Swimming around in my sea of ever-expanding likes, the CD transport hunts with the big fish.
Which is to say I like a CD transport much better than a CD player, the same way I like my phono stage separate from my turntable. While spinning records and discs isn’t rocket science, getting it right from an electro-mechanical perspective in order to send a music signal for further processing in pure, pristine, and seemingly untouched form goes beyond mere rotation.
I first became aware of Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 CD Transport from Mike Trei’s excellent review in Stereophile, which you owe it to yourself to read. When the offer to review the very sample from Mike’s review came across the wires, my response in the affirmative was returned before the bits had a chance to rest.
As you can plainly see, the CDT3 is built from solid chunks of aluminum adding up, along with what’s inside, to a whopping 48+ pounds of transport. The top loading CD tray is covered by another nice slice of aluminum and it slides with silky solid assurance, neither too loose nor too tight. I also prefer a top-loader over a slot or disc tray, the latter always struck me as too much energy and moving parts expended for show. Besides, a top loader reminds me of playing records, which is never a bad thing. A carbon-fiber disc clamp is included that sits on top of your CD when it’s playing.
Inside, the CDT3-MK3 relies on a Philips CDPRO2 LF CD drive, tuned by Jay’s Audio chief, Jay Ho, which are no longer made but Jay’s reports having plenty of stock on hand, Jay stock piled hundred of CDPRO2 LF, along with a host of goodies including Talema encapsulated transformers, a Multistage Super Regulator with boutique grade caps, and Scientific Digital output isolation transformers. A low noise, low phase noise, low jitter, ultra precision Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillator re-times the bits before they go out over I<sup22 (HDMI, RJ45), S/PDIF (Coax, BNC), and/or AES. I say and/or because you can feed multiple external DACs simultaneously. A pair of RCAs accommodate the use of an external word clock (10MHz), and a tiny toggle switch marked “UpS.” for engaging/disengaging the internal 4x upsampler. Remember, we’re talking about a CD transport so it’s 16-bit/44.1kHz in native form.
The CDT3’s front panel offers a nicely-sized display, power button, and five playback function buttons. The included remote is nearly tactical due to its own aluminum heft and offers these same controls and more. The CDT3 sits on three Soundcare Superspikes footers (from SEAS) and all told this is one hulking aluminum fortress of a CD transport that leaves no doubt your beloved silver discs are safe inside.
I recently had the pleasure of reviewing two CD players—the Technics SL-G700M2 Network/SACD Player that adds streaming functionality (review), and the Ayre CX-8 (review) that also offers an optional streaming board. Think multi-function. But I haven’t reviewed a CD transport, sans DAC, since 2021 when I got to spend Barn time with the PS Audio PerfectWave SACD Transport (review), which impressed me “as good a music source as I’ve heard in barn.”, and the Cambridge Audio CXC CD Transport (review). Seeing as more than 2 years have passed, there’s no way I can make any comparisons between these transports and the Jay’s CDT3. When writing about the nitty gritty of sound and comparisons, time is not on our side. That being said, I’ve spent time spinning CDs then and now so my impressions of the CDT3 are not formed from a void.
Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake’s The Newest Sound Around got to play in my Ayre CX-8 review but I’ve never heard it sound as complete, so perfectly captured and rendered in Barn, as through the Jay’s CDT3 feeding the Grimm Audio MU1 (more info) over a length of AudioQuest Coffee Coax cable, which in turn fed the Barn resident Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC (review) with the Grimm’s 4x oversampling engaged, out and into the review Soulution 330 integrated (more info) driving the Rockport Atria II (more info). As you might expect, this is one highly resolving system, as resolving as I’ve heard in Barn, so I am certain that the Jay’s CDT3 is one superb CD transport because it fit right in.
With the Grimm MU1 in the system, streaming or serving from internally stored files has never sounded better in Barn, but still CDs spun on the CDT3 had a bit more clarity, a touch more untouched quality as if silence was even more silent compared to files. It’s my experience that reducing or seemingly eliminating noise from digital playback is not only subtractive, it’s the additive qualities that mean even more when it comes to connecting to music. The most obvious improvements make things sound more like they sound in real life, from Ran Blake’s piano and every last drop of sound it sends out into space to fade, to Jeanne Lee’s full range of voice and emotion, which is about as full as you’ll experience. I know the music contained on this CD really well, years of listening well, and I’ve never felt as close, as completely connected, as I did through this stunning system.
When Blixa Bargeld, strings, and the jangle of distant bells introduce the first and title track from Einstürzende Neubauten’s 1999 EP Total Eclipse of the Sun, which acts as a kind of prequel to 2000’s LP Silence Is Sexy, I felt as if I could tell how much Blixa weighed and which of his many haircuts he was donning during the recording. I’m talking about supreme resolution, but the kind that resolves only pure music information against pure, sexy silence. While I was joking about the hair, Bargeld’s vocals were portrayed which such weighty presence, there was certainly a sense of his physical dimensional form present in the Barn. Alexander Hacke’s electric bass was also fully reproduced with exceptional tone, weight, texture, and force while the various and sundry percussive noises, N.U. Unruh is credited ‘playing’ jet turbine, this lovely slowly menacing music filled the Barn and my senses with kissable tactile goodness. Stunning.
