What makes a Cd player a Great cd player

Can someone please explain to me what a great cdp do that a good cdp wont do? Is the purpose to make what has actually been recorded sound better, or to merly expose what has been recorded?
Someone recently made an excellent analogy in another thread that I believe applies here. Discussion about this kind of thing only goes so far, and ultimately, it's unconvincing to many.

The person in the other thread wrote:
05-31-10: Wireless200
Why don't more people know the difference between freshly picked peaches, blueberries, rasberries, strawberries and grocery store bought. They just don't know any better.

The point here being, until you've heard a great CD player versus a good CD player, you really won't know the possibilities.
I like 'taters, uhhhh!

Tvad makes a valid point but there are certainly many here that have climbed the audio ladder from low end to high end and can speak to the differences in their perceptions regard a great CD player.

For example, I found Wadia too clinical (detailed) and not musical though it certainly seemed to reproduce notes accurately, while the Meridian 508.24 I use seems smooth, open and warm. It is not as resolving but it is what my ears prefer.

Ultimately though, your ear is the judge of what you like regardless of what was recorded. You must go listen to music on various CD players not just read words about how they sound. One man's floor.....
Both of you have very good points of view. Which is why I feel( key word I) no need to dish out anything over $1k on a cd player. I think a great cdp, will only make a poorly recorded cd sound worst, and a good cdp makes it tolorable. and vice versa with a audiophile recorded cd. Back when I owned my Marantz cdp, I thought it had a more warmer sound than my current cd player,which I found to be very detailed, and open, but lacked the more laid back sound of the Marantz. However when I switched speakers, and went to my Apogees, the smoothness that was lacking appeared. I think any extra money spent should go towards speakers and quality mastered cds. my two cents
Ddan6815, thanks for revealing your bias early in the thread. While you initially appeared to be asking an open ended question, your last post reveals that you aren't as open to possibilities as your original posts suggests.

Your latest post also indicates that you didn't accept the point I made....that of not knowing what you don't know until you've heard a truly great CD player. To me, the history you mention with a Marantz CD player and one additional un-named CD player do not seem thorough enough to have experienced the possibilities. Or, maybe my viewpoint is unfair because you've listened to a dozen top CD players and didn't mention doing so.

If the overall point you are trying to make is that the differences among CD players can be subtle, then I agree. However, each person's definition of the word subtle varies considerably in this pasttime. One man's subtle difference can be another man's "jaw dropping", Ah-ha! moment.
A couple of major differences between a good CPD and great CDP are the DACs used and the quality of the output section. It is hard to make a poorly recorded CD sound good but there is a major difference on quality mastered CDs. And now there are new processes out that continue to improve CDs such as the blu-spec CDs made by Sony.

I agree Tvad. Hearing is believing.

Power chords make a big difference on CDPs also. Find a Virtual Dynamics Master powerchord and it will make a believer out of you.
This thread has become pretty funny.

It reminds me of when I had six fellow computer programmers and engineers come over because they wanted to hear my system.

Five were saying "Oh my Lord!" while one said that he couldn't hear a difference. We all looked at him because we figured that one of three things might have been going on in his mind.

1. He really couldn't hear the difference that everyone else heard.

2. He wasn't going to admit that there was a difference because he wasn't about to allocate any extra money to his HT/Stereo/Video Game system and that was his way of justifying it to himself.

3. He was not admitting that anything sounded better because he's preached forever that there's no difference in any stereo components.

Like TVAD said, if you don't want to believe that that a higher quality:

1. transport reduces translation errors
2. DAC decodes the 16 bit encoded data better
3. power supply reduces the noise floor and provides more dynamics
4. there a bunch more etc's

If you don't want or can't believe that these things make the kind of difference that gives it more value TO YOU, don't worry or think twice about it. Stick with your $1000.00 CD Player.

I don't understand why you asked us WHY when it seems that you really don't accept any REASONS WHY that your fellow Audiogoners are offering.

We don't care and are actually happy if you like your $1000.00 CD Player.

06-01-10: Ddan6815

Back when I owned my Marantz cdp, I thought it had a more warmer sound than my current cd player,which I found to be very detailed, and open, but lacked the more laid back sound of the Marantz. However when I switched speakers, and went to my Apogees, the smoothness that was lacking appeared. I think any extra money spent should go towards speakers and quality mastered cds. my two cents

So it seems that you prefer an transparent source and warmer speakers, nothing wrong with this. If it works for you that's all that matters. However, there is more than one way to skin a cat. That's why they make so many flavors.

