CD Player - To upgrade or not to upgrade....

jembers

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Dec 4, 2021
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Hey All
New to the forum, enjoying browsing the threads and hoping to contribute to some.

Hoping anyone can offer advice input on whether or not to update my CD player?

My kit dates from the late 90s/early 2000s: Denon PMA250se amp, Tannoy Mercury M2 speakers and a Sony CDP-520 CD Player. All still working well despite several thousand hours on the clock!

These days I exclusively listen on headphones (Grado SR-80Es), which to me are a great match for my kit. My CD collection spans various genre with plenty 80s and 90s pressed albums and compilations. I mainly listen to mainstream rock and pop.

I settled on my current kit after several previous upgrades; personally I have held at "Lower Middle Range" on equipment, and I've never really regretted this.

My preferred sound is 'clean, reasonable bass' - my current equipment matches that.

Recently I've been pondering buying a new CD player, but have held off for two reasons:

1) I know from past experience that upgrading for the sake of it is rarely worth it, and that 'new' DAC developments don't necessarily equate to a great improvement in SQ
2) Not the best time to walk into a store with a CD and Headphones to try out a particular player (even it that were something widely possible!)

So - I have been looking at the Marantz CD6007 or the Denon DCD800ne whilst contemplating.

Is anyone able to advise what sort of SQ comparison there'd be in terms of my kit? Is 20 years or so going to mean there'll be some noticeable uplift in SQ?

Ta!
 
Presumably you listen with your headphones plugged into the CDP? Or the amp?
If headphones are your primary 'speakers ' you need to look at the quality of the device's headphone amp section. Many of them are dire....
The Denon does not seem to have a headphone socket
Of course you could just but a separate headphone amplifier.
 
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jembers

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Generally I listen via the Amplifier - my current CD player has a phone jack although, as the volume can only be controlled via the remote (output defaults to 0db on the display) you have to remember to dial it way back prior to pressing play! I tend not to listen at too high a level anyway, and I do like the Amp's input particularly as it warms up during a session.
 

Gray

Well-known member
I
Generally I listen via the Amplifier - my current CD player has a phone jack although, as the volume can only be controlled via the remote (output defaults to 0db on the display) you have to remember to dial it way back prior to pressing play! I tend not to listen at too high a level anyway, and I do like the Amp's input particularly as it warms up during a session.
Al suggested a headphone amp. I really think you would benefit from one.
Something like the Schiit Magni 3 / Heresy or the Topping A50S, which I bought - and can thoroughly recommend - You'd be hard pushed to find as good a headphone output from any CD Player - might even get you looking for a headphone upgrade, but it would certainly make the best of your current ones.
Would work perfectly from the tape output of your PMA250SE, or even just the fixed line out of your Sony520.
An option would be to go for a combined DAC and amp. One with an optical input would take and convert the digital output from your Sony520. If you got one that also had a USB input, it would give you the option of connecting to a PC (for the likes of Spotify and even streamed radio, a few of which are CD quality).
I've still got an old Sony 561E CDP by the way, don't think I'd be in too much hurry to get rid of the 520 if I were you.
 
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jembers

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Dec 4, 2021
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Presumably you listen with your headphones plugged into the CDP? Or the amp?
If headphones are your primary 'speakers ' you need to look at the quality of the device's headphone amp section. Many of them are dire....
The Denon does not seem to have a headphone socket
Of course you could just but a separate headphone amplifier.
I
Al suggested a headphone amp. I really think you would benefit from one.
Something like the Schiit Magni 3 / Heresy or the Topping A50S, which I bought - and can thoroughly recommend - You'd be hard pushed to find as good a headphone output from any CD Player - might even get you looking for a headphone upgrade, but it would certainly make the best of your current ones.
Would work perfectly from the tape output of your PMA250SE, or even just the fixed line out of your Sony520.
An option would be to go for a combined DAC and amp. One with an optical input would take and convert the digital output from your Sony520. If you got one that also had a USB input, it would give you the option of connecting to a PC (for the likes of Spotify and even streamed radio, a few of which are CD quality).
I've still got an old Sony 561E CDP by the way, don't think I'd be in too much hurry to get rid of the 520 if I were you.
Thanks! I have to admit, this has got me thinking. I'm certainly not unhappy with the output of the 520; I can see the benefit of a headphone amp. I'll be seriously considering this.
Has anyone any experience of running an older player through a standalone DAC or DAC/Amp combo? Would there be an appreciable difference?
 

plastic penguin

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Thanks!
Has anyone any experience of running an older player through a standalone DAC or DAC/Amp combo? Would there be an appreciable difference?
Only tried Dacs with early 2000s CDPs (Arcam CD73 and now Exposure 2010) and found the increase in improved it made no difference. In the main built-in Dacs are such good quality in players these days, you really need to spend well over £500 to make a worthwhile improvement on a separate Dac. Then you have to think with a practical view: will my system justify spending £500-1000 on a Dac?
Another vote for a dedicated headphone amp over a Dac.
 

