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View topic - CD player observations

CD player observations

This forum addresses questions on installation, configuration and troubleshooting you might encounter with your Sony MD/CD/SACD.

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by scott1019 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 12:47 pm

For those interested I have been comparison testing different Sony ES players from different eras as well as other brands for the past 5-6 years now and I feel I have a pretty good handle on what to look for.   Up until recently I was very content with my Sony CDP-C701ES which to my ears sounded good enough for most practical purposes.   This statement is still VERY true, but I have since learned there are better sounding players out there.    During this time, only my Marantz 4000OSE and NAD 5060 was up to this same level.    

I have never really heard much difference between these and higher level CD players, even ones costing into the thousands.  Some of these esoteric players even sounded worse.   One could argue that I could have become accustomed to the sound of these players over the years, but nothing could be further from the truth.  All of them have different sonic characteristics.   The NAD being the most musical of the bunch, and the Sony being the most detailed with the Marantz being somewhere in the middle.

I know I am generalizing now, but despite what everyone may have told you, I do not believe there is any correlation between the quality of the transport and the resultant sound quality.    I know because I have tested it over and over again.   In fact I will argue that my Sony DVP-CX777ES 400-disk mega-changer will sound identical to a Sony SCD-1 sent to the same DAC with all other things equal.    

As long as the mechanism loads the CD and is able to read it, it shouldn't matter.   The quality of the mechanism is important when it comes to keeping the CD at the right position in relation to the laser as well as keeping the speed constant.  As long as the motor is calibrated correctly, has a new belt, and is receiving the right voltage there is no reason to worry about getting a top-end transport.    There are transport mechanisms with better lasers which are able to read disks with scratches and are more responsive to changing tracks.  If this is important to you, then yes, a good quality transport IS important, but not when it comes to better sound.      My recent findings using a USB to SPDIF converter to play digital material from my PC further supports this observation about transports.   The sound from my USB audio card fed to my external DAC sounds just as good as my reference Sony 508ESD CD player.

The sound is all in the DAC and the output stage.... the best sounding players have the most simplistic output stages and the best components., but without a great DAC chip, it doesn't matter.   And all DAC chips sound a little different but in the most basic terms... some DAC's are good, some are bad, and most sound just about the same.   The Lampizator website is a good place to start when looking for some of the best DACs to look for.   I caution you to take his statements with a grain of salt, and DO NOT perform any of the mods he speaks of without fully understanding the method behind his madness...., but his website has a lot of really good information and is a MUST read for anyone looking for better sound.  

Below are some observations I've made about Sony CD players.

Most of the X series players are good.  The DAC chips slowly changed from the ones used in the late 80's players to the early 90's players, but most were decent, especially in the ES models.     The sound went from being more musical and more "analog-like" to more detailed and more refined during this era.   Which is "better" is a matter of personal preference.  The 5-disk ES changers all sounded very good and the versatility of a 5-disk changer makes them a bargain on today's used market.   The ESD changers did not sound as good as the ESD single disk players.  The later ES changers sounded better than early ones.   The best being the Sony CDP-C701ES/801ES.   If you want a 5-disk changer without any sacrifice for sound quality go after one of these.  It was my reference player for 5 years.     

With the right DAC and the right output stage, any CD player can sound as good as SACD.    There is nothing wrong with the CD format, the issue lies in the compression done at the studio.   Save your money on expensive SACD's and players.  While there are some really good sounding SACD players, and most do sound very good for CD playback as well, there is no inherent reason why SACD sounds better than CD..  Its all in the recording process and what is done to the source material.   16-bit/44.1 KHz is as good an approximation as any and its been proven over and over that the human ear cannot distinguish resolutions higher than this.  If you don't think CD's sound good, then you are not listening to good quality material.    Do your research before dismissing CD's as a viable hi-quality source media.

The most musical sounding players were built in the late 80's, built by Philips, Magavox, and of course Sony (ESD).   Other companies copied these players and built some good ones, some examples would be Marantz and NEC.   Most of these had the coveted TDA1541 DAC.  
These early players aren't without their quirks, most have issues playing CD-R's and some will only play up to a certain number of tracks.   However,  IMO no true enthusiast should be without one of these early players.   None of the newer players can duplicate their musicality.   Also, look for ones made in Belgium...  they will really open your eyes.  
An improvement over the TDA1541 is the Burr-Brown PCM58 which was used in many of the late 80's Sony ESD players, like my Sony 508ESD.   IMHO this player and its Sony ESD cousins, have no equal.  It has all the detail of modern DAC's with all the musicality of the TDA1541.  Do a search for other players with this DAC on the Lampizator website.  I know there were plenty of them built.  

