Whats the deal with CD players?

I have a hard time telling the difference between CD players, even ones that are cheaply made vs. 'hi-end', or even CD's vs. DVD players. I couldn't even notice a big difference between tube and solid state outputs. When i get a player home i'll set up a double blind a/b test vs. my inexpensive dvd player and have yet to find a player that i could honestly say was a marked improvement. When i read reviews, both amateur and professional, people make it seem like it's night and day. And what do people mean by jitter? Amps and speakers to me can be night and day, but Cd players? I currently use a pair of dynaudio 1.8's and some H/K separates and I'll admit I skimp on cables and use those plastic ones that came with my vcr and dvd player, but despite that, shouldn't I be able to at least tell which player i'm listening to? I'd upgrade my cables, but I don't think cables are to blame. I know this post will piss a lot of people off, but honestly, what is it that you hear that can make you drop tons of cash on a cd player?
Next time when you take home a demo cd player ask for good set of quality wires also.This way you can rule out your inexpensive wires which could very well be adding to your problem! You may be expecting too much with the equipment you trying to match a more expensive player too. This hobby can be very frustrating,once you improve one peice it can point out something else you overlooked. Good luck!
I have to agree that the cables are the most likely candidate. That includes to a lesser degree the speaker cables as well. What H/K separates do you have? Even the cable between the preamp and amp will have an effect.
Digital components also tend to pollute the AC. If you don't have a power conditioner; or one that segregates the digital from the rest of the system, then it is a factor also.

The bottom line is, maybe it not one thing, it is a number of small things compounded.

It is hard to convince someone who may not believe cables matter. I do not know if this applies to you. Think of it as installing budget passenger car tires on a sports car. It just won't handle the same and the high end tires.

I don't know why you think you will pi$$ off a lot of people. If you don't hear a difference, by all means enjoy the inexpensive players! (BTW, you didn't mention any brands/models.)

Jitter, from what I understand, are timing issues in the transport. The better the timing, the less jitter. I believe there is a thread on this if you do a search; I never read it but I am sure it was explained in detail by someone.
I don't think cables make very much difference if any.
Chances are your system is not resolving enough for you to be able to tell the difference between mediocre and elite cd players. If there's a bottleneck somewhere, you'll hear it more than anything else!
No reason this should piss people off...you can only hear what you can hear, but people have to understand, hearing is a subjective sense...like most things in this world.

I would ask this: are you using the digital outs to digital ins, or are you using analogue? If you are using the digital outs, then the cd player in question is simply a transport and won't add to much to the sound, and a=most players will sound "similar."

Also, as the others have said, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link. Maybe your HK gear colors the sound to a point that any input sorce sounds similar.
You should be able to hear a difference between players at the lower and higher ends of the scale, but without knowing which ones you've actually listened to it's hard to guess what might help. Even with crap downstream, you should notice a difference between, for example, a made-in-China Japanese mass-market model and a decent Adcom, Vecteur, Roksan or...

HK separates and "free" interconnects won't let you hear all of what you pay for, though. Even less-expensive audiophile cables are a must when you get your first good player.

Are you seriously looking ? If you are, go to a decent store and ask them to let you hear a high-end player through really good speakers and electronics. Most stores will do this for you once even if you don't buy anything, just in case you get hooked. Then ask them how to get from what you have now to a system like the one you heard.

If you still can't hear anything worthwhile, try another hobby.
I agree with Buckingham...it's probably your system. That's not necessarily a bad thing...if you like the sound, then enjoy. I do think that the difference in CD players isn't always as huge as some people make it seem, but it can be as different as two different amps, different cables, etc. Besides obvious differences like "better bass, mids, or highs", I find that the biggest difference involves the palpability of the sounds...there is more atmosphere to each sound...they just sound more real...the soundstage is bigger and more accurate. Those are differences that you notice once you begin upgrading to more transparent components and cables, but you may have to pay quite a bit more for that kind of improvement (depending on your current player). Which cheap DVD player are you using? It may be cheap, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it sounds bad.
Good points above; I'd just add that maybe you haven't learned "critical listening skills"-- it does take awhile to become a skillful listener. Rapid A/B comparisons may not be enough time with each source. It took me 3 to 5 years to acquire what I consdider "good" listening skills-- and have confidence in them.

