NAD T 572 5-Disc DVD/CD Changer
Despite being out of production, the NAD T 572 (and it's nearly-identical younger sibling, the T 571) is perhaps the only production changer that can truly be considered an audiophile-grade source. Sporting dual 24/96k Burr Brown DACs and both optical and coaxial outputs, it comes ready to be integrated into any high-end system short of a balanced rig. The T 572 sports NAD's trademark minimalist, function-over-form design and a smooth sliding tray that combines to give it the feel of equipment designed to perform as it should..
The sound quality for either movies or music is excellent. A 3D space and the imaging within it are well-represented by speaker systems capable of producing such an effect, and most headphones will showcase their full headstage capabilities with the NAD as a source and a decent amplifier. The signal is clean, quiet, and respectably detailed, with a balanced sound tilted slightly towards warmth, but without significant bass emphasis. As a whole, the NAD is an easy recommendation for any audiophile looking for an easy solution to constant CD swapping, as it outperforms its only competitors from Denon and Onkyo in both solidity of build and overall sound quality.
Easily the best quality CD changer currently in production, the DCM390 earns its price, delivering the build and sound quality enthusiasts have come to expect from the Japanese firm. While it lacks the premium feel and heft of the NAD, the DCM390 is still built well, and has the ability to stand the test of time, if properly cared for. It has both coaxial and optical outputs for those with more advanced systems who are picky about connections, and while it lacks SACD capabilities that hardcore audiophiles demand, it will play high-capacity MP3 CDs, meaning that those who aren't obsessive about hearing every last detail in the music can store up to over 100 hours of tunes in its 5-disc carousel. Fans of the Denon house sound will immediately recognize the warm, rich, melodic tone common to nearly all Denon products; some, especially analytical listeners, may prefer the more neutral tones of the NAD or Onkyo changers. Bass lovers, however, should be quite pleased with the Denon's rich sound signature, which combines with a wide sonic image to create a very impressive, involving sound. Its an easy source to love, and even easier to recommend to anyone looking for a convenient source to round out a home speaker system.
Onkyo's brand name speaks for itself amongst audiophiles and gear heads, and while they are better known for their receivers, this changer does what it does very well, especially for the price it can be had at these days. For under $200, there is really no competition; even shoppers originally in search of a single-disc player will find that the DXC390 can compete with its low-capacity cousins in the same price range in terms of sound quality and user-friendliness. It delivers a clean, neutral signal without any severe coloration, and should pair well with nearly any system short of summit-fi speakers and headphones, so long as ultimate detail is not am expectation. It will also allow the remaining five CDs to be changed while one is playing, an oft-neglected convenience. The only real drawback to the DXC390 is its size: while its 17-inch width is relatively standard, it is also 18 inches deep, noticeably larger than 5-disc carousels. It also comes in at nearly 6 inches tall, also noticeably larger than most CD players or changers, so be ready to modify your system if necessary. This one caveat aside, the DXC390 is a solid, reliable unit that produces excellent sound for the price.
The DVP CX777ES is definitely a stand-out product, even before its sound comes into the picture. While 100-200 disc CD changers have ceased to be a novelty since the late '90s, Sony stands alone as the only company willing to build a 300 and 400 disc changers, and among these, the CX777 easily delivers the best sound quality. Anyone with a massive CD collection who wants nothing so much as to avoid the hassle of jewel cases being broken and paper inserts getting lost or torn should give Sony's flagship high-capacity changer a shot: while niche products typically leave sound quality by the wayside in favor of functionality and (unintentionally) complicated interfaces, the CX777 delivers a clean, neutral sound that lacks a little bass, but overall sounds more than acceptable. The sonic image is not the widest, nor the deepest, but transients are respectable and while the sound can be a touch thin for bookshelf speakers alone, adding in a subwoofer fills out the lows and yields a surprisingly musical and detailed sound. It can sound a bit bright at times; if you have any other bright components in your chain, steer clear. Despite offering SACD capability, it will never compete with the offerings from NAD, Denon, and Onkyo no matter what system it sources, but for what it is, the CX777 delivers respectable sound and assures that listeners need not fuss over changing discs beyond the press of a button.
Though better known for their high-end kit, TEAC's D2610 is as good an option as any if absolute fidelity is not a concern. It's an especially attractive unit, and produces good quality sound, though not in the same league as changers from Denon or NAD, and is bested by the Onkyo DXC390 as well, though not by as much. It has a neutral to warm tone with a shade of extra bass, and delivers a fairly standard presentation. Treble is not as exciting as it can be on the higher-end players in this list, and while it has a fuller sound than the CX777ES, it doesn't quite match it's levels of detail. However when push comes to shove, for a player that can be bought for a single bill, the PD2610 has nothing to be ashamed of, and I have to say, it looks cooler than anything else on the list!
MSB Technology Platinum Data CD IV CD Transport
While available on its own, the Platinum IV Transport is designed to work best in cahoots with it's $20,000+ (depending on the desired features) counterpart, the Diamond DAC IV, making this combo easily the most expensive non-custom CD player available to my knowledge. The sound quality they deliver is, like the price, incomparable. Never have seasoned audiophiles raved quite so insistently that a digital source is capable of matching the fullness and natural sound of analog audio. With both the sound and measurements to back it up, the Diamond and Platinum IV combine to form what is likely the best sound reproduction from any digital source available today.
The duo from MSB reproduces audio for either headphones or speakers in a way that no other CD player can match. Jitter-free audio is considered to be a myth by some, but where measurements are concerned, the combo from MSB comes closer than any other digital source to reducing the lowest distortion humanly possible. Between offering an extremely spacious, life-like presentation, and the 32-bit / 384khz upsampling, the Platinum and Diamond together offer a level of spacial realism and nuanced dynamics that has no equal in digital audio, and can only be compared to high-quality turntables.
