Abbingdon Music Research CD-777 ($8,500)


When I think of both what I expect AND what I want in a source component, a number of major characteristics crucial to my musical enjoyment come to mind - proper tonal color, timbral accuracy, natural transient attack and decay, balance throughout the frequency spectrum and realistic dynamics. Over the years I've learned that resolution does not mean analytical hyped-up transients. I have also heard too many components showcased in 15 minute dealer demos that, while impressive with a carefully selected "audiophile" recording, don't deliver the goods when it comes to long-term listening enjoyment. Based on my requirements in a source component and my listening experiences, the tank-like, tubed, AMR CD-777 fulfilled the promise that digital made a quarter century ago. The CD-777's balanced, natural and tonally accurate presentation provided the most musically satisfying and realistic sound this reviewer has experienced to date in a digital player. Be careful analog lovers, you may just find yourself cheating on your turntable with this digital beast - blasphemy I know !!! Don't knock it until you've tried it!! [Frank Peraino]


Bel Canto DAC3 ($2,495)

An impressive design that incorporates a digital volume control enabling you to bypass your preamplifier, and that offers dynamics, sound stage and realism that exceeds any DAC I've heard, including its predecessor, the DAC2. Full remote control, elegant design and straightforward ergonomics. The single largest improvement to my stereo in many years. Highly recommended (though I'd have been willing to pay more for a design that included an internal ADC granting full preamplifier functionality). [Russell Lichter]



EmmLabs CDSA SE CD/Stereo SACD Player ($10,000)

Ed Meitner and his teamís one box wonder, offering the best that stereo SACD recordings (particularly those made direct from DSD masters) provide. This special player invites the listener into the music, with its great powers of inner resolution, uncolored natural flow and soundstage transparency. Its transparency into the musical action also allows for superb retrieval of ambient spatial clues, especially on stereo SACD recordings. The playerís performance on CD was found to be exceptionally close to that of SACD playback. The CDSA SE is also software upgradeable, allowing one to keep in touch with Meitner and his teamís discoveries as they continue to push the envelope of digital converter design. [Nelson Brill]



Holfi Xandra MP ($10k)


Here's a conventional CD player that reaches further, beyond the stars. The Danish based Xandra launched earlier this year while I had the pleasure of hearing their battery powered electronics at the Munich show this past spring. Needless to say, I came away so impressed, I never forgot the name. This battery-powered SACD player has lots going for it and I aim to tell you all about as a formal review is underway. [Clement Perry] 



Marantz SA-15S1 Super Audio CD Player ($1999.99 MSRP, $1399.99 street price )


The analog-like warmth of this unit is its greatest superlative. The lack of digital fatigue comes along with a very good rhythmic pace and a rich, encompassing midrange. On CD playback the highs are not as prominent as the older Marantz SA 8260ís which results in a slightly shorter soundstage and a smidgen less pace but the overall presentation from the SA-15S1 is more full-bodied, richer and inviting. When playing SACD though, the newer more expensive model clearly pulls out ahead of the older Marantz model in all aspects. From the grandest of SACDís sweeps to the most delicate of enunciations the SA-15S1 gets out of the way and puts the ear where it should be: on the music and not on the electronics. Itís a perfect consideration for those on a budget looking for a taste of fine audio. This is one more unit that makes the argument against Digital playback less and less compelling with refinements in technology and design. [Alvester Garnette]


Nova Physics Memory Player ($12,500)


The Nova Physics Memory Player has to be the absolute best transport of the century.  In the past few years I have owned many combinations of CD Players, Transports and DACís however, after introducing this top of its class digital transport into my system, I have not looked back since.  The Nova Physics Memory Player possesses a pure analog feel without all the fuss of a turntable. In addition it's a top notch CD music server that gives tons of storage. Finally, a music lover like myself has his cake... and can eat it too. [Moreno Mitchell]


Oppo DV-980H Universal Disc Player ($169)


Deceptively simple looking universal disc player gives you far more musical joy than youíd think possible from redbook and SACD format discs for less than $200 bucks. A flat out steal and one of the best bargains in audio. Did I mention itís one heck of a DVD player too? [Dave Thomas]



Zero One Mercury HD/CD player ($4,450)


A poor man's Nova Physic's Memory Player with a slicker user interface! Though not the equal of the mighty Memory Player, the Zero One without question, bests some serious CD players around here with its lustier top end coupled with hair raising tonality and timbre. Hits the proverbial home run on whether computer-based designs outperform CD players with a single swing at the bat.