Here’s something I thought I was unlikely to ever write about again – a new CD player! All about the fantastic NuPrime CDP-9 CD Player with DAC at Totally Wired.
The recently released NuPrime CDP-9 has proved to be a very special player with quite remarkable sound quality – yet in these days of streaming and downloads is there still a place for a high quality CD player? Read on to find out why we think so…
Initially the introduction of this player slipped under our radar until I read a review that looked at it in the context of headphone listening and the performance of it’s DAC section. The first thing that caught my eye was a comparison with Meridian. While it’s been a good decade since I sold a Meridian CD player they have left an indelible impression and every player since has had to live in this shadow. So even the casual suggestion of parity with Meridian’s base model demanded that I take this new player seriously.
In searching for other information I stumbled across a Stereophile review of the NuForce CDP-8 in 2010. ‘Yes, people still make CD players. A handful of companies make exceptional CD players. Anyone looking for one of the latter should start—and finish—with the NuForce CDP-8′
This was clearly a worthy player and it doesn’t take much to work out that the NuPrime design team have used the ‘-8’ as a starting point. There is an obvious line of descent here, but I can also see some fresh thinking to allow the NuPrime CDP-9 to compete, not just with other CD players but DACs and streaming options.
The NuPrime team have made sure that as well as playing CDs, the CDP-9 has multiple digital inputs allowing the internal DAC to be fully utilised.
Lately I’ve been battling a host of network and Airplay issues at home. How much simpler is it to just grab a disc and play it? Sometimes you just need an antidote to the vagaries of wifi and network hassles.
Most of my iTunes library still consists of ripped lossless copies of our CD collection. Much of this accumulated over the decades where you simply couldn’t get either downloads or vinyl, so there are plenty of little gems in there that have just been sitting stored in boxes in the corner.
So why not dust off the CDs and see what we’ve got happening?
The NuPrime CDP-9 employs the new Sabre Es9028PRO DAC. This immediately sets it apart from their own DAC-9 (which uses an Asahi Kasei Microdevices 32 bit DAC), or DAC-10 with an earlier Sabre unit.
Compared to the original CD standard, the performance potential of this DAC is vastly better. In order to harness this, the sampling rate of any digital inputs, including CD playback, can be converted up or down between PCM and DSD, from 44.1kHz to 768kHz or DSD64 to DSD512. This can be done while playing either via the front panel buttons or remote control
The conversion is achieved by up-sampling to mega hertz before down converting to the targeted sampling rate with ultra-low jitter and distortion.
While the actual DAC used is important, the implementation is even more critical – the transport itself, power supply, arrangements made for other inputs and outputs all factor into what you’ll hear.
The transport is also something rather special – it’s a constant angular-velocity transport, which runs at a single speed, filling the player’s buffer with data. (Normally, a CD player constantly varies its speed, from 500rpm at the innermost data spiral to 200rpm at the outermost data spiral, in order to provide the DAC with a steady datastream.)
The small physical size of the CDP-9 was always going to make it hard to fit any form of power supply inside and so an inline 15v DC unit is provided – this has a number of advantages; better electrical isolation, lower cost and the ability to easily replace or upgrade. I have seen forum notes where owners have improved the performance of the CDP-9 with a higher specification power supply but haven’t yet investigated this myself.
The remote control shares the proportions and weight of an iPhone, being metal bodied and with an elegant and sensible array of control buttons.
I’ll re-iterate that the CDP-9 is more than just a CD player – it has multiple digital inputs – USB, Optical, Coaxial and AES. There is an additional USB slot that allows connection of either the NuPrime Bluetooth stick (BTR-8) or the D-Stream Primo HD which gives multi-room, streaming and control App capability. And the standard of performance of the DAC is at least as high, if not better than with NuPrimes own DAC-9.
There are both RCA and Balanced outputs which leads to some interesting applications. While it seems there is an obvious direct match with NuPrimes STA-9 power amplifier which shares the same use of both RCA and Balanced inputs, I’ve found better solutions which we’ll shortly explore with you.
The CDP-9 also has digital outputs and can be used as a transport. While unlikely to be used at the outset these do provide some handy future proofing and also allow the routing of sound to other rooms.
Listening – and tricks for young players.
Because it seemed obvious, I connected the CDP-9 directly to NuPrime’s STA-9 power amplifier.
