Classé Audio CDP-102

Classé Audio CDP-102
A Universal Joy


November 2006

For the past half-decade or so the Electrocompaniet EMC-1 CD player has been my main digital source for music playback. I’ve always admired the quality of build, flexibility, and musical prowess of this player, even in its initial incarnation with its 24-bit/96kHz processor. Since then, the unit was changed to have a 24/192 processor, though for the life of me, I never heard more than a subtle improvement in sound quality. So I kept my unit in its original state feeling that: 1) EC built one heck of a player the first time and 2) I’ll pay more for a unit when I find one that gives me a significant enough improvement in sound and adds to my musical enjoyment.

Then one fateful day my Sony CD/SACD/DVD carousel player decided that it could not tolerate going through another weekend of me watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Personally, I can’t get enough of that adorable little Frodo Baggins, Gandalf in that fabulous white gown, and don’t even get me started on Orlando Bloom and those yummy ears … But I digress. After realizing that my player had gone the way of Mordor, I began thinking about universal disc players that were, should I say, more of the high-end variety.

A few weeks later I found myself in a suite at the Mirage during the 2006 CES checking out new products from Rotel, B&W, and Classé Audio. The always pleasant Dave Nauber was showing a static display of some new products from the highly heralded “Delta Series.” The piece that most caught my attention was a new CD player that he said also happened to be a pretty good DVD player as well. That player was the Classé Audio CDP-102.

The CDP-102 has the distinctive Guggenheim Museum inspired styling that identifies all of the Delta products. It also possesses Classés’ world-class construction quality, thoughtful design elements and top-notch fit-n-finish. It’s designed with the audiophile, videophile, and, quite frankly, the interior designer in mind. Though it looks to be just a two-channel CD player (which it is), a glance through their textbook-quality owner’s manual shows that it also plays Dual Disc, MP3, WMA, AAC, Video-CD, and S-VCD discs. But best of all, it also plays DVD-Audio and DVD-Video discs! It’s essentially a high-end universal disc player. Oh dreams do come true!

By the time I left that suite, the drool factor had reached saturation. A few weeks later, I contacted Dave Nauber and began begging … I mean we discussed the parameters around which I would … Oh, heck; he was kind enough to send me a unit to review.

Built like a brick $#!% house
When it arrived, I was reminded of the care and attention to detail that Classé puts even into its packaging. They use some very durable plastic/polymer boxes with fitted foam braces inside that allow for excellent protection and easy removal of the rather massive player. The unit itself comes covered with what looks like a big cloth shower cap. Also, tucked neatly inside the box is another smaller box which holds the gorgeous illuminated remote control and a fairly substantial AC cord. They also provide you with batteries for the remote and a screwdriver to remove the battery cover with. That’s what I mean by thoughtful. With the manual comes an instruction sheet for removing the unit from the box, though removing the unit without destroying the box should be a no-brainer. I’d suggest leaving the cloth cover on until you’ve decided where its long-term resting place will be. The metalwork is just about flawless and you won’t want to risk any dings or fingerprints. Besides, at 17.5” wide, 16.6” deep, 4.75” tall and weighing about 26lbs, this thing is the size of most amplifiers and frankly, is built like one too.

Once it’s in place, integrating the CDP-102 into your system can be as simple or complex an undertaking as you want it to be. It uses a user-friendly touch screen LCD graphic user interface (or “GUI” as they call it) to control all of the unit’s audio and video functions. This helps keep the front panel relatively free of buttons and knobs, save for a Standby button which, toggles the unit between standby and fully operational modes; a Menu button for accessing the unit’s functions; and a Load (eject) button. This display also acts as a preview screen and allows you to watch the video content of your DVD discs. If you’re fairly familiar with the programming functions of most TV sets these days you shouldn’t have too tough a time figuring out how to maneuver through the CDP-102’s options. And man, are there options! Even something as basic as the display can be tailored to suit the user. The desired level of display brightness, how long the display remains on, and the language that the display uses, can be set to maximize the player’s ease of use.

That last feature is particularly cool. I had a cocktail party at my home and invited some co-workers, including my boss – whose wife Daniela is German. She has only been in the country since the start of the year and has yet to learn much of the language. She brought over some of her favorite German pop discs and asked me (as best she could) to play one for her. I took her over to the CDP-102 and setup up the unit to use German as the front panel display language. She was thrilled to see her native language on the screen and her husband (my boss) even said it was a thoughtful gesture on my part. Daniela went one better and insisted that I get a big fat raise. Needless to say she is fast becoming my favorite frau.

When watching DVD-Videos, the CDP-102 allows you to put the display in “preview mode,” which basically turns the display into a TV screen. The video display can either stay on as long as the movie is playing or cutoff after a specified amount of time. Even if you set it to cutoff after only a few minutes, pressing any button on the remote or touching the screen will bring the display back. Also, the video functions will display on your TV screen making it easy for you to read. 

The rear of the CDP-102 is fairly uncluttered as well, even with all its flexibility. Looking at the unit from the back, there are the front left and right Audio Outputs, which accommodate both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) cables. Beneath them are the Digital Audio Outputs, which accommodate SPDIF, AES/EBU, and Optical connection so that the CDP-102 can be used as a transport. To the right of the digital outputs are a set of Control connections (infrared input and output, DC triggers, and CAN BUS control ports) that will satisfy most videophile’s desire to integrate this unit into a bigger whole-house setup. There is also an RS-232 connection which allows the user to download software upgrades. Above the Control connections are the Test/Monitor connections (Composite and S-Video). Rounding out the rear panel is the main power switch and an IEC power cord receptacle.