In addition to the great sound being reproduced by my 508ESD, it is built like a tank,  WILL play most CD-Rs, is remoteable with any Sony remote, and can be had for under $200.   With the proper mods in the output stage I am told this player will beat almost anything.   I will be modding the player I have and looking for another completely stock one to do comparisons.  Once I do I will add to this post.    

I am sure many are convinced that buying a CD player is a matter of personal preference, but my experience tells me otherwise.   This may be true for a speaker or a phono cartridge which can greatly vary from one manufacturer to another and a slight variations in materials can result in giant differences in the resultant sound.... but in my experience most CD players are pretty similar sounding, any differences are subtle at best.    

As I said about DACs, some are good, some are bad, and most sound about the same.   People's perceived notions about a particular player is where the difference lies.    For example people are lead to believe that a Marantz CD player IS better than a Philips, when in fact they have the same exact components.

Based on many objective A/B comparisons listening to a multitude of different tracks with all other things equal...  My favorite all-time player is the Sony 508ESD, followed closely by the NEC CD-816.   The Sony XA20ES a close third.   The differences are so subtle at the top of this list that I cannot differentiate one from another without hours of listening.   They do have different DACs and sound slightly different, but all of them sound remarkable.  

However, there is a difference from these top players than other competitors.     For example these players are noticeably better  than my Sony CDP-C701 ES 5-disk changer and the Sony CDP-C701ES is noticeably better than a modern Sony CD player.   Perhaps I should call these tiers?   Or list them in terms of a percentage?   All I can say for certain is that none are so much better than the other that I started to jump up and down.    Think of an engine with 300 horsepower vs. an engine with 325, most people won't be able to tell the difference.

The moral of the story is to pick a good player that fits your needs and to avoid the bad ones and the ones that all sound alike.   Experiment with different DACs to narrow down your personal preference, and find the one that suits your needs the best.     There is NO need to spend more than $250 on a CD player, you won't get any noticeable improvement in sound.   Mods in the output stage when performed correctly is the only way to really improve the SQ, and despite what the Lampizator says I wouldn't expect giant improvements, these companies had almost unlimited resources at the time CD's became popular and knew what they were doing.    

I have recently found that this same level of refinement can be achieved with a good quality USB to S/PDIF sound card when sent to an external DAC like my EP9ES.  Its sound is the equal of my Sony 508ESD and NEC CD-816.  Digital material is inherently the same information and it shouldn't matter how its transmitted as long as what is converted to analog is the same.   Getting all the information properly converted is not an easy task and only the best DACs are up to the challenge.  

I will be receiving a Rotel 955AX and a Creek CD60 shortly with the coveted TDA1541A DAC.   The output stage of these players and components used are as good as anything made.   I have only owned a couple players with this DAC and felt that the sound was very natural, but lacked the detail of the Burr-Brown PCM58.  

I am told there is a very special DAC put in a few players like the Marantz CD-5000 that sounds even better, but from my research these were not as well built as the other players I mentioned.  When I find out more I will add to this post.   I welcome your comments and rebuttals.   I am sure I have gotten a lot wrong and have contradicted myself a couple times, but I hope I've gotten a couple things right.    I do know that my ears don't lie and they have led me to these conclusions after a 6 year journey.  
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by mykyll2727 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 3:15 pm

Scott_Man do you have alot of audio gear!!

 Seems to me what you're saying about CD players with regard to their transport mechanism mirrors what some say about other aspects of digital AV, such as HDMI and USB cables. As long as all of the 1 and 0s get there the rest is irrelevent. So as long as the transport is good enough to read all of the CD info  adn pass it on to the DAC that's all that's needed in that regard. The rest is up to the DAC and output circuitry. So if I get you right then the reason my SCD-XA9000ES sounds better than my DVP-NC9100ES has nothing to do with it's better made, more solid transport but is simply because of the superior DACs and output stage. (Correct if I'm wrong.) I've been pondering this fact for some time. Ever since the XA5400ES came out and it was reported to sound better than than the XA9kES. I haven't heard a 5400 so I can't say for sure but there are alot of people who's opinions I respect that make that claim. I've felt that the DACs must be the reason as the 5400 is no match for the 9kES AFA build. Not the transport, chasis or internal construction. Which is reflected in the price difference. The 5400's only real area of betterment is in it's newer( and according to Sony itself) superior DACs. If I'm right in my assessment of these two Sony players than your opinion would be right. That means one would be better served by investing one's audio dollars in an external DAC than on a player. The only drawback to that is DACs become outdated pretty quickly in this day and age as well. All one has to do is look at Sony as wel las Oppo's DAC choices over the past few years._mykl
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by scott1019 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 7:30 pm

