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Reviewer on the Run: Part II – CD player

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(Read Reviewer on the Run, Part I: The research stage)

Auditioning gear in Hong Kong is somewhat of a challenge due to space restrictions. Numerous shops are filled to ceiling with equipment and most stores don’t present very good auditioning spaces. If you know specifically the brand and model you want this is not a problem; but for auditioning purposes the stores which can demonstrate gear properly have the inside track.

Dedicated CD players are on the decline and many high end stores are limiting or dropping their CD player lines in favor of computer USB DACs. In Hong Kong with space being tight, computer audio makes even more sense because most people have no room to store thousands of CD’s, let alone vinyl. Well, you would think that but you would be wrong. I am always surprised to see the sheer number of CDs sold in the mainstream stores such as HMV and CD Warehouse (which has a similar look to Best-Buy). And not just any CD’s but large sections dedicated to Classical and Jazz. And not just any Classical and Jazz but audiophile quality recordings from the big audiophile labels like Chesky Records, Reference Recordings, Iso-Mike, Opus 3 and the myriad of SACD, HD recordings and Blu-ray music titles, as well as numerous system testing discs. CD is not dead, after all.

Hong Kong audiophiles strike me as holding onto some kind of golden age. Tube amplifiers reign supreme here as the majority of outlets carry numerous tube amplifiers and tube CD players. Indeed, there are shops in busy districts that sell nothing but tubes of all kinds from the affordable to the “holy cow you want how much for that light bulb? I’m not sure the tube amps are for sound quality or for help in heating homes in the winter since apartment buildings offer no insulation. So, while it doesn’t get very cold, the constant 7-10c requires a bit of heat.

Therefore, it is not terribly surprising that I would wind up purchasing a tube CD player. The audition process ideally would be to bring home many CD players to audition and figure out which one works best. That was not possible since I had no system at home. The alternative method in my view is to try the CD player across a few different systems to see if any problems reveal themselves. Some CD players sound flat and rather uninspiring and remind me of my Sony 300 mega disc player. I can accept flat sound from an inexpensive feature machine like the Sony but not in more expensive single disc players. I’m sorry to say numerous budget single disc players don’t separate themselves from the mega changer in terms of sound quality, at least not enough of a separation to justify paying a higher premium and losing so many features.

This is where Chinese players have a sizeable advantage. Lower cost of production allows them to use superior parts and parts matter from DACs to transport mechanism to power supplies to caps. I was consistently impressed by numerous Chinese amplifiers and CD players on sound and especially build, at prices that are very affordable. It’s especially nice that there is no sales tax in Hong Kong.

The Winner: Line Magnetic CD 215

This CD player is from Chinese manufacturer Line Magnetic who used to be in the business of restoring Western Electric tube amplifiers. They now make their own take on Western Electric tube amplifiers and the first thing is their rather old school utilitarian looks, a big hunk of steel with incredible build quality. Auditioning the amplifiers with the CD player through Zu Audio Essence, Omen Definition, and ATC 150 pro monitors, it was clear that this CD player was a cut above the usual sub $2,000 CD players.

This is an older school tube CD player with very basic functions and lacking a number of features from competitors such as USB inputs or balanced outputs. Nevertheless, it does have digital outputs for an external DAC and as I mentioned in part one, it is every bit as important to buy for the here and now. Line Magnetic is new to the US market and is imported by Tone Imports. The CD 215 is apparently not available yet. Stay tuned for an eventual review.

Stay tuned for Part 3 which will cover which amplifier I ended up choosing and why.

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