You may need listen to one source for several days or at least hours before you can judge the "character" of the component. Cheap digital can often be very fatiguing in a longer listening session. And I agree with the above posters regarding poor quality ICs, speaker cables etc. Also system synergy may not have been addressed? Good Luck. Craig
There are plenty of audiophiles with very good systems who believe that modern CD players sound very similar--and that many aren't distinguishable from one another at all. So don't let anyone tell you it's your "untrained ears" or your "nonresolving system." It's quite possible that the reason you can't hear a difference between the players you've tried is because they really do sound alike. They certainly sound alike to you, so don't sweat it. Put your money into gear that really does make a difference to you.
Previous comments concerning cables, component identities, etc. are all on target. Another which warrants attention is the way A/B comparisons are made. My experience is that short A/B comparisons are not revealing of very much. If you have the chance to listen to each CD player for several hours, with a recording or two that you know very well, then you have another basis for a judgement and one that is probably more valid. It's hard to tell what the differences might be without knowing what you have in the hardware and software chain, but give this a try and let us know the results. Good luck.
Tobias and Garfish posts say it better than i ever could...however one point they missed is the question of quality...which plays little park in speakers(i've had my speakers for 20 yrs w/o a glitch) most amps are reliable for many years...but when it comes to CD players...the quality question is EXTREMELY important...POINT: my friends NAD died and was buried (while still a youth)..mt NAD broke a few weeks after purchased but was restored back to life...as well my friend has a BRAND NEW $3K CD player(big american name won't mention) broke down..repaired...now skips..so like i say QUALITY is first...but the problem here on audiogon is that ain't nobody telling the truth about their poor quality units...WHY?...nobody wants to get involved in any wars with another member over his beloved...last point on this long-winded post...peradin needs to read Bwhites EXCELLENT review of 3 SUPERIOR digital players..trust me there IS a difference in cdp's digital output...as for superior construction i have my picks but won't tell
From my experience I have found a huge difference in various high end players I have tried in my system. Though as mentioned above the subtle changes don't make themselves noticeable instantly, its after a few days of listening to all of my favorites that I notice things missing or out of place or so dead on I wet myself. I am currently using a cheaper dac then normal(awaiting new cd player) and find it takes more then a few drinks to get enjoyment out of it, which gets expensive and isn't the best way to enjoy this hobby. I agree that a certain level of resolution is required to hear differences in players. The easiest test of a system for me(that is usually source related) is the first track of Eric Clapton's Unplugged CD, there should be a very real sounding triangle left of center to the rear of the soundstage and cheaper dacs, and low resolution system just don't make this seem to create this sound accuratly.
I understand your how you feel. I was there 2 years ago. I had bought the top of the line Denon player ($600) and thought it could not be beat. A friend recommended I try some upgraded cables. Again, I thought a cable is a cable. But gave it a try, I bought a couple of 1/2 meter Audio Quest Vipers(about $75) and was BLOWN AWAY. I next upgraded my speaker cables to Audio Quest Slates ($150) and was further shocked. This began a long journey, but I will tell you a rewarding one. Forget the Prozac, I have found my system the best stress reducer I have ever tried. It is simply unbelieveable. Has anyone seen any research on the effects of really high end audio listening on the human pyche?

