CD transport advice

Hi all, I’m in need of some advice about CD transport to DAC vs. laptop to DAC.

I’ve recently become interested in getting a dedicated CD transport, but after days of research I’m still left scratching my head. My main juxtaposition is whether a CD transport (direct datastream) into my DAC would potentially have any sonic advantage over a CD played on my laptop to the DAC; or vs. a FLAC file on my PC for that matter; and vs. an analogue output of the dedicated CD player.

My initial search brought me to various audiophile forums showcasing endless myriads of random entries of CD transports with no prices shown, which were revealed to vary between $400 to $8,000 or so. I did manage to find some more affordable options from the Steve Hoffman forums such as the Onkyo C-730 & Yamaha CD S300 both for around $300 and Yamaha CD S700 for around $700, even Samsung DVD-HD841 up-converting DVD/CD player for only $70 which was reviewed well. I didn’t get any response on the Hoffman forums, which seems to be more for speaker enthusiasts and it seemed Head-Fi didn’t have much on CD transports anymore also (maybe this is oldschool already, LOL).

My current chain includes Chord Qutest DAC via BNC coax cable from 3 USB components: iFi iPurifier, Wyrd and Singxer SU-1, fed by USB from my laptop with ASIO. For my initial foray into this, I’m looking for a budget option around $500 +/- (used OK), and it must have a Toslink optical out to be compatible in the un-used input of my Qutest DAC.

I’m basically interested in getting a decent quality CD transport on a budget to see whether the direct datastream over Toslink optical or analogue output sounds more preferable than the USB from laptop method. Theoretically better sound could be had if the internal DAC of the CD player is very high caliber but that’s up against a fairly steep hill with the prowess of my Qutest DAC. So the main question would be whether there’s any merit to going this route, vs. via CD player from my laptop with USB or if there’s any differences between high/low tier CD transports when it’s a direct bitstream anyway? And I’d especially be interested to know any recommendations on an affordable transport option.

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This isn’t quite what you asked, but I recently (and accidentally) became convinced of the impact of CD transports and drive technology. This arose by comparing an ancient CD-ROM and a recent DVD drive to modern streaming services:

In brief, the more recent DVD drive was much better than the older CD-ROM but both were notably worse than modern HD streaming files. I interpreted this as a function of both disc defects and player technology limitations. Moving to high-end transports should minimize the processing gap, but nothing can resolve disc defects.

Given the very obvious improvements of modern streaming services, I’m not sure there will be much of a place for transports in the future. I now want to re-rip my rare CDs before they degrade…

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If $500 is your budget, I would recommend you spend that money to make upgrades elsewhere in your existing system, perhaps even buy more music that moves you.

Having said that, cost no object and convenience be damned, if I wanted to achieve the last Nth degree of sound quality with redbook digital, my choice would clearly be a one-box CD player with no-compromise CD transport mechanism (i.e. Esoteric VRDS… at least Philips CD-Pro in top-loading form) with short internal I2S connection to well-designed discrete analogue output stage), pick D-to-A technology used to taste. But don’t look for this mythical beast these days in today’s few hundred dollar machines, and who can give up the uber convenience of instant access to ripped/streamed music?

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I can’t comment on your main question about the superiority of a decent CD transport through your DAC, nor can I vouch for the following, so I apologize for being only marginally helpful, if that.

I’ve heard good things about the Audiolab 6000CDT CD transport (here’s one place selling it). I’ll see if I can find where I read about it. And then there’s the potential Schiit Audio transport that’s been in the works for a while, if you’re not in a rush.

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I’ve pretty much relied on a Blu-Ray player as a transport (pick anything that gets a decent CNET rec), and last year scored a PS Audio Perfect Wave Memory Player on sale ($1200 but hard to find now). It’s excellent, and not only more than I’ll ever need, but given that CDs are now just an occasional thing, and the very high quality of the amp/dac I use, I’m not sure I even needed to upgrade. So, yeah, I really wouldn’t spend more than $200, just get a 4k BR player from LG or Sony or whatever looks good and gets a good rec online. And then you’ll have a great video piece as well. Beyond that, I have heard folks mention Cambridge a lot, but that dedicated transport won’t play CD-Rs. This is maybe the only time I’d ever tell someone to just get the basic thing for a hi-end system, but CDs (for me, anyway) are running a distant third behind streaming and vinyl now.

