very quickly and purchased the X-01. So did I, after listening to his modified 1000. . . . to state it bluntly there was no contest.
Guidocorona (Threads | Answers)
That's an apples to oranges comparison, and the APL Philips SACD1000 was so many iterations ago, that using it as a barometer of a modified player is unfair. It's like requiring a single A baseball team to be competitive with a major league baseball team (KC Royals excepted).

Guido, you seem to have a Jones for APL. I encourage you to let it go. You do your homework like few others on Audiogon, and it's not like you to comment on gear you haven't heard.

Please listen to an APL Denon 3910, or an APL NWO-1, and then make your comparisons with the thoroughness and fairness you've displayed in the past.
Yes I believe modded players have evolved especially in the last year. Now you can start comparing apples to apples. Even reviewers get there equipment modified. Esoteric, Reimyo, and Linn gear just to name a few. You will see more and more of these modded players at CES and the like for years to come.
Alex, thank you for your involvement in this thread!

A couple of questions, if you would be so kind... The laser pickup and the transport are the parts likely to fail. What, in your estimation, is a reasonable life expectancy for these parts in 95%+ of the cases? 1 year? 2 years? 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? Or, more?

And, many audiophiles see a player as shot when they insert a disk, but nothing happens. Is this simply the laser pickup? If so, and it's easily repairable, for some of us who are willing to try to do it ourselves if the day ever arose where we saw this failure, is it a relatively inexpensive part?

Thank you for all of your insight!
Trelja, in 95% of the cases, when it comes to a well designed digital player that does not have faulty processors like the Philips SACD1000 for example, the laser pick-up is the only part that would fail. Whether it will start skipping or it would say "no disc" when you load a CD, it is still the laser.

When it comes to a regular CD player, it can work even 20+ years, especially when it comes to top-line CD players built around the flagship Philips and Sony (an couple of others) transports/laser pick up assemblies.

Unfortunately, this does not apply for the laser pick up designed to read CD and DVD/SACD. These latest technology devices are a lot more complicated than a usual CD laser. Also, the actual laser diodes in a CD/DVD laser are working much harder compared to CD only pick up.

Of course, it really depends on the usage. If you have CD/SACD player only, you may have it working for 5 years and more given you're not using it 24/7, and especially if you are playing CD's most of the time it will last longer. When it comes to universal players, and if you also watch DVD movies on them, the life expectancy is shorter. Depending on the quality of the laser, the life can be from few months to couple of years.

In 99% of the cases, replacement laser assemblies are available in the range of $90-200. It is fairly easy to replace them too.

Bottom line is, if you like the sound of a certain player you own and it stops reading the disc, there is nothing to worry about.

I can say from over a years experience that the
Audio Aero Capitole MKII (preferably SE) on the used market is worth a listen.($4-5K) Totally revitalized my entire redbook collection. Full layered 3D soundstage and a very natural sound. Or get a dealer to discount the newer Capitole Referance. (Retail $9500) Truely a world class player.
TVAD, yes of course you are correct, the comparison of an APL 1000 vintage late 2004, even sporting the very latest engineering changes available at that time, is not a fair comparison with a player which retails for approximately twice as much, even though the latter was released in Japan at a similar time. In some sense that was my very point, the APL 1000 was quite a good performer at its price point, yet not necessarily the very last cry in performance at any price that it was sometimes claimed to be.
As you correctly also point out, I have not had the opportunity of auditioning an APL 3910, nor an NWO-1, nor an NW-02. Comparing one of them directly with an X-01 Limited -- the current latest and greatest in TEAC single-box purely audio players -- would be an extremely intriguing musical experience. Of course any unit involved would need to be completely broken in prior to any serious listening, or the entire exercise would be devoid of meaning. Still, at least in the case of an X-01 Limited pitted against the NWO-1 and NWO-2, the comparison would be in a sense that of an apple -- or at least of a tangerine -- with a couple of oranges, if you only consider the significant list price difference of a stock X-01 with these UX-1 based reingeneered units.
Guido, the SACD1000 mod was introduced at $1350 and then went up to $1850. At that time, the SACD1000 was on sale from Tweeter at $400. Online prices on Audiogon and Ebay were $600 max for brand new units. The X-01 retail is $13K and the X-01 Limited is $14K. So I don't really know what you mean by "twice as much" the SACD1000 price. I figure around 6 times as much. There are very positive reports and reviews from independent parties who don't even own SACD1000. Please also be aware that the SACD1000 featured an output transformer with higher output impedance so it is extremely important what load will be presented to it. Best results are obtained with non-shielded cables and preamplifiers having input impedance of 100K Ohm.