Although all of the CDP-102’s functions can be controlled at the front panel display, let’s face it, if you’re a hopeless slackass like me, there’s just no substitute for a good full featured remote, and Classé offers one of the best. The remote is made from the same soft silver aluminum as the chassis and can be used to operate both video and audio functions. It even has a button for backlighting the remote’s buttons for easy visibility in the dark.

The CDP-102 also gives you the option of making your analog outputs fixed or variable, meaning that you can connect the player directly to an amplifier and control the volume output in the variable output mode or 

Sonically Speaking
Even with all its flexibility, the CDP-102 is exceptionally true to the recordings it plays. Differences in recording type were immediate and obvious. This can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because of the level of musical enjoyment I experienced and a curse because I’m now more aware of shortcomings in recordings that I own in one format versus another. For example, Miles Davis’Kind of Blue is available out there in numerous formats (red book CD, SACD, Superbit, DVD-A, etc) and in multiple releases. Who’s going to go out and buy every version? Who would want to? By the same token, it’s going kill you to think that there may be a better recorded version of favorite discs that you don’t have isn’t it? Well if you are that dedicated (or anal) the CDP-102 is just for you.

The first disc that I cued up was Corinne Bailey Rae’s, self-titled CD on the Capitol Records label, which features the pop hit, Put Your Records On. Some have tried to paint her as the next Nora Jones, but she has a slightly sunnier presentation than Jones and her sultry voice sounds more pleasing with her adequate acoustic guitar playing. Through the CDP-102, the presentation was warm, musical, with very well delineated images. Same goes for track 11, “Seasons Change,” which is more like some of the bass-heavy neo-soul tunes made popular by the likes of Jill Scott and Eryka Badu.

Sticking with the female vocal theme, I recently received a copy of a disc by a dazzling Latin jazz singer simply named Xiomara. Her self-titled CD [Chesky JD311] is a feast of sensuality. She is stunning to look at and a joy to listen to, and I don’t even know the language that she is singing in. It doesn’t matter because the 102 renders it so three-dimensionally that I could still “feel” the performance. Track 5, “Soledad,” is portrayed with such sharply cut spatial cues that it feels as though you can visualize the distance between Xiomara and the musicians behind her. This is great stuff. 

Jumping to the other side of the musical spectrum, I threw on the soundtrack from The Planet of the Apes [Sony Classical]. Danny Elfman’s full-scale orchestral score is loaded with thunderous bass and rich dynamics. Track 11, “Preparing For Battle” is a rousing and exciting piece which sets the stage for the impending battle with the apes. The CDP-102 has complete control of the immense soundstage that this track and disc presents. Actually, just for grins I put the DVD of the same movie in to see how the music supports the movie. I got goose bumps feeling the way Elfman’s score added weight and excitement to the scene.

As a video player, the CDP-102 is excellent. The player’s ability to resolve music is matched by its video rendering capabilities. My 1000-watt BAT amps and 56” high-rez big screen Hitachi love this stuff and my Neanderthal genes haven’t stopped celebrating.

Recently, Classé released the new CDP-202 which is identical to the 102 but is supposed to be an improvement on the CDP-102’s music capabilities. I haven’t heard the new player yet but I’d have a hard time believing that it could be a significant enough step up from this player without being considerably more expensive. Then again, this is not a company that introduces new products on a whim. This unit was a joy to work with, offers unparalleled flexibility, stunning sonics, great visuals, and is exquisitely built. Personally, I’d be thrilled to make the CDP-102 a permanent part of my reference system and have every intention of making that happen. Highly recommended!

Dave Thomas


Single-box, two-channel, slot-loading CD/DVD player with remote and touchscreen control
Single-ended and balanced analog outputs
Three digital outputs (AES3 on XLR and S/PDIF on RCA and TosLink)
DC trigger inputs
Bi-directional RS-232 and IR repeater ports
Two video outputs (composite and S-video)
Formats supported: CD, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, MP3, WMA, AAC, Video-CD, S-VCD, DVD+R, DVDRW, DVD+RW, DTS CD
Maximum output voltage: 4V balanced, 2V unbalanced
Frequency response: 8Hz–20kHz Balanced, ±0dB/0.1dB, 8Hz–20kHz single-ended, ±0dB/0.7dB
THD+noise: 0.001% ref 1kHz, 0.001% ref 10Hz – 20kHz
Signal/noise: 110dBfs 22Hz – 22kHz A Weighted
Channel separation: >124dB @ 1kHz, 112dB 16Hz – 20kHz
Clock jitter: <200ps.
Power consumption: 55W
Dimensions: 17.5″ (445mm) W by 4.75″ (121mm) H by 16.5″ (419mm) D
Weight: 27 lbs (12.3kg).

Price: $4,000

Classé Audio
5070 Francois Cusson
Lachine, Quebec
Canada H8T 1B3
+1-514-636-1428 (fax)
E-mail: cservice@Classé

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