Keep in mind that this is a truly summit-fi CD player; any music not mastered with the highest attention to detail may sound artificial or disappointing through this reference-grade player. While the Platinum IV can upsample music, best results are achieved using music that is well-produced. If you listen to mostly modern recordings, or your music is not all of the highest quality format, you may want to consider saving your money and opting for one of the more traditional audiophile CD players below.
Rotel RCD-1570 CD Player
Catering to audiophile and casual listener alike, Rotel's RCD-1570 produces a sound that is fun and involving, but also refined and superbly detailed. Utilizing the Wolfson WM8740 DAC, an industry standard once priced at a point only applicable for professional use, the RCD-1570 plays back in up to 24 bits; this might not look as impressive as the numbers from MSB or Cambridges systems on paper, but I believe the vast majority of shoppers looking for a top-notch CD player for a versatile home system will definitely prefer the sound of this Rotel; the aforementioned 32-bit upsampling offerings are geared solely towards professionals and pure-blooded audiophiles looking for accuracy that takes a highly trained ear and very focused listening to discern.
Listeners using anything less than the finest speakers and headphones to listen to recordings that are not of the very best quality will perhaps find that such systems make lesser-quality music sound less desirable. The RCD-1570, on the other hand, has a warm, fun sound that will captivate the average music lover at first listen, yet unlike so many consumer-oriented systems voiced for bass-heavy music, the Rotel never falls prey to sounding muddy or overly warm, and is extremely musical for a system that can produce so much punch; there is no air lacking in its presentation, and it still reveals impressive amounts of detail, even at its price point. The RCD-1570 also features dual-XLR outputs for those using balanced systems; a nice inclusion that demonstrates Rotels attention to budding trends in audiophilia and their sincere desire to cater to their customers.
Overall the RCD-1570 is the most universal and by far the easiest product listed here to recommend: it is as detailed as any but the pickiest listeners could desire, sports a balanced sound signature that sounds great with any kind of music, and has a just smidge of extra bass; whether its pumping out 808 signals to a huge subwoofer, or giving a nice full vibrato to cellos and extra bloom to the timpani streaming through Sennheiser HD800s, it sounds amazing, and is certain to please anyone without a specific preference for a leaner sound.
The 851C stands at the top of Cambridge's CD player/DAC lineup, offering the versatility of a standalone DAC with the convenience of an all-in-one unit. It's solidly-built aluminum chassis inspires confidence and makes it feel like a truly premium product. Unlike it's predecessor, the 840C, the new flagship includes a pre-amp to give your system a bit more juice to help your headphones or speakers reach that last level of refinement.
The 851C is not for lovers of a warm sound; those expecting a lively, fun sound would be better served by Rotel's latest, while lovers of a more relaxing, private sound may prefer the newest offering from Marantz.
Anyone in search of ultimate detail, on the other hand, could hardly be disappointed by Cambridge's new flagship. Perfect for critical listening, the 851C sports a sound signature that, despite not having the largest dynamic range or bass impact, reproduces high quality recordings with precision accuracy and a lean sound perfectly suited for analytical listening and professional applications - have no doubt, this is a mastering-grade source and can be put to work as such without worries of missing a single detail.
Sporting the well-known Marantz house sound, the new SA8004 delivers an improved version of the same smooth, relaxing signature that the fist top-shelf CD player known to the world, the Marantz CD-63, used to captivate the attention of audiophiles who had never heard any music source even begin to approach the quality of vinyl. CDs have since become known as the second most authentic method of reproducing recorded music, after vinyl, of course, and are perhaps the most popular source material for modern audiophiles.
Unlike most of the products mentioned here, the SA8004 is not the flagship model in Marantzs lineup; while a $1,000 for a CD player might seem like its already too much for a CD player to some, Marantz has models running all the way up to $4000 MSRP. The SA8004, however, represents the sweet-spot in Marantzs lineup for music lovers seeking quality sound without breaking the bank, and despite its $999 MSRP, the SA8004 can easily be had for less than $700 on ebay or through online dealers, making it perhaps the best bang-for-buck offering listed here. Its warm, easy-going sound is less dynamic and fun than the RCD-1570, and not as spacious or detailed as the Cambridge, but lovers of a smooth, relaxing signature will be very pleased with the SA8004. For the headphone lovers out there, Marantz products, with their warmer sound, tend to compliment brighter, less bassy headphones like those from Grado and AKG. On balance, though, the SA8004 is a stellar all-around player and has an easy-to-like sound that is not extremely picky about source material, and will sound great with most systems.
NAD C 516BEE CD Player
The NAD C 516BEE does full justice to the audiophile-trusted NAD brand name, and delivers the same great sound enthusiasts have trusted for decades. While it is nowhere near as feature-rich as the other players listed here, and doesn't play on the same field sound-wise, it's a great choice for any first serious home system. NAD's no-frills design betrays the well-known compromise of function over form, another of NAD's brand trademarks: the simple black metal casing and minimalist interface belie the 516's sophisticated sound. With a balanced and punchy signature, this NAD delivers an easy-to-like sound that will disappoint neither consumer nor audiophile, but it possesses one remarkable feature in particular that sets it apart from other players in the range: its sonic image. The soundstage presented by the 516 is big enough to handily best others in its price range, both in size and accuracy, and the stereo imaging is phenomenal. Depth and width are both exceptional, not just for the price, but in general; this NAD will push all but the very finest headphones to the limits of their soundstage performance, and will do justice to very high quality speakers, as well. If you are looking for a true audiophile CD player on a budget, this is your best pick.