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Denafrips Avatar CD Transport – First Look

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Publisher’s note:

As an international publication, Dagogo cares about its readers, including the occasional and the lifelong audiophile consumer. While we are passionate about reviewing products from all over the world, we also seek to provide an important tool of consumer protection by listing information on the official distributorship representation of the manufacturer. In the case of Denafrips, readers in the U.S. are reminded that the company has no official distributorship representation in the country. Caveat emptor.


Denafrips is a noteworthy audio electronics manufacturer based in Guangzhou, China, with a service center in the Washington state and South Carolina. They have a range of products but have built their reputation mainly with a line of DACs utilizing R-2R resistor ladder technology, which is both a bit old school and also a currently hot little niche in high-end audio.

Denafripsis marketed and sold exclusively through Singapore-based reseller Vinshine Audio, run by Alvin Chee, who sells through partners in some countries but direct-to-consumer in the U.S. The Denafrips Avatar CD transport, the subject of this review, was announced earlier in 2020 and caught my fancy as I had been thinking about adding a CD transport to the system. Somewhat on a whim, I ordered one on August 14. Demand exceeded expectations, deliveries were backordered, and for a while Vinshine put a freeze on taking new orders, which may still be in effect. They also bumped the price a bit for new orders. My Avatar arrived on December 27, a Sunday. Everything about the experience of dealing with Vinshine Audio has been excellent, from communications to their e-commerce process to packaging and shipping. The price for the Avatar, in black or silver, is currently $US1,698, which includes shipping and customs handling. My unit is in black finish.

The Avatar is a Redbook CD transport only. No SACD, DVD-A, Blu-Ray or other disc formats are supported and, of course, it outputs a digital stream only, no analog. It uses the Philips CDM4/19 laser assembly and data are FIFO buffered and reclocked via an internal FEMTO clock. Other components and technology leverage Denafrips DAC experience and are described on the website. Purchasers have the option of ordering a spare laser assembly, which I did.

This is a top loading transport; the door only opens manually, sliding open and shut assuredly. A small Disc Clamp is included. It is magnetic and, once it is in position over the center of the CDM4 spinner, it gently grips. It must be so placed in order for the unit to operate. Once I read that, I thought they might want to include a spare disc clamp, just in case.

The Avatar is a handsome, solid piece of gear, weighing 26 pounds.  It smacks of quality, if not quite in the same league as, for example, the two early Sony SACD players, namely the SCD-1 and the SCD-777ES, but few components are. The overall level of fit-‘n-finish is good to very good. Lettering on the chassis could be a bit crisper and the buttons on the front panel could use a more luxurious feel, but I’m nitpicking. There are three support legs on the unit, hard cones with soft tips. Very nice.

When I reviewed the PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player ($5,999) in November 2018, I was frustrated with some aspects of its user experience necessitated by its approach to reading and playing back data, as well as its touchscreen display. I will mention that the Avatar has no such frustrations — it is quick to load and responsive to all commands, just what we all expect from the fading-from-memory experience of playing CDs and DVDs.

The front of the unit houses a 2” x 4.75” OLED display that is bright, bold, and blue. You can read the track number and time counter easily from across the room, which is pretty much all I care about. Very functional, if perhaps not the last word in elegance or sexiness. To the left of the display is a STANDBY/ON button and to the right are two rows of buttons (5 total) offering the usual CD functions of PLAY, PAUSE, STOP, PREV, and NEXT.

Around back are two sets of digital outputs, one reserved exclusively for users who are employing an external word clock via the provided 75 ohm BNC clock input. Each set of outputs includes optical and coax S/PDIF, AES/EBU, I²S via HDMI (LVDS) and I²S RJ45 (LVCMOS). The set of outputs that use the internal clock also offers I²S RJ45 (LVDS). The user manual specifies pin positions for all three I²S output types, if you need to know.

The other rear panel feature is a bank of four dip switches, which support these three functions:

  • Synch (or not) to an external word clock
  • Selecting between two filter settings, SHARP and SLOW (which are not further described but should be)
  • Setting upsampling, which you can leave at 44.1kHz or set to 88.2kHz, 176.4kHz, or 352.8kHz.

The Avatar comes with a heavy CNC machined aluminum remote, which has more buttons on it than you need (often the case) but is generally comfortable to hold and easy to use. Because of shipping regulations for lithium batteries, the remote ships without one. The owner’s manual doesn’t specify the exact battery, but I put in a CR2032 3V lithium and it’s worked perfectly. The Avatar also ships without a power cord, to which I say Bravo! There is a mountain of unused stock power cords on Planet Audiophile, let’s stop the insanity.

In the short time I’ve had the Avatar, I have not experimented with filter settings, upsampling, or digital connections other than coax S/PDIF into my Schiit Yggdrasil, which can accommodate AES/EBU but not I²S. I will try these things as I get down to serious listening and return with a follow up. That serious listening will include direct comparisons with identical files on a hard drive and with streaming from Qobuz, including comparing CD playback with high-res file playback. My interest is primarily CD playback vs. file playback, but I appreciate that there is also the matter of how the Avatar compares to other CD transports. I’ve not had a transport in use for years other than my time with the PS Audio more than two years ago, plus an aging Oppo DV-980H I have lying around. The PS Audio, which is more than 3x the price of the Avatar, is more flexible and technologically advanced, CD transport being only one part of what it does. I thought the PS Audio sounded excellent when it was here, but won’t look to my memory to draw any sonic comparisons. Interestingly, PS Audio is currently beta testing a new transport called the PerfectWave SACD Transport with an expected MSRP of $6,499.

Stay tuned.


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