I would try the sony SACD ES-333es, you can't beat the sound for the money (about $500) Stereophile class A.
Tweekerman brings up a good point regarding quality. I have had in the past about 4k in a transport and dac. They both were returned some time in their life for sevice to make them well again. They sounded great, but they broke. I do not know if the two companies still service the units. One of them, the transport, no longer has the transport mechanism made. If the mechanism is not used currently in cd-rom or DVD applications, beware if you are going to keep the unit for many years. You can buy a cheap DVD player and treat it like kleenex:use it and throw it away when its finished. Vinyl seems like a better investment to me than digital. By the way, I sold my two units and bought a cheap dvd player...big drop in sound quality. I will be buying a VPI soon. Jallen
There are a bunch of good ideas here, i might try some better interconnects, but i remain skeptical on how improved conductance will help over such a short distance, especially considering the innards of my components will not be nearly as good as the cables. Granted the improved sheilding should help, but i havn't had any ground hum problems and have a fairly low noise floor.
As for my equipment, I use the H/K signature amp and preamp (i use the preamps direct inputs to bypass the dsp)my speakers are the dynaudio 1.8's. I am happy with my current setup, the only thing that has led me on this search was that my sony 300 dvd player cannot play cdr's, so i have been looking for a dedicated cd player that will also improve my regular cd's. I was just suprised how little improvment other players made considering what i have read about the importance of the source. I didn't want to mention the CD players i have tested b/c the salespeople were nice enough to let me demo them, but they were all highly rated and ranged from 300 to $1100.
I think my testing methods are sound, i have given each extended listening periods with pre-broken in equipment, with many music samples. I don't think a person should have to train their ears to hear minute differences. In my opinion, these differences should be apparent, so that an $1100 dollar CD player would be able to trounce a $300 dvd player. Again, this is my opinion based on my limited experience and crappy cables. I will try some new cables and update my post. Thanks for all the responces, the posts have been quite inciteful.

First jitter is the cd equivalent of wow and flutter on a tape deck ( Speed variance ) Second this is supposed to make a difference in sound quality of your player . I bought a Mark Levinson No.37 transport without ever hearing one and WAS SHOCKED at how good this thing sounds . I have had up to 10 different players in my system and like you could not hear a lot of difference between them until I got the Levinson!
The Levinson jitter rate is supposed to be 12 or 25 times better than a regular player because it reclocks the data right before output . Well anyway the sound is STUNNING and I do not even have an up to date DAC and in comparison to my Panasonic DVD player it makes a mockery of it . The clarity and smoothness just disappears . As far as cables go try a pair of Kimber KCAG between amp and preamp and for your player outputs ! I know the KCAGs are expensive but when you hear them the sound quality will last long after the price has been forgotten!
Here's the deal in my experience. First, better CD or DVD transports will have a better sonic foundation, which usually yields better dynamic contast at least. However, the actual resolution and musicality you hear from a lot of these DVD players(at any price point), and some CD players, using higher quality hi rez dac's(like 24/96 andbetter), using standard CD's is pretty dern good these day's comparatively! You will find a much smaller disparity from CD playback on the whole from cheaper DVD pleyers vs more expensive players, simply because the Technology is greater than what's on the CD's to begin with!
And, if your using a digital out to your pre/pro instead of analog outs from your source, then your dealing with the potential sound of your pre/pro anyway, and things get even more similar from player to player.
I've actually found that using my DVD player's 24/96 digital out to my pre/pro makes the most sense for sonic return for the $!!! When I had a better 2 channel only preamp, things were a bit different, but still not that vasty better using analog outs of better CD players, vs Cheaper DVD players with higher order processors numbers wise.
I think for most peoples scenario, most modest DVD players can do a superb job from their analog outs for 2 channel into a pre amp. Yes, you can get better immprovements with units boasting better transports and parts, but the difference aint what it used to be with 16/44 bit CD source material any more! Infact, some DVD players of modest price will still outperform very expensive separates from just a few years ago!..you gotta weigh it out, depending on your system needs, and source material.
good luck
I'm jumping in late, but I wonder how many of the posters have heard one of the more recent DVD players (mine was a modded Pioneer DV-4l4, only recently replaced by a Sony XA777ES) playing CDs. My DV4l4, despite the raised eyebrows of some audiobuddies, more than held its own in a $25K system where it replaced a nearly $4K CD transport/DAC. Compared head-to-head with "better" CD players and transport/DACs, it was never outpointed until I got the Sony SACD player. You don't ALWAYS get what you pay for.
Why not try an A/B comparison at a good high-end dealer.
If you can't hear any differences through reference level equipment, then you have your answer.
It may be that you are not letting the new player warm up long enough. I find that some CD players take extended warm up periods to achive their best sound. Mine will take 3-4 hours of being turned on before it sounds right.
Listen to practically any CD player that interest you. Take some time to acquaint yourself with its sound. And then listen to the Audio Aero Capitole, just for the purposes of differentiation, as this player is certainly expensive. This will expose you to the chasm of sound differences between the various CD players. It did for me. I now own the Capitole. The differences were not subtle (listened to Naim, Linn, Rega Jupiter, Cary, Levinson, Arcam...) Oh, and wires try the Mapleshade bare copper wires ($90 from Mapleshade Records). You'll notice a HUGE difference and it won't cost you very much.

