Seeing a CD player launched at this stage in the game makes me wonder what’s going on. Does it symbolise an upwelling of desire for simplicity or perhaps a yearning to engage with a physical format that saw so many of us through a quarter century of listening pleasure? For all its apparent ease-of-use and breadth of choice, digital streaming is not always as straightforward and reliable as one might hope and there is such a thing as too much choice. Universal availability is one thing, making satisfying use of it is another; there’s a lot to be said for getting to know a manageable music collection rather than embarking on an endless quest for the next great thing.
When I asked ATC for the answer, they simply pointed out that there’s a demand from distributors in Far East markets for this type of product. In Japan for instance, streaming is not what audiophiles do, and Melco makes its servers to be used without recourse to a computer because few enthusiasts would want to do that. I use CD purely for the purpose of reviewing new music. If I am listening for pleasure, I prefer streaming from locally stored and cloud-based services, although when it comes to maximum audio delight I reach for the vinyl (we all have our peccadilloes). So, it was interesting for me to journey back to reviewing a CD player.
Even by CD player standards, the ATC CD2 is a low frills affair – if not back to basics, ‘back to what counts’ perhaps. The only luxuries on offer are balanced as well as single-ended outputs and digital outputs on standard S/PDIF terminals. It’s been a while since I saw a CD player that didn’t offer DAC functions or play SACD, but I guess that if you want to get the best out of a format then a device that’s dedicated to that job should deliver optimum results. One of the biggest problems with building a dedicated CD player is that there are so few transport mechanisms made specifically for CD as opposed to computer or video applications – and even these markets are disappearing. The only brand that really supplies such things is TEAC, which ATC has specified for the drive in the CD2, choosing it for “very useful improvements in error correction, mechanical noise, load speed and reliability” over the transports used in earlier ATC players. If disc spinners have a weak point it’s usually the drive, so reliability is a big plus.
The CD2 design is based on the development work that ATC did for its CDA2 CD/DAC/Pre, which is a remarkably good piece of kit and one of very few examples of the genre in production today. It shares the transport, DAC and analogue output stage of the CDA2 but omits the DAC inputs and volume control, using a smaller case that’s finished to the same high standards. ATC did a lot of research into digital-to-analogue converters for the CDA2 and chose the AKM4490EQ, also deployed by the CD2, which they felt offered “both outstanding measured performance and a neutral sonic character”. Along with ‘dynamic’, ‘wideband’, ‘linear’ and ‘transparent’, ‘neutral’ is a mantra to ATC’s engineers. But there’s more to successful D-A conversion than picking a few chips off the shelf and putting them on a board with a power supply. To partner the DAC the company has also developed a proprietary output filter using analogue circuits in a multiple feedback configuration to offer “lower high frequency noise gain compared to simpler arrangements”.
As you might expect from a brand with a solid background in amplifier design, ATC takes the power supply side of the D/A converter very seriously, ensuring that noise and interference are kept to the absolute minimum. The DAC has its own “highly decoupled” local regulator, plus hand soldered surface mount decoupling capacitors, in order that they can be placed as close as possible to the chip. Naturally the output stage is built in-house and uses operational amplifiers having discrete components with each stage using eleven transistors in order to produce a wideband with low noise and distortion output at low output impedances. Derived from ATC’s studio experience, the XLR outputs provide a balanced connection and can drive a 600-ohm load, which means, effectively, almost any length of cable.
After years of tapping the iPad for a musical fix, waving one of those remote control units at a CD player reminded me about what I’d missed. Ah, the nostalgia: uncomplicated, devoid of software updates or apps. Nothing too alien to learn. Even so the regular remote that comes with the CD2 is a little bit counter intuitive – it took a few moments to associate button with function. Then all I had to do was look out all my review favourites on CD. No search from the iPad, just a scouring through my disc archive, which is well ordered and understood, if only by me.