CD Replay: A Preface

According to various customs laws, an antique is a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object that’s at least 100 years old. Out in the real world, an antique is anything that’s perceived to be old. For some, I’m an antique.

The Compact Disc (CD), which was co-developed by Philips and Sony, was released in 1983 as the Digital Audio Compact Disc. Music consumers were promised Prefect Sound Forever.

The thing was, early CD replay wasn’t anywhere near perfect, whatever that might mean when it comes to the reproduction of music, and was often plagued by lousy sound quality. Sure, the CD has lots of pluses on its side, but for those who listened with our ears, 1980s-era CD playback suffered from digitalness to a near unlistenable degree.

From an AudioStream article titled What are Digital Filters and Why Are They Required In Today’s Audio DACS? by Resonessence Labs Technical Staff (c.2012):

In mathematical terms it works like this: the reconstruction filter is needed when any digitally sampled signal is rendered back into the analog world. That is, when it again tries to make a continuous signal that we can amplify and listen to. The problem is very tough because of what Phillips and Sony did: they wanted a commercial success, and sampled at the low rate of 44.1Ks/s and so gave rise to this need for a very good analog filter. Had they chosen say 200Ks/s as the standard, the analog filter would be simple, it would be just a resistor and a capacitor and you cannot get better or lower cost than that.

They could get away with this because absent that good analog filter, it still sounds OK, because they are correct when they say that the human ear primarily responds to only 20Khz maximum. But the audiophiles know better, and were not too slow to listen to CDs and find ‘something not right’ – largely fixable if you paid for the excellent analog filter (and fabulous low-jitter clock) to do a technically excellent job and justify the high end, high cost, remarkable, CD players.

Enough time has passed for two important things to have occurred; good sounding digital replay no longer has to sound digital or cost a lot, and we can be nostalgic about CDs.

The word on the street is today’s CD replay sounds better than streaming. I’ve been hearing this claim for years, for about as long as lossless streaming became a thing with WiMP, which was launched in Norway in 2010 and introduced to the US, UK, and Canada as Tidal in 2014.

my system c.2005

I haven’t owned a CD player for at least 15 years, other than an original Sony PlayStation (SCPH-1001) that’s been in storage for many years (which means I have no idea where it is). The last disc spinner I owned prior to the PlayStation was an Audio Aero Capitole MKII. It has been a while.

For the bulk of the time that has passed since, I’ve been listening to records, files ripped from CDs or purchased downloads, and streaming. Records represented a respite from my day job digital-only focus as Editor of AudioStream, 2011 – 2018, while files and streaming took up the majority of my listening time. Which gets us to today.

Here I sit with two CD transports in-Barn; the Cambridge Audio CXC and PS Audio PerfectWave. Listening has begun, beginning with the Cambridge CXC, which will be the first transport review to see the light of day in the not too distant future. One thing I like about going the transport route is, if you’re like me, you already stream and file serve so you have a DAC you like (ideally) and if that DAC has open inputs, just add transport.

Getting back to the word on the street, CD replay sounds better than streaming, I admit to having an attitude about this claim early on, and this attitude is nicely represented by a favorite scene from Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break (c.1991):

Roach: [about surfing] There’s nothing as exhilarating, man. Not even sex.
Tyler: Maybe you’re not doing it right, Roach.

Yea, I’m suggesting that part of me was thinking that some people may prefer the sound of CD playback over streaming because they’re not doing it right. Guilty as charged. USB out of a laptop into a DAC does not the best streaming scenario make.

CD replay is also a hard sell when we consider streaming provides access to millions of CD-quality albums for less than $20 a month. Of course this same millions-to-one argument can be made against listening to records, but the LP counter punch has had more time to train, being more mature than the compact disc, and with more time comes more nostalgia. I grew up listening to records, sniffle, and records don’t sound digital. But that’s another story.

Then there’s the “I’d rather own than rent” argument. Here’s my response — remember radio? To my mind, and interests, streaming is the best music discovery platform known to man. Physical media is great when we already know what we want.

luckily, I kept a bunch of my antiques

There’s nothing like experience when it comes to putting us in our place, so one of my interests in reviewing CD transports is to see, um hear, what all of the fuss is about.

Stay tuned.