Question: My audiophile-quality Cambridge Audio CD player has stopped working and I suspect the laser has died. I've been thinking about a new one and all of this led me to look at Blu-ray players. They play CDs as well as DVDs, so why have a separate CD player?
Cambridge Audio makes a high-end Blu-ray Universal Player which is about $1,200. Another option I am considering is the Oppo BDP-95 Blu-Ray Universal Player which is about $1,000. What are your thoughts?
Answer: You hit the nail on the head. Why buy a CD player, when it locks you out of the possibility of playing other kinds of discs such as DVDs and Blu-ray discs?
Besides DVDs and Blu-ray, there are audio disc such as Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD-Audio (DVD-A) that offer better sound quality than conventional CDs.
These formats have not caught on with the mass market and are niche formats favored by audiophiles.
Universal players such as the Cambridge Audio and Oppo units you mention will play CDs, DVDs, SACDs, DVD-A discs, and Blu-ray, hence the name "Universal."
I have always been skeptical of digital disc players with extremely high price tags. If you are using the digital audio outputs or HDMI connection you won't hear any difference between a $10,000 high-end player and a $50 Magnavox. Even with the analog audio outputs differences tend to be very minor, nowhere near the difference you will hear between different phono playback gear and speakers. Disc players also have a limited useful life because as you have noted, the laser assemblies go bad over time and with use, and new formats and capabilities come along that render players obsolete. It is for this reason I don't recommend extremely expensive disc players unless you have a very high-end system to match. I am going to assume you do and share my thoughts, as well as provide some alternatives for both you and other readers to consider.
In the disc player pecking order I consider Oppo to be tops, featuring top quality sound quality from all disc formats as well as exceptional video performance from DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Support after the sale is exceptional as well, which is how Oppo became the admired and respected company they are today. In addition to the $1,000 BDP-95 Oppo also offers the $499 BDP-93, which provides much of the performance of the BDP-95. Just remember you need to use the analog audio outputs of the BDP-95 to make the most of its upgraded audio circuitry. You can see them at oppodigital.com
In the lower price ranges the $299 Panasonic DMP-BDT500 offers upgraded analog audio circuitry and connections as well as digital processing modes such as "Digital Tube Sound" meant to mimic the warm, natural sound of tube electronics. It isn't a universal player, though.
These recommendations are meant mostly for serious audiophiles and enthusiasts. The average, non-audiophile consumer does not need to spend $300 or even $200 to get exceptional video and sound quality from a Blu-ray player. Just about anything off the shelf will provide a great picture and sound fantastic. Sound quality will be more a function of your speakers, receiver and room acoustics than anything else.
Contact Don Lindich at soundadviceblog.com