What Sonically is the Difference between a $1,500 CD Player and a $10K-$25K One?


I realize opinions may vary, but if I could give an example of two CD players perhaps someone can give me their thoughts on the cost benefits of either one? What would be the difference in your opinion between say a Cambridge Audio Azur 851C CD Player and the Gryphon Scorpio S CD Player? And are the difference truly audible or more technical and rather indiscernible through human hearing?

In general, what makes a CD player (other than build components) 10x more costly than a decently built one other than features?
mrc4u
Just capitalist manufacturers preying on the insecure, neurotic and gullible! As the French chef says "No diffawrance"!

mrc4u


To my ears, the inherent difference between a $1500 cd player and a five-figure cd player is better detail, microdynamics,  through engineering.

Large margin here. I can report this information as I own both machines.

Comparing a $10K cd player to a $25K cd player will yield another degree of better detail, microdynamics, through engineering. Smaller margin here. This has been my aural experience via auditions over the years.


Happy Listening!


All CD players regardless of price are subject to the deleterious effects of vibration and background stray laser light. Therefore, one would be better off buying an inexpensive player and fixing those problems than simply investing beaucoup bucks on a player. There are obviously many other related issues such as interconnects, power cord, fuse, external DAC, etc.

No matter how much you have in the end you would have had even more if you had started off with more in the beginning. - old audiophile axiom
I recall a comparative test years ago between a Sony Discman and a Theta transport/DAC. A Boulder preamp/power amp were used with Quad 63's. The result: NO Difference! The French chef applauds! 
The difference between an expensive and cheap anything in audio is the exceptional room, set up and gear you need to hear the difference. Without all that the money is mostly wasted.
+1 jafant and wlutke .  Significant difference in sound quality, but without comparable gear and great room certainly not worth it...
In terms of measurable distortion? Nothing.

And its been that way for decades. After some 30 years of using various CD players my two personal favourites were also the least expensive. Not necessarily because of their sound more likely because of my low expectations. I really wanted my far more expensive UK race tuned Sony models to sound better, but they didn't. Even the filters made bugger all real difference.

What you might get instead for paying more are features such as Bluetooth, switchable filters, looks and build quality.

Album art display is pretty cool too.


The difference is with the expensive CD player years later you will be sick with thinking what a great turntable you could have had instead. While with the cheap CD player instead of years it will be days.

With some (not all, not by a long shot, but with some) expensive CD players if you spend enough money you will have the unparalleled satisfaction of having the very best of digital playback of anyone anywhere. Only with the qualifier "digital" of course. While with the cheaper CD player you won't have even that tiny and brief little shred of satisfaction.

The ever popular price to value discussion.

On a suitable system with the resolution required to hear any subjective difference you should hear a pretty big difference between two such price ranges.

One: a $1,500.00 CD player is not going to have a really spectacular analog stage. Most likely the analog stage will be some inexpensive op amp based circuit. 

Two: a $1,500.00 CD player's optical drive isn't going to be anything special so the signal going to the dac will have errors. 

Three: the $1,500.00 CD players parts quality again in the analog stage and dac stages are going to be pretty inexpensive parts.

If you think about it the greater the subtitlities reproduced and the more you preserve information the greater the qualatative differences you are going to hear.


In our shop we have multiple dacs from $2,500.00 to $35k and the differences are clearly audible on our reference system. When you hear  a $35k dac and it is a good one, the music starts sounding very very real in a way that the less expensive ones didn't replicate.

https://www.google.com/search?q=T%2BA+pdp+3000&client=aff-maxthon-maxthon4&tbm=isch&tbs=...:

https://www.fidelity-magazin.de/2016/06/04/ta-pdp-3000-hv/#foobox-2/3/T-A-PDP-3000-HV-5.jpg

https://www.audio-activity.com/2015-munich/ta1

compare that level of build quality vs a $2,500 Rega Saturn which is an excellent player


http://www.hifishock.org/gallery/electronics/rega/source/cd-player/saturn-1-rega/

When you add up the differences in drive quality, analog output stage quality, digital output stage design you can start to understand that there are very large and audible differences between CD players, amplifiers, dacs, loudspeakers etc.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ




You'll know and understand it when you hear it. 👍
Post removed 
A quick recap of the last 40 years

1. First CD players 1983, really crappy sound.
2. Second generation CD players, still really crappy sound. Maybe it’s the CDs.
3. Increase but rate. Still crappy sound.
4. Increase the bit rate some more. Nope, still crappy sound.
5. How about outboard DACs? Still crappy sound.
6. Upsampling, nope. 
7. OK, how about higher bit rates AND higher sampling rates? Nope. 
8. Now all the CDs are super compressed so who cares?