While we started with the Meridian ‘sound’ as a reference, the first impression was of a lighter touch but more open. But also more breathy and a better transmission of emotion. Yet I felt we were missing something – the sound was just too light and not what I was expecting given how I’ve heard the STA-9 sound in other systems.
Swopping to the NuPrime IDA-8 integrated amplifier, using the CDP-9 as a transport and feeding in signal via coaxial digital proved to be a huge improvement – simply put there was more of everything and while on paper the more powerful amplifier and better processing within the CDP-9 should have carried the day, in reality we can see that volume control on the CDP-9 is more for headphone listening rather than directly driving power amplifiers.
Now, because the CDP-9s processing power and sound quality should be ahead of the IDA-8, we upped the ante and used the combination of the HPA-9 Class A preamplifier and STA-9 power amplifier. And suddenly were were cooking. So – to get the most out of the CDP-9, treat it as a CD player first and connect to either an integrated amplifier or preamplifier via the analogue outputs.But you can see from this process that for those starting out, and on a budget, there is an upgrade path – and one that can take you in leaps and bounds to high end sound.
Human memory is a pretty amazing thing – if you have a larger music collection, there will be albums that you haven’t played for years. Likewise there will often be songs we know well that we might not have heard for ages that you suddenly hear on the radio and there will be an immediate flood of both recognition and associations.
We’ve made a point of listening to CDs that we haven’t played some time and so have been relying on our memories of how these albums sounded – most of them were favourites that we kept aside for our own enjoyment rather than being demonstration CDs we kept for the shop.
To illustrate this let’s look at one of the discs- the sound track of Wings of Desire – the Wim Wenders film of 1988 which is featuring as a 4K restoration in this years NZ International Film Festival. The German language monologues in the soundtrack have always held a particular resonance for us, taking us back to the first time we really listened to the Shahinian Diapaisons – again, this was with a Meridian CD player as source.
The poetry and cadences of these tracks highlight the ability of a component or system to reproduce vocals accurately. But on a more subtle level the space around the voice, the breathing, the directional cues of the soundstage. Then we get into the really fine detail – it’s something you have to hear to understand but it’s that revelation that you are simply hearing things that were not there before. Let’s call this transparency.
This is what the NuPrime CDP-9 delivers – music flows through it and is presented with a sense of space and air. We’ve heard things on discs we know well that we simply haven’t heard before on any other player and quite significantly, not via files replayed from computer. Yes – this is subtle, but it makes for more pleasurable long term listening and involvement in music. There is a poise and balance with the CDP-9 I’ve not heard in any CD player for many years – for the last decade it’s seems we’ve just had players to do a job and fit a budget with other formats stealing the limelight.
In the better system the sound staging – the impression of a performance taking place in a clearly defined 3D space was much more apparent as was the bass and drive. But the agility and ease kept the sound engaging rather than confronting.
Moving from an almost classical vein with soundtrack disks I dug out the Perfect Circle ‘Emotive ‘ disc – and again I was questioning my assumptions. Suddenly there was deep bass – rumbling truck-going-past the house bass that I’ve not heard before on this disk that carried out of the living room into my office where I write. I had to get up, jump back a track and check that it was in fact coming from the speakers. This bass is part of the recording and despite the fact I’ve played this disc countless times in the past and have it as a ripped file, I’ve never heard this part of the music before. And note that the speakers at this point were the Sonus faber Chameleon Ts – a mid sized pair of floor standers, still driven by the little NuPrime ‘9 series combination.
Continuing our little CD inspired nostalgia binge we head to Lynch-land for the Twin Peaks soundtrack – we’ve been re-watching the series on DVD for the first time since it originally aired. Compared to the DVD via the Cambridge CXU player, the CD soundtrack on the Nuprime was vastly better – again, more open, dynamic detailed and engaging.
The CDP-9 has the ability to unwind complex passages, revealing layers in the production that would otherwise be obscured. As a CD player, the NuPrime is certainly going to be a significant upgrade over most existing players – with many coming to the end of their serviceable lives, there aren’t actually that many options so the CDP-9 is a welcome addition to our range.
