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HFA Review: Transport comparisons

Since the original review in early December 2019, the Jay’s Audio CDT2-MkII transport has seen lots of use and during this time, it has been compared to a couple of other CD transports.

Some of my visitors have indicated to prefer the sound of the Jay’s Audio CD transport feeding the Jay’s Audio DAC-2 Signature as well as into the CH Precision C1 DAC over the sound of the Antipodes CX+EX combo, strengthening their belief that music servers can’t match CD players full stop. There is no denying that while the server sound is more solid and articulate, it is also more static than that of the CDT2-Mk2 transport. Personally, however, I can’t really say that one beats the other on all parameters and I still like both presentations for their own qualities.

Either way, I’m sure glad that I did not get rid of my CDs after ripping them as I am really finding my way back to spinning CDs!

Below are my findings of the comparisons that I conducted so far. All the players were used under identical circumstances with the same power cables and digital interlink and set up on the same Artesania Modular Rack.

van Medevoort CT-333

The CT-333 is no longer available but was a serious contender in its day. Based on the Teac VRDS-T1, it uses one of the simpler VRDS mechanisms that uses a plastic platter and regular motor instead of a metal platter and a brushless motor. The van Medevoort version does add a better clock and some other small tweaks such as extra shielding in key areas. This particular player was recently serviced and received a brand new laser mechanism.

Quite unexpectedly considering earlier experience with several Wadia CD players, the CT-333 sounded gray and dynamically restrained. While it did sound neutral and accurate, the delivery was uninspiring and pretty much the antithesis of lyrical. Mind you, this was not a matter of it just being so accurate that its sounds more like a music server than a CD player. A comparison with the Antipodes CX and EX quickly confirmed that it sounded both more solid and timbrally richer as well as more dynamic and exciting. I’d be tempted to assume that the CT-333 had gone off-spec but because it was recently serviced, that is not likely to be the case. In any event, the Jay’s Audio CDT2-MkII sounds pretty much like the opposite of the CT-333 with a full tonality, lots of dynamic drive, and particularly fluid and lyrical behavior. I can’t rule out the possibility that the CT-333 is performing less well than it should but as it stands, between these two, it was absolutely no contest.

Spectral SDR-3000

The Spectral uses the best Teac VRDS mechanism of its time, modified according to Spectral specs. The mechanism was also used in the Esoteric P2s and looks very similar to the one used in the Wadia 7. This particular Spectral player is still original and has never been serviced.

Unlike the CT-333, the SDR-3000 puts up good competition for the Jay’s player. Of course, that’s not unexpected as it had an eye-watering retail price some 20 years ago and to this day as a second-hand item still commands significantly more than the Jay’s costs new. The Spectral does have a different presentation. Darker and fuller but not as dry as I remember any VRDS-equipped transport to be, the bass is even fuller than they Jay’s which I feel already has a quite fulsome bass. The Spectral has excellent transient reproduction but interestingly is also smooth and fluid, especially for a VRDS drive, although it is not quite as free-flowing as the Jay’s. That’s only to be expected when comparing a swing-arm drive to any other drive. In comparing with the Jay’s player, the preference could tilt either way, depending on what music was being played. With Nu-Jazz from Eric Truffaz or Smooth Jazz from Norman Brown, the Jay’s open and airy presentation adds more lyricism to the music and sometimes it even seems to be a little bit speedier. On the other hand, the slightly calmer Spectral counters with richer textures and an even more natural sound that works especially well with acoustic instruments. With weightier and more incisive piano, the Analogy Records sampler (sourced from analog reel-to-reel tape) sounded most convincing on the Spectral.

Aqua La Diva

The La Diva is a current-production Philips CD-Pro2-based transport from Italy. At near 8.000 euro, it is considerably more expensive than the Jay’s CDT2-MkII. While the higher cost is not visibly reflected in the quality of its case or its overall looks, I do like its distinctive appearance. In terms of sound quality, however, it is evident that the Aqua is the more audiophile player of the two. Besides, linear and Swing-arm mechanisms always sound quite distinctive, and here, that’s the case too. The Aqua is more articulate and more immediate with tighter bass and a cleaner and crisper midrange and it has more distinct soundstage layering. This player’s transients, in particular, are among the fastest and cleanest that I have heard while its tonality is as pure and convincing as it can be. The Jay’s is comparatively more rounded and less immediate but instead more weighty and voluptuous and even if it is less focused than the Aqua, the Jay’s CDM-4 has that unmistakable flow that makes it easy to get swept away by the music.

The Aqua is fluid and highly refined and I would not call it dry but its extremely precise sound can make it come across as a little bare with some music and in some combinations. The big Martin Logan ESL 15A’s certainly know their way with the Aqua’s extreme resolution, sounding very impressive while their super-potent bass prevents the sound from ever becoming too analytical. The cleaner and thinner-sounding Magico S1 MkII’s also clearly illustrate the Aqua’s audiophile qualities but there is also a lot to say for the sweeter and more voluptuous-sounding Jay’s CDT2-Mk2. While I Ultimately find the Aqua to be most realistic and impressive player of this bunch, with some CDs, its honesty could also render the performance a little too matter-of-fact. That’s not the Aqua’s fault but in these cases, the Jay’s does turn in a more engaging performance.

Final Conclusion

Sometimes I wish the wonderful world of audio was more black and white. You know, this player is fabulous and that player sucks. But as I gain more and more experience, increasingly I find that it just isn’t that simple. While there is no doubt that the Spectral does some things better than the Jay’s and the Aqua does many other things better, the bottom line is that, for a large part, the system-match dictates the relative success. Then, even when selecting the most audiophile components, personal taste also comes into play. The CDM-4 mechanism has a unique and unmistakable sweet and free-flowing quality that seems to be present in every so-equipped player that I used and the Jay’s player takes this to the max. Its implementation of this mechanism is clearly superior to that of any of the classic CDM-4-equipped players that I used and I often find myself being amazed at its utterly musical performance even in the presence of extremely elevated contenders. Ultimately, better performance can be had but it will cost significantly more.

Credit: HFA Author Christiaan Punter



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