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CD player decision - MF A3.2, Cyrus CD7Q, Quad 99 CD-P or other?

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by mister_d, Feb 2, 2005.

  1. mister_d

    mister_d
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    Yet another in the long line of clueless 'which CD player?' questions, unfortunately. I'm after a second-hand/ex-demo player in the <£500 price bracket, and after scouring ebay/HiFiForSale/Ex-dem.com I've come up with three collectable options which all seem very competitive relative to their retail prices - a Cyrus CD7Q for £450, a new/sealed Musical Fidelity A3.2 for the same price (though presumably with a reduction for collection) and the current frontrunner and easiest geographically, a Quad 99 CD-P for £500 bought just last August and barely used.

    To provide some background, I bought a second-hand Arcam CD93 as a replacement for my Marantz CD6000OSE intended to complement my Earmax Pro/Sennheiser HD580 (now 600) headphone setup more appropriately, but I've been quite disappointed with the improvement. While it definitely offers tightened bass and and an expanded soundstage, I usually have to strain to hear the difference, and the treble frequencies are indistinguishable to my ears, being quite harsh and somewhat prone to sibilance with an unfeasibly large proportion of my CD collection.

    I'm happy with the detail level and other characteristics of the Arcam, but it can be uncomfortable to listen to through headphones in particular, so I'd like something with a more fluid top-end (though not necessarily less forward, if I'm understanding the term correctly - the treble grain manifests itself almost equally through my supremely laid back HD600s and my recently acquired Grado SR-80s, and though I haven't yet chosen a favourite I don't object to bright the other qualities of the latter) that is otherwise roughly the Arcam's equal. Based on reviews and user testimonies all three players are at least as competent if not substantially more so, I just need to decide which is most appropriate for me.

    Now I realise that by far the best approach is to audition each player, but I really can't think of a means of doing that without buying new, which I don't really consider an option. As I mentioned earlier, I'm erring towards the extremely highly-regarded Quad as the closest match to my needs - does this seem a sensible conclusion, or should I be looking elsewhere?

    By expanding my budget once again by about £1-200 and travelling a little further, such players as the Naim CD5, Meridian 507, Primare D30.2 and Copland 822 would become feasible, and if there's a big difference I'd probably be (reluctantly) willing to go for one of those. I have also considered routing my CD6000 via a DAC, but most of the options within my £500 budget (Tag DAC20, MF A3.24 being the obvious candidates) seem to divide opinion deeply regarding their merits relative to CDPs in a similar price bracket, as does the CD6000 itself as a transport.

    Sorry for the length of this post, they always seem to end up like this. Any comments would be welcome, even if it's just to point out that I can't possibly reach a decision without listening to them...
     
  2. karkus30

    karkus30
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    Your conclusions are a bit hard to understand. Arcam players are not known for their harsh top ends or brightness so your problems suprise me. I dont knoe the 93, but if its in keeping with the rest of the range then it should be a pretty good player. The Marantz 6000 is definitely bright, its at that point that Marantz seemed to move towards a more forward sound and I hate the things.

    I would'nt go investing in something else, because there does seem to be some sort of issue here. Are you using the headphone o/p on the CD player or amp ? Go easy, maybe its a faulty player or maybe even your headphones ? I cant really believe that the other CD players you mention are going to alter the sound that much.
     
  3. JH1

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    Hi MisterD

    I tend to agree with Karkus that changing your CDP won't necessarily be the answer, unless you are buying something (with a new price) considerably more expensive and a good level up.

    I have an Arcam CD73 and trialled various new CDP's expecting to hear great differences and improvement in sound, but I did not find what I expected, even though these players were mostly twice the price of mine. I tried the new MF Xray, Roksan caspian cdp, Quad 99CDP and the Arcam CD192. All the players had their differences and some I felt were a little better sounding than mine, but none of them really inspired me to part with my money. This is not to say that these are not good players because all of them in their own way were impressive at what they did.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is I think that changing your 93, which was a £950 player a little while ago, for something of a similar/equivalent price now, may not really give you the great improvement you're hoping for. It may give you a player with different characteristics, ie slightly more forward, laid back etc but not necessarily a huge sonic improvement.

    I found the Quad to be quite different from most the CDP's I heard, with a more up front sound, if that is the kind of change you want, it may be a consideration. Whatever you do, you really should try and demo it first. The Quad is still a current model I beleive and will therefore still be available for demo with a dealer. I would strongly advise you demo it before you buy. I was very nearly tempted to buy, like yourself, a CDP which had great reviews in magazine without trialing it to get a good deal, but I decided against it. I'm glad I did because when I did eventually get to hear it, I prefered my current CDP!

    Happy hunting!
     