Gray

Well-known member
Has anyone any experience of running an older player through a standalone DAC or DAC/Amp combo? Would there be an appreciable difference?
Yep. I put the coax output of a (1998) Philips CD recorder / player through a (£100) ESS Sabre DAC and it transformed the sound.
I also own a Marantz CD6000KI CD player, which is great, but, to my ears, the DAC even improved on that, though to a much lesser extent.
I've tried DACs at 4-6 times the price that were no better than my current £100 one.
Some people scoff at Chinese Hi-fi, but there are some great value, top performing DACs and headphone amps that come from there.

Have a look at the British ifi brand for headphone amps too.
Schiit Audio is American, but more often than not the UK distributor has no stock, though importing might be an option for you (ultimately, it wasn't for me -got my Topping A50S UK supplied).

Bottom line must be this:
Although a DAC can alter the the sound, there are those that prefer the unaltered sound of some older CD players.
As you're happy with your current CD sound, a decent headphone amp might be all you need.
(Remember though that with enough inputs, a DAC could also take other sources such as TV sound, if desired).
 
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jembers

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Only tried Dacs with early 2000s CDPs (Arcam CD73 and now Exposure 2010) and found the increase in improved it made no difference. In the main built-in Dacs are such good quality in players these days, you really need to spend well over £500 to make a worthwhile improvement on a separate Dac. Then you have to think with a practical view: will my system justify spending £500-1000 on a Dac?
Another vote for a dedicated headphone amp over a Dac.
This is the thing - I have not upgraded in so long as I can't justify spending too much on replacing something that I am happy with and doesn't need replacing (more to the point). If the player did stop working then it's a different scenario...

Certainly seriously looking at headphone amps at the moment!

Yep. I put the coax output of a (1998) Philips CD recorder / player through a (£100) ESS Sabre DAC and it transformed the sound.
I also own a Marantz CD6000KI CD player, which is great, but, to my ears, the DAC even improved on that, though to a much lesser extent.
I've tried DACs at 4-6 times the price that were no better than my current £100 one.
Some people scoff at Chinese Hi-fi, but there are some great value, top performing DACs and headphone amps that come from there.

Have a look at the British ifi brand for headphone amps too.
Schiit Audio is American, but more often than not the UK distributor has no stock, though importing might be an option for you (ultimately, it wasn't for me -got my Topping A50S UK supplied).

Bottom line must be this:
Although a DAC can alter the the sound, there are those that prefer the unaltered sound of some older CD players.
As you're happy with your current CD sound, a decent headphone amp might be all you need.
(Remember though that with enough inputs, a DAC could also take other sources such as TV sound, if desired).
Thanks for your advice. My system is used purely for listening to CDs and no plans to change there but interesting to note your experience with the DAC with the Philips Player (My machine is also 1998 vintage). I have to admit, I wondered if 20-years had resulted in any 'across the board' improvement in DACs (whether external or onboard), as with anything Hi Fi related and taking preferences into account it's not that cut and dried!

I am now (thanks to the advice here) swaying to a headphone amp in the first instance on the basis that won't be redundant if and when a DAC or new player is added to the mix.

I'd appreciate anyone's input on Heaphone amps - i.e. are they generally transparent in the chain, and would connecting direct to player or via amp output not matter too much?

As for a standalone DAC this seems a bit more of a consideration for me: while I've no reason to suppose my player will pack up anytime soon, if it did I'd be looking for a new machine at that point: theoretically then would be the better time to choose a decent sounding player - but - this leads me on to another question....

What would be best : Spend a bit more on a CD Player, or go for cheap and cheerful and add a DAC?
 

Gray

Well-known member
I am now (thanks to the advice here) swaying to a headphone amp in the first instance on the basis that won't be redundant if and when a DAC or new player is added to the mix.
Best decision. As a headphone listener the amp will always be useful.
As for choosing how to feed it, you're effectively doing the same thing whether connecting to CDP or tape out from amp. There's a bit more signal switching in the chain when using the tape out from the amp - so direct out from the CDP is the purest option.
In fact, if you never use any sources other than CD, all your PMA250 would be doing would be occasionally? powering speakers.
But taking h/p amp input from PMA250 tape out, gives you the option of playing any future input selection via the h/p amp.

And yes, a good h/p amp is completely transparent, with frequency response as flat as a pancake, virtually immeasurable (and certainly inaudible) noise and plenty of power to drive any headphones. They can also act as a decent preamp when the headphones are removed - meaning that they can feed power amps (or powered / active speakers) via their line outputs.
 