The sound of money burning. And that high end cd player will depreciate 50-70% in 2 years

fstein
"The sound of money burning. And that high end cd player will depreciate 50-70% in 2 years"

It is most probably and likely that those purchasing such components do not care at all about depreciation that is not why they acquire the equipment in the first place it’s audio equipment not a financial investment!

geoffkait,

I actually enjoy reading posts like yours. It is true of course that digital was pretty terrible for the first number of years, but now that I have been living with a competent transport and non-oversampling DAC for years, I enjoy the great sound (perfect...? NO) and grin at all of the outdated criticisms of digital's deficiencies.

I recently watched a factual piece on youtube about the deficiencies of analog (what?) that was complete with simple enlarged line drawings, some animated of the gross mistracking that cartidges make in record grooves no matter what the cost of the cartridge, because it is simply unavoidable. Yet we continue to talk about the losses in digital transcription caused by sampling rates and jitter.

It is really just choosing what type of losses/distortions that you can live with and find acceptable. I just find it laughable that those with even the finest vinyl rigs think that they are so far above those using digital mediums as a source.

I realize Geoff that you weren't supporting analog per se, but you were singing the same old "digital sucks" song, and that is getting stale.

John 

Post removed 
Transparency, depth, detail, image placement, space and dimensionality. The soulution 540 is the best player I have heard to date. 
Going from a Oppo to a  to a Esoteric the difference was huge!
You'd be lucky and save a lot of money if you "auditioned" and couldn't hear any difference.
There are places where large sums are wisely spent, and others where it is a fools errand.

Part of this hobby is discerning one from the other.  Not all of us have unlimited funds, yet we aspire to great sound to give us continuing joy.

CDs have the issue of player as well as recording.  And lasers have their own category.  Then you get into streaming where the source material may be suspect.

It gets more difficult to balance these factors juxtaposed against  our own individual preferences as we each continue our sonic journey.

For myself, a CD/SACD player over $2,500 is money not well spent.  Marginal cost versus marginal gain.
Kind of like the "Emperors New Cloths".  If you spend $10,000 you will talk yourself into hearing the difference.  Buy a new car or pay down your mortgage instead.  It is like anything else with audio.  It minimal returns for money spent in my opinion.  However, the wealthy folks in the group don't have to be practical.  I think it is being able to invite your friends over to tell them now look what I have.  Kind of like $9,000 speaker wire.  Wonder if you priced Nordost at $240 and Tara Labs Appolo speaker wire at $9,000 if people would convince themselves the Tara Labs to be superior.

I have an OPPO player and wonder if there is anything I could do inexpensively to reduce vibration.  Seems like reducing vibration on both CD players, pre-amps and amps make a difference.
I currently have Paradigm Prestige 85F towers.  They came with metal jumper plates.  Will I hear a significant difference if I replace them with speaker links?  I have Tara Labs Apollo speaker wire and wonder how important it would be to spend $265 for the Apollo speaker links as compared to the $125 Equinox speaker links?
Night and day difference in sound quality , if you buy from companies that have established and  doing digital for a while 
it is like the difference of a $1k turntable cartridge,and a $5k  cartridge, realism on a much higher level. That being said as digital 
technologies keep getting better the price of sound quality has 
dramatically come down ,and there are some very good dacs out there $3k or under.
There is not.  300 bucks is tops and you will get fantastic sound.  The only important things on a CD player are:

1) speed stability (the motor), very easy to achieve with todays electronics.
2) If u are using analog outputs, the DtoA converters (may be a bit expensive for top of the line Wolfsons)
3) Quality of jitter circuits.

These are all achievable in a FANTASTIC way for under $300.

The way they sound. One of the things to consider is the system and the room. It is likely that a person owning a $1500 item may not have the rest of the pieces and a room that will let the differences be heard. Now go the other way. A person who has a setup that includes a 10k-25k player would likely hear the difference if a swap out to the lower cost one was made.
I love all the folks that assure you that there can be no difference of any import.  Try some auditioning at an audio salon, and I'm pretty sure you will then know the answer.  IME you can get some very real, sonically significant and musical improvements as you go up the food chain.  But the folks pointing out the diminishing returns with greatly increasing price certainly on to something, as well as the crazy-quick and steep depreciation of anything digital.

