To make life simple, forget about parts, designs, and specifications. Just listen. Demo as many units as you can, in your system, and then buy what you like.
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Straight listening helps, IMHO, only if one has an experience in that - one should know what to listen to, and what nuances to pay attention on...
I don't think there are characteristics that would clearly distinguish mid-fi from hi-fi... Too many manufacturers claim such things as "oversized power supply", but only some of them really benefit form it from sound quality perspective. Price doesn't mean anything eiher. I think the only way to evaluate a component is a combination of gathering info about unit's design advantages along with looking for opinions, and with listening.
I strongly w/Hepl. Slightly obsolete digital gear sells at a dramatic discount. I would think if you were looking for entry level prices for a CDP, you would go with an older model from a high end manufacturer, like CAL, Wadia, Meridien, EMC, Mephisto, even Sony (for example, DVP7000ES for $2-300.00, which also plays DVDs)
It's the same thing that seperates every other component from great to not-so-great: the power supply and output stages. The better cdp's are usually more expensive because they use premium parts for power supply, filter caps, voltage and current regulation stages, isolation of power supply for signal and operational (LED's, mechanical, controls, etc), shielding, output devices, and overall circuitry design of the output stages.
You can't really go by the type of DAC or drive mechanism alone to judge whether or not you're getting a quality product. Most low end cdp's that vary in price will use the dame DAC for example, but the price difference is based on convenience features. The difference in sound, for example, of the Marantz 63 and the 63SE is night and day - all due to the power supply upgrade in the 63SE.
LMAO Nrchy!! Absolutely agree, listen to the gear in your own system...is your foot tapping involuntarily...well then see a doctor....do the hairs at the back of your neck stand up...you may need a trim, the barber's the one for that....
Great advice too about the older technology units. I would not necessarily limit your search to upsampling DAC's though. Some of the very best DAC's are straight redbook with no upsampling. Unless you have to hear what SACD sounds like, it should not be a criteria to seek out as the selection is pretty limited right now (in terms of music released on SACD) and no one seems to know whether it will live or die as a medium. There are certainly players that do both pretty darn good as I understand it.
Let your own two ears be the judge...good advice that goes much further than CDP's in this hobby, yet is so often ignored.
all the subtle, but important differences! Like the difference between a Shaolin monk and a heavyweight boxer (like someone mentioned in another thread).
I imagine after living with a high-end source for a while, it would be tough to go back to a mid-fi one and still be satisifed with it. The inverse, someone who was used to mid-fi might hear a high-end source and be left wondering what all of the fuss was about.
Richard Hardesty's issue #9 of the Audio Perfectionist Journal has a really, really good article about this very subject(some of it might be surprising)
They're some really good low priced players on the market and some of the really expensive ones are more smoke and mirrors than an improvement. It is no doubt that some players are built to much higher standards even though they might not sound better. The type of DAC they use, the power supply and shielding, etc come into play.
At this point in the game, I would look for a SACD player that is good with cd's. Most newer CD's will be hybrids w/SACD layers. SACD sounds better with most recordings even own cheaper machines. The Sony 9000ES is an exellent example used(including a decent job on CD and plays superb DVD)and is a really good SACD player.
I have no experience with DVD Audio so I won't comment on that subject.
I use a Meridian 508-24 because IMO, it has less of a "Digital" sound and doesn't give up anything in resolution. It only weighs about 13# but it is extremely well designed. I have a excellent sounding NAD 1- bit player that, in comparison to the Meridian, misses a few small details but doesn't add crap to the sound. If you hadn't heard the Meridian, it would be satisfactory. The difference in price is $3995 for the Meridian and $599 for the NAD!
The point being, as some others pointed out, it's in what you perceive as significant for sound quality. Go listen and decide for yourself. Not everybody cares about the last nth degree of resolution. In the CD world , sometimes its just better to have a smooth, non-fatiguing player.
With all that said, the dividing line has become cloudy between midfi and hifi players(based on price). Most all are decent now and differences are in construction and ultimate resolution with the biggest difference being brand name recognition. The limiting factor now, IMO, is the CD itself and has been for sometime. Of course certain CD's are better produced than others and when you run across one, it can be a real treat!
