RMAF 2018: Wynn Audio - The CD player is dead, Long live the CD player

Walking into a room curated by Wynn Wong of Wynn Audio in Toronto, Canada is always an experience I look forward to because he takes such exquisite care in holistically putting together his sound systems for shows.

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2018 was no exception with Wong having two rooms: one focusing on analog LP playback with a Thales TTT Compact II turntable and Statement tonearm with the wondrous EMT JSD-VM LOMC cartridge fronting a Karan Acoustics phono pre-amp and integrated amplifier with the diminutive but luscious Kiso Acoustics HB-X1 stand mount mini-monitors.

The other room featured the Metronome Kalista Dreamplay One CD player ($43,000 USD) as the source, supported by Karan Acoustics KA L Ref preamplifier ($17,000 USD) and KA S400 stereo power amplifier ($18,000 USD) being fed into Penaudio Legato Signature speakers ($11,000 USD) by a bevy of Zensati Seraphim and Zorro cabling. The Dreamplayer-equipped room is where I spent the bulk of my limited time listening, so that’s what I’m writing on.

As an hardcore advocate for 16/44 resolution and all the inherent musical information and musicality of the sample rate that both the physical format and cloud-based file contains and while not a licensed palm reader, I think CDs have a long lifeline ahead of them, especially with big companies like Metronome (among many) steadfastly continuing to research and develop new players and transports for the medium.

To me, the Dreamplay is the unicorn of silver-disc playback and despite some protestations from the high-resolution music acolytes when I extoll the virtue of lowly Redbook playback in a properly set-up digital front end, I’m still a big supporter of both CDs and streaming 16/44 files.

Mythical in both its looks and performance, the unit is both mesmerizing to watch and listen to in action. Being reasonably familiar with the both the Penaudio transducers and the Karan electronics, hearing what the Kalista is bringing to the table isn’t a stretch by any means. The Legatos are not a big speaker, but they reproduce even the lowest notes with real gravitas and portray imaging from disc-to-disc uniquely based on what’s been recorded, not forcing the spatial sonics into the same 3D-mapping blueprint that I’ve heard some systems do regardless of what album is being played.

Beautiful bloom and decay off piano notes and shimmer off cymbals had a depth and extension to their fade in the room that put the recorded players right there with you. The throaty burnished brass notes made tenor and alto saxophones easy to tell apart from trumpets and strings had real timbral and tonal separation allowing a cello to distinguish itself with clarity from a violin – even in massed string sections. There was a lyrical thread through every song that made it easy to follow any instrument you wanted through every cut without engendering a feeling that cohesion was somehow being sacrificed by individual instruments or vocals allowing themselves to be focused-in on.

Another room which I wish I had more time to spend in, Wong continues to prove he has what it takes to make lasting sonic impressions on show goers who may be already sonically saturated.

COMPANY INFO
Wynn Audio
20 Wertheim Ct #31, Richmond Hill, ON L4B 3A8
info@wynnaudio.com
(1) 647-995-2995

COMMENTS
filmfresser's picture

CD players may not be dead; at least not inexpensive ones from companies like Cambridge Audio, Rega, and Marantz, but the format is on life support and it will not experience a comeback like vinyl. A recent visit to PRX in Princeton was solid evidence of the trend. The record section was packed and it's clear as a long-term customer that the store has decided to devote more and more space to vinyl. Fantastic.
The CD section was empty and that's a pity because used CDs were selling for $1.99-$4.99. New CDs were around $11-13 each. When I asked if they still carried "audiophile" CDs, they directed me to the back of the store where there were display cases filled with MoFi, DCC, SACDs, Sony Mastersound, etc...I was almost excited until I took a look at the prices. Everything was used and the prices ranged from $19.95 to $125.00 for single CDs. $49.95 was the average price for JVC XRCD titles that were used. Sigh.
Streaming is the future for digital and I suggest buying what you can while it still exits on CD.

volvic's picture

In the 80’s and 90’s retail stores and collectors dropped their vinyl prices to .99 cents or gave them away. I amassed a huge vinyl collection for cheap. Likewise today, I have done the same with cd’s. whenever I visit my parents in Montreal, the local stores there are selling box sets the likes of Claudio Arrau performing Schumann for $12 cdn. Transfer it to your computer and great music awaits. While cds will continue i believe there is no reason for high end cd machines unless there is demand for sacd players and I am doubtful as to how many manufacturers of that medium the market can sustain.