Um, to say I've gone through a lot of CD players is the understatement of the century. I have owned and auditioned nearly 100 of them.. a lot of goodwill ones though. Its hard to pass up a Belgium made player for $5! I rarely make much on them and wind up giving them away to people.. but they just sound so good and are bullet-proof.

I have a very special Pioneer CD player with a 6-disk cartridge that I just got at goodwill for $5. Sound is on par with many of the top players I've auditioned and its in perfect cosmetic and functional condition... but the DAC is hidden from view and no resource on the internet tells me what it is! This happens quite often actually.

I also have a nice JVC which has a 1-bit DAC.. I've been told that a 1-bit DAC cannot possibly be good and have read a lot of articles explaining the benefits of a 1-bit DAC as well. The techno babble gets really complicated. JVC just decided to build their DAC this way and felt it was the best way to reproduce the original signal... is this wrong.. absolutely not.. Some consider these early 90's JVC players as some of the best ever. If done well it can be just as good as any other bit rate. All this over-sampling and higher frequency rate and asynchronous USB talk is a bunch of hoopla and all that matters to me is what portion of this signal reaches my amp. Remember the signal started off as a 16-bit/44.1 Khz approximation of the original sine wave in the form of a sequence of 1's and 0's. Increasing the sampling rate doesn't make much sense since it will eventually get lost in translation anyways. Yes there will be more information for the DAC to interpret and will enable better error correcting, but it will be correcting information that was originally meant to be re-constructed at a different sampling rate in the first place. This is very similar to the up-converting used in DVD players. If you have a projector with a certain native resolution and send a signal higher than this to the projector, the projector will use a scalar to project what it wants to and the result is the same resolution native to the source. It can look better, but only if the DVD player does a better job at scaling than the projector, in most cases it does not. In terms of audio the up-sampler would have to do a better job at approximating data than the DAC does at reconverting it back to a sine wave. An up-sampler like the coveted Behringer Ultramatch-Pro does the job of an up-sampler and a DAC and is able to better approximate its own creation and can in theory allow for more of the source material to be transmitted. This could result in a more refined signal and with a proper output stage may have no rival in audio. It is better explained here, much better than I can. For mastering there is definitely a need for up-sampling to remove artifacts. Once the artifacts are removed, I do not see the need to up-sample again for playback. Those who say its necessary to remove jitter from their playback are blowing a lot of smoke.

http://www.audiorecording.me/upsampling-audio-%E2%80%93-importance-and-methods-in-audio-mixingmastering.html

A good article about Jitter and its effects and how to eliminate it..

http://www.stereophile.com/reference/1290jitter

Your comments about why the XA9000ES sounds better than the 9100ES is valid.. as long as all the bits get transferred and "read" properly then it doesn't matter which transport you use. For a long time I didn't believe this either, but test after test has proved this to me. Its all in the DAC and the output stage. Modern DACs are more sophisticated and are inherently better than earlier DACs, but also have more complex output stages... the sound gets lost... or gets overdone and can become harsh. However, this can only be heard on the best quality systems with really responsive speakers. On modern speakers with complex crossovers, they could actually sound better. All my auditions take place on very efficient speakers including JBL 4312A's and my own custom speakers in my treated room.. and that is why I prefer the BB PCM58 over all other DAC chips.

Having owned the NS999ES, 3100ES, as well as a NC555ES changer I can say that these are all great sounding players... and sound amazing with SACD. Are they better than the players I mentioned above for CD-playback?... NO! In my auditions no DVD or SACD player is.. and I have yet to determine exactly why this is. It seems the output of CD only players are not as complex and therefore are better at reproducing CD's. The same goes for HDCD, HDCD's sound amazing on them, but standard CD's just so-so.

Remember there will always be trade-offs when a player is able to play multiple formats. This is especially true with the Oppo... its DAC is good, but has to work well with all formats and has a very complex output stage, but I will say that EVERYTHING sounds good on this... something no other player besides my Pioneer 59Avi has been able to do which is why I have considered using it myself. With that being said my PC audio sounds better than both when sent to my EP9ES. Remember now I am only speaking for CD playback., even my SACDmods NC555ES which has the best SACD playback I have ever heard with extensive mods to the output section does not sound as good as the 508ESD in stock form for standard CD playback.