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Tinman1952

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Best decision. As a headphone listener the amp will always be useful.
As for choosing how to feed it, you're effectively doing the same thing whether connecting to CDP or tape out from amp. There's a bit more signal switching in the chain when using the tape out from the amp - so direct out from the CDP is the purest option.
In fact, if you never use any sources other than CD, all your PMA250 would be doing would be occasionally? powering speakers.
But taking h/p amp input from PMA250 tape out, gives you the option of playing any future input selection via the h/p amp.

And yes, a good h/p amp is completely transparent, with frequency response as flat as a pancake, virtually immeasurable (and certainly inaudible) noise and plenty of power to drive any headphones. They can also act as a decent preamp when the headphones are removed - meaning that they can feed power amps (or powered / active speakers) via their line outputs.
Agree with Gray a good headphone amp will surprise you and your Grado's will thank you too! The usual choices are Topping A50s , Topping L30 (or the latest L50...) iFi Zen Can. I would add to this the Xduoo MT602 which I just bought new for £83! Excellent build and a 'hybrid' amp with a valve pre amp stage and a class A solid state amp stage. Very powerful and sounds really excellent. 👍
 
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jembers

Active member
Dec 4, 2021
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Best decision. As a headphone listener the amp will always be useful.
As for choosing how to feed it, you're effectively doing the same thing whether connecting to CDP or tape out from amp. There's a bit more signal switching in the chain when using the tape out from the amp - so direct out from the CDP is the purest option.
In fact, if you never use any sources other than CD, all your PMA250 would be doing would be occasionally? powering speakers.
But taking h/p amp input from PMA250 tape out, gives you the option of playing any future input selection via the h/p amp.

And yes, a good h/p amp is completely transparent, with frequency response as flat as a pancake, virtually immeasurable (and certainly inaudible) noise and plenty of power to drive any headphones. They can also act as a decent preamp when the headphones are removed - meaning that they can feed power amps (or powered / active speakers) via their line outputs.
Thanks all. Now to a bit of study on what's what! I would not have considered this approach!
 
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jembers

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Dec 4, 2021
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Well....
I took the plunge with an iFi Zen Can after some deliberation.....

Wow!

Compared to the PMA250SE the sound is cleaner, revealing things to me even after so long listening to music: while the Amp (Listening with Source direct in) does have a bit more low end to it, the Zen Can wins on clarity.

I've not thoroughly tested the Zen Can yet; currently using the lowest gain setting (I find using 6db of gain brings the mids out more); and I've only superficially played with the xBass and 3D option; initial impressions are the Xbass doesn't overpower anything and is 'clean'; the 3D option does give some space to the vocal and treble but I'm not sure (for my listening) I would use it too much (but there is time to experiment)

Verdict so far? A Big THANKS to all for the advice - I wish I'd thought about this sooner. I would certainly say the Zen Can is a worthy (and relatively inexpensive) upgrade in sound - a route I would not have considered!
 
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Tinman1952

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Well....
I took the plunge with an iFi Zen Can after some deliberation.....

Wow!

Compared to the PMA250SE the sound is cleaner, revealing things to me even after so long listening to music: while the Amp (Listening with Source direct in) does have a bit more low end to it, the Zen Can wins on clarity.

I've not thoroughly tested the Zen Can yet; currently using the lowest gain setting (I find using 6db of gain brings the mids out more); and I've only superficially played with the xBass and 3D option; initial impressions are the Xbass doesn't overpower anything and is 'clean'; the 3D option does give some space to the vocal and treble but I'm not sure (for my listening) I would use it too much (but there is time to experiment)

Verdict so far? A Big THANKS to all for the advice - I wish I'd thought about this sooner. I would certainly say the Zen Can is a worthy (and relatively inexpensive) upgrade in sound - a route I would not have considered!
Glad you are enjoying your Zen Can! I find the Xbass (or Trubass as it is called on the Zen Dac) is very music dependent. So not needed for contemporary music (pop, r&b, dance etc) but very useful for classical, jazz or acoustic. 👍
 
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jembers

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Glad you are enjoying your Zen Can! I find the Xbass (or Trubass as it is called on the Zen Dac) is very music dependent. So not needed for contemporary music (pop, r&b, dance etc) but very useful for classical, jazz or acoustic. 👍
Cheers :)
I would agree with the XBass thus far. What I find interesting with the Zen Can at the moment (as I am madly listening to as much as possible) is that the clarity it gives actually gives more punch to bass (depending on the track) even if overall the sound seems less weighty to begin with.

Also, the Zen Can appears to be absolutely ruthless with poor source material.....
 
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jembers

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....Which means it's doing its job well.
I'd take that over any compromise to the better recordings any day.
Too Right! Really it's confirming what I already knew; I have to say I am amazed just what it is doing! Don't honestly think I've ever purchased a bit of equipment that has had such a profound effect (except perhaps going to CD)
 
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