filmfresser's picture

PRX is a great store. Buy so many movies from them. The "audiophile" CDs are at the back of the store in a large display bin. I took pictures of the crazy ones because who would believe that a Pink Floyd CD would cost $79.95? The used CDs on the left have some good bargains but the selection can be iffy. Have fun.

volvic's picture

Yes, as opposed to other years the classical section was limited in selection. The jazz section as usual was better. I didn't spend much time, will return in the summer.

filmfresser's picture

Montreal has some great indie music stores. Always visit a few when visiting family and friends. I already have 1,900 CDs on the server and it's hard to pass on CDs that are under $5. U.S. Customs like St. Viateur bagels apparently. #1less

Everclear's picture

If you have a lot of CDs in your collection, you may want to consider a unit like Aurender ACS-10, instead of a conventional computer .......... You can add an external DAC of your choice :-) ...........

volvic's picture

If not already 5,000. I do not like hi-fi gear with built in hard drives, at some point it will fail and perhaps requiring specialized repairs. Bad enough we have to deal with our ipods and iphones for this. I do prefer keeping things separate. While no doubt the Aurender may provide more ease and better sound, I believe my setup with an iMac Pro, Moon DAC, Stello U3 and 3TB external HD, works just fine for me and can be swapped or upgraded quickly. This combo has surprised me as to how good it is and has been good enough for the last six years putting my Linn Ikemi and YBA CD1a to shame.

filmfresser's picture

Already made the jump from MacMini to Roon Nucleus and will be adding an Innous Zen Mini MK III this year. 1,900 CDs doesn't seem like a lot but it is and between Tidal, Spotify, Soundcloud, and Qobuz (once available), I'm good. Have a number of DACs at home so covered as well. My record collection went on a diet (amazing how much crap you can accumulate over 35+ years of buying) this summer and I'm down from almost 2,700 to 1,500. Quality over quantity.

filmfresser's picture

With sales in 1H of 2018 down almost 42%, the CD is certainly dying a slow and painful death. CD players may certainly make sense, but the CD is not going to have a resurgence like vinyl. Not going to happen. Streaming gained another 10% in 1H and will be in the 90% range in terms of digital playback very soon. Audiophile CDs, however, are now showing up in the $40-150 range for USED copies. Looking for a rare MoFi, DCC, SACD, JVC XRCD? Prepare to pay big bucks.

Everclear's picture

Amazon sells some MoFi, SACDs and XRCDs, at various price ranges :-) ..........

filmfresser's picture

It was really shocking to see the prices at PRX. I've been a customer for almost 15 years and I'm thrilled to see the store so busy because of vinyl's comeback. That being said, charging $49.95 for used CDs is utter BS. I made a list of the titles that were priced between $49-150 and checked when I got home to see what I owned. I checked 14 JVC XRCD, 11 MoFi, and 9 DCC titles off the list (phew), but some of the CDs I really want were almost 2x their original MSRP and they are used copies. They have thousands of other CDs that are really cheap, but be prepared to look through the multiple versions of some albums because the discs are not exactly in great shape.

volvic's picture

I have picked up a few of those mofi and xrcd’s at PRX. These cd’s are now out of print, PRX’s prices for these are usually cheaper than what you pay at Amazon. Yes, pricey but they are usually priced higher on eBay. See what I can find there tomorrow.

volvic's picture

I always wanted the Sinopoli Beethoven 9th CD but everyone that sold it on ebay wanted astronomical prices ($77 USD). Bring in Amazon, did a quick search and picked it up for $12,00. Should do the same for some XRCD's.

Everclear's picture

Acoustic Sounds also has SACD hybrids :-) ............

volvic's picture

I went straight for the audiophile XRCD's and looked at the hybrid SACD's, even though I do not own an SACD player. Prices as mentioned above have definitely inched upwards. There was a Karajan Beethoven 9 SACD, one of the first ones released that was $59.99 that was way too high. There were others to that I believe were higher, and yes, I did see some for $79.99, that's just too high. Nearly bought Ella and Louis 1 & 2's SACD/hybrid but in the end $29.99 & $24.99 were respectively too high for me. Was a little disappointed with the classical CD section; it was more sparse than other years. Still found a few little items at decent prices but no large purchases like other years.

filmfresser's picture

I figured as much. Glad I'm not crazy. I suspect I'll buy one or two this week that I really want but the prices are way too high. I put away some movies that I really want so off to PRX I go...

volvic's picture

And yes, I did pay $50 for a few titles that I liked, guess I was a little cheap this past weekend. Will go back before xmas and grab a few. I am a bit of a late adopter and plan on getting into SACD so I should get a few. Enjoy!

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