CD has laid back and uninvolving sound

Hi folks, yesterday I listened again to vinyl. I conducted also a comparison between vinyl and CD. The most peculiar thing with CD is that the sound seems to be more laid back, distant and uninvolving. With vinyl the sound has more bloom, is less laid back and has more PRaT. To me this laid back and distant sonic character of CD is the most significant finding and bothers me quite a lot. How can I improve this? Btw, my digital front end: MBL 1621 transport + Accustic Arts Tube DAC. Would Wadia DAC (the old Wadia 9 or another classic Wadia) be better in rendering a more upfront and engaging sound (more PRaT)?

Chris, I never tried long plate Mullard's in the AA DAC, regular Mullards were way to "dark/romantic" lacking extension and dynamics for me, but Amperex long plate D-getters give me musical pleasure to a high degree. Recently, in my new preamp, I have put in 12AU7's Mullard long plate
Some of it is inherent in the nature of the two mediums. I currently have more money in my CD player than in my LP playback but it lacks something that the LP has. Some don't notice it or attribute it to distortion or surface noise. But I think the current CD system has certain deficiencies that you are not going to be able to correct, LP just has certain advantages;I enjoy CD very much, but LP is more real, pops and all. That said, not all DACs are equal. The TriVista 21 I use is more upfront without being bright than my previous decoders. They float around at a price that you can buy and try without the prospect of taking much loss. Also they can be upgraded to even higher levels of performance. [I haven't yet done this]. They are a hybrid design.
What album were you comparing? Many modern CD's sound worse than high
quality Vinyl. The hyper compression of dynamics in the mastering process
makes many CD's sound harsh in your face and completely lacking subtlety,
nuance and "life".

I have two CD's of Duran Duran Rio. The first one is flat and terrible sounding.
The second one sounds much more like Vinyl. This second one was remastered
from the original master tapes and came out after the first CD. So it is a mixed

If you want to make an accurate comparison - try Mudcrutch by Tom Petty - the
vinyl comes with a audiophile CD made from the master tapes whilst the regular
CD release is compressed crap, as usual, thanks to the major labels.
I have the Accustic Arts tube Dac and the CEC TL0X transport. I rolled the tubes to the Ampex Buggel Boy long plates. It is quite involving and airy. It is different from my Vinyl sound but excellent in its own way. I love my Vinyl and CD collection. The transport you have is great so it must be your tubes, cable mismatch or pre Amp. Don't give up m it yet.
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Eee3: I have used various interconnects and power cords (also expensive ones) but it is not a cable problem. This problem is more complex and I'm afraid cables could not solve this. Shadorne: that is interesting to have both the audiophile vinyl and CD in one package. I listened to Händels Messiah this afternoon (René Jacobs, Harmonia Mundi CD) and I found the midrange not so fleshed out and overall sound also less warm than vinyl. To me it is not only a matter of "bad" mastering but this type of sound is inherent to CD reproduction. Of course you can warm the sound up with tubes but then you would only change the cosmetics.

Dazzdax- If you've never read this article in Stereophile, it may give you some insights as to what's missing. ( If your system delivers the dynamics you enjoy via vinyl, you may need to address your CD transport or DAC. Have you taken any steps with regard to isolation for the transport? Much can be lost(solidity/definition) in the lower registers through resonances/vibration. I'd second the suggestion of tube rolling in the DAC also. NOS Siemens and Telefunken tubes always deliver excellent bottom end response and definition(not to mention transparency throughout the entire audio bandwidth). The 50's Siemens ECC83's(long plates) are excellent, or you could go all out with a pair of Tele ECC803S tubes. It's hard to imagine the digital equipment you own lacking PRaT.
Sounds like my experience with tube DACs, previously owned Audio Aero Prima DAC (Capitole DAC) and Audio Logic 24MXL. Both were smooth but lacked the resolution and involvement of my highly modded Perp. Tech. setup.

SS DAC isn't going to give you more bloom, but it will be more upfront and greater PRaT.

Regards tube DACs. I've since acquired experience with a variety of capacitors, I suspect I could have attained a more upfront, involving presentation on either of my tube DACS with something like Mundorf cap change. Perhaps a cap change on the Accustic Arts is in order.
I don't think that this is necessarily the case in general, though it is certainly not uncommon for various reasons.

