First Listen: Audio Research CD5 Compact Disc Player

Disc players
Audio Research CD5
First Listen: Audio Research CD5 Compact Disc Player

It may seem odd to many of you that at this particular moment in the high end  when media servers and other hard-drive/solid state drive components are hogging most of the attention that I should get as excited as I am over a CD player but that’s exactly what happened. May be I’m just slow to come around but I still enjoy the simple ritual of placing a disc in a transport.  the irony is that at this moment I’m finding myself feeling the exactly same way I did when the compact disc was anointed the replacement for the turntable.

Fact is, the Audio Research CD5 maybe the most analog-like performing CD player (no SACD) that I’ve been able to spend time with. And this is a solid-state machine-no tubes whatsoever. I’m hearing a more effortless, fuller performance where music doesn’t seem as dessicated and divided. The warmth of harmonics stirring the air in an acoustic venue is somehow more than just a passing inference. It’s there in the space that every vocalist or instrumentalist is immersed in. It’s there in the physical dimensions of players and singers. The detail and information are all present but my ear doesn’t single them out in such cold terms. Rather, it integrates everything into a musical whole first and second, permits me to listen deeper into the recorded work.

It’s an odd thing that happens when I listen to most Redbook PCM, the music never sounds entirely settled. There’s something about its presentation that simply doesn’t transport me. Sonically there’s a picture in front of me, one that is outlined, even colored in and detailed for the most part but not entirely completed. You can see the intent of the artist but not feel the full emotional weight of the artist’s vision. Something is left unexpressed.

Posted on the Audio Research website is this general description;  “The CD5 relies on the substantial Philips PRO2M laser mechanism mounted to a machined aluminum I-beam with Audio Research's proprietary mounting system and damping for ultralow mechanical jitter. The I-beam, in turn, is bolted to a heavy, machined aluminum plate for maximum rigidity. New high-performance circuit board material and an all-new FET direct-coupled analog output stage with beefy regulated supplies yield better performance that's measurable: channel separation is improved from 92 dB to 120 dB, and S/N ratio is improved from 90 dB to 114 dB. The CD5 is even "greener," drawing just 14 watts at idle compared to 26 watts for its predecessor. Analog outputs include balanced XLR and single-ended RCA. Digital outputs include AES-EBU/XLR and coax/BNC. The line cord is detachable with a 15-amp connector.”

What this description didn’t prepare me for was just how good the darn thing could sound. The “magic” for me is probably occurring mostly at the harmonic level­–that is, the upper octave information that is most audibly affected by phase errors and jitter.  The CD5 doesn’t have the balled-fist tightness and constriction that digital so commonly possesses in the treble. the CD5 is harmonically enriched and open.  It seems to even close the energy gap in the areas of dynamics and transparency-regions where SACD often dominates.  Finally, what it’s causing me to do is start spinning discs that I’d either been disappointed in or simply gave up on in disgust –just like in the vinyl days when I’d install a new cartridge. Don’t know if or when I’ll be formally reviewing the CD5 but I’m going to keep spinning discs until I can nail down just what makes this machine so special. Price: $5995.