To me, what makes a cd player great is being able to listen to all of my cd's (not just audiophile recordings) without grinding my teeth. I tend to like them a little smoother, since many cd's, especially earlier ones, are pretty harsh. Analog is still what I listen to when I want great music, so a great CDP to me is just the least irritating one.

WOW....I keep forgetting where I'm at. I simply ASKED a question, because I am open minded,and wanted other opinions about a cdp in the 2 to 3k range. I also only shared MY personal experience, which is NOT much, being the reason I ASKED in the first place. I was hoping someone would enlighten me, considering I never purchased a cdp over $500. was that to say I wont, NO, I would if i could get what I would justify as worth the purchase . Now, let me ask the question again, and see if I can get the answer, I was looking for. I love the sound of Vinyl over cds,. If I was to spend 2 to 3k on a cd player, will it even come close to the sound of Vinyl, or will I get the realism that I get from vinyl. And by the way my current cdp, is a Emotiva ERC1, AMP NAD2600, SPEAKERS APOGEE CENTAURUS, SONY 601ES 6 DISC CHANGER , EMOTIVA USP1 PREAMP AND A KENWOOD KD 5077 TT....ALL BUDGET PRICED GEAR
Great CD players, of which there are few, do not absolutely butcher string instruments, and in particular, violin. Go listen to a live violin concerto, or for that matter, a violin concerto played on a $500 turntable - 99.99% of CD players sound fundamentally wrong by comparison.
Ddan6815, lots more info about what you're looking for in your most recent post. That's significantly more helpful.
...given your recent system description, I agree with you that spending $2-$3k on a speaker and/or amplification upgrade would yield more significant improvement than would a $2-$3k CD player.
Sorry....Maybe I didn't asked the question correctly.
Isnt there scuttlebut out there that the CD is on its way out and our future will be compressed download dreck?
What is downstream (speakers, amps) must be transparent enough to let what's upstream (source) through, else you'll never be able to hear a valid difference.

So, work downstream first - you'll get the biggest bang for the buck.

Later, higher-end source components, will give you increased and more accurate detail while decreasing the harshness associated with digital -- closer and closer to "natural" uncolored sound as you and your peers "hear" it.
06-01-10: Ddan6815
If I was to spend 2 to 3k on a cd player, will it even come close to the sound of Vinyl, or will I get the realism that I get from vinyl.

Now, let me ask the question again, and see if I can get the answer, I was looking for. I love the sound of Vinyl over cds,. If I was to spend 2 to 3k on a cd player, will it even come close to the sound of Vinyl, or will I get the realism that I get from vinyl.

That is how I judge a good cd player. When I bought my current cdp five years ago I found what I preferred to my vinyl set up. I sold my vinyl when I realized it was just going to take up space in my home.
Since that time I have owned more than a dozen cdps priced from $1k to $3k and they all have come up short. That is my take on a great cd player. Good luck.
I didn't buy a cd player until 1994 because evry time I brought one home to comepare it to my analog setup, I thought it sucked--cd vs. record. I finally settled and bought a Nad 502, cheap but good sounding for the money. I thought all cd players were overpriced and not worth the price difference from the Nad. I bought a Nad 542 about 1 year ago--still cheap but a little better. I took a chance on a Modwright Sony 9000es signature a few months after that figuring I could easily sell it for at least what I bought it for it I didn't like it. It sounds awesome and for the first time, I had cd's sounding better than my analog. Not all, but quite a few. After hearing this player, I would have to say that it is easier to get great sound buying used cd players (cost wise) than trying to get great analog sound at the same cost. I had a Maplenoll Ariadne air bearing table/arm and I can't equal its sound for a whole lot more money than the Modwright Sony cost used. Just one man's opinion based on results in a very resolving system that I now really love. The VMPS speakers and subwoofer have a clarity, and dynamic quality that is truly hard to stop listening to. There may be better sounding systems out there, but I haven't heard one I would trade for. Until you hear something that sounds this good, it is hard to appreciate spending mega bucks on this. Due to Audiogon, I've been able to assemble an over $20,000 system for under $9,500 including analog, but more importantly, it just works together beautifully and other than achieving live concert levels of hearing lessening sound, I can't imagine what could be improved unless I spend stupid money.
General rule of thumb is 3x your vinyl rigs cost should make your ears pretty comfortable.

The closest to vinyl that I have heard lately is the Esoteric X-05.