I have albums that sound great and better than CD versions and vice versa.
I have an Accustis Arts Drive I and an MBL 1511F DAC. I could not be happier. In fact, so good is the synergy, that I hestitate to "upgrade" to the MBL 1521A transport. Perhaps you should switch to the MBL DAC.

You have good stuff so its surprising to me.

I'm assuming your CD is working properly as designed.

First I'd like to know more about the rest of your system: amp, speakers, ICs, etc.

I think a common problem with CD playback is that often the amp or pre-amp cannot handle the dynamics, both large scale and micro, as well with digital sources as they can with phono analog sources. The result may be an uninvolving or less interesting sound.

Or if the dynamics including fine detail sounds pretty good but the tonal balance is off, perhaps a different DAC might offer a solution.
Mapman: MBL 1621 transport - Accustic Arts Tube DAC - Accuphase C-290V preamplifier (with dedicated AD-290V phono unit) - JMF Audio HQS7001B power amplifiers (mono's) - Soundlab A-1 fullrange electrostatics. Turntable: Acoustic Solid with Fidelity Research FR-66S tonearm and Ortofon SPU 85 Anniversary cartridge.
I'll try the JMF Audio DXC2.2 D/A converter in the near future.

Thanks for referring me to the Stereophile article Rodman. It is certainly true: digital bass is not the same as analog bass. Analog bass is more upbeat and full/warm sounding.

Hamburg: I think I don't want to try other tubes for the AA Tube DAC --> I don't think other tubes would change the sound alot. If other tubes would give a different sound then I'm afraid you are busy screwing up the tonal balance.

I highly advise calling Kyle at Reference Audio Mods. After he gets through with your CD rig, I'm sure you'll be thorough satisfied.

I run a CEC TL-51X transport and Musical Fidelity XDAC V3, X-10V3 and XPSU. I had RAM modify (to the max) the CEC and XDAC a couple of years ago and am still blown away by the sound.
I would agree that you are mostly describing the differences inherent in the two mediums, I don't think that this is at all "peculiar." Vinyl is going to have more dynamics than digital, and a more life-like sound ( and bloom is not a quality usually associated with digital at all) - this is mostly because of the different types of distortion inherent to the mediums. There has been plenty of discussion of these issues on this site recently. I would not assume something is wrong with your system - as others have said, your stuff has a good reputation.
since all "vinyl systems" do not sound alike, it is misleading to generalize differences between vinyl and digital.

simply change the cartridge and the "sound" of an lp will change significantly. there are also audible differences between dac/xport combinations and cd players.

my experience does not confirm the distant perspective as typical of digital components. there are many players or dac/xport combinations which are forward.
"How can I improve this"?
The answer is simple- get a quality turntable, decent cart and you will have the sound you are seeking.
It baffles me that so many people spend thousands of dollars trying to get an analog sound out of their digital machines. Why spend thousands on DACs, which stands for Digital to ANALOG CONVERTER???
Why not put the money into a good vinyl playback system?
Then you don't need converters and cables and super discs.
And please, stay away from belt drives.
Get a Lenco. You will have PRat you want.
Get a cd from ECM label--Marcin Wasilewski Trio's _January_, or Bobo Stenson's _Cantando_, say--and see what you think. CD recordings don't get any better than ECM (IMHO), so that might be a good benchmark against which to measure your best vinyl.
12-14-08: Oregon writes:
It baffles me that so many people spend thousands of dollars trying to get an analog sound out of their digital machines. Why spend thousands on DACs ...
Why? Because we have thousands of CDs. If one has spent $50k on the little silver buggers, then one is going to spend some money to get the most out of them. Obvious, no?

Hi Oregon, I already have a decent vinyl playback system. That's why I'm starting this topic at Audiogon.

Chris, you and I have the same digital front end. Yet, I find this combo to be wonderfully musical with great microdynamics and full extension on the top and bottom. Very "emotionally" involving, not laid back and distant at all.