  4. karkus30

    karkus30
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    Ah music to my ears, great reviews mean bu**er all. Demo, demo, demo and demo again, what might be considered cr*p by the media might be exactly what your looking for. Strangely I read a review of the LFD Mistral integrated amp and in no way does it reflect how it sounded to me, but the cynic in me also realises that a small firm with a limited advertising budget probably doesnt promote its products with glossy adverts, so, form your own conclusions. Maybe the performance of a product is inversely proportional to the amount of advertising and reviews it receives.
     
  5. mister_d

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    Thanks very much to both of you for your replies, I was fully expecting to be challenged for my unqualified assumption that my problems are attributable to the source. Apologies once again for talking so much...

    Have to admit that I was surprised too, and initially I didn't want to concede that the source was a problem (having just spent quite a lot of money upgrading what I felt to be the weakest component of my system), but I'm struggling to think what else it could be.

    I didn't mention that my fairly entry-level speaker setup (Arcam 8R, B&W 601S2, QED Silver Anniversary) exhibits the same problems - due to the inherent proximity of the listening position with headphones it's difficult to judge which is more severely affected, but it's certainly still there with the speakers. Interconnects are QED Qunex 2, which I use for convenience as I've borrowed a second pair so can perform instant A->B comparisons, but I also have a pair of Van Der Hul H102 MkIII Hybrids which, while certainly better, don't make much of a difference, as is to be expected. Headphone amp is an Earmax Pro (think that's in the first post somewhere).

    If it isn't the CD player, which is a scenario I hadn't by any means discarded, the only explanations I can think of are as follows, and all seem more improbable to me:
    • Cables - I initially labelled these as the culprit, hence my purchase of the VDH, but I suppose if the system synergy (a concept that has always confused me massively, particularly the notion of 'taming' a bright component) is wrong for both integrated amp and headphones I suppose a new interconnect could be all I need.

    • Amplification/output - for this to be the problem, it must be the case that one or more of the 8R, Silver Anniversary or 601S2s AND either the Earmax or all three of the HD580s, HD600s and Grado SR-80s are causing the phenomenon. I have considered the possibility that the Earmax requires a valve replacement, and I'm certainly willing to believe that my fairly mediocre integrated setup could be prone to top-end harshness, so these two in combination could provide an explanation, but otherwise I find it very difficult to believe that it could be the headphone setup.

    • Recordings - this is probably the most plausible suggestion, and the one I'd least like to be correct. Many of my CDs do sound excellent and don't really hint at excessive treble (particularly those without vocals), so it could just be that my equipment is presenting the music as it genuinely is with a high degree of transparency. However, the large number of affected CDs - some of which are otherwise stunning to my ears - leads me to believe that if it is a problem with the medium itself then it can at least be controlled by careful choice of equipment, even though that may involve spending ridiculous amounts of money. I've never knowingly heard a record played through anything remotely resembling an audiophile setup, but I would guess that I'm after a more "vinyl-like" sound.

    • Ears - perhaps I'm just overly sensitive to treble frequencies? It was only about six months ago that I first began to regularly notice sibilance (or even became aware of the concept), though it's worth noting that my setup until then, consisting of the CD6000 with the same amp/speakers, had never quite satisfied me as much as I'd hoped given its cost for reasons I'd always struggled to verbalise. Without anything or anyone to compare against I really don't know whether I'm just imagining the problem to be much greater than it is in reality.

      Another ears-based possibility is that, based on my difficulty in distinguishing the CD93 from my old Marantz, I'm simply not as discerning as the average audiophile and am wasting my money going for anything above budget equipment. Despite the financial benefits this implies if I could bring myself to accept it, I find the prospect possibly even more depressing than a collection full of poorly-mastered CDs...
    The subject of demoing is rightly raised again as the only sensible course of action. Is there any way I can do this without committing myself to a sale at coronary-inducing new prices, bearing in mind that, to put it bluntly, I've never been noted either for my insistence or my ability to command respect in face-to-face exchanges? Only a couple of people I know have even a passing interest in hi-fi, and both are strictly in budget territory, so I'm really on my own - apart from present company, of course :)

    As a footnote, the Quad has risen to £510 on ebay (the seller is local to me and has zero feedback, so perhaps expecting he'd struggle to shift it agreed to end the auction early for £500 collected), so I don't think that's an option anymore...
     
  6. karkus30

    karkus30
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    First port of call is to listen to a HiFi setup at a dealers or friends using your worst CD.

    Does it still sound bad ?

    Does the friend or dealer think it sounds bad ?

    Play a recording that the dealer or friend knows is good.

    Does it still sound sibilant to you ?

    Then you know if its your ears or the recording. You can get strange effects with ear wax build up and tinnitus can cause terrible problems.

