Review: Sony CDP-XA20es CD Player

Category: Digital

Simply an exceptional component. For a company known for its worthless perks (read: bells and whistles), Sony has managed to deliver a very simple and innovative CD player here. Its single CD design with a truly unusual fixed laser transport system just smacks of audiophile eccentricity. And even better--it works. I have had the player for around 3 years now and have never had a single complaint to file. The player sounds outstanding within the context of my modest system. I have compared it directly to a Yamaha changer, a Sony DVD player, and a portable CD player--it beats the heck out of all of them. Smooth, clean, crisp, just like mature digital should be. For an extra little bit o' lovin, try hooking it directly up to your amplifier (I used a Parasound HCA-1000A) with its variable gain outputs--delicious. I use it to listen to all manner of music: rock, jazz, ambient, techno, punk, metal. It excels with all of them. Highly recommended.

Associated gear
Yamaha RX-V800 receiver
Paradigm 9SEmk3 loudspeakers
Audioquest Ruby interconnects

Similar products
Yamaha, denon CD changers
Bravo Rrayda - Great Review!

I also own a XA20ES for about 2 years, it's treated like the red headed step brother of the Stereophile Class "A" XA7. Yet dollar for dollar $700 vs $3000, I ran the two XA's against each other & walked away w/ the 20! I figured at the time I'd ad a Bel Canto DAC1, but honestly have never needed to! It is a wonderful cdp, when connected to a amp via variable output! As a transport alone, there isn't anything out there that is built like the smooth 20!
I’ve wanted to join almost any discussion about the Sony XA-20ES CD player for some time now. My audiophile experience goes way back to my first TT which was an AR manual turntable (purchase new in 1967) with a Stanton 681EEE and a pair KLH 17 speakers hot off the assembly line where Henry Kloss lived. Driving them was my Lafayette Radio Pre-Amp (famous consumer electronics chains predating Best Buy by about 40 years) pushing an Eico (local Brooklyn, New York electronics company that was well known for excellent test equipment and amplifier kits) 35-wpc tube power amp that I built from a kit.

I know my audiophile equipment. On a whim several years ago, I was looking for a replacement to a Denon DVD player that I was using for digital media playback when I was reminded of the excellent Sony Elite series and how solid the construction of their product series was. By chance, I found my XA-20ES unit on eBay, did the research on what it represented within the ES product series and purchased it for $400. When it arrived by FedEx, I lifted the box and realized that it was serious just by it’s weight alone. The 20ES has an aluminum case, no plastic crap to diminish the aura of a true audiophile component. After I got it out of the box and set it up on is perch, I was impressed with the simplicity of the front panel which belied the amount of programming control afforded the end user. After I plugged it in and connected it to my German-made Vincent Audio SA 31 Hybrid Stereo Preamplifier that feeds a Parasound Halo A21 Stereo Power Amplifier, I was stunned at just how “sweet” certain instruments sounded. Listening to a number of acoustic Jazz CDs, Miles Davis “Sorcerer” (24-track digital remaster), and Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” (RVG Edition), the stage was focused and spread out just as if I was sitting in the front/center of Seattle’s acclaimed Jazz Alley or New York City’s Jazz Standard clubs. Seriously. And this was through the 20ES’s standard analog line out jacks!

I have a neat little accessory I use to pull the last “bit” out of a CD. It’s the SID Disc by Peter Boffin from Germany. The SID sits on top of your CD, SACD, DVD, Blu-Ray disc and focuses the laser beam so that it’s scan is narrowed and doesn't bounce from light refraction since it shines “up” through the disc from the bottom. With the 20ES, it’s particularly effective since the laser is fixed to a massive mounting block inside the unit and only the drawer moves in/out with the disc mounted and stabilized by a unique “puck” much like a record stabilizer.

Right now, I’m listening to Joni Mitchell’s “Mingus” CD and “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” is playing. Jaco’s bass is killing me with it’s finesse and tone. Playback is through a pair of KEF Q-500 speakers with a little help from a Sumiko S.5 subwoofer. The 20ES is showing no sign of of it’s age whatsoever. It sounds pure and sweet, the way real Hi-Fi is supposed to.
Rrayda, it is quite the strange occurrence here on the agon, for the past month audiophiles have been writing in these threads about specific components I own today. I have a Sony XA-20es, and yes I bought it on eBay some 4 yrs ago I think?? It has been a great CD player but I have not used the internal DAC, I bought it for the unique stationary cd optical lens plus the transport looked exceptional. I have had it connected to a Benchmark USB DAC1 VI's the optical out. This combo has been fantastic.