RANKING OF CD PLAYERS
updated third time in February 2009
First I invite you to read the
big battle of giants story:
This is the list:
After collecting serious dose of experience, hundreds of evenings with
the soldering iron, reading countless schematics, and 20 years of
listening - I came to some conclusions which may be interesting or just
useful for you.
I decided to divide all the world's CD players into 4 categories...
Tadadada drums rolling...
Category 1: Hi-Fi nirvana: players offering higher quality beyond
any criticism. (After lampization and some tweaking of course).
They are rare, difficult to get, expensive sometimes. If you do not
have them - and you want the best - get them and work a little to
unleash their full hidden potential.
Category 2. Very good players which are normally of standard
quality, but definitely worth effort of lampization. After tuning and
lampization - they will be fantastic. If you are lucky to own them - do
it. If you want to try - buy them, usually for next to nothing - and
enter very very close to Nirvana.
Category 3. STAY AWAY from these ! (and look into
category 2 or 1).
Category 4. OTHERS - with a comment.
After just 2 months the things became more complex than that
simplistic scenario, so I was forced to add another category: ZERO
which is TOP.
best players that have the best DACs money can buy today
Why I list these players and not others?
Because I chose carefully only the interesting gems.
The bad ones - I ignored. Like all pletorrhea of TDA1547 dac
based players. All Sony CX20XXX chip players.
Having said that - I wish I could see more of players. I realize I have
only scratched the surface.
Category ZERO: best DACs money can buy today:
Buffalo DAC -
unfortunately only in kit form but extremely easy to assemble. The
first run was using Sabre reference 24 bit DAC from ESS and the newest
one is upgraded with Sabre32 chip. Even the older chip impressed
the living daylights out of me and the new one is even better. I
am enamourated with this DAC, especially if driven by a semi decent
transport. I can't possibly imagine someone dissatisfied with this
sound except maybe the die hard TDA1540 fanatics.
CS4397 for example on a simple DIY DAC "Lampucera":
/ and its
follower CS4398 Zhaolu
by a good transport (or any transport really) it shines like a
diamond. This is my GEM, my Kooh-I-Noor of Audio world. Only the
Buffalo seriously challenged the Lampucera. At the price of 40 Euros we
can consider it a joke but in fact this is not a joke. I would
hesitation recommend it to someone who has Ongaku amplifier and asks me
for advice on CD player. That is AFTER the oscon mods of
ARCAM Diva CD73 and Wolfson DAC WM8740 - a recent newcomer to
hifi scene - Wolfson - it is a
real killer, shame it comes in
Vout output only. Probably most people will agree that it sets
the CD standard VERY high, and all other DAC makers must go back and do
their homework again. To my ears - after lampization with 6H6P tube the
Wolfson is for sure one of the best DAC from current production, only
beaten by the Buffalo ESS Sabre32. Having said
that I know there is a new Wolfson model WM8741 out and also the dCs
Ring Dac may be worthwhile. Cambridge
CD player AZUR
is so nicely made I fell in love with it. It has one stereo Wolfson or
two mono ones, depending on MK. Buy one and send me flowers
and a case of wino. 640 MK1 which is the same as 540 Mk2 is a
better option than 640 Mk2 because it is cheaper and
plays the same quality. Arcam Diva 73 is for a lot more money the
Burr-Brown PCM1794 DAC found in Shanling
CD 300 - a killer but AFTER lampization. The best burr-brown in the
sure, if you liked the Shanling 200 with PCM1738, the CD300 will blow
your wig off. I am surprised how few manufacturers adopted the BB dac.
(I am curious how good is their latest BB PCM1798 ?)
Analogue Devices AD1862 in TEAC VRDS-25
player. and DENON
DPD2560 A nice all rounder. Very very safe
choice that will appeal to
Philips DAC chip TDA-1549 applied
in one of
9 players which were lucky enough to have it. Marantz 49, Philips 751,
753, Marantz cd5000, MICROMEGA MINIUM and Sugden Master. A cheap
and simple DAC that equals the best ones in sound quality. Nirvana
Seal of Approval.
Finally - a TDA1541A/S1 chip applied
in any NAIM or Sony or Creek or Arcam or Musical Fidelity
player and with NOS modification and lampization.
