Is it really still worth spending several thousand dollars on a dedicated CD spinner?

Can you really justify spending $3000 or more on a CD player these days? Given the improvement in performance of mid-price players of late, you might think CD has a price ceiling. But, given that there has been a similarly marked improvement on high-end players in the last couple of years, the more pricey CD spinners still have some mileage left.

While there are some fine mid-range bargains to be had, you can still get better performance by digging a little deeper into the wallet. Read more about the kinds of improvement you can expect in the following pages – and don’t forget to listen for yourself at your local friendly dealer!

Arcam FMJ cd36

$3698 | CD PLAYER |  | www.absoluteaudiovision.com.au 

Arcam’s top CD player, the FMJ CD36, is a thoroughly well-made machine. It is also a pleasant machine to use, with reasonably slick disc handling and an informative CD text display. We feel compelled to issue a mild complaint about mechanical noise, though it seemed less on the new sample than last time round. On a more positive note, we like the lateral thinking shown by the inclusion of two sets of outputs, plus connections for external remote control: this makes it possible to fit the one player effortlessly into a main and a multiroom system.

Among those positives of this player, nothing stands out more than clarity. This player has a particularly close grip on the little things that make a musical performance distinctive, and can present them in an unambiguous manner. As a result it offers crisp percussion, clear definition of vocal enunciation, a real sense of individual horse-hairs on violin strings and an unusually distinct feeling of real fingers pushing down each key on a piano.

Tonality, by contrast, is not a real standout, and neither is bass. Treble was a touch hard at times. Dynamics were full but not exaggerated, well controlled and generally most realistic. Timing was felt good and likewise its relatives ‘swing’ and ‘bop’, as was imaging.

So why the mild lack of enthusiasm? One can only surmise that the player’s strongest virtue, self-effacement, ultimately counted against it by making it less memorable. So ask yourself which you want – character or honesty? If it’s the latter, this looks like a strong contender.

Copland CDA823

$4800 | CD PLAYER | | www.advanceaudio.com.au

The CDA823 is an update of a long-standing previous model, the CDA822, doubling the degree of oversampling. The analogue stages are apparently the same as in the CDA822, which is fine by us as we always thought it to be a very capable machine.

The CDA823 matches the Copland ‘house style’ of an essentially mellow sound. Mellow, however, should not be taken to mean lazy or any other unfortunate implication, and in fact this was thought one of the most rhythmically alert of the players. It achieves that in the best possible way, reacting to rhythm and dynamics with alacrity but not attempting to impose them when they don’t apply, nor promote them when they should be secondary. Just occasionally this can be unsettling, especially if you are used to a very fast-paced sound, but a little experimentation with recordings soon shows that this Copland tells it like it is and if a recording is slack, that’s what you’ll hear.

Tonally, there seems to be the very subtlest hint of coloration. This shows up most clearly by projecting vocals a fraction forward of the rest of the mix. Because this coloration is in the lower harmonic ranges of the voice, though, it doesn’t lead to listener fatigue. In fact, the very highest reaches of the treble are where the mellowness is best illustrated: extreme high frequencies are not actually cut back but are so effortlessly presented that one is positively encouraged to listen for long periods at a stretch. Bass is what it should be on CD – seemingly limitless and neatly controlled, without stifling resonance.

This is not the most overtly detailed-sounding CD player reviewed, but it is certainly one of the most enjoyably musical. Its performance is full, fluid and free-breathing, and overall it comes highly recommended.

Naim  CD5x

$4398 | CD PLAYER | | www.naim-audio.com

Ever the individualist, Naim has ensured an immediate impression is made by the way this player loads discs. No buttons to press here: instead there’s a little handle which one pulls, whereupon the loading tray swings out on a pivot. The only disadvantage is the removable puck, which one must remember to put in place by hand. Meanwhile, the minimalist front panel features only four buttons and a very simple display, plus a softly illuminated Naim logo. It’s all very classy stuff.

The overall impression this player made was clearly favourable. Interestingly, given Naim’s reputation for timing, we didn’t feel this was a standout feature with the CD5x.

What does stand out from our listeners’ notes is the almost complete lack of criticism you can offer for the player. There was some slight glassiness in a couple of tracks, but overall, having no one aspect of performance that jumps out, in a positive or negative sense, is a good line to take for long-term enjoyment. It has a nicely rounded tonality from top to bottom, a good sense of space with well-defined and stable instrumental positions within an image, good attack and plenty of verve.

Performance seems well balanced across music types, with rock appropriately energetic and classical suitably detailed and subtle. With a confident handling of wide dynamic ranges and clearly delineated insights into the most complex musical score, this player seems to have a most pleasing mix of virtues and very few vices. It’s a cracking choice for any system, Naim-based or not.

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