Modifying the 508ESD's output stage may reveal even more inner detail... but there will be some side effects I'm sure...

I recently learned that the Sony C8ESD 5-disk changer has the TDA1541A DAC chip, this is probably why I think the single disk ESD players with the BB PCM58 DACs sound better... but that being said, with the recent prices of TDA1541 players sky-rocketing you may want to look out for one, if not for anything to give you an idea of the difference in sound I am talking about. It is VERY noticeable on these players..

It also depends on the speakers you are using as to which DAC will be the best for you.. It goes back to the discussion we've all had about system synergy.. you may NEED a very detailed DAC..

And it is not true that DAC's become outdated... my 20+ year old BB PCM58 DAC is the best I've heard on my system. Modern DACs are overly bright and harsh sounding and are not as musical. Its a common myth that all modern CD's are pressed with modern DACs in mind. If that were so none of the new albums I listen to would sound as good as they do on my 508ESD. The studio standard Yamaha NS-10M speakers and B&W speakers will sound awesome with modern DACs... and at the same time somewhat tame when compared to an older DAC. As I said its all about system synergy and the direction you wish to go.

"That means one would be better served by investing one's audio dollars in an external DAC than on a player." You couldn't be more correct. One listen to the EP9ES fed through a glass toslink from any of your DVD/SACD players will yield spectacular results, and can sell off your expensive transports for cheaper ones. Keep your 9100ES though... its got i.Link.. and if I recall you had a 9000ES receiver as well? This will receive the DSD stream.. A completely different concept in audio and with its signal being kept in the digital domain for as long as it is, in theory you should have the best possible audio playback when playing SACD.

I felt the same about my Pioneer ELITE 59AVi/55TXi combo, for SACD playback and DVD-Audio (which unfortunately you cannot use with your 9100ES) its as good as it gets.


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by mykyll2727 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 10:18 pm

 Very interesting!!! Since I've never used an external DAC I haven't been able to do your comparisons. I've always had to rely on the player's DACs. Both the XA9000ES and the NC9100ES have iLink. I had the 9100 first when it came out and got the 9kES about two years ago. I had many reasons for getting the 9kES. Foremost was the frustratingly slow response(for me) to commands of the 9100. The 9kES has iLink and was designed to be a sonic match for my DA9kES and a visual match as well.(love those aluminum sides.) Plus I was curious to see if iLink performance was different on the only two iLink ES players Sony made. I'd read from many that said it was the same, or at least virtually the same, but I found that not to be true. Like you I have to go against common opinion here. The XA9kES on iLink to my DA9kES was FAR better than the 9100ES. iLink is the best playback I've heard not only for SACD but RBCD as well. I too have a SACDmods 555ES and the difference is on the order of the 555's superiority over the 9100 on analog playback. I don't know why that is. From what many say about iLink and especially with HATS that because the 1s and 0s are stored and reclocked it should be the same. But in my experience with my two players it's definitely not. There's more to it going on and I readily admit I have no clue as to why. BTW on analog playback the XA, not surprisingly, is WAY better than the 9100. I feel a look inside the two is a good indicator as to why. In fact the XA is better on analog than my SACDmods 555. The only place the 555 has a slight edge is in bass weight but the XA's bass is tighter and better detailed and it's a better sounding unit overall. I'm convinced with the proper mods the XA can compete with any player on both RBCD and SACD. Because of my iLink playback experience I'm very openminded to those who disagree with those that say because of the way digital playback works it's all the same with regard to cables, transports, asynch, etc. So for me the jury's still out on those areas. Not sure either way. I do know that iLink is not the same.

 I remember not too long ago rereading an article on audio myths. One of the myths it stated was that burn-in was a myth, not only on cables but components as well. When I returned to this hobby 7-8yrs ago I felt exactly the same way about it and wire is wire too. I now know emphatically that wire is not wire and that burn-in even on components does occur. I don't profess to even have a clue as to why. I just know it's true. All of this reminds me of something I read that a physicist said "we don't know everything about anything"._mykl
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by scott1019 » Mon Aug 08, 2011 3:31 am

I like this quote even better... "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion the knowledge." People "think" they know things, when in fact they really don't. Its a mystery about your i.link players. I will agree exactly with your impressions of your SACDmods 555ES, it is the best value in audio for SACD playback. Having heard better options for RBCD playback I can say that although it performs well, it doesn't sound as good as the players I mentioned above.