I’m also going to go out on a limb and suggest that there is a particular sound that the NuPrime designers are looking to deliver – this has been most obviously shown by the new high end Evolution One power amplifiers. It’s going far beyond legacy designs, where you could talk about being tube like or solid state. Likewise the CDP-9 doesn’t neatly fit into the usual digital/analogue categories or the differentiation between CD or computer based systems.
After a good week of listening, I’m very happy with this player. It is a safe assumption that there is a warm up period from new although this has been made a little less obvious by also having other new components and cables within the system that have also contributed to the on-going improvements. Regardless of this, I’m hearing and enjoying a considerable amount of new music from old CDs.
One key feature of the NuPrime CDP-9 is the ability to fine tune the sound by changing the sampling rate – all my listening in the first few days was at the default CD setting of 44kHz and as we swopped through components and everything warmed up I tried switching a couple of times but was unsure of what I was hearing. As I’ve become more accustomed to the overall sound I can now report that this is in fact very worthwhile – by moving to higher rates there was less high frequency ringing and a more listenable presentation. There is a very broad range of settings and with each, a set of subtle changes and interactions of tone, detail, and sound staging. It’s like refining the setup of a turntable and I would suggest just as worthwhile – to some extent where you end up will be determined by the system as a whole as well as your preferred sound but it’s great to have this – the differences are at least as significant as interconnect cable changes.
How the CDP-9 will fit in any particular system does warrant some thought. If you have a conventional CD player to replace and this runs into a normal integrated amplifier or preamplifier it just slots straight in.
Not long after the introduction of the CDP-9, NuPrime also released the CDT-8 Pro which is a transport only version – so no internal DAC and no digital inputs. But it does include the select-able sampling rate converter (SRC) which up samples the CD format to higher sampling rate with ultra-low jitter and distortion.Certainly, my initial experimentation with the CDP-9 and IDA-8 suggests that the performance is markedly better than our previous go-to transport options. So for owners of IDA-8, DAC-9, IDA-16 or earlier NuForce DDA-100, this is an obvious lower cost solution. With many systems out there with a DAC such as the Wadia, Cambridge, the newer digital section of the Nuprime CDP-9 plus it’s enhanced input capabilities and higher performance mean it will not just be replacing an existing player.
A good number of amplifiers now incorporate a DAC and certainly every home cinema amplifier does – but the internals of the CDP-9 will prove far better than these so use and analogue input.
With it’s 15v outboard power supply, I’m not sure about the benefits of a better mains cable (which could still be used as the supplied unit does have an IEC socket) but quality analogue interconnects are an absolute no-brainer. There is just so much goodness coming out of the CDP-9 that you want to get as much as possible of it to your amplifier.
As we found at the start, while a direct connection to a power amplifier will work, it may not show you the CDP-9 at it’s best. There may be something going on here with impedance and matching as NuPrime do claim that it has a ‘Reference Class Preamp’ or I’ve just been spoilt by the DAC 10 and HPA-9. Likewise I have some reservations about connection to Active speakers. But there is another aspect that I haven’t as yet tried that warrants consideration – the CDP-9’s balanced outputs. With a higher voltage and better performance over distance will the theoretical advantages of balanced prove to be the answer?
The NuPrime CDP-9 clearly better than any CD Playing system we have sold previously over the last decade with the exception of the top end Meridian products. And even then it does bring something unique to the party. The CDP-9 is also better than our previous recommendations of transport (Oppo and Cambridge) and DAC combinations, both in performance and value for money. The quality and implementation of the new Sabre chipset surpass the digital performance of both NuPrime’s own IDA-8 and DAC-9.
There is also a certain irony going on here with the cycling of formats. CD was predicted to spell the end of vinyl and that’s come back. Streaming was supposed to spell the end of CD (and let’s not even start to talk about format changes with the little silver discs). But here we are with a new player from a forward looking company that breathes new life into the compact disc. If you have a CD collection, NuPrime are looking after you.
John Ransley, August 2018
NuPrime CDP-9 Redbook CD Player and fully featured DAC – NZ$3000
Associated equipment used in this evaluation.
NuPrime IDA8 integrated amplifier, HAP-9 Class A analogue preamplifier, STA-9 power amplifier
Monitor Audio Silver 6G 300 and Studio speaker systems
Sonus faber Chameleon T floorstanding speakers
KLEI QFlow 3 and gZero1 analogue interconnects, gZero3 digital IC, QFlow7 speaker cables and gPower3 AC cables