The TDA chip is very sensitive to surrounding electronics. The
capacitors, the power supplies, the signal, the ground. NAIM is in a
class of it's own when it comes to electronic engineering. So the
NAIM applications are closest to perfection. Add a nos mod (non over
sampling) and this is the killer. Check this one: NAIM CDS1
or this one: NAIM CD3. Also SATCH dac
with tube output stage. Also
SONY cdp- 555 ESD
SONY CDP-227ESD and CDP-337ESD /
This family was recently upgraded to category zero after I performed
successfuly the NOS mode modification. Without NOS the Sony were a
touch mechanical, with NOS they are outstanding. A huge improvement.
But quite difficult surgery.
This is a top family of players from SONY, with absolutely
mechanism KSS190A (except the 227) to be found in all top Accuphase
players, and with
one or two DAC chips TDA 1541. It is so well made it is like a
For lampization I
can't think of a better player. There is NOTHING to
upgrade inside - just add 6H2P tubes.
Especially SONY CDP-227ESD
- the wolf in sheep clothes is the best value for money, in my opinion
- one of the best CDP ever made. Using second from top Sony mechanism
KSS151A and two parallel
Philips TDA1541A (non S) but with very intelligently laid out PCB -
unlike messy Marantz and Philips. Sony is like a Marantz but made by
people who went to Polytechnic, but not the one next to a
REcent addition to the family is my new find - the old almighty Analog
Devices DAC AD1865. Recently the Chinese people of Analogmetrics
started making a great DAC with this chip. At 150 USD it is a steal.
Otherwise - AD1865 can only be fount inside Audionote gear (up to DAC 4
and DAC5) and in one Wadia DAC - Wadia 12, and in Rockna DAC from
Romania (this does not play well at all). Now after making my own DAC
from scratch with this chip I know why Peter Quvortrup, Andrea Ciuffoli
and Wadia people chose this DAC as the top one. It is in the very top
of the list, well - maybe third from the top. A notch higher than their
Finally - an odd contender
because it costs a fortune but it is
really a good un. Audio-Note
How all digital audio should be built and sound like. The ONLY CD gear
that does not require tuning, modding or mobbing. Just what the doctor
ordered. They have this tendency to sound best with Philips based
transports like Audiomeca Mephisto.
(Generally reserved for "current output" (Iout) DAC types)
- The former king of single ended players. Solid built. Good mechanism
laser - CDM1 MK2, lots of space for lampization, good power supplies
with many regulators. Two TDA1541A-S1 DACs in parallel mode. Fantastic
display, remote, and overall ergonomics. Very teutonic, mean machine.
Before lampization it sounds like shit really.
After re-visiting it and doing the second unit I decided to bring it
all the way up here. The top "Belgium made" Philips puts all
its predecessors to shame,. The PCB is actually one of my
favourite philips TDA1541 pcb of all time., just a hair behind the Naim
superboards. If it wasn't for the AWFUL
would rank it right after the Grundig. With NOS it betters the grundig
9009 which unfortunately CAN NOT be nonoversampled by design.
CD94 and CD80 , Philips
- all three just about equal, well built but not spectacular. Single
not as good ergonomics as the Grundig. Overall - top class but without
a bullet. With my slight preference to the 94 with better caps, smaller
output board, nicer mechanism (1-MK1) and better looks.. Philips CD960
is 100% identical with the 94 except the phillips has not the wooden
side cheeks and
has slightly different display.
CD94MK2 - If you need balanced operation - as I do -
there is no equal. The only one CD player with TDA1541A-S1 in dual
differential mode - ("XLR ready") that I am aware of. For RCA
users - it
nothing better to offer than the three marantzes above. In SE mode -
is a lot cleaner design, with more easy and open sound.
Audio CD2 and CD3 - the British attempt at overkill
player. These guys must have been in love with TDA chips - they even
got a bulk discount. 4 stereo DACS per player - nobody had beaten them
so far. Non-S variant, but with very simple and good electrical design.
Good caps, power supply regulators, and so on. But the sound - does not
get 4 times better than from one chip. These players are about equal to
the Grundig, but ergonomy - is British garage style. Ugly as a sin. Not
for everybody. Jaguar E-Type lovers will adore them.
288 and 289
- built like a dream, good looking as everybody get out. Two pairs of
chips from Burr Brown (PCM63K) and some older units come with TEAC
mechanisms if you are lucky. Not balanced but parallel chip
arrangement. The best CD of all I tried without any mods at all - as
The first non-TDA player in this category. The company, similarly to
Naim and Linn - has cult followers who worship these little black
boxes. The only one in this group with voltage
output from Crystal Semiconductors Cirrus delta sigma DAC chip. which
is usually a no-no (I mean the voltage out not the Cirrus ;-). Without
tubes it is
quite OK, but with lampizator - it really flies. Very addictive sound.