Good Luck, Kurt
With respect to Audioslug and Dopogue's posts above, I've also taken their postion (controversial as it may be) in previous threads here going back about a year and a half or so. In that time period, I've been using an RCA 5223P DVD player (a full review that I wrote is posted at Audioasylum) as my prime digital source. It was better stock than my Arcam Alpha 8SE (which sold for about 4 times the price) which I ended up selling. Since then, I've improved the performance of the DVD player further with an aftermarket powercord and extensive chassis damping. As with any piece of audio equipment, I think it's important to properly site and isolate the piece, and my experience with the DVD player leads me to believe that they can benefit strongly from a decent power conditioner, probably because the power supplies in them are pretty cheap. By comparison, my Arcam was not as substantially improved by my power conditioner as the DVD player has been. I have always been an analogue fan, but cheap digital has made great strides in the past few years.
You are constantly working in your system. You decide to change your SACD player SCD333ES to the Rega Jupiter looking for better red book performance. The differences I heard was that the jupiter was less bright and seemed to track the music better. Still not satisfied you sell the Jupiter and decide to try a cheaper system of a seperate DAC and CD player.

Lets say the Theta Data Basic and ART DI/O. This time the listener here's a noticeable difference in everything from dynamics to soundstage depth, there was a slight increase in noise but I have not grounded the ART DI/O yet to my wall outlet.

I am currently going through the same process with other parts of my system and I've found that more expensive is NOT always better, especially in the audio hobby.

FYI- I paid 550 for the SCD333ES, 1700 for the Jupiter 2K, and 520 dollars for the Theta-ART DI/O combo. I like the last best and the ART is still stock.

So I guess what I'm saying is there are many players out there that may or may not work in the system you have, sometimes the sound difference will be subtle and other times it will be obvious.

Good Luck,
Hi Perkadin,

After reading your second post I think I have an answer for you. The Pioneer DV-333 (and 444?? I forget the model number, but one is regular and one is progressive scan) cost about $160-$200. Their video quality is supposed to be good, they're reliable, and they use the Burr-Brown DAC chips for audio. They also play CD-R, CD-RW, and most everything else. I bet they would sound as good or better as any sub $300 CD player. As mentioned above (with the older Pioneer DV-414), there are people like Stan Warren and Dan Wright that modify these units. You could pay Stan $250 and have audio quality that rivals $1000 players...if you want to, that is...if not, sit back and enjoy the $160 player as-is, and enjoy CD-R's too.

I own a Pioneer DV-05 and I've been happy with it. THe video quality is excellent and it makes a good CD player too. They retail was $1000, but they regulary sell for $250-$400 used on Audiogon. The newer model that replaced them (DVD-37??) are also supposed to be quite good, but they're more expensive.
you've got 4 levels of players...$0 to $1K...$2K...$2K to $4K $4K to $8K...ok the 5th level is anything over $8K which does not concern this thread and most of us on the gon...trust me.. there IS a diference in each level you go up...it's just that there are some good buys in each level and of course there are some not-so-good players in each level...do your homework...and you may make the best choice for you
The new Capitole retails for $8800 and more then a few members are getting them so you need to make your highest level player catagory 4k to 8.8k :)
I have found there to be a huge range of opinion on the importance of a CD player - everything from "they all sound the same" to "they're the most important component". My own personal experience was similar to the ones you have described - I experimented with different setups and compared without noting much (if any difference). Everything from a decent Sony player, to a DVD player, to a DVD player as a transport into a nice pre/pro used as a DAC, to a transport into a decent DAC, etc. etc. I usually look for changes that are clearly differentiable and it's not subtle. I like playing around, but if something would take days to really appreciate, I guess my patience runs out.

I would add that my cable thoughts are between yours and many of the others here - I use cable that all my non-audiophile friends can't imagine springing for, but wouldn't make it into cable afficionado clubs around here.

