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AmsterDan

CD Players - Digital Output

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Good day!

 

I have a question regarding the digital output of CD players. This question surfaced when I kept reading about the immense difference in CD player prices, but more importantly the sound quality resulting from them. Terms such as 'more clear', 'articulated' or 'muddy' are not uncommon among reading these reviews. As I went along with the promising words, I thought to myself a couple of things.

 

1. Was it the digital or analog output that was used for this review because:

2. A CD is a digital source, and a digital signal is a digital signal whether it's derived from a cheap or expensive and 'better' player. Or:

3. Am I wrong and is there a difference in digital signals among CD players?

 

My 'to good to be true' thought was that if there is no difference in the digital signal, then it won't really matter what CD player you're using as long as the external DAC is of better quality. Heck, what is 'better' ... of better personal liking perhaps. You get my drift. What says you?

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CD players, Meh, boring things for people with no musical imagination and up until recently more money than sense.

 

The things that matter to both the digital and analogue outputs of a CD player are the accuracy of the internal clock signal, the quality of the op amps and converters in the signal chain and of course the quality of the mechanics involved in actually spinning the disc and driving the laser.

 

In the early days of CD's there were pretty big leaps in quality once people like Boothroyd and Stuart (Meridian) got involved but now in reality the differences in CD players tend to be a lot smaller than say a turntable so the law of diminishing returns kicks in a lot earlier and with modern machines at a surprisingly low level in a lot of cases you are talking about differences rather than actual quality gains now.

 

Like everything in life you get what you pay for and there is still some utter shit on the market but it's now a lot easier to throw a dart at a stack of CD players and hit a perfectly good machine but it won't stop any of them from being boring.

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See, I thought of it in this way; as long as it reads the 1's and 0's and passes them along just fine, there wouldn't be a difference in sound necessarily until it is interpreted and converted by the next external component.

 

So, how do the internal (CD player) components then influence the signal as to change the sound? Does it not read the information accurately or does it create a weak/distorted signal which consequently is hard to interpret? All of course considering using the digital out.

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The clock is very important here and has been the biggest single improvement in CD replay as it's the reference for the output so it's accuracy is of paramount importance, originally the clock was triggered with a simple crystal which wasn't accurate so these have been replaced with crystal oscillators that are much more accurate, people like Trichord knew this years ago and used to modify peoples players at great expense to achieve this, there also used to be lots of DIY kits available and I've done a few myself over the years with great success.

There are also op amps and other stages in the signal path from the laser to the digital output so the quality of these will influence the output.

Also the simple mechanics of the disc drive will have an influence.

Not just simple 1's and 0's, there's a bit more to it than that.

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