No room inside for lampization. The electrical design is super clean,
super simple, money well spent. It is internally balanced, XLR
Ready . It gets my personal award for minimum bullshit - maximum
music - engineering. The newest variant of this DAC chip is to
be found in my LAMPUCERA minimalist DAC.
DAC from China with AD1852 chip. A very very nice allrounder. A DAC
that everybody will like after lampization. I love it. At 100 USD price
nobody will be disappointed.
looking cheap and simple, lightweight, inexpensive player, with just
barely adequate Sony mechanism from cheap range. But what a delight - 8
DAC chips from top league - Burr Brown PCM1702. With balancing
even without) they can be lampized from current outputs and the end
result is spectacular. This is a real giant killer. Add some cap
tweaking and stable clock and you are in audio Nirvana for sure. It is internally balanced, XLR
Ready. It has the most empty space for lampization of all players.
Very well built player. The best denon for sure. The exotic Japanese
Denons with massive wooden additions and heavy casing are electrically
equal but not better, while they cost xx times more. Superb mechanism
good 4 DAC chips same as in Audionote DAC-5 and Teac VRDS-25. After the
voltage output to current
output - it can put to shame many top players. It is internally
balanced, XLR Ready
T200 - after real lampization (not the chinese trick as is
sold) - it is a great player. Even better player is their newest T300
with fantastic Burr Brown PCM1794 DAC. Both are internally balanced, XLR
Legend of Revox makes them special, but these are NOT reel to reel
players ladies and gentlemen. Their CD's are not that awfully special,
just very good. Not really legendary. But simply well made, simple
and solid player with fantastic sound. Very delicate and sophisticated
mechanism based on Philips CDM-0, hard to repair. Some people regard it
(after lampization) as
the best of all. Maybe they are right. After NOS mod they should be in
cat Zero perhaps but this is not verified yet.
Krell KAV-300cd -
the best non-tubed player I ever heard.
Also check: Pioneer PDS-06, Kenwood 8020DP, and
I am also investigating some Arcams with TDA (Excellent
player is 70.2) chip and I still try to check out Marantz 7 - the
potential king of them all. The
Stock CD7 recently was subjected to a direct comparison with lampized
CD94MK2 and they equalized (CD7 has discrete transistor output stage).
Considering the 10x price difference - I am quite satisfied. With some
tube rolling and NOS - I am sure the lampized 94 will eventually win.
Philips LHH1000 series is impossible to get so let's ignore it.
(and 4090) It
is internally balanced, XLR Ready. Great musical player, detailed,
dynamic, with great bass. Overall - the champion of budget lampization.
Lots of space inside.
K2 It is
internally balanced, XLR Ready
Philips "Standard" series:
Philips CD-630, CD-304MK2, Marantz 40, Marantz 50, Marantz 60, Grundig
CD-9000, Grundig CD-8400 MK1 and MK2, Grundig 903, and over a hundred
other models based on the same Philips schematics.
grundig cd 8100 /8400MK2 (optimal players for beginners). All the goodies plus lots of space, but price - 20 Euro !
Stable Platter PDS-904 , S-703 and many many
similar cousins. It is internally balanced, XLR
Technics SL-PS700 It
is internally balanced, XLR Ready
Akai CD55 - after
Iout conversion and lampization
NAD C 541 grey, sad looking box with gigantic detailed and
musical sound. Great buy.
One of the most popular players of all times. With lampizator it shows
unlimited dynamics and microdetail, Similar to Kenwood 5090. But with
very limited space inside. The NPC dac chip is raw like sushi but very
appealing to many people, myself included.
The main PCB is a good field for countless tuning
tricks ala Thorsten.
Fine Arts 905
Also - TDA1547 dac based
players. All Sony CX20XXX
chip players. (Revox
CD17) Teac D-10
Meridian 207 (what a horrible
bastard son of Philips technology applied in a garage by the mad
scientist ! Despite premium parts like TDA1541S2 chip STAY AWAY
!!! RUN FOR SHELTER !!!)
and Olufsen CD5500 very
interesting player but normal lampization process results with great
sound but a loud pop when skipping track. Also no remote and no room
for lampizator inside.
MHZS 66 and 88 - read my comments HERE
To all people who think that 99 % of CD players inside look like shit:
I agree with you. Something like technical culture seems to be a long
Here is the picture of what the good looking product should be like -
This is a US made PS Audio DAC.