HiFi Review
Editor’s Commended – Vacuum Tube CD Player Audio Note CD 5.1x

DATE : 19 Oct, 2022
CATEGORY : High-end Audio

Editor’s Commended – Vacuum Tube CD Player Audio Note CD 5.1x

“The Philips CD Pro 2LF pickup mechanism has been modified and improved in-house by Audio Note, where they added a four-column spring suspension to provide proper vibration absorption and vibration isolation damping for the sensitive pickup. This is supplemented by a light-weight aluminium CD clamp that uses a strong magnet to lock the CD in place, the shape and weight of which do not affect the rotational inertia and speed of the CD. The core of the decoding circuit, an AD1865 decoding chip from Analogue Devices, an 18-bit stereo Digital-Analogue conversion chip, are still in line with Audio Note’s characteristic stubbornness. At the 1x oversampling rate, it basically transmits the original signal directly, without queuing or compressing into other forms before sending. Even the digital filter which others deem to be essential, has long since been abandoned by Audio Note, leaving all filtering to be done at the analogue level with premium-quality analogue filters.”

“The analogue output stage consists of two vacuum tubes 5814a and 5687WB, together with a pair of world-renowned output transformers, wound in-house with copper wire on the primary, secondary and SHiB magnetic cores. In addition, the audio circuit is assembled on specially treated solid wood plywood boards that correct sound and resonance, instead of the more common synthetic fibre or polymer circuit boards. At all key points, Audio Note mixes their own 0.5-watt and 1-watt non-magnetic tantalum resistors with their “Kaisei” capacitors – their patented electrolytic capacitors with oil-immersed copper foil, pure silver leads, and a thick copper shell. Even the transformers used for digital filtering, the transformers wound with silver wire for the transport, and the transformers wound with copper wires for decoding are also designed and manufactured in-house.”

“Before I have fully warmed up, as soon as the 5.1x is turned on, it made me feel good and the music was pleasant to my ear, which drew my attention immediately. When I listened to it more, the sound seemed to smell a little sweet, which made me even more alert. When I concentrated and listened a bit more, it does have a little sweetness, as though it is a thin dusting of icing sugar, a light, sweet taste that melts in your mouth. There is no audible effect on the musical analytical power, yet having this icing sugar really helps the music taste sweeter. I’ve learned first-hand how good Audio Note’s top-of-the-line standalone turntables and decoders can be, but never had I thought a single-head CD player can still surprise me!”

“When I first listened, the CD 5.1x pleases my ears! While its sound is pleasant to listen to, I can also picture the clarity of the music, the richness in the colour layers, and the contrast, separation, resolution, and positioning in my mind, creating a sumptuous feast for my ears. Shortly after the audition started, the CD 5.1x sent me on auto-pilot from testing mode to music listening mode. Listening to the replay of Where Or When on René Marie’s album Live at the Jazz Standard made me feel as though I was sitting in a small bar, not too far from René Marie, the drummer and the bassist, savouring the performance and feeling the change in musical energy. I enjoyed it so much!”

“Important things have to be said time and again! The CD 5.1x is not merely “ear candy”. If you immerse yourself and listen carefully, not only do the rich changes in tone allow you to dig out a lot more detailed changes in the music and performances, the CD 5.1x also has high analytical power and does not show the slightest hint of a digital signal. It does not emulate the analogue sound of a vinyl record; it only plays music that is pleasing to my ears.”

“Isabelle Faust’s violin solo in J.S. Bach–Sonatas & Partitas is ebullient, and in René Marie’s Where Or When, the positioning of the vocals, cymbal, front and rear layers, and separation render an easy-going yet realistic effect. It is not by any means an exaggerated fidelity that is “attractive only at first glance”. In Sandy Lam’s album In Search of Lost Time, her renditions of Li Xiang Lan and Remnants of a Dream, the CD 5.1x does not make her emotive interpretation feel cumbersome or overly heavy, but rather the music comes at you in waves. Every syllable is infused with energy through a heartfelt interpretation. Even for grand arrangements such as in the Nidaros Cathedral Girls’ Choir’s magnificent Ave Maria, the scene still feels delicate and natural. The female chorus sounds dewy and lustrous, while the undercurrent of the organ’s submersion moves fluidly, and carries with it both quality and quantity. With Hélène Grimaud’s piano in Rachmanilov Piano Sonata No. 2, every note is filled with energy, and the dewiness and lustre are just right, making the touch of the keys, music, and interpretation all three-dimensional and realistic.”

(Excerpt from Issue 426)


–  River Chan

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