(dealer disclaimer here)
I have to chime in on this one. I read from folks I respect that for $3000 you CAN'T get a CD player that sounds as good or "even come close" to vinyl. I read this all to often in print and here on Agon. I stay quiet, but the truth must come out.

Come on you vinyl snobs. Please, this is simply not true for all Aphiles. Even Aphiles with good hearing and the experience and ability to know good sound. I have twice tried the vinyl route spending up to $4000 (used) each time plus having a vinyl expert(experienced audio friend) set up
the two rigs in my home.

Bottom line is I prefer my SACD/CD player thank you. My players are/were;

Current - Cary 306
Sony 900 modified by TRL with battery power supply

I paid $1800 for the Sony and $2500 for the Cary used.

I simply found my CD players to sound better. I also disliked the vinyl noise (clicks & pops etc). Now, I repect those who like vinyl better, that is great for you. However, we need to be careful and not make generalizations that are simply not true for all.

Dorkwad, you may well find a player that pleases you as much or more then vinyl. I have heard CD players costing up to $8000 that I would not own. I have also owned an $1800 player that was wonderful and pleasing in every way to my ears. For me even more pleasing then a good vinyl rig.

I am not saying SACD/CD is better than vinyl, I cannot say that is true. All I know for sure is that it is to me and many others who do have "good" ears. Other "good" ears enjoy vinyl more.

Enjoy and experiment for yourself. The Cary 306 is a fine player under $3000 used. I saw a TRL modified Sony 900 for only $800 used just recently.
Meant my comments regarding the possibility of finding a CD player for $3000 that is as pleasing as vinyl for Ddan6815, not Dorkwad.

A great CD player does not attack you with music, or hyper detail. Rather, it fills the room with pleasing music that is never hard on the ears and always draws you into the music.
"or will I get the realism that I get from vinyl."

It is very difficult to get all the clicks, pops and noise from CD to accurately mimic vinyl but it can be done.
CD's have come a long way
I appreciate all the responses, I really do. and from what I've gathered, it is possible to find a very pleasing sounding cd player. I wont even go as far as to put a price tag as to how much one would have to spend. I think its more of a trial and error and a little bit of luck, to find the perfect synergy that mates well with your speakers and amp. I also think there are so many other factors that can come into to play such as the acoustics of your room, some such as myself my never find what I may consider that perfect sound because of the vaulted ceilings in my home, the very open area in which my system is placed, the wood flooring just to name a few of the drawbacks. Also just to clear up the misconception of vinyl sounding better than cd, I dont think its a case where vinyl sound better, its just more natural sounding and less fatiguing, than some cd players, maybe not all, just the ones thats within my budget, that I've had experience with. Maybe oneday, I'll buy another house, with a dedicated listening room, and fork out a couple grand on a great cdp, but until then, I'm pretty pleased with what I have and can afford for now. In other words my system still puts a smile on my face when I listen to certain cds....:)
Ddan6815, I think you answered your own question already.
If I was to spend 2 to 3k on a cd player, will it even come close to the sound of Vinyl, or will I get the realism that I get from vinyl.

I would echo Jmcgrogan2's succinct answer to your question: No.

That's not to say it won't sound good, but it won't sound like vinyl. If that is the primary goal for your investment then I'd agree with Tvad - spend your money elsewhere.

If you do a search on your question you will find it is a very common query/debate. Much like tubes vs solid state, you'll find plenty of arguments on both sides.
1. you can try to audition brands that are famous for making turntable, these brands tune their cdp based on vinyl sound, u could look around linn, roksan, rega etc. u could get them used under a grand.
2. think about what it is about vinyl sound you like, you want natural, cdp can do natural, you want laid back, warm, dynamic, etc i think cdp thesedays can do pretty good job on those things, but you can't expect microwave food to taste the same as can food, both are processed but done differently.
My take on this is, the sound is dependable on the type of disc, some certainly sound better with vinyl(recorded back in the early days before digital was introduced), now with sacd/cd format, when matched carefully, u can have a top notch system with cdp, like others suggested, it might be harder to get the sound u want upgrading/changing cdp with that budget, than the rest of your system.
I agree with Grannyring,

"A great CD player does not attack you with music, or hyper detail. Rather, it fills the room with pleasing music that is never hard on the ears and always draws you into the music."

There is too much emphasis on resolution and transparency. Resolution and transparency mean nothing without magic, the magic that sucks you into the music and holds you there. This is what a high end component should do.

Whether you prefer vinyl or digital is a matter of taste. I have heard both sound good. A lot of it has to do with which source you based your system on.
My goal is getting the front end to sound neither digital or analog.

