Four top CD players from manufacturers with well-developed reputations. Everything was ready after leaving them on repeat for nearly a week, burbling into a well-warmed Bryston amplifier playing into heavily run-in Dalis. Just a quick check with the laser-aimer on the speaker cabinets, and we're off.
If this was a Sumo match instead of a listening test, the Japanese entry would win hands down. The Yamaha S1000 actually weighs only 1.6kg less than all the others stacked together. The Yam' has some 20th century weighty values and also a flavour of the seventies in its design too.
The Roksan is arguably the most conventional with a stylish front panel and a regular-sized footprint. It also scores heavily in the remote control area with the sexiest LCD-screened multi-controller.
Next comes the runner-up in the smallest player contest, the Quad. With its fashionable use of blue in the display and its simple satin black (or silver) presentation, it's the 'stealth' player of the bunch. Remote control? Best not to mention it.
Then you have the strangeness of the Cyrus profile. A perfect misfit in a wonderful magnesium-alloy box-chassis, so different to the others. It's the only player that receives its disc in a slot reminiscent of an in-car player - it takes time to read it too.
Amplification for our test is a more than quality match in the form of a Bryston array of BP 26 pre-amplifier (£3,670) and MPS2 power supply (£1,375), and the 4B SST C Series power amplifier (£4,000).
The linkage is performed with suitably up-market and highly-recommended Atlas Mavros Pseudo-balanced RCA interconnects (£750 a metre) with three-metre lengths of Mavros speaker cable (£1,355). Speakers used were Dali Mentor 5s - a small floor-stander with bass capability seemingly beyond its diminutive size.
Test discs included Sheffield Lab's Test & Burn-in CD. The Raven by Rebecca Pigeon, Chesky Records. The Civil War (soundtrack) on Electra. Another World by Antony Hegarty, Rough Trade. Blue Valentine, Tom Waits, Electra.
Our listening parameters dwell in some of the most subtle areas of reproduction - emotion, texture (particularly on tiny 'breathy' bits) and decay. Decay is possibly the most difficult area for digital media to reproduce properly - usually delivered with consummate ease by a good vinyl set up.
Price: £800 More info: Cyrus Size: 215x78x360mm Weight: 3.1kg Formats: CD, CD-R (finalised) Line out: Stereo phono x2 Digital out: SPDIF optical DAC: 24 bit current output with integrated digital filter
Cyrus CD 6SE
Big in depth describes both Cyrus 6SE's shape and performance, and it shares the latest thinking inside the box with a breakthrough disc reading system. SE stands for Servo Evolution and that is exactly what it is.
Disc loading is different right from the start as there's no disc tray, and it does something familiar in automotive mechanisms - grabs the edges of the disc. When it gets there and starts spinning, new reading concepts come into play, the like of which has never quite been seen this way before. In a nutshell, it reads the disc more efficiently. Greater efficiency means less crap with the digital information, and cleaner info reduces noise by lowering the amount of error correction required. It's a bit more complicated than that, and for readers who must know more - it's all on the Cyrus website.
A chilled attitude when the disc is pushed into the slot is advisable. Hesitation, or at the other end of the scale, aggressive poking, is not liked by the Cyrus deck. After repeated use, I decided loading is a knack which is acquired as you get used to it.
Its unusual shape encourages its use with other Cyrus kit which can be stacked with it. Used with conventional hi-fi boxes, it sits a little uneasily on the equipment stand. It's available, like other Cyrus products, in a dull silvery colour or black.
Build quality is obvious and the display is a soft green with black microdot LCD chaplets offering proper words without awkward mixed upper and lower cases. All the important buttons are there on the front panel, handy if the dog has eaten the remote. The Cyrus 'one-remote-fits-all' policy means that the Cyrus-collecting user gets more than one compatible remote. The controller is vaguely Sky-remote-like which for most users will be perfectly acceptable. Not all the buttons seemed intuitively in the right place but again, something to get used to.
The overall sound stage accuracy and placement is truly amazing. A natural feel to the sound with good dynamics adds to the pleasure. It's also very good at picking up low-level information.
Has a stability of sound stage all of its own - so good, it feels almost understated at first. Picks out tiny musical cues like a terrier while mastering massive dynamics. Extra points earned in providing a comprehensive upgrading service. Minus points
Disc-loading takes patience until you get to know its foibles. Not the fastest reader in the west. A small point - the remote control shares no obvious design cues with the player.
Price: £1,000 More info: Quad Size: 321x80x310mm Weight: 4.5kg Formats: CD, CDR, CDRW Line out: Stereo phono fixed & variable Digital out: TosLink SPDIF DAC: 24bit 192kHz x2 up-sampling
Quad 99 CD-P2
The Quad is the lightest and arguably the plainest-looking player here, but closer inspection yields a bigger line-up of clever stuff than the others in this review.
The first important item in the feature list is something which potentially carries great appeal for purists - as well as having the usual fixed voltage stereo phono output on the back, there's also a variable gain output which is operated with the remote control. This allows users to connect directly to a power amplifier or active speakers. The benefits from taking the shortest possible signal path are undeniable and there's also a certain pleasure in the simplicity of a one-step solution between player and speakers.
The other big feature is being able to use the P2's high-performance up-sampling DAC for other digital output gear. This is taken care of with no less than six digital inputs (three optical and three coaxial) - all controlled with the remote which switches the source and can individually set the output. Great stuff as long as you don't misplace the remote.
The remote control is clearly-marked and commendably simple in its layout, but alas, will never win a beauty contest with its rather utilitarian looks.
Quad also claims to have moved away from standard computer-style disc-reading decks by changing the way the laser head works. Picking up computer data has priorities which conflict with reliable retrieval of audio data. Quad's method claims to significantly lower the noise floor.
This is a truly fascinating player in terms of audio delivery - it could never be accused of a lack of enthusiasm. It does deep and wide across the sound stage with a boisterous verve and good accuracy apart from a very slight widening of the source of instruments and voices.
Massive room-filling sound stage - if you can imagine sound on zoom, this is it. Good detail, timing and superb dynamics. Variable volume output is a brilliant concept for those who want it and provision of the DAC as an accessory is a stroke of genius for anyone interested in giving digital peripherals a boost. Minus points
Possibly a little too exuberant in its delivery. Build quality erring towards the lightweight. Front panel and remote control lack charisma.