Playback designs followup?

There was a flurry of impressions when this player first came out, all of which was very favourable. I would really like to hear from the original users and others who are very familiar with this player about their impressions about its sound.
For the lucky owners, is it still as spectacular as initial impressions suggested or maybe even better with ongoing use??
In my opinion, the Playback Designs MPS-5 is among the very best. I have not personally heard better. I also own the AMR CD-77, and, to my ear, the Playback Designs player is better, although not by an overwhelming margin. I have not personally heard any digital source that comes close to the performance of these two CD players.
What I've said in the past still holds. I've compared the MPS-5 directly to the Emm single box solution, the Esoteric multi-box solution, the Marantz S7 and a few other units on a less direct comparison. The MPS-5 is still my favorite in every respect.

PD has just issued a firmware update that I haven't tried yet. The tell us that it improves the RBCD playback even further. I hope to download it this weekend and report on that. Right now I'm very pleased, but if they can improve that even further, then I'm even more deeply positive.

Sorry, but it'll be a few days before I get to installing the firmware update.

I've owned the MPS-5 for about 4 months now.

During this time I've also had the P03-D03 with rubidium clock and the Wadia 9 series driven by an Esoteric UX1. First off, the Wadia sound is distinctly different from the MPS-5 and Esoteric sound. The Wadia offers stunning clarity with precise rendition of attack and transients and a very black background. One tends to hear notes in acoustic space rise and fall.

The Esoteric stack, particularly when upsampling CDs to DSD offers a slightly more diffuse sound where the edges of attack are rougher. It is as if the sound has taken on more volume and is less pristine but perhaps more organic. The MPS-5 reminds me of the Esoteric stack. It has a slightly more closed in top-end, a characteristic ameliorated with the use of cable and a bit more mid-bass bloom. For example, in solo piano, the lower registers appear to move more air through the MPS5 than through the Esoteric. I find this aspect to be quite realistic and it reminds me of the singular virtue of the ARC Ref Two Mark I preamp I once owned.

I would say that the Wadia offers a nice contrast to either the MPS-5 or Esoteric stack. The MPS-5 in its stead offers tremendous value for its sonics when compared to the costly Esoteric stack. When playing SACDs, esp. recently recorded ones, the sound on either unit is spectacular and provides distance from the as-of-today redbook limited Wadia.
I know this is going in another direction, but I heard the Playback Design and It wasn't my cup of tea. At the time I had a Marantz SA7 and greatly preferred the sound. Since then I've given up my CD player in favor of a Modwright Truth Transporter with upgraded vintage tubes. I greatly prefer the sound, not to mention the convenience.
Arthurp: The unit you heard breifly was, as you know, not close to being broken in. You know that and you need to read his question more carefully. I do not believe you are either "original users and others who are very familiar with this player".
After having the mps-5 since June of 08 I find this player to be one of the best players I have owned or heard.

The updates have added even more to the Musicality & versatility of the player.
Our small group has done a few a/b comparisons with a few other high end players,( as in some of players mentioned above ) both stand alone & stacks.
The Playback imho has out performed all of them. Mind you that this is subjective as we all know, but I felt that the MPS-5 was getting as close to analog as I've heard a digital player get to date.
The Marantz SA7 was in the same system with the PD MPS-5 at the last RMAF. I was in the room several times when we switched between the PD and the Marantz. NOT ONE person preferred the Marantz. When you watched the body langauge of the groups, six or eight people would immediately recognize the superior openness of the PD and say things like, "wow".

The Marantz is pretty good for the money and is free of digititus, but it's not in the same league as the PD. Check out the Marantz threads. About half the owners immediately start thinking of modifying their units. That's never a topic about the PD.
"About half the owners immediately start thinking of modifying their units. That's never a topic about the PD."

Dave is there a company that modifies the PD? How many people worldwide own a PD cd player? In fact, how many people outside of Audiogon even know what PD designs is? There won't be any options for improvement until Jonathan decides to give you one.

I'm glad you are enjoying your machine.
Precisely what I was thinking. How many people have a PD and it would take some minimum sales number before any modders would likely spend the time to create any particular mods for the unit.

btw, Jonathan, nice of you to continue "forgetting" to mention in your posts that you're a dealer for a product you're posting about.
Not only is Jonathan a dealer, he is the manufacturer of Playback Designs, Evolution Acoustics, and the NA distributor of darTZeel. I've owned and sold both darTZeel equipment and Evolution Acoustics speakers. I guess that is why I'm currently on the "Out List" of the Chambers clan. The products are OK, but certainly not the final word in quality. To me, there are better sounding products and certainly more reliable ones available.
Arthurp, there's a market in modding Marantz because they need it.

