CD Transport (A-GD, Theta, Marantz, OR5) Face-Off

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Nov 14, 2015.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Stuff Used
    DACs: Theta Gen Va and SFD-1mk2 w/ SE+ upgrades (Telefunken tubes)
    Interface: SPDIF for CD-transports; USB (to SPDIF converter) for PC.
    Transducers: HD800 and Fostex 6" Sigma driver BLHs
    Amp: Schiit Ragnarok

    Background
    This was kind of a pain. Yes, as much as it may be hard to believe, transports do have their own sound. Some DACs tend to be more sensitive to others to transports. Some DACs may impart too much of their own sound to highlight differences between transports. It's for this reason, the Theta was used the most in this comparison. The SFD-1 is a great sounding DAC, but ultimately colored too warm and lacked the spatial and clean bass capabilities of the Gen Va.
    photo 1.JPG

    Recordings
    I stuck with two tracks. Wanted to keep it simple. Comparing transports is tough. These two tracks were selected because I love those songs and the singers. The k.d. Lang recording has a lot of plankton and ambient cues. It is a quality recording which tends to sound really good on many different systems. The Talking Heads is interesting because it tends to highlight issues with systems. Systems and rooms with bass issues will immediately been identified. Issues with upper mids and treble will immediately be identified. There are layers of David Byrne's vocals overlaid on top of each other. These two tracks are good for DAC / CD-Transport comparison.
    • k.d. Lang - The Valley
    • Talking Heads (from 200x remaster) This Must be the Place.
    Ranking

    Let me quickly rank them:
    1. Theta Data III via ST/AT&T optical. A humongous laser disc player based transport from yesteryear. Theta sort of cheated on this one. It's based on a well known laserdisc player. Theta added some extra circuitry to get better jitter results on the digital outs. Thankfully, there is a CD sized tray that sides out from the laserdisc tray.
    2. Theta Data III via AES. (roughly tied with #3 below)
    3. Empirical Audio Off Ramp 5 via AES 3 (no turboclock; no SPDIF regulator upgrade) with Schiit Wyrd. The Off Ramp is a USB to SPDIF converter. The Wyrd is a cheap-ass USB de-fuckifier. For all intents and purposes, I'm considering the OR5+Wyrd a "transport".
    4. Theta Data III via SPDIF.
    5. --GAP--
    6. Marantz CD5004. Slightly modified. Damped and mass-loaded. Certain parts of CD mechanism reinforced with additional metal sandwiched on.
    7. Audio-GD CD-7. Probably the nicest constructed piece from A-GD that I've seen. Solid panels.
    More Words:

    The Marantz has the spongiest bass. This is it's most notable weakness. Having had this CD player for quite a while, I am very familiar with how it sounds. This CDP as a transport lacks the focus of the three others. However it does have good microdynamic capacity, deep staging (although not the most precise), and has an uncanny ability to draw me into the music. I believe the CDP ranked quite high in earlier comparisons, only to be beaten out by the Denon. The Marantz does not resolve as well as the OR5 or Theta. It resolves about on par, possibly a little better than the A-GD CD-7. Out of the four, the Marantz is technically the weakest.

    The A-GD CD-7 has notably better control and focus than the Marantz. However, compared to the Theta, the bass is a bit blurry and lingers on for just a touch too much. Imaging precision seems excellent left to right. However, upon further inspection, one realizes that the AGD simplifies the recording. Stage depth is practically non-existent. Microdetail is notably lacking coming from the Theta, causing one to feel unease and strain to listen for that something is missing. Related to this is flat micro-dynamics. Somehow the the AGD CD7 doesn't draw one into the music; although technically in terms of precision and control, it's better than the Marantz. Finally, there is a bit of hollowness to the sound. The high treble and lowest bass seems the most muted of the three, but it's not a significant different. Flat (in more ways than one) is how I could describe the sound of the CD-7. Out of the four, the CD-7 connects least with me on an emotional level.

    I thought the soundstage of the Marantz was pretty good until I the heard the Theta Data III. Ambience, layers of dubs, separation, etc. are on another level. The Data III is also on another level in terms of microdetail compared to the Marantz and AGD transports. Precision, control, focus is slightly ahead of the CD7. The bass is a bit tighter. Tonally, the Theta sounds more correct than the Marantz (spongy bass) and especially the CD-7 (slight hollow coloration, rolled at the extremes, slow bass).

    The Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 5 with Schiit Wyrd essentially sounds like a slighter better version of the Theta Data III. Same tonality. A bit faster, a bit more precise, a bit more layers, a bit more resolving, etc. OR5 was used with AES3 connector, which may have given it a advantage. Just added a note. OR5 was used with AES3 which gave it an advantage over SPDIF. I know Steve says the SPDIF is better, but my OR5 does not have the SPDIF regular update. AES3 does sounds better than SPDIF.

    I just got the ST optical from the Data III to the Gen V to work. f'ing incredible. Just incredible. Those porkers at Theta knew what they were doing. I'm betting this wierd-ass optical thing was probably Mike Moffat's idea too.
    DSCF1910.JPG

    I hooked up the AES from the Data III. ST/AT&T still rules all. Usually, I have a hard time with quick A/B, but the Gen V has a switch where I can just toggle between ST and AES3 connections from the transport. With a flick of the switch, the difference was immediately obvious.
    • ST/AT&T is scary real sounding. This is what audiophiles dream of. Creating the illusion of reality.
    • DataIII/AES3 sounds duller with the slightest veil. Note that we are really splitting hairs now. Still, nice to know Mike Moffat wasn't full of crap or forced by his business partners to add extraneous odd connections for no reason other than making customers pay more.
    • OR5/AES is cleaner and somewhat more analytical. Data III/AES3 despite being less transparent wins because of its more immediate and real sound.
    Notes on A-GD Transport configuration:

    Yeah. I used shorting plug on 2 using #1.

