|Raysonic CD-138 CD Player
|For the Love of Music
Thank goodness for Stephen Monte, owner and
operator of NAT Distribution in Bensalem,
Pennsylvania. For years he’s been making
affordable high-end audio accessible via
an array of some the most beautifully built
and musically satisfying audio gear around.
I’ve had the privilege of reviewing many of
the products that he represents from
companies like Opera-Consonance, Sound
Quest, and now what may be the best of the
Raysonic is based in Toronto, Canada where
the design, development, and marketing of
their product line takes place. They also
have a manufacturing facility in China where
they use state-of-the-art CNC metal cutting
and metal forming and fabricating machines
to craft some of the most gorgeous looking
high-end gear you’ll ever see. Couple that
with prices that are shockingly low (by
high-end standards) and you’ve got what
might be considered a nearly miraculous
value. Think Plinius build quality at about
half of the cost.
Back in April, Monte was kind enough to send
me Raysonic’s CD-138 tube CD player to
review. It was as lovely and well built as
all of the Raysonic gear that I had heard at
previous shows, and at a price tag of only
$1,950, had me praying that it sounded as
good as it looked. I know, I know, and
you’re right, the gorgeous millwork and low
prices won’t mean a damn thing if the gear
doesn’t satisfy musically. But in this day
and age when it is important that your audio
system integrates into the aesthetics of
your home, you can’t under estimate the
importance of a good-looking piece of gear
in your living room.
All Raysonic components bear the same family
resemblance: bulletproof construction,
gorgeous silver 8mm brushed aluminum
chassis, smooth curves, soft cobalt blue
backlighting that enhances the knobs and
buttons, and the “Raysonic” logo neatly
tucked into the upper left corner of the
The CD-138 features a small LED display
which is flanked by three buttons on each
side. These buttons are of course for the
unit’s basic operating functions. Speaking
of function buttons, the remote for the
CD-138 is no joke. For an under $2K CD
player, you get a remarkably well-made, full
featured remote made of the same brushed
aluminum as the chassis. Did I mention it
can control volume as well? A nice touch is
the display dimmer which allows you late
night listeners to enjoy maximum darkness.
This is a thoughtfully designed piece folks.
On top of the chassis is a smooth sliding
door where you load and unload your discs.
Just above the door is a window that exposes
the two 6922EH Russian vacuum tubes mounted
in ceramic tube sockets. The rear panel is
even simpler; there you’ll find a coaxial
digital output, balanced (XLR) and
un-balanced (RCA) analog outputs, and a fuse
protected AC receptacle. That’s it. On the
inside you’ll find neatly laid out circuit
boards, featuring Mundorf and Solen
capacitors and a large noiseless C-core
power transformer. There’s a Cirrus CS4398
24/192 upsampling DAC and a Philips
transport which is suspension mounted in
order to isolate it from the chassis and
minimize vibration. All in all a fairly
simple device, right? Well, I think that’s
the whole point. This is a straight forward,
two-channel, class-A triode tube design that
strives to do no more than play music; kind
of refreshing when you think about it.
Okay, so we’ve got great looks, great build quality,
and an affordable price tag. But the one thousand
nine hundred and fifty dollar question is: Do we
have music? In a word, yes. Oh baby, yes.
Free of the encumbrances of trying to be all things
to all audiophiles the CD-138 eschews all of the ups
and extras that many players try to include in order
to keep up with the digital Joneses. There are no
digital inputs for additional components such as USB
connections for iPods and such. There are no analog
inputs so you can’t use the unit as a preamp, though
there is a coaxial digital output that will allow
the use of an external DAC if you so choose.
began my listening with some live jazz from my man
Kurt Elling’s Dedicated To You [Concord]. The
first two tracks on this excellent disc, “All Or
Nothing At All” and “It’s Easy To Remember”, ended
the suspense as it became immediately apparent that
the CD-138 was indeed a musically satisfying player.