Get out and explore with your ears.  That will tell you a lot.
I have an old Magnavox changer with a tube output. Suits me just fine.
The problem with 1500$ CD players is simple - they are not good enough. So people feel ripped off as a difference between 200$ and 1500$ CD player is sometimes very small. Magic happens at 3000-5000$ price tag. So, my recommendation would be, if you can’t spend 5000$ on your CD player, then buy any CD player. They are all pretty much same. But if your budget allows you to spend as much as 5000$ new (or 3500$ on second hand market) then go for EAR Yoshino Acute, Lampizator Big 7, Audio Note CD players. Those 3 brands will give you the best value for your bucks. You'll have all advantages of digital and very analog type of sound. If I could go back in time, I would buy only top gear right away (Atma Sphere amplification, Lampizator DAC and Devore, Audio Note or Quad speakers). I've spent a lot of years upgrading from one component to another (and loosing money each time). In this hobby the one shall simply take a mortgage of 20.000$ and buy the best gear he can get for that money right away. It's not different to buying a good car. For 1500$ you can get only a crap. But for 20.000$ you will have a decent and safe car you'll keep for many years.
@larry5729 - you are a bitter man.
Whichever way you look at it, the "loudness wars" are a huge reason to think carefully before investing in another CD player. Listen to a recording like West Side Story (original Broadway cast, Larry Kert, Carol Lawrence Chita Rivera etc) and much of your collection might start sounding a little flat with far from life-like dynamics.

No CD player, or even system, can help you with that. Unless you're into Jazz and Classical of course, or anything but mainstream Pop/Rock.

Why the **** should anybody should seek to compress Motorhead??

@fstein Expensive CD player = "The sound of money burning". Indeed.

On the bright side, its all great news for the vinyl revival and horn loudspeakers. And for modestly priced CD players.

roxy542,793 posts
07-16-2019 7:18pm

geoffkait,

I actually enjoy reading posts like yours. It is true of course that digital was pretty terrible for the first number of years, but now that I have been living with a competent transport and non-oversampling DAC for years, I enjoy the great sound (perfect...? NO) and grin at all of the outdated criticisms of digital's deficiencies.


>>>Many audiophiles think their system sounds fabulous. As long as you’re happy I’m happy 😃 

elizabeth
7,397 posts
07-16-2019 7:27pmAnalog sucks/analog is great, digital sucks/digital is great.Well MY digital is great, and so is my analog. Doesn’t anyone else get really tired of all the whining about SOMEBODY ELSE’S STUFF?If you want to say "My attempts at xxx have uniformly sucked". Fine. Please do not then decide for everyone else theirs has to suck too. And even worse, that they must be deluded since they can't hear it sucking. 


>>>>You probably shouldn’t take it quite so personally. Well, maybe you should, how would I know? 😳
I ain't no expert, but it seems that the difference is between $8,500 and $23,500 when I do the cipherin'.

Cheers!
The cheapest CD player, given a great recording, can produce an immersive listening experience in nearly any decent sound system. 

The place to invest your time and then invest your money is speakers. Time to learn, time to listen in showrooms, audio shows, time to understand your listening space. Critically, time to understand it is best to avoid going for 'too much' (usually too much bass). Time to learn that if speakers are well chosen for your space, you won't need to plaster sound absorbing panels hither and thither.

Without a doubt, money makes a huge difference with speakers. Far beyond any source component or cable or tweak.

After the right speaker choice for your space, what will undeniably sound better in your system is all the new source material you can acquire because you didn't spend money on imperceptible, or barely perceptible differences. The joy of discovering new artists, new genres, is far far better than chasing perfect electrons. 




All the money saved by not chasing perfect electrons will also give you the opportunity of having two systems, one Solid State, the other Tube.

A mix of Digital and Analog source equipment.  Here again, the differences are easily audible, and comes down to a preference, perhaps even Solid State for this content, Tube for that.

It is advisable to avoid the esoteric when trying your first tube system, any decent tube system will be involving enough to reveal the difference from SS. 

Now LP. Any decent TT/cartridge properly set up (learning first) combined with any decent RIAA phono preamp, SS or Tube, will reveal the difference of LP to CD.

LP content, like CD content, varies greatly by the recording/production skills as much as the artists skills.

LP into SS or Tube, differences will also be easily heard.

I advise learning about Analog rather than chasing tweaks.