I do use the MBL reference clamp instead of the one that comes with the 1621 transport, the tubes in the AA DAC are Amperex long plate D-getters, and finally I use a Stealth Sextet cable. Would you please share if you have ever experiemented with the upgraded clamp and what tubes and cable you use in your system. Maybe, its these other factors that are taking away the dynamics/emotional aspects that you say you are missing in your rig. I have heard most of the very high end digital gear and still have not heard anything that makes me want to replace either the MBL transport or Accoustic Arts Tube Hybrid DAC in my system.
Shadorne: that is interesting to have both the audiophile vinyl and CD in one package. I listened to Händels Messiah this afternoon (René Jacobs, Harmonia Mundi CD) and I found the midrange not so fleshed out and overall sound also less warm than vinyl. To me it is not only a matter of "bad" mastering but this type of sound is inherent to CD reproduction. Of course you can warm the sound up with tubes but then you would only change the cosmetics

If you are comparing two different recordings then there are so many variables that I am not sure one can draw a conclusion. Even with allegedly the "same" recording or from the same master tapes - differences will exist unless a special effort is made to ensure the CD is the same as the Vinyl master (as in Mudcrutch).

A fair comparison would be to run your Vinyl through a fairly good quality ADC and DAC from the same manufacturer (say Benchmark) and to see if you could tell the difference in a blind test (is it live Vinyl or is it memorex?). If you cannot then it is safe to assume that a CD made from the digital audio file from the ADC would as good.

As is often the case, I think you are on to something.

I've found that when I record vinyl albums to CD, the the CD sounds almost identical to the original album and nothing like the commercial CD copies I compare with.

I do not think I can tell that my albums recorded to CD when played back are in fact CDs and not the original vinyl.

How is that possible if CD format is so inferior to vinyl? I think the answer is that it is not. More likely the musical ingredients that go into the CD mastering is different from that that went into the vinyl.

If the capacity or resolution of CD is indeed inferior to the vinyl, there is no way that a CDR of vinyl will sound the same as vinyl. I think you have just proved the exact opposite.
TJ, with all due respect, I think the tube issue with the AA Tube DAC is an important point that needs to be addressed, however you shouldn't overemphasize it either. To be honest, I'm not going to change any tube --> too much hassle for me. I like a unit that is just "plug and play" and not one that has to be tweaked first before it sounds good. As mentioned ealier, I'm gonna try the JMF Audio DXC2.2 DAC soon and I will report the findings.
Btw, the DXC2.2 DAC is similar to the Rey Audio DAC from Japan.

"If the capacity or resolution of CD is indeed inferior to the vinyl, there is no way that a CDR of vinyl will sound the same as vinyl. I think you have just proved the exact opposite."

I haven't proven anything...just stating an observation.

The sampling frequency or resolution of CD is beyond the range of human hearing.

There is no equivalent measurable resolution with analog that can be compared apples and apples as far as I know. It's a completely different beast.
I'm pleased to know you do have a decent vinyl playback.
I fully understand wanting more out of one's CD collection (Metrella).
For my money, I'd just accept CD for what it is- limited, IMO.
A bird in the hand (LP) is worth 10 in the bush.

No offense to you Chris, but after spending alot of money for a world class reference DAC, to leave in crappy tubes made in China is pretty stupid/silly to me. What's the "hassle" about six screws and putting in two tubes?

I also believe you are way understating the importance of how the AA DAC performs depending on what tubes are being used. So, if you think tweaking means changing stock crap tubes with musical NOS bottles, then do yourself a favor and stick to SS pieces. I also recommend you don't try different power cords, footers, isolation devices because these are tweaks that also would be to much of a hassle!

You also did not comment on what clamp you use or what digital cable, which could be an important set of factors. On the other hand, useing the stock tubes probably makes these other factors mute anyways.
Teajay- I didn't want to press the issue, given his negative reaction to the suggestions made. But, AMEN!! The correct NOS tubes(and other mentioned tweaks) can/will/would have a profound impact regarding the sound qualities he's seeking. Well- At least: They did in the last three DACs I owned, and the CCa's do in my BAT VK-D5 now. Everyone has their own set of values and personal limitations though. Happy listening!!
TJ, I'll try the NOS tube as you described. Are original Mullard long plates also good (musical) tubes for AA Tube DAC? As far as my knowledge goes the tubes in the AA Tube DAC are NOT in the signal path but are localized in the digital-to-analog conversion section. So, why do they have such a profound effect on sound?
Btw, my clamp is the standard clamp that goes with the 1621A and I have put three Shun Mook Giant Diamond Resonators under the AA Tube DAC.

