Every reviewer has their own method of judging music quality and the one that works for me is working my way down and noting what’s been lost. So I started off with a premium CD player I’ve been using for years that ticks all my boxes for nuance, subtly, roundness, detail and body, and then listened to the same recording on the CDS50. It turned my trusted methodology on its head. The music coming from it was immediately smoother, more finely textured and beautifully balanced. I was surprised less by the player, more that my 15-year-old speakers were capable of going to where it took them. It was when I went back to my own CD player that I noted loss.
There’s a recent CD from Icelandic composer/pianist Olafur Arnalds called Re:Member that is steeped in subtly and nuance; perfect for this job. Violins and cello that join in so lightly that it takes a while to realise they’re there, sweetly soft-focus percussion, voices as instruments and beautifully clear bass that’s so gentle I figured the sub was asleep. So I gingerly reached under to touch the cone. It was working away methodically.
Yo-Yo Ma’s Appalachian Journey SACD is joyous. Listen to the shimmers in the cello, violin and double bass as they test the line between classic and folk. A vocal from Alison Krauss is the bonus. Seldom have I enjoyed a road test this much.
The CDS50 has both analogue and digital connections including RCAs, coaxial and optical as well as balanced XLR outputs. What surprised me was the lack of a headphone plug, but then Arcam’s attitude is probably that to do this player justice the headphones will need real horsepower, and building sufficient amplification into the CDS50 would cost too much and maybe raise the noise floor. If you’d like a headphone plug at the player get Arcam’s $895 rHead headphone amplifier and hook it into the CDS50’s XLRs.