After that, it's on to tweaks, god help you to stay sane.


jbrrp1
I love all the folks that assure you that there can be no difference of any import. Try some auditioning at an audio salon, and I'm pretty sure you will then know the answer.
Agreed. It amazes me how in a hobby based on listening, some will ask others to tell them what they should expect to hear. There's no substitute for listening and deciding for yourself.
... you can get some very real, sonically significant and musical improvements as you go up the food chain. But the folks pointing out the diminishing returns with greatly increasing price certainly on to something ...
Oh yes, there are diminishing returns, no doubt. That's why every audiophile must decide the value proposition for themselves.
You don’t have to be too swift 🏃‍♂️to chase electrons since they barely move at all. 🐌

On the Kalahari you don’t have to be the swiftest wildebeest, you just have to be swifter than the slowest wildebeest. 🐆 
Once in a while a great piece of gear "falls from grace" and loses its appeal. Sometimes for poor reasons. In the case of PS Audios PerfectWave Dac, when the newer Directstream Dac came out, reviewers sited the new unit as superior to the old. Thus a Perfectwave Dac can be bought for in the low teens. I bought one and I think I paid $1200.00 or so. Coupled with even a CD transport or player, I was blown away by the sound. To me it sounds like a $15,000 rig that I paid $2000.00 for. I can't believe that PS Audio will gut a Perfectwave to update to a directstream model. I also bought a directstream DAC so I can A/B the two of them. (I haven't gotten around to it yet). My two cents.
Post removed 
The sound of cash leaving your wallet.
When you add up the differences in drive quality, analog output stage quality, digital output stage design you can start to understand that there are very large and audible differences between CD players, amplifiers, dacs, loudspeakers etc.

The "large and audible" part does not logically follow, and assumes far too much integrity on the part of the industry.  There is plenty of stuff built from high quality parts that is inaccurate at best, and still more where the high quality parts do nothing *audibly different* (need I point out this has been replicated hundreds of times with a wide variety of equipment?).  Sometimes the allegedly high quality build doesn't even *last* longer.  Otherwise we could just budget more money, buy without listening or specifications, and have a better system.  Many manufacturers are selling you status, bling, and manufactured flattery, not audible or important differences, IMO.

I believe if it were possible to scatter plot price vs sound quality, you would get a blob of points through which you might be able to fit an upwards-sloping curve (with decreasing slope and a low R^2), and you would get a handful of high-priced points  as low in sound quality as many of the very low-priced points. 
I can give you feedback on my direct experience with this question. The price range isn't as big as you would like but I've spent a number of hours trying to answer the question you raise.

Currently I own two CD players, one transport, and two DACs. These are a 1998 vintage Krell CD 250/2 (HDCD compatible $3200), Marantz SA 8005 SACD player ($1200), 1996 vintage Resolution Audio Quantum DAC (HDCD, $3500), PS Audio Perfectwave transport ($4000), and PSA Perfectwave DAC ($4000). I recently sold an Emotive ERC-3 Gen 2 ($450) that I also compared with these other players.

Here are my brief observations using my system of a Krell KRC 2 preamp, Krell KSA 300S amp, and Mirage M3si speakers with a Velodyne subwoofer. Since my preamp has a lot of inputs I've got all this gear hooked up all the time. All comments below are using standard Redbook CDs unless otherwise specified.

The PS Audio combination and the Marantz sound remarkably similar on regular CDs. I've compared them over a dozen times and I can hear a modest difference on some CDs and no difference on others. The PS Audio has a sharper transient attack on music that is recorded well but otherwise they both sound really smooth and musical.

The Emotiva and the Marantz sounded very similar also. On regular CDs it was hard to tell the difference. I think I could hear a smoother decay of instruments on sparsely recorded music on the Marantz but on regular old butt rock I couldn't hear a difference. The Emotiva decoded HDCDs but I sold it when I bought the Krell player since it does HDCDs also. I have over a hundred HDCDs so I need a compatible player.

I kept the Resolution Audio (RA) DAC because it does HDCD and I've got it hooked up to the Marantz as a transport. This is kind of nice since I can directly compare the DAC in the Marantz with the RA DAC on the fly. The RA DAC has a different character that is hard to describe. I hate terms like "sweeter" but it has a noticeable sound difference than the Marantz DAC. One is not clearly better than the other, they just sound different. If I had to describe it I would say that the RA sounds more like my turntable - it has a richer lower midrange. I could live with either one.

