Blind Shoot-out in San Diego -- 5 CD Players

On Saturday, February 24, a few members of the San Diego, Los Angeles and Palm Springs audio communities conducted a blind shoot-out at the home of one of the members of the San Diego Music and Audio Guild. The five CD Players selected for evaluation were: 1) a Resolution Audio Opus 21 (modified by Great Northern Sound), 2) the dcs standalone player, 3) a Meridian 808 Signature, 4) a EMM Labs Signature configuration (CDSD/DCC2 combo), and 5) an APL NWO 2.5T (the 2.5T is a 2.5 featuring a redesigned tube output stage and other improvements).

The ground rules for the shoot-out specified that two randomly draw players would be compared head-to-head, and the winner would then be compared against the next randomly drawn player, until only one unit survived (the so-called King-of-the-Hill method). One of our most knowledgeable members would set up each of the two competing pairs behind a curtain, adjust for volume, etc. and would not participate in the voting. Alex Peychev was the only manufacturer present, and he agreed to express no opinion until the completion of the formal process, and he also did not participate in the voting. The five of us who did the voting did so by an immediate and simultaneous show of hands after each pairing after each selection. Two pieces of well-recorded classical music on Red Book CDs were chosen because they offered a range of instrumental and vocal sonic charactistics. And since each participant voted for each piece separately, there was a total of 10 votes up for grabs at each head-to-head audition. Finally, although we all took informal notes, there was no attempt at detailed analysis recorded -- just the raw vote tally.

And now for the results:

In pairing number 1, the dcs won handily over the modified Opus 21, 9 votes to 1.

In pairing number 2, the dcs again came out on top, this time against the Meridian 808, 9 votes to 1.

In pairing number 3, the Meitner Signature was preferred over the dcs, by a closer but consistent margin (we repeated some of the head-to-head tests at the requests of the participants). The vote was 6 to 4.

Finally, in pairing number 5, the APL 2.5T bested the Meitner, 7 votes to 3.

In the interest of configuration consistance, all these auditions involved the use of a power regenerator supplying power to each of the players and involved going through a pre-amp.

This concluded the blind portion of the shoot-out. All expressed the view that the comparisons had been fairly conducted, and that even though one of the comparisons was close, the rankings overall represented a true consensus of the group's feelings.

Thereafter, without the use blind listening, we tried certain variations at the request of various of the particiapans. These involved the Meitner and the APL units exclusively, and may be summarized as follows:

First, when the APL 2.5T was removed from the power regenerator and plugged into the wall, its performance improved significantly. (Alex attributed this to the fact that the 2.5T features a linear power supply). When the Meitner unit(which utilizes a switching power supply) was plugged into the wall, its sonics deteriorated, and so it was restored to the power regenerator.

Second, when we auditioned a limited number of SACDs, the performance on both units was even better, but the improvement on the APL was unanimously felt to be dramatic.
The group concluded we had just experienced "an SACD blowout".

The above concludes the agreed-to results on the blind shoot-out. What follows is an overview of my own personal assessment of the qualitative differences I observed in the top three performers.

First of all the dcs and the Meitner are both clearly state of the art players. That the dcs scored as well as it did in its standalone implementation is in my opinion very significant. And for those of us who have auditioned prior implementations of the Meitner in previous shoot-outs, this unit is truly at the top of its game, and although it was close, had the edge on the dcs. Both the dcs and the Meitner showed all the traits one would expect on a Class A player -- excellent tonality, imaging, soundstaging, bass extension, transparency, resolution, delineation, etc.

But from my point of view, the APL 2.5T had all of the above, plus two deminsions that I feel make it truly unique. First of all, the life-like quality of the tonality across the spectrum was spot-on on all forms of instruments and voice. An second, and more difficult to describe, I had the uncany feeling that I was in the presence of real music -- lots or "air", spatial cues, etc. that simply add up to a sense of realism that I have never experienced before. When I closed my eyes, I truly felt that I was in the room with live music. What can I say.

Obviously, I invite others of the participants to express their views on-line.


We are in the beginning stages of planning the next San Diego Shoot-out. The emphasis this time will be on comparing the best digital source from the last shoot-out (the APL NWO 3 Universal Player, which won going away) with a top of the line vinyl rig.

