[SoundStage!]Home Audio
Equipment Review

October 2003

Classé Audio CDP-10 CD Player

by Wes Phillips



Review Summary
Sound "Warm as in the breath of life -- this is a player that puts living, breathing musicians in front of you"; "a proclivity towards relaxed mellowosity rather than the sharply defined hyper-detail of some high-rez players."
Features Fully balanced CD-only player that includes HDCD decoding; "RCA and balanced XLR analog outputs, S/PDIF digital output on an RCA jack, and an IEC power-cord socket."
Use No functional issues -- "just so much fun to listen to and use that I fell more than a little in love with it." "As for single-ended versus balanced use, I'd call it a wash."
Value "The Classé CDP-10 is way better than any $2000 CD player I've heard to date."

When you're as obsessed by audio reproduction as I am, sometimes you worry about your value system. My big fear is that when they commit me to the aged audio-reviewer's home, I'll sit around the club room gazing into the fire and reminiscing about the really memorable components I have known.

Other men might gaze into the flames and re-live old loves -- somehow, that's not considered lechery, just reflecting on a life well-lived. But ticking off the short list of CD players I have loved? That's weird.

But I strongly suspect that's where I'm headed. Good thing the Classé CDP-10 just made that list one player longer -- I hate reruns.

On the other hand, given the CDP-10's $2000 USD price, maybe I should settle down with it for the long haul -- after all, that's what I finally did in the other love department.

I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was

Two grand for a CD-only player might be a price that separates the true audiophile from the less, shall we say, committed (or, less charitably, certifiable) listener. An audiophile would think how reasonable; anyone else might find that a tad steep.

After all, can't you buy a universal player, one that'll spin DVD-A, SACD, DVD-V, and CD, for less than that? Good point -- you can also buy one for about five times that price (the Linn Unidisk). However, as Classé's vice president of marketing Dave Nauber pointed out:

"The choice of making a more affordable high-resolution CD-only player is really a reflection of how most listeners still experience music in the home. You can make the same arguments for CD continuing to be a major player in people's listening habits that you can for the LP -- there's so much music available in the format that listeners will continue to mine the riches of the CD catalog for many years to come. There will continue to be a tremendous need for a high-quality player that gets all of that information off the disc."

That logic sounded familiar to me. It was, in fact, much the same justification Linn offered for its $20,000 Sondek CD12, launched just prior to the onslaught of the new high-rez digital formats (a product I intend to be revisiting in those future fireside reveries). The two products have many similarities: impeccable construction, forward thinking use of surface-mount technology, and shockingly refined sound. But at a tenth the price of the Linn CD12, the Classé CDP-10 starts to seem a whole lot more reasonable.

That doesn't mean it doesn't have supermodel looks. Its contrasting brushed-aluminum and midnight-black-anodized livery is taken straight from Classé's frightfully expensive Omega components. The red alphanumeric display is located in the center of the faceplate's broad black band .Also within that band is a red LED that lights when you play an HDCD-encoded disc.

The disc drawer is to the left of the display, which is pretty normal for CD players, but the single button located to the left of that is not, as is commonly the case, the power switch, but the drawer open/close control. Easy to open and logical -- that's the kind of usability that inspires fantasies!

To the black band's right is a set of function controls laid out like an asterisk (*) splaying out around a central play button. All of these functions (and a few more) are duplicated on the large milled-aluminum remote control.

The rear panel is uncluttered, but gives you everything you need: RCA and balanced XLR analog outputs, S/PDIF digital output on an RCA jack, and an IEC power-cord socket. The CDP-10 measures 19"W x 16"D x 3 3/4"H and weighs 17 1/2 pounds.

The CDP-10 ain't just fancy on the outside. Its innards are pretty impressive, too. Its circuits are laid out on three four-layer PCBs connected by impressive-looking ribbon cables. The power supply gets its own real estate and is built around a large in-house-manufactured toroidal transformer, which has 11 stages of voltage regulation. The Philips-sourced transport's control circuits get their own PCB; the digital audio and analog circuits live on the third.

The digital signal is routed through an HDCD-enabled digital filter, which outputs it in balanced mode, routing it through a pair of Burr-Brown PCM1738 stereo digital-to-analog converters.

Although brand-name bits and pieces are no guarantee of sound quality, the parts quality of the CDP-10 is extremely impressive -- all the more so in a unit at its price point. This is all blue-chip stuff.

What I dream of is an art of balance

I try to achieve a certain level of stability in my audio systems when writing reviews, but this has to be tempered by the need to audition a product in a broad range of systems, if only to establish that I haven't lucked into an unusually fortunate synchronicity. That was certainly not the case with the Classé CDP-10, which maintained its composure in every combination I shoe-horned it into.

Amplification components included the Krell KAV-280p/2250 combo, the Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista 300 integrated amplifier, Ayre AX-7 integrated, and my old stand-by in-house reference Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista preamp and Nu-Vista 300 power amp.

Speakers included the Amphion Xenons, Focus Audio Signature FS-888s, and the Silverline Boleros.

Cables used were my current references, Shunyata Research's Aries interconnects (balanced for the Krell and Ayre, single-ended for the Musical Fidelity) and Lyra speaker cables. For AC, I used Shunyata Research Diamondback power cords.

As for single-ended versus balanced use, I'd call it a wash, discounting the slight volume increase from the balanced outputs. Sonic differences certainly weren't day and night -- which is about what I'd expect given the way the CDP-10 keeps the signal balanced up to the final output op amp. A really top-notch balanced system would probably benefit from running the CDP-10 balanced, but you don't pay a huge price in sound quality for using the player single ended.