The outlier here is the Krell player. It does sound different than the other players. It's a little brighter in the treble (some might say "harsh") which stands out on some CDs. On some CDs I prefer the Krell but on others, particularly on albums that were recorded with hot treble, I prefer the PS Audio or Marantz.

I have several SACDs and CDs of the same music and I've compared them using both in the Marantz and using the Marantz as a SACD player vs. the PSA combo as a CD player. Results range from virtually identical to strikingly different. I've concluded that the recording and mastering differences on SACDs completely swamp the difference in players. IMO SACDs are a crapshoot. Some are way better than the original CD and some sound pretty much the same. The dual layer SACDs where the same mastering is used in both formats sound pretty similar using the Marantz and the PSA.

I have a 90's vintage Denon turntable with a Hana cartridge. I've got a bunch of music on vinyl and CD and I've compared a number of them. The music where the transfer to CD was done with care and compassion sounds good on both. All of my digital sources sound a lot like my turntable but the Resolution Audio seems to have the most similar character. However, there are CDs where the transfer was terrible. The digital version sounds much worse (compressed, dull, lifeless) as compared to the record. If one were to single out these perpetrators they could easily conclude that digital is inferior. IME it depends on the recording.

For me the lessons here are:
1. In no case does one player "blow away" another player. There are differences but I could happily live with the Marantz or PS Audio forever.
2. I would not recommend the Krell or another vintage player as one's only CD player. I think that digital playback has indeed progressed since the 90's.
3. I'm sort of sorry I sold the ERC-3 because that was clearly the value leader. I would really like to compare the Emotiva directly with a megabuck player to discern the difference. Maybe in a million dollar system there's a huge difference but I suspect that in most real world setups the difference would be subtle.

One more point. There is a huge treasure of wonderful music that was well recorded and lightly compressed from the late 70's through the early 90's including rock, jazz, and country. The best sounding CDs in my collection are mostly from this period. I am constantly discovering artists from this era that I hadn't heard. To say that all digital music is over compressed just isn't true. If you are limiting yourself to the late 90's forward you are missing the best recordings.


ahofer

The "large and audible" part does not logically follow, and assumes far too much integrity on the part of the industry. There is plenty of stuff built from high quality parts that is inaccurate at best, and still more where the high quality parts do nothing *audibly different*
This doesn't make sense. Just because there are examples of components built from high quality parts that are "inaccurate at best" certainly doesn't mean that all components built using high quality result in inaccurate performance. Indeed, the use of high quality parts often does result in improved performance.

But I always suggest that users listen and decide for themselves.
I haven’t reached into the 5 digit range with my CD players, but the difference between my $500 Marantz CD6004 and $3000 Marantz KI Pearl (retail prices) was quite noticeable and worth the difference in the price I paid. I bought them both used, and so the difference was only a few hundred dollars.

I sold the CD6004 recently and set it up in my main system to demo and was struck by how much warmer and detailed the KI Pearl was in comparison to the CD6004. So much so that I hoped the buyer wouldn’t ask to hear the Pearl.

I have a lot more invested in my vinyl setup and the KI Pearl sounds better to my ears with some of the better mastered CD’s I have. The clarity and insight into the music as well as the warmth it conveys make for a very enjoyable listening experience.

I’m sure there are diminishing returns when you get up over $10K, but I have no reason to think that there wouldn’t be a difference in sound quality in comparison to the Pearl, hopefully for the better.
My $5 Sony Walkman CD player outperforms any $10,000 CD player. You just have to know what you’re doing, that’s all. It’s not rocket science. 🚀 🤗
This doesn't make sense. Just because there are examples of components built from high quality parts that are "inaccurate at best" certainly doesn't mean that all components built using high quality result in inaccurate performance. Indeed, the use of high quality parts often does result in improved performance.

I never made the assertion that ALL components built with high quality parts resulted in inaccurate performance,  as you can see clearly in the quote you excerpted from my post and apparently concede with your use of "some". 

Post removed 
Unless you are using the ANALOG outputs of a CD player, where DACs and jitter circuits are involved, the basic CD player is pretty much the same for all players. A motor, laser and some digital electronics. These are about a 100 bucks altogether. Almost all companies who sell $10,000 CD players pretty much buy these components also from the SAME manufacturer. The expense starts showing itself if you use the DAC inside a CD player. Then it can run upwards of 300$ depending on the quality of the DAC design & components.  But if you are using just the digital output, there is virtually no difference.

8th-note,

Thanks for your input. I found it informative.