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https://www.audioadvisor.com/prodinfo.asp?number=CACXCV2

Slightly over budget, but this unit is well thought of.

Using a CD transport you will still need a DAC. A CD player has an internal DAC and outputs in analog.

Thanks for your input folks.

And Steve were you able to compare the sound of your blu-ray player to your more expensive PS Audio player, if you were able to output both via the same direct transport to DAC such as RCA/BNC coaxial or Toslink optical? If so, were you able to hear any difference this way between units? I’d imagine the PS Audio player won the comparison with analogue RCA output though… certainly @rrwwss52 I’m aware of digital outputs as mentioned above, and that internal DACs vary between models and device types, hence the complexity of such a decision; finding a CD player with a good analog output and then the notion of if all direct transports are created equal or not or have any advantage over a laptop source.

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Sounds good.

Wanted to be clear since you had referenced “CD transport vs DAC.” No offense intended.

Often CD players are cheaper than transports. You could probably find a very nice used CD player since most people are moving to computer audio. You could use the toslink out with the same effect. I just traded off a 1993 Sony CD changer, and the toslink out worked very well into my DAC.

Got it, and first line updated to clarify CD transport to DAC vs. laptop to DAC.
In your experience have you noticed any difference among models both using the same direct transport connections such as Toslink, or would you say any CD player or CD transport would have the same result when it comes to a direct data connection?

They should be very close. I actually use a very primitive CD setup. I have a Bryston BDP-1 media transport with an old external CD computer drive attached via USB. Read/play only. Bryston has a similar device (BOT-1) that’s $1500. I paid $5 for my external drive on ebay. It sounds every bit as good as my Oppo UDP-203 for standard CD playback.

Yes, obviously the PS Audio wins (via RCA/BNC) … and comparing original prices (probably 4k to >200) it really should sound better. But I was not dissatisfied with the sound of the Blu-Ray player. The difference was a lot less than I might have expected. I recently did some tweaking, though, so I should try it again and I’ll let you know if I hear a more significant difference.

Steve Guttenberg loves the Jay’s Audio transport … but it’s not cheap.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4FnlN9x574

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The PerfectWave Memory Player is a great device. A few of them (including mine) had screen pixelation issues. Repaired under warranty. Sold it about two years ago.

I’m very happy with mine. It was a refurbished model, although arrived as new. There was a problem with the unit freezing up, so it had to go back and they fixed it. Great company. As our DeVore, Immedia and Bel Canto, who made my other components. Great to have direct contact with the designers on phone or email if there’s ever a problem.

I made up my mind on this kind of stuff when speaking to Roy Gandy, founder of Rega, last February. He told me that they ran countless experiments to see how they could get bit-perfect reproduction on CD players… only to come to the conclusion you can’t. He told me that CD players simply do not have enough computational power to reproduce CDs “perfectly”. PCs, on the other hand, do, so he was convinced that the best CD player is actually a PC.
Now, take that as you wish. I am no engineer. I sincerely doubt that you need to spend an awful lot of money on something that, by today’s technological standard, is pretty basic and has been done for over 40 years. I would personally use a laptop or, if I wanted a dedicated device, I would buy a mini-PC (even just a Raspberry Pi 4) and use that for CD playback.

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Yeah, I too play music files on my audio PC to outboard DAC, but my main reason is the huge convenience of having instant access to all your music and not having to get up every time to find/change CD’s.

The Elephant in the room about PC being the best CD player is HOW the great data is delivered to the outboard DAC. This is what makes or breaks PC playback.
I once attended a DCS demo where they compared music delivered to the same DAC via USB from server, ethernet, and spdif from physical CD transport. The CD transport sounded the best to my ears.

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That only tells you about the SPDIF input on the DAC, though, not the specific CD transport. That demo did not rule out the fact that a PC using SPDIF could not get you the same result. In order to compare two sources you need to set the same conditions for both - so if you want to compare a PC and a CD transport, you have to use the same connection to the DAC. My two cents, of course!