    Tonight, I tried output #2 on the AGD CD7 and it actually worked. With BNC out from #2, the result is better than #1. Seems cleaner, crisper, more space between notes. No more slight hollow coloration. More microdynamics and more involving. Compared to the Data III, also using BNC this time around, the CD-7 is a bit more mid-bassy and lacking air. Still lacks the depth and scary imaging the of the Data III. Microdynamics and plankton still better on the Data III. I figure the depth aspect may not have been as pronounced with the Master 7 as stage depth as never a Master 7 strong suit - whereas depth and soundstage basic is the Gen V's stronger strength over all others (Gen V is more resolving than M7 too).

    Keep in mind the Marantz I have is no slouch as it beat a higher model. I cut power to analog, d/a board, and headout boards; leaving only display, CD mechanism, and digital output. I also bonded pieces of metal to strategic points on the drive mechanism and the chassis. Power transformers were mounted on rubber washers. Dynamat throughout including wrapped over the crystal.

    I'll give the balanced AES3 a shot to see if the Gen V can keep up with the OR5 this way. Too bad I can't get the ST optical to work. Maybe bad cable.

    DSCF1900.JPG
    DSCF1904.JPG
    DSCF1906.JPG

    The soundstage differences were smaller to me on headphones. To the point were the Marantz was definitely in last place. As I've said, I can't hear soundstage and layering as well on headphones. I'll give the BNC a shot.

    The M7 in my experience wasn't all that great with the few SPDIF I've tried. Maybe something there with BNC synergy between M7 and CD7. That would seem to make the most sense after all. I only liked the M7 with i2s via OR5. And even then, especially with speakers, the M7 is well behind the SFT and Theta.
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2016
  2. Mr.Sneis

    Mr.Sneis Friend

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    Why the hell didn't st optical catch on? SO many DACs have that options but very few CDP's I have seen support it.
     
  3. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Bel Canto uses it on the uLink and REFLink. The HiFace EVO has AT&T output as well.
     
  4. Smitty

    Smitty Too good for bad vodka - Friend

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    How much does the ST optical output differ from S/PDIF in terms of implementation? IF it's a different protocol, it might have been hard enough to implement that a lot of companies just decided against dedicating that much time to getting it right.
     
  5. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    LOLOLOLOL. The story is that Theta was the first one to implement the ST optical and the others followed. From what I know, it's SPDIF over multi-mode fiber. Same ol' protocol, but transferred through a different medium with converters at both ends.
     
  6. drfindley

    drfindley Secretly lives in the Analog Room - Friend

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    I wonder if @schiit would ever do a AT&T card for the Yggdrasil and maybe their own transport? It'd be interesting to try the Theta Data
     
  7. Smitty

    Smitty Too good for bad vodka - Friend

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    Yeah, that's not complicated at all.
    I'd buy one of those cards. Now if only I could find a data 3 for sale...
     
  8. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

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    Still waiting for Schiit CD transport :)
     
  9. Smitty

    Smitty Too good for bad vodka - Friend

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    What are the odds that Mike can find one that meets his standards in this day and age?
     
  10. audiofrk

    audiofrk Guest

    How old is this comparison? I thought Marv sold most of the stuff already.

    Fastest way to get Mike to roll his eyes ask him about a schiit transport.

    For Jason ask about a schiit electrostat amp.

    ... I don't think the schiit guys like me.:oops:
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Gen V was sold and replaced by Gungnir Multibit. OR5 was sold because it was no better than Gen 3 USB on Yggdrasil. I still have everything else.
     
  12. Ali-Pacha

    Ali-Pacha Friend

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    Some archeology here...I really do prefer the sound of my Yggdrasil from my good ol' CD player through coax spdif above USB...I'm looking at some insane Esoteric P2S to get a good transport. Am I sick ? :confused:

    Ali
     
  13. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    I recently acquired 2 Genesis Digital Lens. Good ol' reclocker with ST Fiber input/output to link my 2 channel and headphone setups (to use the same source - Auralic Aries - with both).
    Will receive the first one on Friday...
     
  14. zonto

    zonto Friend

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    I'd be interested to hear what the gurus think of an Oppo BDP-103/D outfitted with an Audiopraise Vanity103 HD upgrade board as a transport. Not only does the Vanity board enable users to overcome the inherent restrictions of coaxial digital outputs (lower resolution tracks on some discs and no SACD output), but the board offers a transformer-coupled, digitally re-clocked 24/192 output (PCM and/or DoP) and superior DSD-to-PCM conversion as compared to a stock Oppo player. I use a player with the PCM (24/192) board and stereo downmix as a source via coaxial into my Yggdrasil in a video 2.0 system.
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2016
  15. bengo

    bengo Friend

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    @Marvey the new production Aqua DACs actually offer this ST fiber thing as an input option (you have to give up USB or TOSLINK, I think).

    Maybe a certain manufacturer should add it to a certain DAC, and re-brand it "SchiitLink" :D
    I guess we also need a "SchiitSpinner" transport :D
     

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