Ric Shultz and others would probably love to get their hands on a PD and see what he could do, but there's likely very little that they could do, given the programming and design done by Andreas. None of the owners that I know I yearning for anything more. OTOH, a big hunk of the Marantz guys immediately think of modding.

Still, it's refreshing to see you reveal the axe that you have to grind. Previously I merely thought that you had difficulty hearing, but now we know the truth. Enjoy your Marantz.

Dave - Before you jump to any conclusions reread my post from 2/13/09. I sold the Marantz in favor of the Modwright Transporter. I have no axe to grind. I simply have a different opinion than you. I'm also not at all defensive about any of my equipment. We all have different tastes. After owning some of the Chambers Audio products, I just found things I liked better and moved on. My hearing tests perfect. As I've stated to you in the past, if you don't limit your comments to non personal ones, your opinion looses all credibility.
I'm curious to know what your system & room consists of. I have already heard the Modwright T. transporter, so I have a feel for that. Just wondering what you have found to be more involving for your tastes.
What a boring world it would be if we all had to buy & like the same equipment or anything else. It's good to see & hear different systems & how each of us reach that certain quality we pursue.

I couldn't agree with you more. My room is 15 X 21. I have a carpeted floor and a few sound panels situated to reduce first reflection points. I sold my darTZeel amp and preamp in favor of a BAT VK52SE preamp and VK 250SE power amp. Speaking strictly in terms of sound the darTZeel's were a slight bit more transparent . The BAT's have a better bottom end. They only give up a very slight bit to the darTs in overall absolute performance and cost a fraction of what the darTs cost. The darTs are much nicer to look at. I had maintenance issues with both my darTZeel preamp and amp. I am basically a plug and play kind of audiophile. I replaced my Evolution Acoustics MM2s with a pair of Hansen Prince speakers. I use Stealth Metacarbon balanced interconnects and Kubala-Sosna Emotion speaker cables. I only owned the EV MM2s for about seven months. I did break them in. They didn't work well for me in my room at all. I found that if I tried to adjust them to anything other than a flat setting they just didn't sound "right". I've looked at your system and I see you have a lot of the components that I've moved on from. I certainly respect your pursuit of great sound. I am finally very pleased with the overall sound, ergonomics, build quality, and convenience of my system at this time. I'm not going to state that it's better than anybody else's system, just that it's the best overall system I've owned since getting involved in this hobby. If I had to choose a favorite component, I truly love the Hansen speakers. I don't plan on ever parting with them. They work in my room and they are small enough that if I sell my home and eventually down size (not for 10 years) I can take them with me.

The Modwright Truth Transporter can only sound its best if you upgrade the tubes. I'm running a Mullard GZ345AR4 rectifier and RCA 6CG7 tubes I bought from Andy at Vintage Tube Services. They made a huge difference. I've been listening to Pandora music service a lot. I know it's not true hi resolution, but I love all the variety and new music I've been listening to. I always wanted a tuner, but never was able to get the reception I wanted. The Pandora service is great!

Happy listening.
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Tvad, I'm having more fun with the Modwright Truth Transporter then I've had with any piece of audio equipment I've bought in a long time. Fun is why I went into this hobby to begin with.

Andy was referred to me by Frank Huang formerly of Audio Outlet and currently of Reference Cinema & Sound. Of all the audio dealers I've done business with over the years (quite a few), I consider Frank to be beyond reproach. He is always professional and has complete integrity.

Arthurp, you're the one that said "I guess that is why I'm currently on the "Out List" of the Chambers clan." If you want to talk about Modwright and Marantz then do it in the appropriate threads. The fact that you inject yourself into every PD thread, raised the spector of your axe to grind in my mind and then you confirmed it above.

BTW, plenty of people have hearing that measures perfect, that doesn't mean that they no how to or what to listen for.


Thanks for the rebuttal. Nice system indeed. It just goes to show us that there are many different ways to reach our nirvana.

The darTZeel was for me , as was the Playback. They were a major leap for me to reach what I was seeking. No system tube or SS has reached this level for me. Is it the best, I will never say anything is the best, we all know what happens when we say that.