Your ears matter. Everything else should be treated as marketing. That's not to say that a 24 bit DAC is better or worse than an 18bit DAC, but who the hell cares what DAC chip a player uses if it sounds terrible to your ears in your system.
I'd short list 4-5 players that receive good reviews then listen to them and see if one stands out.
Trying to select based on specs would be like selecting a sports car based on the number of cylinders, or whether its a pushrod or an overhead cam. In the end you have to drive it to find out.
I was hoping for names. I've been out of this market for many moons and am looking for a decent player. There are budget contraints. $1,500-$2000. Like most folks I can't audition all of the players in the system this is going into. It is easy to say listen to your ears but it is often difficult to get the chance to do so.
This would be my short list in that price range:
You can listen to what you can, either at a friends house (ask on this thread/in this forum if there is someone local to you to you who has what you are wanting to listen to and would be willing to have you pay a visit just to hear - there are plenty of Audiophiles who'd like to show off their system and share conversation with a fellow crazy), or at a dealer. Do research here, through reviews, and other real-world sites like AudioAsylum. Buy used at a fair price. Live with your choice for a while. If it doesn't click with you/your system just sell it here for a fair price and move onto something else. I've gone through many components that way to arrive at the systems that work best for my ears. I haven't really lost any money, and have had a lot of fun along the way and have met some really remarkable people, some of whom have become good friends.
PS If you are in Seattle during the time of your quest you can certainly look me up and listen to either a Naim CD5 or my Muse rig.
Ncarv - I'm guessing you must have been joking cause that just ain't so. You yourself have an excellent example of a fine CD player in your own system that can be had for a very reasonable price on the used market (as can many others), and yet can compete sonicly (is that a real word?) with some far more expensive alternatives, and likely even better them in some systems and to some people. I'd say anyone who chooses price alone to be a telling criteria to judge this is making a big mistake, especially in the price range being considered by the poster. A fool and his money will go separate ways.
I agree with the above posts about listening and forgetting about specs and bits. I disagree with the above posts that say that 16 bit is outdated. The 47 Labs DACs are 16 bit are currently produced and sound very refined.
Having said that, some things to look for are a beefy (and/or outboard) power supply and minimalist circuit design. Also, manufacturers that pay attention to resonance dampening (heavy chassis) and shielding (copper case) usually have fine sounding cdps.
True, Marco, BUT . . . I'm really using it as a transport and running it through a DAC and, with wires and iso devices, it costs about 3x the player, used. No doubt you can get a real nice player in the mid-fi range, but it's also true the more you spend, the better you get. I'm not knocking mid-fi. A Honda Accord is a real fine car, but it's not a Mercedes.
You asked for specific brands in your followup response. I used to own the Rega Jupiter 2000 and found it very satisfying for a mid price unit. It was very musical, analog sounding and nonfatiging. Definitely hi fi to me. There are some excellent reviews on it including TAS and Stereophile. I liked it better then my Meridian 566-20 DAC Theta Pearl combination.
Ncarv - AH! So sorry, I mistook your earlier comment to be an attempt at wit. Clearly I am out of my league here. Please, allow me to drop to my knees and kiss your Hermes clad feet, then slowly back to the door while basking for just a moment more in the splendor and luxury that only one of your higher stature and refined taste can recognize and afford. I'll just go downstairs to take my place with the other hired help. Please forgive me.
Aroc, They keep saying that is the case and Sony and a few other companies are prepared to make it so. Hopefully, it will come to pass soon. Best Buy here in Charleston is carrying a decent selection and Acoustic Sounds really has a lot of stuff.
If we can get hybrids from here on out, SACD will have a chance. Multi-channel should help some also.
I certainly don't know (but it would be my feelings) that a lot of remastered SACD material probably want come to pass.
Guess we'll both wait and hope. From all I've actually heard, SACD is much more musically envolving than CD but then again, how much of the general population cares? Ain't really a lot, percentage wise, of "Audiophiles" to buy this stuff. Of course, probably 90% could care less about HDTV but it's coming, like it or not! So, we'll see.