|Excellence On a Budget!|
Starting from Scratch
Clement Perry (or “CP” as I like to call him) e-mailed me a few months after this past CES/THE Show and suggested that I take a look at the products available from one of the distributors that caught his attention, AAA-audio.com. I felt that I already had a pretty full reviewing plate but figured that it couldn’t do much harm to at least take a look. I had never heard of AAA-audio and immediately started thinking that the American Automobile Association had purchased a stake in Delphi and was offering discounts on car stereos. After taking a brief look at the site and realizing that it had nothing to do with three free tows or a link to the nearest gas station with the cheapest gas, I chuckled momentarily, realizing the error of my thinking and contacted Ping Gong, AAA-audio’s amiable owner to chat with him about the possibility of reviewing one of his products. CP seems to have the uncanny knack of finding, or sometimes being found by, manufactures or importers of little known (in the U.S. anyway) high-end audio companies.
AAA-audio specializes in distributing high-end products from China. Ping’s company currently has four product lines; oSound, an accessory and furniture designer, Dussun, an amplifier maker, Original Electronics, producers of CD players, and XLH, a manufacturer of some really expensive 600 watt mono blocks, a single-source(!) linestage, and a huge horn loudspeaker system. Everything on the site looked interesting and I found it tough to make a decision on what to review, similar to a kid in a candy store trying to decide between Gummy Bears or Jelly Beans. But I finally decided on the Original Electronics CD2008MKII CD/HDCD player because I was intrigued by the ‘original’ name.
Original Electronics was founded in 1999 by two gentlemen who graduated from Beijing and Tsinghua Universities. Wanting to combine their technical expertise with their love for music, they decided to start an audio reproduction company and were one of the first designers and manufacturers of high-end CD players in China. Seeing the need for good products that are affordable, they’re strategy was to become firmly entrenched in China and then branch out internationally. By December of 2005 they had advanced to the U.S.
They primarily make a line of CD players but they also make a balanced tube integrated amplifier and headphone amp. The CD2008MKII fits squarely in between the CD-A8 and the top of the line Leonardo CD-A9.3. There are two versions of the CD-A8, tube or solid state while the CD2008MKII and the Leonardo are both solid-state units. Each model in the Original line of CD players has a different chassis design with the A8’s having a rather typical looking rectangular case while the Leonardo’s round chassis more resembles the Starship Enterprise. The CD2008MKII is a mix of the two with both square and rounded lines and an aluminum case that is finished in silver only. It’s an attractive piece that closely resembles the more expensive Chord electronics.
An interesting feature that is incorporated in all the Original CD players is that they are designed similar to personal computers. There are very few interchangeable parts and most of the key internal components are connected via plugs. This is noteworthy because in case you have a problem with a player you can send it back to Ping in Newton, Massachusetts. At HQ there are extra parts on hand such as transformers, laser pickups and PCB boards and servicing issues are as easy as one, two, and three. It’s so simple that the changes can be made without the use of a soldering iron.
The CD2008MKII is a fairly heavy player at 23 pounds and is 16.9 inches wide, 4.3 inches tall and 12.6 inches deep. Part of the reason behind the hefty weight besides the beautiful anodized aluminum chassis is the two toroidal transformers, one for the digital circuitry and the other one for the analog section. It has both XLR’s and RCA’s along with digital and coaxial outputs. Like most high-end products nowadays it also gives you the option of using an aftermarket power cord.
The MKII version has a completely different digital-to analog converter than the original 2008. The old version had a Burr Brown 1732 24 bit/ 96khz dac and the new version has a Burr Brown 1792 24 bit/ 196khz dac. It also has a new power supply and separate power circuitry for the clock that is supposed to help reduce errors. Since I didn’t get a chance to hear the original version I can only assume that the changes were for the better. The front panel is fairly standard with power, play, forward, reverse, and open buttons. The remote is made of aluminum and is quite substantial in its construction.
At only $900.00 I wasn’t expecting much from the CD2008MKII but I was pleasantly surprised at its ability to create a wonderful musical experience. At one time it seemed as though there was a tremendous performance gap between the more expensive players and the ones that you can consider entry level. I’m not saying by any means that the CD2008MKII is in the same class as the reference quality Esoteric SZ-1 that I also have in for review but players like the CD2008MKII are no longer relegated to the corner collecting dust because they are less than stellar sounding. The CD2008MKII is fairly well extended at the frequency extremes and the bass response is very solid and one of the strong points of this player. Treble play was just a tad bit shy of very good, but the midrange was on target. Female vocals were well focused and were presented close to the designers intentions which are to “bring people the playback of music creation in its original expression”.
The system that I used to perform the evaluation consisted of the Acoustic Zen cabling and Adagio loudspeakers, Red Dragon Leviathan monoblocks and the Bat VK-3ix preamplifier. The addition of the all tube Bat VK-3ix prevented the lineup from totally consisting of solid state components. There was a wonderful synergy between the Red Dragons and the Bat. The VK-3ix, like the Red Dragons, is fully balanced and has a set of XLR inputs and outputs so the entire amplification portion of the system was balanced from start to finish.
