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Roksan Caspian M Series-1 CD player Review

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Roksan Caspian CD playerI’ll take one… in black!

Constantine warned me of this. Not this CD player, the Roksan Caspian M-Series 1. No, he warned me of the potential “irresistance” a great product under review could have.

Take a look at my review of the Eastern Electric Minimax CD player and you’ll see that I have had quite a few CD players in and out of my system over the past 2 years. From affordable: Cambridge Audio D500SE to luxurious: Sim Audio Moon Eclipse, and in-between: Rega Planet (original and new versions), Classe CDP-10, Creek CD53SE, and Arcam FMJ 23.

After all of those, I stuck with the Minimax. I found it to offer the most for the money, and more importantly I wanted to listen to it… a lot!

Ouch! It hurts… I actually want to listen to the Roksan Caspian CD player even more. This CD player takes almost all of the good qualities of all the others I have had and brings them together. There will be many characteristics I will mention as part of my listening notes below, but the one that is top of mind when thinking about the Caspian is unpretentious. Oh, come on, who would ever use that word to describe a CD player… you had to think too hard. You’re right, I did. Finding one word to describe any one thing is near impossible.

This player gets right to the music. It isn’t show-y in any one area. It is very well balanced across many areas: tonality, speed, and atmosphere. And it gets out of the way. Maybe that’s another reason why I’d like it in black. It wouldn’t stand out as much on my rack… it would take that last (visual) step back and let the music bring you in.

Roksan is a well-known name in audio. I don’t think it’s quite as popular as some others here in the states, but for folks who do recognize it, they associate it with respect. Especially if they’re Anglophiles. A new acquaintance was over for dinner and drinks the other night. He’s Irish… but more importantly he’s a music lover. Jim’s in radio. He’s the Art Editor for WRTI here in Philadelphia… a very classy station playing traditional jazz and classical in a public radio format. Jim and his wife entered the living room and Jim headed right for the equipment. With Rega and Rogue, he skipped right past and first words out of his mouth were, “Nice Roksan CD player!” He knew Roksan very well from his audiophile crazed days in London. He also knew the Caspian brand and knew it as the top of the Roksan line.

His second words were, “Do you like it?” I said, “Yes, a lot”. We then got to discussing the system as a whole, how it had been assembled over time, all the CD players I’ve listened to and now that I’m reviewing for Dagogo.com.

We listened to a lot of music that evening and everything sounded great!

That night we were reminiscing. Jim pulled out the Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the ’80s Underground box set from Rhino Records. 80 songs from the college/indie music scene of the 80’s that defined the term “Alternative”. Bands like The Smiths, Ultravox, The Minutemen, Echo and the Bunnymen, Dinosaur Jr… and the list goes on. This is stuff Jim and me (and our buddy Greg who was also over and is a huge music fan) were into in our youth. The music on this set is incredible, but the sound quality is all over the place. Here’s one of the best things about the Caspian CD player. It’s not snobby. It didn’t care about being fed less than the best and it let everything come through the way it was meant to. It didn’t exaggerate poor recording and just let the music, the angst, the fun, the silliness, and the rock, come through in a way that made the entire listening experience memorable and fun. Believe me, not many CD players can (or are willing to) do this.

One thought I related to Jim was that the Roksan Caspian even sounds great OUT of the room. I’ve read some other reviewers talk about this phenomenon and I’m with them. It’s actually harder for a piece to sound realistic and alive outside of a room than in the room and if it sounds that way outside, it sounds even better inside. I’d like to understand why this is the way it is, but for now, I’ll just stick with the idea. Any thoughts welcome, just send me an email.

I listened to so much music with this CD player; and I want to listen to even more. It takes every CD I have and brings me closer to the music, the time, the venue, the vibe.

Is Jeff Buckley not one of the most impressive vocalists of the 20th century? He passed on way, way too early! His Grace album is one of my all-time favorites. I’m a big fan if you can’t tell and have this special little box set containing the EP’s he released in and around the release of the full-length Grace LP. The set is called The Grace EP’s appropriately and is a mix of radio-edits, live version and B-like sides.

The original Grace CD was a little bass-shy and a tad harsh/etched. These EP’s have similar sonic characteristics but through the Caspian are much more bearable sonically. Performance-wise, some of these tracks are amazing, especially the live versions of “Halleluiah”. The Caspian reveals incredible ambiance and texture. You can see the hall and feel the acoustic instruments as well as the power of the electric ones. Subtle synths that were never audible on other CD players are appropriately revealed and enhance the vibe of the songs. Very technically wrought subtle drum work adds to the texture in a way I never realized before listening through the Caspian. Jeff Buckley’s performances are VERY dynamic and the Caspian captures the emotional swings with authority and without strain.