Imaging, soundstage size and depth were all right on
the money. That good old tube air was very much
present as well. But when I got to track four,
“What’s New”, that’s when the CD-138 really
delivered the goods. This track is an instrumental
featuring the great Ernie Watts on tenor sax along
with the Laurence Hobgood Trio. I remember writing
in my notes: “3-D, 3-D, 3-D!” There was a palpable
three-dimensional presence to this performance that
was breathtaking. Front-to-back and side-to-side
placement of musicians and the size of the
performing space were so clear that I was able to
see in my mind what the venue and stage looked like.
I took the liner notes out of the CD case and sure
enough there was a picture of the performers onstage
and it was exactly as I had imagined it. It usually
takes a whole lot of dough to get a player that can
do that so well.
pleasantly as the CD-138 rendered the Elling disc, I
knew that it would also have to handle far more
dynamic recordings in order for it to be considered
something that is truly special. Mickey Hart’s
Däfos [Rykodisc] presented just that sort of
challenge. Track three, “Reunion”, is performed in
three parts and all three parts are rich with Bobby
Vega’s bass thumping and scads of sonic artifacts.
And of course track seven, “The Gates of Däfos” is
well known in audiophile circles for its violent
percussions and deep, deep bass. The CD-138 does a
fine job with this disc too, maybe not with quite
the same level of resolution during extremely
dynamic passages as units like Classe’s CDP-502 or
the Wadia 381i, but those units are way more
expensive than the CD-138 while the musicality
difference is on only slight. The deep bass was
quite good, as was the midrange, and the upper
frequency transients had good extension.
disc that I really enjoyed listening to on the
CD-138 was Bobby McFerrin’s VOCAbuLaries [Emarcy
B00114036-02]. This disc features McFerrin’s usual
vocal acrobatics, but this time he is joined in
large part by his “Voicestra” for some awesome
improvisational ensemble performances. One of my
favorites is the first track “Baby”, which is sort
of a cool acapella re-imagining of the Talking
Head’s “Up All Night.” This ensemble has tremendous
range and rhythm and is rendered pleasantly by the
CD-138. Track two, “Say Ladeo”, adds bass,
percussion, and synthesizers to the mix and is a
little more of a pop song, but it’s still made very
enjoyable because the nature of the vocal ensemble
is kept intact and the instruments actually enhance
the song. Very nice.
Given the still down economy, it’s nice to know that
great high-end equipment can still be had at
reasonable prices. Sadly, the music retail industry
may dictate that many people will begin building
music libraries via the internet, music server
downloads, etc. and CD players may soon become more
like… well, turntables. But if you’re still inclined
to anchor your stereo system with a gorgeous looking
and sounding CD player, that won’t jeopardize the
family’s nest egg, then I can’t think of a player
anywhere near this price range that I could
recommend more than the Raysonic CD-138. Bless you
Vacuum Tubes: Russia 6922EH x 2.
CD transport: Philips VAM 1202.
Conversation rate: 24bit / 192kHz..
Output Level: 0 - 2.7V.
Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20KHz, ± 0.5dB.
Dynamic Range: 102dB.
Output impedance Single Ended RCA-110 ohms.
Output impedance Balanced XLR-175 ohms.
Digital output: 75 ohm.
Power Consumption: 35 watts.
Remote volume control: yes.
Dimensions: 48L x 33 W x 9.6 H (cm).
Operating Voltage: 100-120 VAC. 50Hz/60Hz
True balanced Push-pull top Loading CD-Player.
Real class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage.
Very compact output buffer.
2 x 6922EH triodes tubes-Russia.
Ceramic tube sockets.
Warm up function-extends tube life time.
1pc CIRRUS CS4398.
Philips CD transport mechanism.
Suspension system to isolate the CD-transport from
Mundorf MKP capacitors.
Large noiseless C-core power transformers.
Mirrored display glass.
Display dimmer & mute function.
Metal remote volume control.
Background light display LED ON/OFF function.
Crafted high grade 8mm aluminium-brushed and
anodized chassis: black or silver.
P.O. Box 46565
M1T 3V8 Canada
Tel:+1 416 318 6038
2307-Rear Bristol Pike
Bensalem, PA 19020