Removing the Grimm MU1 from the system, running directly from the CDT3 into the Mola Mola Tambaqui with a length of AudioQust Diamond AES cable, I noted some sonic changes to the system mostly in terms of a loss of resolution and nuance, but I’ll cover this in greater detail in upcoming the Grimm review. I will note that if you’re building a CD-playing system and are looking for supremely good performance, the Grimm MU1/CDT 3 gets you there.
Shaking system context up, I moved the CDT3 to the Barn’s B-Side where it was joined by the Auralic ARIES G1.1 (review), used for streaming so not in the loop when the CDT3 was in use, and the totaldac d1-unity (review) feeding the review sample Audia Flight FL Three S integrated amp (more info) driving the DeVore Fidelity O/96 (review), all powered by an AudioQuest PowerQuest 707, with the components sitting on a Box Furniture Modular rack, wired with AudioQuest cables.
I started where I left off, with Blixa & Co. tearing things up and the CDT3’s superb transparency showed up in this system context as well. I’ve said if before but it’s worth repeating, Einstürzende Neubauten care about sound quality and Total Eclipse of the Sun is no exception, presenting this at times raucous music fully formed in stunning detail. I know the totaldac’s sound inside and out (and sideways), having paired it with lots of gear from either side, in and out, and the Jay’s CDT 3 certainly brought out its best. Totaldac’s, every one I’ve heard and I’ve heard a bunch, excel at texture, tone, and resolution without ever sounding artificial or enhanced, and with the CDT3 these strengths played out to their fullest. Nice.
Joshua Abrams 2012 release Represencing offers another, albeit different, vast sound world with a stellar cast of a dozen musicians joining Abrams who plays guimbri, a three stringed goat skin-covered bass as a foundational element.
It was here, in this system context, that I gave the CDt3’s 4x upsampler a spin and I preferred going native with the totaldac d1-unity as the 172.4kHz upsampled data/music sounded a bit too uptight for my taste, giving everything an artificial sounding edge. That said, this is completely DAC-dependant so your DAC and results may vary. The good news is it’s a switch and completely up to you whether to engage or not.
Back to running native 44.1kHz, Represencing is an entrancing record, meditative and wonderfully complex both rhythmically and timbrally, and this system delivered the goods in rich, full flavor. While in no way an apples to apples comparison, this same album played back from a ripped copy through the Auralic ARIES G1.1 into the totaldac via USB sounded just as good, with no appreciable differences worth noting.
I thought I’d check in with a familiar voice and an oldie but goodie from 1986, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Your Funeral… My Trial. Once again going native (resolution), Nick & Co., featuring Blixa (that Blixa) on guitar, “Stranger Than Kindness” was all creepy carny goodness. You may remember a few tracks from this record, like “From Her to Eternity”, as featured in Wim Wenders wonderfully touching film Wings of Desire, and I could see the Bad Seeds performing in that smoky black and white Berlin bar in Barn. Nice.
For another curve-ball non-apples-to-apples comparison, I streamed this same record via Qobuz, going through the ARIES G1.1 into the totaldac via USB, and the streamed version sounded notably more diffuse, as if someone turned the lens giving everything a softer and less distinct focus. I will share that USB is among my least favorite digital connections and I much prefer AES, especially with the totaldac, so the CDT3 also had the AES connectivity advantage. If the CDT3 had a USB out I’d have reversed connectivity but it doesn’t so I didn’t. With that in mind and by comparison, the CD spinning on the CDT3 offered a tighter, more resolved, and richer sound that made falling under the spell of Your Funeral… as easy as listening.
To my mind, and in my experience, the Jay’s CDT3-MK3 CD Transport, especially when paired with the Grimm MU1, was more than up to the task of playing in a system that delivered some of the highest level of sound quality I’ve experienced in Barn. When part of a less expensive yet very compelling system, the CDT3 feeding the totaldac d1-unity offered the kind of reproduction that leaves the gear behind placing me in the presence of the music being made. In either context, I can think of no higher praise.
- Jay’s Audio Tuned CDPRO2-LF Mechanism
- Schurter IEC Inlet
- Improved Noise Filter with 110v/230v switching
- Talema Encapsulated Transformers
- Multistage Super Regulator with Boutique Grade Caps
- Neutrik XLR
- Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillator OCXO
- i2s LVDS Output
- Scientific Digital Output Isolation Transformer
- Native/Upsampling 44.1kHz / 176.4kHz Configurable via Toggle Switch
Redbook CD, CDR, CDR/W only**
* The dimmeable display may turn on where there is a signal to trigger it to turn on; the signal can be a remote control signal, or an internal CDM4/19 processor signal. It is normal and shall not be viewed as a defect.
** Redbook CD transport only. Doesn’t support HDCD/SACD/DSD
Digital Output: COAX (RCA/BNC) 2v @ 75ohm ; AES/EBU 5V @110ohm
I2S Output: HDMI i2s LVDS, RJ45 i2s LVCMOS
Sampling Rate: 44.1kHz, 176.4kHz
Clock-Output: 10MHz / 5 V p-p / 50 Ω
Clock-Input: 10MHz / 0.3 – 5 V p-p / 50 to 75 Ω
AC Power: 110V/230V, 50-60Hz
Dimension: 450mm x 380mm x 150mm
Warranty: 12 months