I spend a lot of time listening to my buddies Walker and he comes by to listen to my modded CEC and custom Dac, comparing the same LPs and CDs (yes, I know about crappy mixdowns in the studios, it happens on both sides of the fence)

IMHO, good CD can equal/beat LP up to a certain level.

Once you get into an upper turntable/cart setup and a great LP recording, we hear bigger dynamics and contrasts within the same music my digital can't reach.

Pretty much all else being equal, we have the same musical tastes, but our sources are from different planets, getting closer to each other in many ways, FWIW, YMMV.

I have never heard a tip-top end, high dollar turntable, phono, cart and arm combo. One costing over $20,000, so you may be 100% correct. I just have not tried one in my system. The vinyl systems I have tried retailed for $7000 tops.

Still hear those clicks and pops on a mega-buck rig? I bet you do....:-(

Perhaps over time I would not notice that surface noise. That seems possible.
It's well designed and built.

That doesn't necessarily mean it has to cost a fortune these days because the basic technology needed to do it well is fairly commonplace and also fairly widely understood these days.

How different units are tuned to sound from there is a different story, more one of personal tastes and how well the player integrates with the rest of the system (amp, speakers, room), which can make a huge difference in regards to the final results

Personally, I would assess the player's and systems results using live music performances as a reference standard, not a different format of recorded media, vinyl or otherwise.

If things are going well, either format will do a good job of getting most things mostly right in their own way.
Grannyring, yer right, I hear the pops-n-clicks, but those dynamic swings sure kick our ass !
I'm with Grannyring. I appreciated the benefits of vinyl, but a couple of years into my re-emersion into vinyl, I found my turntable was sitting idle 90% of the time. I preferred the ease and absolute quiet of digital, and I eventually sold the analog rig with no regrets.
I think that part of the divergence of viewpoints on vinyl vs. digital probably relates to the kinds of music that people listen to. In two ways:

1)Tics, pops, surface noise, etc. on a vinyl system will be most objectionable on material that has wide dynamic range, such as classical symphonic music. Assuming comparable pressing quality, it will be much less noticeable on rock, (especially if it has been typically compressed), and on jazz, most chamber music, etc., that has narrower dynamic range.

2)It is well established that very low level high frequency hiss, such as lp surface noise, can result in a subjective perception of enhanced air and ambiance. I would expect that to also assume greater or lesser significance depending on the type of music being listened to. And also depending on the quality of the engineering of the recordings -- overly dry recordings will benefit from that effect; recordings that were produced in a good hall, and were properly mic'd and mixed, will not.

-- Al
06-02-10: Almarg

2)It is well established that very low level high frequency hiss, such as lp surface noise, can result in a subjective perception of enhanced air and ambiance.
Really? Fist time I've read this.

Maybe I should get a high frequency hiss module to add to my system for that added sense of air and ambience...

:) J.
Speaking of hiss, in the recording studios, many musicians and engineers dislike Dolby noise reduction because they feel it makes the music sound dull for, among other reasons, removal of the hiss. Since the tape hiss is a constant, as opposed to a random pop or click on an LP, the ear tends to ignore it, as we do the constant din of human existence. The hiss becomes perceived as brighter = better high frequency response, mostly when A/B'd against a tape using noise reduction.
If I had an option, and I had to sell either my turntable or my cdp, I would do the turntable, no questions asked. With that said,maybe that will make you understand what I mean when I say I prefer the sound of vinyl over cd. I dont expect to be able to get the sound nor do I want all the pop and click associated with vinyl. I have however learned to tune them out. I consider it to be a tradeoff for the naturalism of the instruments. Thats the only thing I miss from a cd player, and would love to have. My original post was asked wondering if I was to spend the type money mentioned if I could possibly get close to it. Some said No, some said yes. so its still undebateable. I personally think speakers play a bigger part than mentioned. I have noticed with my ribbons vs the wharfedales that are now sold, there was a very big difference. From past conversations on this topic, the suggestion that tubed equipemnt also seem to mellow down the sound. I listen to a lot of Jazz. Certain sax pieces I cant stand because of the forwardness. Would that be with any cdp? I have noticed however since switching to my Emotiva, or maybe since switching speakers, I actually find myself falling asleep listening, which I could not always do because of the forwardness. Now do I make any sense in my question?
Most audiophile components endeavor to accurately reproduce the recording. Many recordings of jazz sax have an edge or bite because the instrument itself has an edge or bite depending how it's played.