Having tested several i.Link players from different manufacturers I tend to agree with others that think all i.Link players sound the same. I am tempted to send you my Yamaha player for you to test. Are you doing A/B comparisons with the multiple i.Link inputs of your receiver in a double blind test and playing identical material at the same time and switching between inputs for evaluation? Otherwise any evaluation you make is subject to criticism.

It sounds like your XA9000ES is the keeper of your bunch.. The relatively poor performance of the 9100ES and the difference in quality is telling me that not all of the "bits" are being fed through i.Link, something has to be getting lost somewhere. In theory, they should both sound the same. And for what its worth, each and every i.Link player has sounded the same when sent to the same receiver which can detect DSD. There is a way to test how many bits are being sent via i.Link, I will look online to see what I can come up with.

And yes hi-end equipment is built to such a tolerance that it needs time for the capacitors to charge up.. how long this takes is a matter of opinion and varies from each piece. Speakers also need time to break in, mainly when it comes to cone movement which "stretches" as they are played, also the magnetic material needs 100-200 hours to magnetize itself, this is especially true for AlNiCo magnets. Playing them too loud over time also degrades them and they need to be re-gaussed.

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by scott1019 » Mon Aug 08, 2011 5:06 am

For you.

http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/sony/9000.html

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by scott1019 » Mon Aug 08, 2011 7:50 am

Listening to my Sony TA-N110 amp and 508ESD sent via my favorite interconnects. There are no AC plug or cord upgrades. Both units are bone stock.. Sound reproduction is as good as it gets and is the best sound I have experienced in the 10+ years of tinkering. Its making wonder why I have so many black boxes lying around all over, is this all I really need?

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by mykyll2727 » Mon Aug 08, 2011 10:12 am

 Actually I no longer have a way to test iLink as my STR-DA9000ES has started to fail. The preouts have gone bad, playback on analog ins sounds flabby and at the very end it was having trouble making iLink connections. The iLink problem was the last straw. When the preouts started acting up I disconnected it from the power amp and hooked the speakers back into it with a $10k power amp just sitting there. I was reluctant to move it because it's big and heavy but mostly because I had so many other units connected to it. I guess I was also hoping for divine intervention and that it would sort itself out somehow. LOL But when ILink started acting up that was it. It meant using my XA9kES thru toslink and that just was no longer acceptable to me. So over the past few days I've swapped places with it and my STR-DA3000ES that was in my bedroom and I've been reconnecting and fine tuning everything. I had forgotten just how much work I had put into getting the sound of the DA9kES just right.

 Thanks for the 6moons review but I've read it many times and actually have it bookmarked. The thought is appreciated though._mykl
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by scott1019 » Mon Aug 08, 2011 7:44 pm

I assumed you did, but in case you didn't I sent it again. Looking forward to the findings on the Asynch USB thread, but unfortunately I am not allowed to post there.

I have posted my DB930 for sale, but I am reconsidering this sale after reading it.

I am still in need of a way to eliminate Jitter from my DVP-CX777ES and have considered going with an Audio Alchemy i2s DAC instead of going the route of updating the clock in the player itself.

My entire collection is on this player and to get it to perform on the same level as my reference CD player(s) and my PC's audio sent via S/PDIF is very important to me.

It DOES sound the same on the EP9ES as any other transport, but there is still noticeable Jitter that I want to get rid of.. this is true for all the sources I send to the EP9ES. Some are noticeably less than others, but this has nothing to do with the transport itself, but rather the clock inside the player, some do a better job than others.

I am wondering if the clock plays an important role in the transmission of i.Link and is why your XA9000ES sounds so much better. I am sure you have done your homework, but I am still trying to figure it out. LOL.
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by mykyll2727 » Tue Aug 09, 2011 6:17 pm

 With regard to your PM and my amp choice. If I were mainly interested in HT I'd be in total agreement with you. There's no way I'd have this for HT. I'd just go with some midline receiver and not worry about it. I'm just not into having "world class" sound for movies. (It's one of the reasons why I'm in such a quandry about processing.) I bought this for a great music experience and expecting to have it for the next 20yrs or so. The reason for a 6ch model over the 2ch is simply verstaility. Gives me alot of options for the future such as if I ever want to bi or tri-amp or if movie sound reaches a point where I'd really appreciate having this much amp. (Lol) Afterall I do plan on having it for a long time._mykl
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