How ironic is it that in my room I tried a couple Bat amps & pre & they did not work well for me. I would not say they were bad at all, they were just not the most musical & seemed to exhibit a lack of high frequency purity. Almost a rolled off presence in my room. I agree bass was excellent, but I find no lack of bass in my room with the Dart & mm3's. I'd say some of the best bass in any system I have heard to date in any system. I always have felt that if you can't get the bass right, you won't get anything right.
Crazy that we almost have totally different opinions on some of the same equipment. As we both know the rooms , cables & our ears play a roll in those outcomes.

I to respect your opinions & pursuit of quality sound.

When WE audio nuts deal on this level, most of the time we are splitting hairs, & we know it's all good!!!!

Enjoy & happy listening to you as well.

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Dcstep, I read that somebody at RMAF asked the dealer how many hours were on the Marantz Sa-7s1 and PD MPS-5. He stated the Marantz was just out of the box and the MPS-5 was well broken in.
If that was the case, the Marantz didn't sound at its best. It needs a least 400 to 500 hours of brake-in.
Just a thought. Enjoy your machine, am sure it is an excellent player.
I'm an original owner of a Playback Designs MPS-5, it was delivered new to me in June 2008. Prior to the Playback player I owned several, actually every, iteration of the EMM Labs machines- starting with the modified Phillips transport & DAC 6 up to the CDSA S.E. one box player which I think is still fairly current. Over the years the EMM Labs one box and two box units have consistently been right at the top of the heap in digital playback year in and year out. This is for good reason- they are fantastic performing units that do little wrong. I've enjoyed them all- IMMENSELY.

When I first plugged in the Playback Designs MPS-5 I was immediately impressed. It certainly sounded, at first blush, better than the CDSA S.E. and by a significant margin. I then did my time and let the player break-in with 24/7 play for weeks. Then I was confident in making a more detailed analysis of the differences. Here they are:

The Playback Designs MPS-5-

Lifted a light veil that covered the entire frequency range on the CDSA S.E.

Had increased bass impact and extension.

Exhibits no graininess in the treble region- the CDSA S. E. had a little grain.

Sounds much closer to the original analog source than the CDSA S. E.- see below. (This is the ultimate goal for me)

Has superior build quality and S.O.T.A. industrial design- the CDSA S.E. doesn't.

Remote control works flawlessly, the CDSA S.E. remote control was hit & miss, at best.

Many months later I feel even stronger than I originally did about this player's level of performance. In fact, warm up the flame throwers, for the first time I feel that vinyl playback is usually inferior to the CD or SACD playback on the MPS-5. There's the occasional 1st or audiophile pressing that trumps the MPS-5's digital playback of the same title, but for the most part vinyl playback, for me, is now more of a hobbyist's exercise than one that produces a superior result. I firmly believe one would need to spend in excess of $40k on a turntable, arm, cart, phono stage, etc. to CONSISTENTLY outperform the Playback Designs unit. In fact, I really don't think $40k would do it, probably more like $80k - $100k and then you still must deal with the hit and miss quality of contemporary vinyl pressings and/or spend enormous sums of time and money seeking out 1st or "Hot Stamper" pressings of your favorite, older, titles.

There's clearly not a large enough installed base of Playback Designs players to warrant the time and expense of developing modifications to these players.
Moreover, modding stereo equipment is, for the most part, a rat hole for one to throw $$ down, never to recover but a fraction of when selling the unit. Digital is the fastest moving target on the audiophile horizon and not the place you want to play Frankenstein, unless you just don't care about the money you're pissing away. Looked at another way, the MPS-5 is limited production, handmade product not dissimilar to a Ferrari. Go ahead and put a Tubi exhaust (power cord) on your 599 GTB but don't take it to the guy working out of his garage for a little engine tweaking. Let the infinitely more talented and experienced designers at the factory build the best machine they know how to- This is what, I believe, Playback Designs has done.

The MPS-5 is the best digital playback, if not the best MUSIC playback device I have heard or owned.


I note you'd had the Evolution Acoustics MM3s?

Have you moved on from these loudspeakers? If so, what has bettered them?
Playback Designs, darTZeel and Evolution Acoustics. Too much inbreeding here. This reminds me of the "Linnies" of the 1970s and 80s. LinnNaimLinnNaimLinnNaim...

Gerrye123: Quite the cynic! Have you ever even heard the combination? There is, in fact, a strong synergy between at least three of these components, due to the fact that the MM3s were primarily voiced with the DarTZeel amp and pre-amp. And, of course, the DarTZeel pre-amp utilized the NHB-108 as an integral element in it's design and voicing.