    I dont know the earmax unit ? but valves can be subject to ringing which can cause strange effects. But I would'nt be looking down that route.

    Forget the cables, as long as you have a decent connection its unlikely to be a major cause of woe and you say you can hear it through the speakers and headphones so its a common component.

    Which leaves CD player, amp or ears
     
  7. overkill

    overkill
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    Go and listen to someone elses system. If that sounds sibliant too you may have tinnitus. It's a fairly common problem, but people aren't aware they have it until they notice occasional sibliance and/or that there's a faint buzzing/hissing in the ears when sitting in a quiet room. Just to make things more annoying, this doesn't happen all the time!

    However, it shouldn't effect your ability to tell major differences in components. Only the treble is really badly effected, and bass response, detail, stereo image, etc aren't effected apart from in severe cases.

    I would check out both a mates system (to see if the ears are ok) and your ARcam in it, in case it's the problem. ARcam gear isn't famous for being "over bright" far from it.
     
  8. JH1

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    MisterD,

    Out of interest, how do you have your headphone amp connected to your CDP?

    If you are experiencing the same traits through your headphone amp and your integrated amp, then this could be caused if you have connected your headphone amp via a tape loop or output on your integrated amp. If you are doing this, then it is possible your headphone amp is just amplifying the traits of your integrated amp.

    If you have your headphone amp connected directly to your CDP and in no way connect it to your integrated amplifier, (ie CDP >> Headphone amp >> headphones - and not CDP >> Integrated amp >> Headphone amp >> Headphones) then it could not have it's sound affected your integrated amp.

    This is just a thought because I know some people use a headphone amp in a tape loop rather than run a separate lead direct from the CDP to the Headphone amp.

    You will have 2 sets of RCA outputs on the back of your CDP so this would allow you to have a direct run to your headphone amp, aswell as the normal feed to your integrated.

    I think it's a little strange you have the same characteristic through both your speakers and headphones, if these were independently connected to your CDP and not all run through the same amp at some point.

    If you do have everything running through your integrated amp, I would suspect that may be the culprit, try your headphone amp direct to your CDP!!
     
  9. mister_d

    mister_d
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    Thanks everyone, I'll try to keep the words down this time...

    The only system I have the opportunity to try out is a Nad C521i (I think, definitely not BEE) run through a Nad C350 connected to some fairly entry-level Wharfedale speakers. I've also tried using my Toshiba SD-330E DVD player and PC as a source, as well as my sister's ageing Aiwa separates system, and all are fairly similar, though of course inferior to a greater or lesser extent in all other areas.

    It could be my ears, and I suspect that I may have developed very slight tinnitus in one ear a few years back thanks to overcranked concert PAs in undersized rooms, but I'm hesitant to attribute it to that as it's a very distinctive, raspy sound that seems to emanate strongly from the source, I can't really see how the transformation could occur as it enters my ears rather than when it's produced. Not sure if that actually makes any sense to anyone other than myself though.

    The recordings I have always seem to be affected at exactly the same position to more or less exactly the same extent each time I listen to them, provided of course that I'm aware of the sibilance in advance and actively listening for it. Some are completely fine (including different recordings featuring the same vocalist), which lends further weight to the theory that it's all inherent in the recording process. Because of this, it's a bit difficult to choose a "known good" recording, as it'll probably seem fine to me as well. Ultimately, I need to know whether it's my equipment or the recordings themselves that are the culprit, and if, as I'm beginning to strongly suspect, it's the latter, whether I can affordably reduce the phenomenon as much as possible without unduly affecting the satisfactory aspects, which covers virtually everything else.

    I'm keeping track of a small subset of CDs that I always notice as being unusually harsh - the majority will probably be unknown to most if not all people reading, but I've found that the last two Björk albums (being the CDs I specifically had in mind with the "otherwise stunning" comment in my previous post) - which at least one person in here must surely be familiar with - are particularly badly affected. If anyone can confirm whether or not they've noticed any sibilance with these (I can provide exact tracks/times if required), it would be immensly helpful.

    JH1, I am indeed running through the tape loop, but only for the past month or so after failing to notice a significant reduction in quality. Until then I had been connecting all cables directly from the source to the sole inputs from the source, which resulted in constant cable-swapping and has led to a major deterioration in my QEDs. Of course, I realise the VDHs are going to waste as the sound will always be constrained by the weakest component in the chain, but it really is much more convenient at least for now.

    I know there are a few people on the forum with Earmax/Sennheiser combinations and I've previously spoken with at least one who has claims never to have had any problems with sibilance, so addressing those doesn't seem to be a very productive route. When I heard the Grados for the first time I understood the difference between forward presentation and harsh treble - if anything the sound is more unnatural with the Sennheisers, as it contrasts so noticeably with their laid-back presentation.
     

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