Ask an expert: Budget CDPs

Ask an expert

I’m an avid but budget conscious audiophile. I have a recent tale to share, a statement to make and a question or two.

I’m an expat from New Zealand (proud home of Plinius, Perreaux, Image Loudspeakers and Theophany), working in Singapore. I’ve been here two years with my (self-admittedly) entry level gear boxed-up back home (NAD T761 HT amp, Mission M35i speakers (in 5.1) & Velodyne CHT-12 sub. Don’t ask about the source).

It looks like I’ll be in Singapore for the next few years. This precipitated a move into some vintage gear. I managed to get a mint condition 3rd gen Cyrus 2 amp + PSX. I’ve partnered this with TDL RTL2s. I’m using my DVD player as a CDP in the interim. I’m quite taken with the combo, especially given the very modest investment. The system is engaging and enjoyable.

This brings me to my statements. I think budget conscious audiophiles should always remember the 80/20 rule, 80% return for 20% investment (corollary of the Law of Diminishing Returns). Don’t invest in $1000 cables when your acoustic environment sucks. One of the best investments I ever made was an SPL meter!

The chap I bought the RTL2s from had power conditioning, expensive cabling and acoustic panels. I was left wondering “why bother?” however, as there was an easily audible hiss coming from the system (presumably his valve amp).

To my questions. Can you recommend any budget CDP or source options? Would my money be better spent on a CDP, or a DAC (e.g. the V-DAC) and use the DVD as a transport? Any other options, e.g. Rockboxed iPod with digital out playing FLAC?

Do you think my speakers are ‘worthy’ of the amp or perhaps letting it down? If so, what would match well?

Hi. TDL RTL2s are way past their sell by date (as the person you bought them from knew!) and were not so good even in their heyday. You won’t get a useful return on that investment, but the Cyrus is a good counterbalance perhaps. Try budget loudspeakers from KEF (e.g. the iQ50s), B&W or Monitor Audio for quality floorstanders at a decently low price. I suspect all will be available in Singapore. My preference would be for Vandersteen Model One speakers; outstanding at the price.

It’s all very well getting stuff cheap, but it isn't necessarily a bargain and I’d suggest you try and aim for good value instead. The Musical Fidelity V-DAC is good value and you would be happy with it, fed from your DVD player, providing the latter is decent and doesn’t suffer jitter – unlikely as DVD players commonly jitter. Believe it or not, measurement shows Samsung Blu-ray players like the BDP-1600 are jitter free and can be used as decent CD transports, using the S/PDIF digital output to feed an external DAC. This is a solution that may well appeal to you.

Valve amps in themselves do not hiss, unless a valve phono stage was in use and the volume was right up. All the same, best not to confuse hiss with sound quality; it’s better not there, granted, but you get surface noise and ticks and pops from LP, but also a great sound. The ear can discern one from the other. Since Singapore is on the equator and hot all year ‘round, you may have to silence the air con. if hiss annoys you!