True dat @Soundphile often performance varies into the same DAC depending on the connection used. Sort of like how volume matching is necessary for accurate comparison of mastered/unmastered trax, the same cables are needed for a fair comparison on transports into a DAC.

I’m leaning more towards getting a CD transport or two just to test it out myself and see how it goes. I’m not keen on the science side of why/how A should sound better than B, just the subjective side if something perceptually sounds better to one or more people, that’s good enough for me. I may just go with one of the affordable few hundred $$ options I mentioned in the first post, unless anyone else has any other recommendations. And being on a budget and just testing whether CD transports make a noticeable difference I’m forgoing multi-thousand dollar options for this such as PerfectWave.

I don’t have a lot of experience with CD players and transports, just some in-store listening sessions here and there. Esoteric CD players are really top notch, their DAC implementation is really good and they sounded better as stand-alone units vs using them as CD transport to an external DAC but they’re way out of your budget.

I use a Panasonic DP UB-9000 Blu-ray player in my system, it’s a replacement of the renowned Oppo UDP-205 that is now discontinued. I tested it as a stand-alone unit outputting through the AK 4493 DAC chip vs as a transport outputting to my Chord Mscaler/Dave and Mscaler/TT2 DACs and both latter options sounded better than as a stand-alone unit.

I rip all my CDs to Flac 16/44. I compared the Flac files being fed through my network streamer (LUMIN U1) to Mscaler/DAVE and Mscaler/TT2 to the CD as a transport to both DAC setups and the CD sounded slightly better. It’s hard to describe the differences because they were so minimal, but there was more “presence” on the CD, it was “closer” to reality and it sounded more analog - please note that these differences were only discernible during immediate A/B tests. I think I would struggle to succeed in a blind test. However, I could immediately tell when I used the CD as a stand-alone unit, it just can’t match the performance of the Chord stacks.

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This is a great question. I tend to love CD Players/Transports and DACs. I have a Oppo DVD/CD player, 103 The Upgrade Company upgrade, and 205 Modwright tube upgrade UDP players, Marantz CD Player PMD325, Meridian 508-24 bit CD Player, and Parasound modded CDP-1000 CD Player/Transport–each one sounds a little different than the others. I have owned Cary Audio Design and Jolida vacuum tube output stage CD Players–they were also enjoyable but I sold them to try something else.
Ultimately the Oppo UDP 205 with Modwright tube upgrade is the most analogue sounding to me and has the best soundstaging–for both headphones and two-channel audio. I have never played a DVD or Blueray on this machine–LOL! I have two external DACs - Benchmark DAC3 HGC and Boarder Patrol SE models now and they are both fun and very different to listen to.
The Benchmark is a great reference DAC and wonderful headphone amplifier for sensitive IEMs and harder to drive headphones. I took it on a sales call to Westone and the Cartwright “Twins” couldn’t believe the sound of the DAC with their reference earphones. I am currently not in the earphone business.
The Boarder Patrol SE DAC is so enjoyable to listen to for extended periods of time, especially for headphones–it sounds so natural and smooth.
I also rip my CDs and SACDs to files and play them on the Oppo UDP 103 and 205 with a USB stick, and they also sound different.
Most of the time I prefer the listening “experience” of the physical CD disk and I love to hold the case in my hand and read the album notes/info. At one point I thought the ripped files were superior to the discs, but then I purchased a fancy “laserbase” (rubber band - suspension) stand for my CD Player/Transport and the CDs and SACDs sounded so liquid and natural over the ripped files on a USB stick.
My recommendation is to use hifishark.com and research some of the CD Players/Transports that were recommended to you and buy at a reasonable price, so you could resell it if you wanted to try something else.
I purchased the Marantz CD Player PMD325 on eBay for ~$200 and use it in my office, I like the earphones jack and used it with an external DAC every now and then–this would be my recommendation.

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The Marantz CD Player PMD325 must a rare beast because there’s currently not a single listing for it even on HifiShark which I like too, and I prefer something a bit smaller than rack mount if possible. But I like your suspension feet idea, I think I’ll look for an affordable option like the laserbase, one set for my chosen CD transport, and another for my tube amp as I’ve heard they benefit these too.