The hope I dreamed of was a dream

In keeping with my fireside reveries, the sound of the Classé CDP-10 is warm and comfy. I don't mean warm as in syrupy and colored, but warm as in the breath of life -- this is a player that puts living, breathing musicians in front of you.

On the right recording, with the right loudspeakers -- say, Private Astronomy: A Vision of the Music of Bix Beiderbecke by Geoff Muldaur's Futuristic Ensemble [Edge Music B0000907-02] on the Silverline Boleros -- the sound can become a trifle sweet and plumy. But on leaner-sounding speakers, such as the Amphion Xenons, there's scarcely a hint of that. Let's think of the Classé CDP-10's sound as a proclivity towards relaxed mellowosity rather than the sharply defined hyper-detail of some high-rez players.

The Classé CDP-10 does tend to emphasize the lower midrange a tad, with the result that acoustic guitars have a slightly darker sound -- one that emphasizes the "box" a bit more than the strings' bite.

As I was completing this review, Doug Schneider sent me a CD by a guitarist named Tupahn ( Ronaldo Tupahn Carneiro Da Silva), a street musician who plays finger-style guitar (Covered Treasures [no catalog number, but available from www.tupahn.net]). I was dubious about the disc, which is primarily a collection of solo instrumental readings of FM-radio staples ("Dust in the Wind," "A Whiter Shade of Pale," "Yesterday"), but like so many things in life, the disc is redeemed by its execution. In other words, these are very intelligent, extremely tasty interpretations that allow us to hear the songs in a new light.

On the Classé player, Tupahn's guitar sound is rich and woody -- very, very gentle and full. By contrast, the same recording played through the Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista SACD player exhibits a lot more high-frequency zing. However, you pay for the Musical Fidelity player's clearer overtone depiction with a softening of the instrument's full-bodied resonance.

Which is better? I went back and forth on this point, I have to confess. I consistently wanted the one I was listening to and then reversed myself when I changed to the other one.

The Geoff Muldaur disc elicited a different set of characteristics from the two players. The disc is a rich overview of Beiderbecke's music, presented in new arrangements by Muldaur. If you've heard Ry Cooder's Jazz [Reprise 3197], you've heard Beiderbecke's "In a Mist," "Davenport," and "Flashes" -- all of which are reprised here. Muldaur's arrangements are fascinating (who knew?), and the sound is densely textured, but clear and pellucid.

The Classé CDP-10 emphasized the delicacy of the disc's blend of woodwinds, brass, and strings. "In a Mist" was more like Debussy than hot jazz -- an impressionistic evocation of a world illuminated by shades of gray. The Tri-Vista sharpened that sound quite a bit -- not so much tipping up the high frequencies as separating the individual voices.

That sounds like a huge difference, but it's actually quite subtle. The instruments were certainly separated from one another on the Classé player, while the Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista captured the Futuristic Ensemble's burnished blend. But the Classé tipped the scale more on one side, while the Tri-Vista tipped it ever so slightly toward the other. I have no complaints about the Tri-Vista's detailed soundstaging (few would), but I was powerfully attracted to the Classé's portrayal of the ensemble's harmonic integrity.

Dreaming awake

There was, however, an area where the Tri-Vista struck closer to my preferences. That was in capturing low-level ambient detail. John Atkinson's most recent CD of the Minnesota male chorus Cantus (Deep River [Cantus Recordings CTS-1203]) was recorded in the Great Hall of the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Sciences in Sioux Falls, SD, an impressive 1500-seat performance hall with a richly developed acoustic bloom. Atkinson captured the direct sound of the ensemble with a pair of cardioid microphones about 25 feet from the singers. He then used two pairs of omnidirectional microphones placed to the sides and behind the cardioids to capture the Washington Pavilion's acoustics. The resulting sound is richly expansive.

The CDP-10 tends to blunt that rich cushion of reverberance by emphasizing the direct sound of the voices. Subtly, of course -- the Classé player doesn't turn the disc into a dry recording, but the flowering of the voices as they are launched into the high-ceilinged hall is certainly less prominent than through the Tri-Vista. The Classé player presents the vocal blend and some of the acoustic flowering the voices generate in the room, but the Musical Fidelity player allows you to hear it swell, develop, and then fade. You hear the room's ambience as more of a living, changing presence.

In a dream you are never eighty

Of course, the Tri-Vista is probably going to be featured in a fireside reminiscence or two itself -- and it does cost $6500. For under a third of that, the Classé gets tantalizingly close. And you may score the differences on the other side, depending on your personal preferences -- most of the time I had a hard time picking the absolute winner.

What is not open to debate is that the Classé CDP-10 is way better than any $2000 CD player I've heard to date. It's good looking and built like an even more expensive piece of hi-fi jewelry. It's well laid out and easy to use and, maybe I'm just an old romantic, but it was just so much fun to listen to and use that I fell more than a little in love with it.

And that's the stuff dreams are made on.

...Wes Phillips

Classé Audio CDP-10 CD Player
$2000 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.

Classé Audio, Inc.
5070 François Cusson
Lachine, Québec H8T 1B3, Canada

Phone: (514) 636-6384
Fax: (514) 636-1428

E-mail: cservice@classeaudio.com
Website: www.classeaudio.com

[SoundStage!]All Contents
Copyright © 2003 SoundStage!
All Rights Reserved