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Audio Research CD2 CD Player Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 April 1998
ImageThe Audio Research CD2 is a single-box CD player from a company best known for their analog products, but many enthusiasts have equal respect for Audio Research’s digital wares. Lets take a look at what this player is all about.

On the surface, this player sports the look that Audio Research has made their trademark. The chassis measures 19 inches wide, 11-3/4 deep, five-and-one-quarter inches tall, and weighs in at a lean 17 lbs. It is dressed with the traditional industrial faceplate and black handles, which span vertically on either side of the front face. It has control buttons that are recessed, arranged horizontally across the lower portion of the chassis. The buttons are approximately one half inch square, with a slightly spongy feel. Symmetrically on the face of the chassis are the drawer to the left and the display to the right. Supplied with the unit is a simple remote, and simple it is. The reviewed unit had a silver face with black handles and a price tag of $3,495 US. This product is also available with a black faceplate. Audio Research provides a two-year limited warrantee on this product.

The CD2 incorporates a 1-bit Delta Sigma DAC with 20 bit resolution. Digital outputs include AES/EBU, BNC (S/PDIF) and TosLink fiber optical. For analog outputs, the CD2 offers both single-ended and balanced XLRs. An ST-type fiber optic output is also available as an option.

A feature that I found intriguing was that as soon as the CD player is plugged in, it is technically on. It has a standby button that, when pressed, turns the display on. Beyond that, the CD2 is already warmed up and ready to perform. I detected little if any sonic difference when the player had been in use for considerable time. The look and feel of this unit is quite nice. The drawer mechanism has a quiet, secure and responsive feel. The CD pocket, on the other hand, lacks a good pocketed home and always left me in question of whether the disc was in the drawer correctly. This is merely personal perception, because I never experienced any problems, regardless of the position of the disc in the drawer. * The remote control, as I mentioned earlier, is as simple as one can get. It has been the philosophy of Audio Research not to put valuable design dollars into frivolous features that don’t add sonic value to the product. This remote is the absolute epitome of this philosophy. Although this full-function remote works fine, it is certainly void of added expense, including even a screened Audio Research logo.

This brings us to the long-standing discussion of future digital formats and single-box players vs. digital transports/DAC combinations. A lot has been discussed as of late about the imminent change in digital formats. The concern of high-end equipment consumers is more than evident, with the declining sales of new digital front-end equipment like digital processors, transports and single-box CD players. It is my opinion that the future format is far from certain, and when the change appears, the need to maintain a top-notch separate 16 bit - 44.1 kHz machine, which will play the CD’s of today, is very likely. Most of us own a number of CDs and won’t likely want to run out and replace them immediately, so the players that we use today will likely be a part of our systems for several (if not many) more years to come. There have been many arguments both for and against the use of a separate transport/DAC combination as opposed to single-box CD players, and many philosophies have changed over the years. The separate transport/DAC combination became very popular. Advocates claimed that you would almost always get greater performance when separating the transport from the processing functions. This perception has changed over the past couple of years with the introduction of several first-class single- box units, the CD2 being one of them.

The Music
After a short break-in period (I recommend around 100 hours), I settled down for some detailed listening. As with most digital front-ends, the sound and sonic characteristics can vary dramatically. It is important when selecting a playback system that you choose one with a good level of resolution, as well as the appropriate level of ease for your musical taste. Being a huge fan of the blues and a fan of midrange purity, I chose Drink Small’s Electric Blues Doctor Live (Mapleshade) for my first test. A characteristic of the CD2 that became immediately apparent was its relaxed and very musical presentation. I found this recording to have a very extended soundstage with an extremely realistic presence. The instruments were quite defined with a nice texture. When listening to Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on Gravel Roads (Mercury Records), I found the experience to be equally rewarding, yet detected a lack of transient details and focus when compared to my considerably more expensive and current reference, the Sonic Frontiers Processor 3/SFT 1 combination.

As I listened to the Audio Research CD2 for several months, I truly enjoyed the musical experience. It was a complete package that contained an adequate amount of sonic detail, and a wonderful soundstage which made listening a joy. I found the CD2 to be quite forgiving and sound extremely good with almost all musical recordings.

The Downside
As with all single-box players, you are limited by the reality that CD front-ends are an ever-evolving technology that almost assures that the DACs of tomorrow will be better than the ones of today. As this happens, your only option will be to go with an outboard DAC and use the CD player as your digital transport. Given the quality of the Audio Research CD2, and the quality of sound it provides as a dedicated transport, this very well may not be an issue for you. Also, with the impending change in format, this may be even less of an issue than in years past.

In a day when the manufacturers take measurements on equipment that we not only don’t own, but many don’t truly understand, there is a measurement that is often overlooked. That measurement is musicality, defined as the level of musical enjoyment that an individual piece of equipment is capable of providing. It is my feeling that this is the Audio Research CD2’s strongest suit, perhaps one of the harder features to design into any piece of equipment. For that, I recommend you listen to the CD2 before investing your hard-earned money on a new digital front-end. The CD2 has a moderate price tag in an era when the phrases "moderate price" and "high-end CD playback systems" don’t often find their way into the same sentence. Is this the right time to invest in a new digital playback system? Every day is a good day to improve your system’s sound and although there is a future format change lurking ahead, there is a considerable amount of listening between now and then. If this is your prospective price range, this is one I recommend you hear. This is one sweet-sounding CD player.

Audio Research engineers report that the "imprecise CD pocket" is intentional to allow free movement of the disc so it can be properly engaged and rotated by the turntable motor and clamp, without interference from the tray.

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