One of my favorite albums of the summer was Ben Fold’s Songs for Silverman. Like Jeff Buckley, I believe Ben Folds to be one of the greatest indie singer/songwriters of the last almost 2 decades. He’s not the vocalist that Jeff Buckley is, not even close, but his songs are so clever and well put-together. Songs for Silverman have many clever and direct songs. One of my favorites is “Jesusland”, a cynical song about our country’s heartland. Not religious, but more about how our surroundings/society are taking shape thru the Bible belt. This song is rich and full, smooth and trotting along with a grand chorus and medium orchestration. Through the Caspian, the soundscape unfolds right in front of you. It sounds
appropriately grand and warm, with wonderful tympani filling out the low-end and driving the grandness.

My family can’t get enough of “Landed”… the kids ask for it constantly in the car and when I play it at home, the whole family breaks out their air-microphones and start to lip sync. Until… until the chorus comes in, and then everyone starts singing along. This song really grabs them, but I can tell, it grabs them more through my home stereo thanks to the Caspian (and of course the rest of the system).

Another great thing about this player is that you don’t have to play the music loud to hear the entire soundscape. You get the detail, pace and emotion at all volume levels, but it is really a pleasure to get all that at medium to low levels for those late nights, when the rest of the family is sleeping. But I just need my emotional resuscitation I get from getting closer to the music as the Caspian would have me.

Two new additions to my music collection are the latest releases from My Morning Jacket and Nada Surf. My Morning Jacket’s Z is an all-around more approachable and immediate recording than their prior release. It is just as atmospheric and rich with huge reverb swells and dark ambience. The feel is more positive in vibe, more uplifting and a real confidence comes through. Track 2, “It Beats 4 U” and track 3 “Gideon” are much more confident, grand and top-tier than anything off their previous album and make MMJ sound much more worldly and bold enough to give U2 a run for their $, and put Coldplay to shame (and I’m a big Coldplay fan… at least was prior to their latest album).

Nada Surf’s latest, The Weight is a Gift, is just that, a gift of sweet indie pop ear candy. Through the Caspian, it comes wrapped in a red velvet box with turquoise and gold satin ribbons. Happier than the previous release Lets Go, it’s rich and rhythmic. The stories come through loud and clear: stories in self-reflection, love and understanding (no peace). If track 3, “Always Love” is not the ultimate bit of Foo Fighter/Gin Blossom-esque indie pop morsel in 2005, I don’t know what is!

In the two mini album reviews above, you can read that I mention feel and meaning and atmosphere and vibe. These are qualities that the Caspian lets the listener focus on… more so than the sound quality, soundstage, etc. To me, the former qualities are the ones I want to hear in my music!

I really wanted to know why this pretty, unassuming player in its elegant and unassuming package sounds so unassuming yet amazing. I wanted to understand the technology more. I’m not very technical, but the following bits make sense to me as to why this machine should sound as good as it does.

The new generation Caspian sets itself apart from Roksan’s earlier CD players in the new CD mechanism, motherboard and DAC. So it’s new, so what? Well, the motherboard uses heavy-duty, 2oz copper circuit boards. Copper sounds warm and sophisticated in wires, so I would imagine it would do the same on a motherboard right? The player has 4 regulated power supplies for the CD mechanism, DAC, Display and Controls. The power comes from two beefy (for a CD player at least) transformers… one for the analog out and one for the rest, and the DAC has another 4 supply rails coming from its own rectified transformer. Keeping the power unique and separate makes sense to me too as this is what I try to do with my components in my rack. Again, still making common sense to this non-techie. The DAC is of Burr Brown’s PCM 1730E, a 24bit/192kHz variety preferred by a handful of companies, such as Sim Audio on its Moon Equinox. Roksan hand-selected the components for the Caspian and developed their own chip for the master clock to control timing. My experience with 24/192 DAC is more air and 3-dimensionality and that is consistent here with my experiences with the Caspian as well. Nothing unconsidered in the Caspian design and it certainly sounds that way!

To me, it’s all part of the package. It’s a smart physical design, smart engineering and really smart choice with regard to the sonic style it delivers. It’s unpretentious in style, and in black, unpretentious in look. If the Roksan Caspian works in your budget, you MUST give it a good audition… in your own system preferably. You’ll hear what I’m talking about right away. And even if you can’t audition it in your system, I am very confident you will still hear what I like about this player after you take it home. It’s that good. It’s that smart. It is reliable and solid, comes from a very reputable company, and it looks like it will last forever and it has a sound that you will never tire of, especially if you’re trying to get to the heart of your music.

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