If you want your system to smooth out what's on the recording, then I believe it's going to be difficult to find that characteristic in an audiophile component. Member Mrtennis has been looking for this unsuccessfully for years...and he became a reviewer to gain access to hearing more gear.

Have you considered adding an equalizer (help me...the blasphemy!)?
I ACTUALLY HAVE ONE THAT I USE TO USE. I would prefer not to use it for the fear of keeping the signal as pure as possible. My preamp actually has no tone controls for the same purpose. Is that to say it would be a noticable difference? I doubt it. But they have been known to.

How about a marriage between cd and analog. I am happy to have an LP copy of The Modern Jazz Quartet live at Carnegie Hall to play on my CDP courtesy of an engineer.

Very low surface noise (those old engineers have it nailed) so cd playback is all about enjoying the performance. Direct to disc? Ha.
Heard this player at the Axpona Show in Florida a few months ago:


Awesome. It did not have dynamic swings relative to the material played but boy you could be tempted to sell all your toys for this one.
La45, you nailed it, dynamic swings !

I'm still keepin my digital front end, it gets close enough to satisfy (for now)

I haven't read all of the posted comments, so forgive me me if this has been touched upon.

There is a problem, as you said, that when going from a good CD Player to a better one, it does have a tendency to bring to light the difference in recordings.

I used to and still get down when listening to a CD that just doesn't sound as good as it used to. The saving grace is that the well recorded CD's now sound much better.

It is a trade-off, that's for sure. One solution is to keep the older one along with the more expensive one. But to me that would be a pain in the rear.


"I actually find myself falling asleep listening"

I guess you mean your system is boring now and it puts you to sleep. All kidding aside, many audiophiles have the same problem as you with saxophone recordings whether on CD or vinyl, but it's a matter of taste because some people actually like the sound. I have the same problem with Doc Severinsen's trumpet, but it has nothing to do with CD or vinyl, it's the style of playing that I find offensive. On the other hand I can listen to Miles Davis all day.

To me, CD players are like turntables and cartidges. There is bound to be one out there that will float your boat, but it most likely won't be cheap. All of the CD players I have enjoyed over the years have been at the top of the class for quality and price.
"There is a problem, as you said, that when going from a good CD Player to a better one, it does have a tendency to bring to light the difference in recordings."

Recordings are what they are. Don't blame the CD player or system for them sounding different. That is the way it should be. If they all sound similar and not all that great to boot then you may have a problem worth addressing.

A good setup/player should bring to light the differences in recordings. Lesser recordings for the most parts should only sound that way because now the better recordings sound better or at least different.

Train yourself to accept what is in the recording rather than trying to make them something they are not. I find that 90%+ of CDs have something good to offer in regards to sound quality. Few do it all right in the same recording, but if you can cover all the bases by listening to a variety of recordings, then you are in very good shape!

As an extreme example, on my music server, a small % of the 10000+ tracks are cuts I digitally recorded off of old 78s playing on an old Admiral ceramic cartridge rim drive table I picked up for $10 at a yardsale for just this purpose. These tracks have some of the most captivating and lively unobstructed midrange there is. That is their strength. There is also a ton of background noise and not much else to brag about, including an unusual overall timbre, but they are what they are (90 year old early recordings that are easily identifiable as such), and are quite enjoyable to listen to as a result.

I don't blame anything for the recording.

In my personal situation, I use my music as a stress reliever at the end of the day.

I've found that the better recordings are more relaxing for me. That's why I look to buy imports, HDCDs, XRCDs and Blu-Spec CDs whenever possible, as well as MoFi and Rhyno over stock CDs.

They seem to be a better recording to my ears.
>>What makes a Cd player a Great cd player?<<

The listener
What I actually meant by the falling asleep part was that I find that with some of the same music that at one time I could not enjoy enough to fall asleep to because of the forwardness, I can now enjoy. not sure if its the speakers or the cd player, I'm sure a little of both. I have however noticed that on better recorded cds, the sax is not as forward and less fatiguing. I too can listen to Miles Davis allday without any fatigue. I happen to be in the local Goodwill store yesterday, and picked up a Chesky Demo. for .50 cents, needless to say I have orderd about 5 Chesky recordings since listening to it. They just sound right.
I think thats a matter of opinion. I find that some cdp tend the color the music. In other words an inferior recording will sound better on a average player than some high end players
Audiofeil, Good point.
>>06-01-10: Buff
General rule of thumb is 3x your vinyl rigs cost should make your ears pretty comfortable.<<

That is really lame.

Rookie misunderstandting as well.