The CD2008MKII sounded OK out of the box but needed some break-in time. After more than 100 hours it started to strut its stuff. I started the listening sessions with tarralynby Tarralyn Ramsey on Casablanca Records. She has a strong voice and her name has been mentioned amongst a few music critics as a future superstar. She has excellent range and has been compared to Whitney Houston. With only a few CD’s to her credit I think it’s a little early to begin a coronation ceremony but Ms. Ramsey can definitely sing. The CD2008MKII did a good job of projecting her voice into the room especially on ‘Up Against All Odds’. This is a love song that delivers a message that you shouldn’t lose faith in hard times. Her voice had good presence and extended beyond the front of the loudspeakers. Height and width could use some improvement and I also noticed that the soundstage wasn’t as deep as I had heard on more expensive players.
On ‘Where You Are’, from the same disc, the CD2008MKII exhibited good dynamics and strong bass. Bass material had plenty of punch but I would give it an average grade on clarity and definition. High frequency information was similar in character to the bass with a satisfactory performance up top. Resolution was good for a player in this class range and it didn’t make the mistake of overemphasizing a particular area of the musical spectrum. In the past I have heard sub one thousand dollar players that lacked definition in the high frequencies which would present a less than desirable listening experience. The CD2008MKII, on the contrary, doesn’t have any irritating qualities up top and fell just a little short in the definition department.
Sticking with vocals, but reaching for an accomplished veteran, I selectedBill Henderson with the Oscar Peterson Trio on Polygram Records. It features the venerable Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Ed Thigpen on drums. This is a very skilled group of musicians and just listening to Oscar Peterson perform is delightful. The opening number, ‘You are my Sunshine’ has a very unique bluesy style arrangement. On this track the CD2008MKII clearly lets you hear the crispness in Bill’s voice as well as in the snap of his fingers when a third of the way through he becomes more emotional. Piano had a nice decay and was bettered only by the more expensive players I’ve heard because they offered better transparency. The CD2008MKII also has two different digital filters that are supposed to change the sound of the player. I figured that I would try it and see if I could detect a change in the presentation however I didn’t hear a difference on this CD or any others.
I concluded the session with Eddie Harris on The Best of Eddie Harris during his years with Atlantic Records. The first song on this CD the love theme from the movie, “The Sandpiper” also known as the ‘The Shadow of your smile’, is a classic. It was one of the most recorded songs in 1965. There are many versions both vocally and instrumentally but this happens to be my favorite. Eddie Harris was one of the many great tenor sax players during the mid fifties, sixties, and early seventies. What made him so unique is his ability to master the electronic sax and his ability to play the high notes on the tenor that almost sounded like he was playing an alto or soprano. The CD2008MKII again was very musical and allowed his sweet soulful sound to come through without adding any noticeable coloration to the performance.
Overall I believe the Original CD2008MKII is a well-built, sturdy player that is very musical. High frequencies are smooth, bass has authority and the all important midrange is presented with an engaging quality, and that was especially true with female vocals. It also has nice aesthetics and is very easy to operate. System compatibility is always important and when I added a balanced tube preamp to the system I found that the performance improved by a noticeable margin.
Considering the good quality of sound, the Original Electronics CD2008MKII CD has an unbelievable price. At $900.00 it is a real bargain with a good price to performance ratio. It does have a few shortcomings in the areas of soundstaging and had a little less air around the performers when compared to more expensive players. I used a number of traditional phrases in my analysis of the CD2008MKII but the two that I saved for last are ‘fun’ and ‘stunned’. Fun is self-explanatory but I was stunned at how well it performed overall considering the price.
On occasion I’ve spoken to audiophiles who are reluctant to purchase new products from an overseas producer because of the potential for malfunctions. During the review process I didn’t have any problems with the unit but in case some repairs or upgrades are needed it’s comforting to know that they can be performed right here in the U.S. An added bonus is the 30 day money back guarantee with a 3-year parts and labor warrantee. So if you are looking for a CD player that will have you grooving, and is priced to leave you with some spare change to stock your CD library, then the CD2008MKII might be the way to go and would certainly be on my short list to audition. It may not be the first CD player introduced to the market but it’s definitely an Original.
Craig “Craigy G” Fitzpatrick
831 Beacon Street, Unit 169
Newton, Ma. 02459
Modified Philips VAM12 laser pickup
and CD7-II digital servo
Burr Brown PCM 1792 24bit/ 192khz dac
Output level: < 1.99v
Freq. Response: 5Hz-20khz
Distortion and noise: 0.002%(-60db)
S/N ratio: 102db
Dynamic range: 110db 102db (HDCD)
Digital output characteristics: S/PDIF standard
XLR and RCA output
Weight: 23 lbs
Dimensions:16.9 x 4.3 x 12.6 (w x h x d)
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