Think of it as genetic engineering. Inbreeding is something entirely different and certainly not complimentary.
Some readers of this thread may be interested in the thread about the Playback Designs MPS-5 firmware update, as follows:

MPS-5 Update Thread
I used to own the top of the line marantz 7a-s1 and it was broken in and it pales in comparison to the emm labs and the playback. I sold the marantz to get the playback and it likes going from a toyota camry to a Porsche.
Not to rain on your parade, but while the Playback Designs player might be great, your over selling it just turns me & many others off.

On a different note, a friend of mine owned one for several months and just prefered a unit by a different manufacturer. Different strokes for different folks. I love my EMM and there is no reason for me to change unless something is truly that much better. I find we spend tons of money for small incremental changes. Especially in digital where it is evolving so quickly w. Hi Res downloads and superior connectivity around the corner. I am holding out for USB 3.0 and a NAS Raid Terebyte drive. Then we are talking. Since USB 3.0 is not that far off and its throughput is much higher than even firewire, for me it is worth waiting for any CD Player/ DAC to handle this & hopefully multiple types of hi res files. Playing FLAC would be great as well.
Interesting response, Dgad.

I will say that the Emm line is a top alternative that a prospective Playback Designs buyer should consider. I think they're very close.

I've listened closely to Emm, dCS, Ayre and Esoteric, among others, but "there's no reason for me to change", as someone recently said.
I use my MPS-5 in a Professional Mastering room. For the past 4-5 months we have provided every DSD and hi-rez tranfer to a major dowload site. The MPS-5 betters our EMM Labs transport/converters as well as our $18k Digital Audio Denmark converters. This is as good as SACD and CD get! I've already made my money back on the unit!
Dcstep has been "overselling" PD and Rowland for some months now; every thread in which he participates.

Check his posting history.

It's a shillfest.

Question for you. As a DSD recording when you do a high res transfer, I assume you can't provide the native DSD file for transfer. Correct me if I am wrong. Maybe you can burn it but for download?

If not, then by Hi Res you mean what exactly, 24-192? If you convert it from DSD to 24/192, don't you lose some resolution? My opinion has been native DSD recordings are excellent but conversions always leave a little to be desired.

Also, playing back a recording on the same item it was recorded on must be great. You can use the Playback for A/D conversion or do you use something else. In that case then what do you use? Also, in that case won't it sound better played back on what was used to make the recording. If the Playback can be used for A/D conversion for the price that is a great value.

One of the things I want is a convertor for PC Audio w. USB 3.0 w. both D/A and A/D conversion. Not there yet from what I have found. It should handle both 24/192 and DSD etc.
No, the Playback Designs can't do A to D conversion. We use the EMM Labs ADC8IV or the Digital Audio Denamrk AX24 for that. Yes, we furnish DSD files and if the label wants to downsample, we use Weiss Saracon to downsample to a 44.1k base rate. Most of the time we provide 88.2 or 176.4. The Digital Audio Denmark converter will do 32/352.8 which is indistinguishable from DSD64fs.
DSD is clocked at 44.1 so you always want to downsample to a 44.1 base freq.
I don't know of any ADC that will handle USB 3.0 There are several firewire units available. Most DSD is recorded via SDIF BNC.
Look people praise things when they love a product....

I think many audio products can bring you to nirvana but the room, synergy, cost and subjective taste playing huge roles.

I think the playback is better than the emm labs but the emm labs is damn fine. The issue with the emmlabs is that the tray was noisy and I got the upgrade and the problems continued so for that price I said never again. Well maybe the latest will be without flaw but twice bitten so don't want to be an even bigger fool!

I do think the best cd playback design now gets fairly close to vinyl on most recordings but still I love to hear vinyl for many things because of mastering issues with many CDs

I had the PD machine for a few months but eventually sold it and returned to my EMM SE separates, which still seem to have a resolute, grounded, anchored-to-the-earth sound that I enjoy.
While the PD player did a great job of removing the glare and piercing sound from lesser-quality CDs (which the EMM reveals, for better or worse), the EMM has a solidity that just sounds more true to me and is very satisfying. The PD was sometimes warbly or unsettled or punchy in the upper bass/lower mids compared to the EMM. I found this annoying.
This was all on redbook.
On SACD however, the PD was splendid, as good as anything, maybe superior to the EMM, very solid and pleasing.
So far, on redbook, the EMM is my favorite.