UX-1 and X-01 feature the same transports and the same Digital Signal Processing boards. It’s just that the X-01 video and DVD-A features are software and hardware disabled. The UX-1 Video can be completely shut down too with a button on the remote. So, the only advantage X-01 has over UX-1 is the differential DAC and Analog output stage with 4 instead of 2 DACs and DOUBLE the Op Amps. There are sonic differences between the two, but not huge by any means.

I suspect you may find the $6K price difference between the X-01 Limited and NWO-2 very well worth it.

Alex, thanks so much for your insights!

Seems like having a lights out CD player is a relatively safe investment over the long term. I think there are a fair number of people who hesitate over going all the way out of fear the unit will end up being a big paperweight. And, in the days where no one really knows where the market is going, trying to maximize performance via a modder (such as yourself!) makes even more sense.

I'm quite happy with my players (2 year old Samsung Universal, 4 year old Sony SACD, and 3 year old Granite CDP), and have experienced trouble free service (knock on wood), and think modding one of two of them would be a good idea for me.
Alex, only Babybear, who is currently away on vacation, has the exact list of ECs and value of his unit, which was not however a basic modified unit, but a maximized one. He only can comment on its cost further on his return. On the other hand, at the time of my audition, there was a general confidence in you and the APL tribe alike, that any APL unit would outperform any stock player of any price. A more realistic position should be that at any price point, a quality and well re-engineered unit may have a greater than average chance of outperforming a stock unit of similar market value.
I did go into the audition fully expecting the APL 1000 to outperform the X-01. It did not. The opposite was true, by a significant margin. Setting realistic customer expectation is part of Marketing/sales skill building. To tell the truth, I learned a few hard lessons in this area myself in my own work during recent times.

Concerning X-01 vs NWO-2, the issue is not so much that of NWO-2 yielding higher performance than X-01, but:

1. Does the targeted re-engineered player exceed the performance of stock players in its own market price point, where the price is the typical transaction price for such units, rather than their list price.

2. Does any performance advantage of the re-engineered player for the automatic and immediate loss of manufacturer's warranty coverage on the original unit? Please note that TEAC has stated very clearly that they will not repair any modified machines, regardless of its warranty status.

3. Will the re-engineered unit be as reliable as the original, or will it require a greater or smaller amount of maintenance?

4. Which company has the best track record for most reliable customer order/tracking/delivery management, and post sales customer service?

A certain amount of research online and offline may assist a consumer in making a decision. Ultimately, it may simply come to personal taste, preferences, or beliefs.
Redwoodgarden, is your head spinning now? It is safe to own most modded players these days and you can get a lot of bang for your buck.
Guido , I joined Apl Hi Fi for the sole purpose of reorganizing and streamlining operations to facilitate a more efficient transition to being an OEM. Part of my objective was to improve customer service. There was an immediate improvement in communication and efforts to resolve issues of delivered product. I was flooded with phone calls and e mails and worked till 4 am for 3 months on this important aspect of the company's operation. After I felt confident I had addressed these outstanding issues I did delete some forum threads that revolved around service issues . It was not done to obscure wrong doing but to refresh the site and keep it moving in a positive direction . I try and answer e mails and telephone calls within 24 hours.

The sonic character of the UX-1 and X-01 stock is very similar due to identical design topology and parts used. The X-01 has an edge because of its differential design. This said, there are number of reports online that you can find about the sound of these units and whether their overall sonics are matching the price. This has recently changed with the introduction of the Limited series and I am VERY happy to hear it. Esoteric deserves the recognition. I have not compared X-01 directly to a SACD1000, but number of people witnessed such comparison with X-01 and APL Denon at the CES Show this year. The X-01 was used for a digital source in one of the demo rooms at the show. After the comparison, the X-01 was removed from that system and the Denon was used till the end of the show. That was the personal preference of many in the room.
The SACD1000 was very good for its time. It is still used by many audiophiles and industry associates who are really happy with it. There were also number of shootouts done by independent parties and for some reason they've reported that they like as much or, in some cases, prefer the SACD1000 over some highly regarded and expensive digital components. APL SACD1000 was awarded by Stereotimes too. As you said, it is a matter of a personal preference, but besides the fact that the SACD1000 will not have as good bass and top extension compared to the X-01, it will give you this very natural and engaging presentation that many people like compared to impressive but "mechanical" sound.

