Editors’ Choice 2022: My Favorite CD Players & DAC
Do you remember your first CD? I remember walking out of Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto grinning like some stupid teenager who should have been across the street at the seedy arcade trying to flash my Reg Dunlop eyes at some bad girl in a Triumph t-shirt — but that was how I rolled in 1984.
Did I buy anything cool? Not really. A poorly recorded Telarc CD with some of my favorite movie tracks. The highs were definitely grating and my father’s Yamaha CD player almost spit it back out in disgust. But the sign at the counter proclaimed “Perfect Sound Forever,” and that sounded like a great investment to my 14 year-old self.
It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I didn’t love the sound of CDs and that my mixed tapes with very little dynamic range or detail and 300 records moved the needle for me more emotionally.
Most kids my age didn’t own a high-end stereo at the same time that puberty made us grow out of our ice skates, and my friends wondered if there was something wrong with me.
I dashed and played the 100-foot game (hockey is a 200 foot sport) with the best of them before realizing that I enjoyed stopping pucks more than I enjoyed shooting them and my goalie equipment bag was filled with the microscopic liner notes that came with CDs because I was a cerebral, nerdy kid who always wanted to be reading something.
With time, my CD collection started to grow. I never purchased a single CD when I went shopping; the typical venture into Sam’s, HMV, Music World, or Tower resulted in 3-4 new CDs being added to my collection and a huge dip in my veal sandwich fund.
38 years later, I find myself with over 2,000 CDs; not entirely sure how that happened but the anal retentive side of my personality decided back in 2005 that I needed to destroy the environment, put all 2,000 CDs into fancy photography albums, and bury my collection on a very sturdy bookshelf — where they currently still reside.
I did spend 5 years ripping all of them as FLAC files to multiple LaCie HDDs. Those drives are connected to my Roon Nucleus Music Server which is positioned next to our ASUS Router. Mission accomplished.
A few years ago, I found myself looking through the 100+ jewel cases that I did not add to some landfill in the Garden State and decided that as much as I loved streaming and digital downloads, I needed to pull those same CDs and compare them to their streaming or downloaded copies.
This will shock not a soul that I prefer the original CDs to the streaming versions available on TIDAL or Qobuz, but there really isn’t a big difference between the ripped copies and the actual CDs themselves.
But what about the CDs that are still not available on any of the streaming platforms? My collection began in 1984 and I continue to purchase CDs in 2022; more than 200 CDs (and I really went through the list) in my collection are not available on any of streaming platforms.
I was surprised by that as well. I’m also willing to bet that less than 5% of the listening population ever spent 5 years ripping their collection to HDDs.
My long-winded way of saying that you might still need a CD player; and not just because Rogers went offline this past summer for over 25 hours and streaming was impossible in Canada.
Qobuz…ahem…not available in Canada still. We’re very spoiled here in America.
2022 Editors’ Choice: CD Players
Marantz CD60 ($999 USD)
Timing is everything. The Marantz CD60 arrived days before the Rogers debacle and just as I was about to board a flight to Northern Ontario for some medical treatments. It wasn’t fun being stuck in French River with a dead smartphone — but the silence made me think. About a lot of personal issues and the messaging at eCoustics.
My review makes it rather clear that the Marantz CD60 is a stellar performer; although I would agree that there are better CD players for a lot more money available from Marantz, Naim, Rega, McIntosh, Esoteric, etc…
The Marantz CD60 has a darker, warmer tonal balance that will work in a rather wide range of systems.
The biggest compliment that I can bestow on the CD60 is that it has become a permanent part of my system and a component that I listen to every single day.
Long live the CD.
Cyrus Audio CDi-XR ($2,999)
New CD sales reversed their 2021 gains, going from 18.4 million to 17.7 million units and from $204.3 million to $199.7 million. Not a gargantuan drop but any reversal has to be seen as a negative.
The situation abroad is very different with CD sales still doing relatively well in Asia and Europe; China, Japan, India, and Germany are still strong markets for the format.
Are products like the Cyrus Audio CDi-XR CD Player still relevant? We think so and manufacturers that we have spoken to report above average sales for all of their CD players this year.
It’s no secret that I enjoy my coffee black with some raw sugar and a tiny amount of cream.
And there has not been very much of that over the past 6 months having lost 46 pounds and my body focused on regaining the lean form that it once held when I took it on the chin between the pipes on the frozen pond.
The CDI-XR is $2,000 more than the Marantz CD60 and proved to be a bit of a chameleon; it is definitely one of the best sounding CD players I’ve tried in many years and the tank-like build quality left me convinced that it will prove to be very reliable for the long haul. I ran more than 100 CDs through it during the review process and only one badly scratched DCC recording skipped.
Very much like the i7-XR, the Cyrus CD player is focused on pace, timing, and getting from start to finish with some authority. It’s hard to recall any CD player that has crossed my path over the past 30 years that was as adept in those areas.
Where to buy: $2,999 at Sky by Gramophone
2022 Editors’ Choice: Digital to Analog Converter (DAC)
HoloAudio Spring3 KTE DAC ($3,098 USD)
The Spring3 Kitsuné Tuned Edition (KTE) may not make a lot of sense to some with wireless speaker systems integrating some rather high-end DACs in 2022, but this might be one of the finest external DACs that we’ve ever heard; and that includes a few that are 10x the price.
The timbral accuracy is second to none, and there is a level of resolution that you might not expect from a DAC that starts at $2,198 depending on the configuration.
A boutique online manufacturer, HoloAudio, is distributed by KitsuneHiFi, and even with the long wait time for delivery, this is one DAC worth waiting for. The Spring3 still starts below $2,200 and gives music listeners a real taste of what reference quality digital audio can sound like.
With support for native DSD, and high-resolution PCM digital audio, the Spring3 KTE USB DAC sounds more like a high-end analog source with layers of detail, a warm tonal balance, low noise floor, and superb top-to-bottom coherency.
Connected to a CD transport or streamer, this DAC makes music come alive. If you’re wondering if it makes sense to spend this kind of money on a DAC when digital technology is evolving so quickly, the answer is that a great DAC doesn’t lose its value as a component just because something new comes out.
95% of available digital music is red book CD quality (or less) and the 5% that qualifies as high-resolution digital audio will always be supported by this DAC.
If streaming platforms like Tidal, Deezer, Spotify, or Qobuz are your primary sources of digital music – the Spring3 KTE will allow you to uncover a lot of great sounding music for years to come.
Where to buy: $3,098 at kitsunehifi.com
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