Anyway, after several years of being unconvinced but interested and open to being convinced, I recently bought a Muse model 9 DVD player that is also highly regarded as a CD source. It was instantly more enjoyable. Two particular things characterized the differences for me. First, the ability to resolve all details on the CD is decidedly better. The most obvious case is hearing instruments on familiar recordings that I've never heard before, but there are plenty of subtler (but obvious) differences in hearing how an instrument is being played, hearing the singer's voice in all it's layers, etc.

The second major difference is harder to describe without sounding vague, but there is no question that the whole sound is smoother without being any more laid back. One aspect of this is that the speakers (I have Dynaudio Contour 3.0's) "disappear" to a much greater degree. But the alto sax (love that instrument!) that sounded convincing before now has a character that is just more "right" (Sorry, I warned you that it would sound vague).

I wouldn't even try to describe this if I hadn't tried at least 10 different renditions prior to this that hadn't made a bit of difference, IMO. My system has gotten better over time, so maybe the resolution of the overall system is bringing it out this time, as well as the player. I don't know. All I know is I'm not going back.

BTW, I think the suggestion to go to a high-end store and audition the difference on a reference system is a very good one. I recently did this with amps and it was really amazing how much just changing the amp (up in the same manufacturer's line) improved the sound. Swap back and forth between a decent and a reference CD player on a reference system. If you can't hear a difference, then by all means stick with the less $$$ approach and don't worry about it. If you do hear a difference, that's probably good news too, but then you'll have to go figure out how to achieve the same difference in your own system. -Kirk

Kirk makes a interesting point, your new upgraded digital player will be limited by the finnese of your amp and the capibilities of your speaker, a obvious point to be kept in mind
I follow the school of thought that says source matters most. However I belive that you first need to have well designed pre/power and speakers. I suspect the H/K gear is just not capable of resolving the music from the more expensive CD players. It could also be that you're not trying the right CD players. What players did you try?

I'll just second what Bomarc said about twenty posts back: There are plenty of card-carrying audiophiles with demonstrated good ears who think that all CD players sound pretty much alike. Those same folk may argue passionately that interconnects make all the difference. For others, it is the amp. For yet others, the power. One poster on this thread observed that he had used the same speakers for twenty years and was happy with them. I cannot imagine being happy with 20-year old speaker technology but then I ain't him!

That's by way of saying we are all a little nuts and our nuttiness manifests itself in a variety of interesting and generally benign ways.

Your prelate observes that if someone has invested a heap of dollars in something, he's likely to value it pretty highly. For that reason there is little point in suggesting to someone who owns a $10K transport/DAC combo that a $500 Denon would sound just as good. He believes they sound different because he bought the expensive one or he bought the expensive one because he believes it sounds different. Either way, you won't change his mind.

So...don't pay too much attention to folks who talk patronizingly about your "unskilled ears" or give you a pat on the head and say, in effect, "well, my unsophisticated friend, if your little system satisfies you then go away and be happy with it." Don't fret a lot about the "resolving power" of your system or give too much credence to those who suggest that what you really need to do is dump everything you have in the dustbin and start over. Just listen carefully and let your own ears and your wallet make your decisions for you.

That doesn't mean that you can't find a world of good adviced and tech info here. Sean and others are excellent sources. And just about everyone means well, you just have to separate the gold from the dross.

This is supposed to be fun. Don't take it too seriously.

Since my first post, i picked up some inexpensive audio research interconnects and a used rotel 965bx cd player, and i am quite pleased with the results. Firstly, freebie interconnects should be thrown out, my cheap AR's made everything a bit cleaner. I'm not sure how much better other interconnects are, but these seem pretty good. With music, the rotel seems louder then the sony dvd, i have to turn down the amp 3 or 4 db to get the same output. I also noticed the rotel weighs about 2x as much as the sony- does this mean a better power supply? At the same listening levels, the dvd player has a wonderful midrange, and somewhat more detail, but the rotel seemed to present a larger soundstage, and smoother top end, which i preferred. In one word, everthing was bigger with the rotel. Perhaps one day i will go back and try to listen to other cd players now that I have a better idea of what to listen for.