For the rest of your questions I might say that the price/performance ratio of the NWO series is extremely good given the way they perform against the competetion and SOTA vinyl rigs. This is our opinion and we are entitled to it.

It is clear that a re-designed unit can not be sent to Esoteric for warranty repair, but since Esoteric is well aware of what I do and support me, parts availability is not an issue.

When it comes to reliability the VRDS-NEO transport is the best in the world and should last forever. The maintenance of the re-engineered unit is at a slightly higher but well deserved cost and involves around $50 for tubes replacement every 4-5 years.

Sure, Esoteric has a better product supply record than I do, but we are working very hard in order to fix this issue. Also, Esoteric is a very large company compared to APL, but for APL this is just the beginning. Let us hope for a bright and successful future.

What I can say is that Alex is doing a great service to the audio community as are his contemporaries. The work , effort and study required to redesign digital and push the limits of performance benefits everyone who is interested in the digital playback medium.

Brent Rainwater CSM Apl Hi Fi

For 3D sound, I'm surprised no one has mentioned either the new Cary 306 or the Lector CD7T. I haven't heard the ARC CD7 yet but based on previous players I'd say it is a must audition.

Personally, if I could spend 8K, I'd save up my sheckels and buy the next used/demo Reimyo that comes up for sale here.
Brent, I am in fact delighted you joined APL and that you are heading the company's transformation into a successful OEM. I did witness a marked reduction in public customer gripes on the APL forum over the last few months. and am confident you will be able to address the few residuals over the next several weeks. I also understand the need to purge the forum from old diatribes that were at the time all but festering. On the other hand, myself working for a large company, I do appreciate that the market communications specialist attempts to 'move things in a positiv direction' are most invariably perceived by the outsider as 'spin', or at least as artful redirections, and that this alternative perception is not of necessity flawed.

I do not give a terrible amount of credit to editorial reviews, and unfortunately I have not listened to the UX-1 myself. I have selected the X-01 based on my own listening experiences and comparisons with several other reputed players, such as the APL 1000 and several others, rather than any editorial reviews. I am however thoroughly familiar with X-01 and X-01 Limited. In addition, audiophiles in the know, habitually posting to these pages, while conceding that the UX-1 yields a significant fraction of the performance of the original X-01 in RedBook and SACD, tend to indicate that there still exists an appreciable gap between the two models in audio performance. As such, in my view, the X-01 Limited and even more so the P03/D03 combo are at this time more valid benchmarks against the APL NWO family than the UX-1, while the X-03 SE should be used as a benchmark against the APL 3910, which according to what I have been reading on the APL fora, has recently been discontinued.

The UX-1's audio design is essentially a stripped down version of the X-01 design, rather than the two devices having 'identical topologies', with the UX-1 sporting half the number of DACs than the X-01. It is fair to point out however, that both devices are differentially balanced in the audio section, as you can read on the UX-1 page on the TEAC site: "A Burr-Brown 24-bit D/A converter is used as the audio D/A converter on all channels. In addition, a two-chip-per-channel differential configuration is
used on the front L/R channels for improved linearity."

Yes, I also remember reading the report of the X-01 being removed from an audio booth at CES. Was the X-01 brand new or was it fully broken in? As I stated so many times, a brand new X-01 sounds hideous, and only after 500 hrs of break in the device is significantly good, with optimum performance being yielded somewhat after the 800 hours mark. Yes I do agree that the APL was a very good unit for its time and at its price point. It is also true its sound was engagingly sweet, and captivating, if slightly euphonic. Conversely, the X-01 is said to be accurate but 'merciless', with awesome macro and micro dynamics. I will take merciless anytime over slight euphony, but I do recognize that this is entirely a personal preference and decision. And about the X-01 sounding 'mechanical', I am quite befuddled. I have not heard a single CD player sounding mechanical in recent years, perhaps with the sole exception of the Accuphase DP-77, which while not exactly mechanical, does sound like a very expensive music synthesizer to me.

Looking forward to the opportunity of eventually hearing a member of the NWO product family in person,


Interesting how a search for a CD player for 6K to 8K becomes
a discussion of $10K+ Esoteric equipment.

If Redwoodgarden is still looking for the best redbook CD player for 6K to 8K, I suggest he wait for Aplhifi's new transport and DAC to become available.
If Redwoodgarden is still looking for the best redbook CD player for 6K to 8K, I suggest he wait for Aplhifi's new transport and DAC to become available.
Kana813 (Reviews | Threads | Answers)
That's a very good suggestion if a two box solution is a possibility.