We will also be implimenting a more rigorous double blind set up procedure and simultaneous secret ballot voting to insure absolute impartiality.

More details to follow as our plans unfold.

Facinating - actually compare a vinyl rig and digital. But do you really need a 'blind' set up. How would you ever get a comparable system - there are so many identifible varibles in vinyl. Differences in cartridges alone, even optimally set up would be great. Then there is the problem with sources (LP's) and all of the possible issuesincluding tracing sounds of the stylus in a groove during tiomes when no musical info is present to mask it.

I'll look forward to reading the results of further investigation/shoot out.
Pete, please make sure you have the Playback Designs player at the shootout, as you Know, I owned the 3.0GO, and sold it due to liking the playback design as well, if not, just a bit better. It also costs less than 50% OF the APL. On top of it, you can talk to the importers, unlike trying to TT Alex, who seems to have become a MUTE.
Hello Pete,

I was in contact with Alex right after your original shootout here. I ultimately ended up getting your APL Denon. I had told Alex that I did not like the 6H30 tube and he told me he would consider updating this one and only unit to support the ECC99. Ultimately, he decided to provide this as an upgrade for all Denon players. I understand this APL player is only one of two that also has the switching PS as used in the Esoteric-based players.

This APL player was very good with the ECC99 but the AMR 77 player had far greater clarity and less grain in the upper frequencies. This brought on much more harmonic information. And the AMR's bass was much more controlled and extended. I expected more from the APL player but it might also have been because the AMR is really that good. Alex was convinced that bypassing the built-in volume control and simplifying other aspects of the circuit and putting the very latest DACs would make the APL Denon competitive to the AMR. I still have not gotten around to having these updates done to this player.

A few months ago, I tried a tube-rolling experiment. With the new Aria preamp supporting a variety of 6v and 12v tubes in the line stage, I tried many types including several 6922 tubes, the 6H30, the ECC99 and the E180cc/7062. The latter tube in the Aria was high above all the rest - it was not even close. And so I tried an Amperex PQ pinched waist 7062 in the APL Denon and never before had I heard one tube change be as dramatic as this. The smoothness, openness, dimensionality (especially in depth), harmonic textures, etc., were so far beyond the ECC99. The APL Denon's sonic weaknesses I had experienced with the Denon vs. the AMR were now gone. I played with other E180CC tubes and got a little more dynamic contrasts with those but the Amperex had a smoothness that made it the clear winner for me. A return to the ECC99 was impossible as the presentation was incredibly flat after hearing the 7062. The ECC99 significantly removes much of the player's capabilities. This tube discovery undoubtedly saved me several thousand $$ in a CDP upgrade.

I reported my finding to an A'gon member who owns the APL 3.0. And I sent him a pair of the Amperex tubes. His observation echoed mine. But upon him contacting Alex, Alex told him that he should not use this tube in the 3.0 as it draws more current and the PS could ultimately fail due to the lower current driving regulators. But I have had no problem with the APL Denon player perhaps because there is only one tube here vs. two in the Esoteric-based players. And unlike reports by others that the APL Denon player runs hot, the one here runs cool.

I have also heard that Alex is looking to support another tube but I don't recall which one. With the latest round of updates for the Denon-based machines, and the E180CC/7062 tube, I would wager that it could be neck and neck to the ECC99 based 3.0 in some areas and perhaps even outperform it in some key areas. The 7062 tube is really that good. And I wish Alex would locate a pair to hear for himself as replacing a couple of voltage regulators to higher-power versions should be a snap for him.

Hi John, I had the opportunity to compare the AMR to my APL Denon with the upgraded 32-bit DACs and tube (ECC99 I think). To my ears, the APL has MUCH better and more controlled bass than the AMR. I didn't take notes, but as I recall, the APL overall was better sounding in my system than the AMR. I do distinctly remember the bass on the APL being much deeper and more controlled than the AMR. But the version of the AMR might have been the first version, before the most recent update.

I will say this, the AMR is engineered AMAZINGLY well. It is a very impressive piece of gear. But as impressive as it is, I prefer the sound of the APL Denon.