I have a simaudio product, does have the PRAT. Sounds involving. Not cheap. Andromeda. BUT Sim makes cheaper players that sound good too. I have no financial incentives to tell you this. There are others, Marantz, Linn, etc. I gravitate to vocals (choirs mostly), and Andromeda does great with that material.

Records are good. I have Linn LP12/Ittok/shure V15VMR, but records do wear out with time. My favorate records sometimes can't go beyond a certain point without lifting arm, skip. None of my CD's skip though.


The Shun Mook Diamond Resonators don't work with the AA Tube DAC! --> the sound became somewhat hard in the upper midrange, like as if there is some ringing/resonance. Which feet should I use now? Graphite blocks?

hi chris:

i have great success with the sound fusion sound boosters. read my review at
The biggest difference made in my digital system have been....

1. Tubes 6922 Amperex D-getter gold pins....the soundstage went global...big and wide top to bottom.

2. Coupling caps....big difference in dynamics and resolution.

3. Power cable...focus was good but it is even better now.

4. transport....This can be a eyeopener in the presentation...upfront or laidback...also in ambient retreival and perceived air around instruments and vocals.

My advice...experiment...tubes...first then take it from there....I must admit my vinyl player has dust on it...
Thanks for the recommendation Roy. Are you also familiar with Herbie Tenderfeet?
Wavetrader: I have a decent transport, which is the MBL 1621. I suppose Accustic Arts knows about the coupling caps thing. Power cord is from DCCA Audio. So I'm afraid there is little left to be changed. Maybe the tube, which is residing insinde the D/A-converter (according to TJ this should give a significant improvement).

Dazz...very nice components. The Acoustic arts is a very fine dac but I have never had a piece of tube gear that couldn't be voiced differently by rolling tubes. It looks like the AA dac uses a 12ax7 so if your inclined I would try some different tubes.
I had a conversation with a fellow audiophile at a Christmas party...He said the exact same things about his experience with vinyl vs digital. But for my experience tweaking has convinced me that swapping tubes and capacitors can make a major difference on how a system is voiced.
hi chris:

i will be reviewing herbie's tube dampers, but i have not auditioned the tenderfeet. i have also reviewed dcca cable and owned several versions of his power cords.

i have sold them and am now using ear to ear power cords, and ear to ear speaker cable.
I have been using various damping devices for decades but only recently have I become aware of what the newer types could do. Using 3 small cones under a component can transform the sound. The products I use, Star Sound, have a theory that it is of prime importance to provide a direct path for vibrations to be transferred quickly out of the system to the floor. There is apparently something to this as a recent test of a completely different product found that components siting on it sounded better when they were physically touching the metal pole supporting the system. Be that as it may, the effect is considerable. But not all the cones I have used sounded the same, the Mapleshade are good in many ways but their very large size seems to make the vibration transfer slower. I would suggest to anyone that the purchase of one set of top quality cones is a worthwhile investment to see how they work in your system. But be patient, they need to settle in. I know, this does not seem logical but it appears to be true. Also, they do not give to same result on each component . Sometimes it can provide too much dampening. But overall it can provide a major step up in performance. I bought a rack for my whole system that has them built in and the result is even better. There are many other systems on the market I have not tried, so I cannot say if they would give comparable results. But in any case vibration removal appears to be even more important than we had thought. Do not ignore maple blocks, they give good results also.
If you decide to audition new DACs I would suggest you consider the Berkeley Alpha DAC. I don't have any experience with your equipment and have only heard the Berkeley once when auditioned by a dealer. Like everything else the true test is having an opportunity to hear it in your system.
Accustic Arts actually came out with a SE (special edition) version of the Accustic Arts Reference DAC. According to what I heard from my dealer, the improvements are changing the quality of the PCB boards used and supplying better tubes than those made in China tubes provided with the standard edition. If you want to really max out the performance of the AA Tube Ref DAC, please do try out its matching partner the AA Ref Transport, IMHO it should more matching than the MBL transport. Also recently I upgraded my transport power cord to top of the line Acrolink 9100 power cord (this is higher than the 7100 reviewed here that impressed the reviewer so much that he and his friends bought a couple) and I must say that this power cord really made the music even more involving than before, so you may want to check out the Acrolink 9100 power cord on your transport too