Where's Digital playback at today ?

Pardon my ignorance on this subject as I have not be around any digital playback for over 10 years.,..Some back ground, over a decade ago out of pure curiosity I purchased a Sony SCD777es .
Over the coarse of the three plus years that I owed this player I had it modified with all the stuff that was popular back then for this particular model.
Comparing other more expensive and popular digital players of the day back then ultimately left me cold.
So hence the title of my query, what's out there for under $8000.00 that a vinyl head could possibly warm up too?
Thank you
I Listen to vinyl most all the time, and am very satisfied with the Sony SCD XA5400ES CD/SACD player.

Slightly warm and sounds "vinyl like"! Only $1500.

I do not think you need to spend $8000. Save your money and buy more CD's.
Hi Don you could very well be right , save your money and look at your Sony.
One evening I was reading some vintage absolute sound on digital, around the time the editor and writers started to embrace cd sound ,gag,and caugh... However it seem there were digital revolutions after revolution that came and went with no real meaningful leap in performance, just price, Shirley this can't still be true?
Amongst the big boy stuff you are likely to be able to actually audition (of stuff I have heard anyway), I would say the only thing you would probably go for is the Playback Designs MPD3 via DSD - but only via DSD.

I have heard two DAC's via PCM that surpass it, but they are made in minuscule quantities - one by a small maker - the Phasure DAC, and another a handmade DAC based on an enthusiasts heavily tweaked design and built to order called the Killer.

You can see my write up of both here:

Of those two however the Killer would be more suited to those of analogue tastes.

Trouble is unless you live in Australia you would have Buckley's of hearing one - which is a pity.

The Esoteric K series have received good reviews from both magazines and users. The K-03 and K-05 can be purchased for under $8,000 used.

Another option is that Sony has just come out with a player, the HAP-Z1ES ($2,000), that plays DSD and PCM downloads. There are quite a few downloads available now and Sony promises to make a wide variety of DSD downloads available. Sony also says that the other two major music groups, Universal and Warner, are on board with the plan.

I'm waiting to see some reviews and more downloads before I do anything with this. Acoustic Sounds has a Super HiRez section on their website if you'd like to see whats available now. Sony just started shipping the players Dec. 30th.
IMO, most CDPs today have very good DACs and decent transports. In recent years, the importance and quality of the master clock in a CDP has evolved to a level in which CD can compete with an analogue rig. Controlling jitter is the major factor in a good digital setup.

Such CDPs at this level would be Wadia, Esoteric, ARC (Audio Research), Ayon, and the ModWright Sony. These are in the $5k to $12k range and have exceptional DACS, master clock, and isolation systems.
I own an ARC for Redbook, but unless you are committed to CD or SACD, most people are spending this kind of money on transport and DAC systems.
Bill (Bhobba) is one of the more interesting digi-seekers to follow. Personally, I took him up on his impressions of the Metrum Acoustics Octave. For under $700 I finally found a more analog digital presentation that I could listen to comfortably.

Stereophile's John Atkinson reviewed the $3499. Marantz NA-11S1 Player & DA Processor and, "was astonished by how close," it sounded when compared directly to the $43,325. MSB Diamond DAC IV.

Digital is the most improving source going as such it can also result in some of the most depreciated gear on the used market. Unfortunately, to ring out the potential of whatever you buy you can still do a great deal of hot rod like tinkering. I seems there is also room for improvement in managing and getting files from their storage to the DAC.

DSD has returned with varying recording and mastering quality. DSD capable equipment is the new norm and currently the differences in the way manufactures decode DSD can be somewhat ambiguous.

Personally, I find the digital communities ambiguity toward the rear end of their playback systems when describing the many incremental improvements interesting. One fellow in particular who is obviously extremely computer literate yet listens via a sound card and small powered speakers.

There should be some notable advancements announced at this years CES. With your budget you should easily better your current digital front end, and by a substantial degree. Study up...

If you want an analog sound from digital, I can get you there, but it may be a bit more than $8K. The best route is computer audio, but I can also get you close using any CD transport, even the one you already use.

I typically get a best of show for my systems at every show I'm at, and this year was no exception at Newport and RMAF:

Newport 2013
RMAF 2013

Bill Hobba knows my equipment, at least the Off-Ramp 4.

Several customers of mine have abandoned or sold their vinyl setups after getting my digital gear:


I can even help you make your vinyl setup sound a lot better at the same time. Just email me - see the website.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
'Bill Hobba knows my equipment, at least the Off-Ramp 4.'

Sure do - and its good stuff.

But its vitally important to not take my, Steve's, or any-ones word for anything - you MUST hear it for yourself and in your own system.

For example I tried the Killer DAC with Steve's OR4 as source compared to a really wild upgradaded battery powered Wadia transport. Now normally the OR4 SLAUGHTERS transports. Not in this case - the transport was harmonically rich and very pleasing to listen to, the OR had better tighter bass and greater detail but a whiteness to it I don't think would appeal to analogue guys. I actually preferred the transport, but it wasn't the type of thing you would say one is better than the other for sure - others may prefer the OR.

Bottom line is you must listen for youself.

Well. I see my homework is cut out for me.
Virtually every single digital playback that I listened to had identifiable digital character and colourations that left me cold which ultimately forced me to abandon cd and sacd all together.
So ,ten years have passed and I am curious again about digital play back, how far has it actually advanced from a decade ago? And I'm sure it has.
The challenge what ever that I listen to in digital play back will be stiff, what my Lyra Olympus cartridge is pulling out of the record groove is revelatory.
You should audition a "true" digital playback system. Redbook CD players can only approximate the true digital content of a CD, because they cannot eliminate errors that occur when playing back CDs in real time.

I am referring to a system that reads the digital content as digital files and "ripping" the content with software like dBpoweramp or similar. The files are digitally accurate down to the bit level. Of course, the playback of those files to streaming digital now becomes the challenge, but is one which a number of systems are doing well.

I have never been really satisfied with CD playback (when compared to vinyl) even though the low noise levels, lack of wear of the media, and ease of use have kept CDs at the top of the music heap in my life.

After trying a "memory" type player (PS Audio PWT) I could see the benefits of this type of system, and after further moving to a system that extracts and ripps digitally perfect files with dBpoweramp I began to hear things on CDs that I have missed heretofore.

You should try to listen to one of these systems to see if your opinion on digital remains. And BTW, these systems cost well under $8K.

Things have improved significantly in the last 10 years. Mostly the jitter is now lower than ever. Also DACs are using better digital filters and some use none, which is best. Other advancements are in ground-loop isolation and preamps.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Bill - time to add the Dynamo power supply to your OR4. Also, the Plasmatron from vhaudio.com makes a huge difference. These together deliver a very analog sound, even with 44.1 files.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio