AudioNote CDT-One CD Transport Review

I began writing the following review on 16th January 2004 with the intention of posting it in the reviews section of the Audio Asylum. However, I never actually got around to posting it. So here it is on my website somewhat late.

Please note that this review refers to the original CDT-One mark 1 - not the recently released mark 2 model.

First a little history...
I began my digital phase with a Marantz CD873 Special Edition, this sounded OK at the time but lacked many things that my record deck possessed - especially bass extension and treble smoothness (it's funny thinking back how we were so easily influenced by those silver discs; thinking that they must sound better - it was just that you hadn't got the right player yet). I then moved on to a MicroMega Stage 1 this was a big improvement on the Marantz. The MicroMega started playing up so I began using my Sony DVP-7700 DVD player - and got a surprising improvement.

My hi-fi endeavours ceased for about 8 years (expensive kiddies appeared). Then suddenly, I got the bug again; tired of the sterile sound from my Linn amplifier, I bought an Audion Silver Night 300B Integrated valve amp - I was hooked again. The new amp opened up the music so much - but I still had the digital nasties and my record deck had found its way into a cupboard. By the way, for those unfamiliar with valve amps, a good one doesn't sound 'warm', 'woolly', 'distorted', 'hummy' (as many would have you believe) - it just simply sounds more real. After all, 20+ years of audio R&D into producing single linear devices for audio reproduction, replaced by arrays of non-linear switches (i.e. transistors) and unnecessary circuitry to make them work correctly is what happened - transistors won because they were cheap and small.

I then decided to experiment with an external DAC and bought an Audio Note DAC 1.1 kit. This made an immediate and dramatic improvement, especially to the treble content, which became much smoother - without losing detail. I then experimented with my 3 CD players - using them as transports. I wasn't really expecting much difference between them - but I was very wrong in this assumption. The Marantz was still rubbish but there was a huge difference between the Sony and the MicroMega. Whereas previously the Sony was the clear winner; using the DAC, the MicroMega was now the winner, providing a huge amount of bass extension (but still intermittently faulty as a player). At first, I thought I would go for a clock and PSU upgrade on the Sony so I contacted Audiocom but was surprisingly informed that modifying this unit is a waist of time - quote: "Having used this machine previously as a transport I am well aware of its limitations. The limitations here are due to this generation of DVD hardware & power supply arrangements." This surprised me because of all the posts on various audio forum sites seemed to contradict this and they didn't try to sell me anything either.

I therefore decided to try a dedicated transport. So, impressed by the humble AN DAC kit and by their philosophies, I decided to try one of Audio Note's transports. I certainly had a hard time trying to buy one (I live in the UK and believe me it's hard to find AudioNote equipment here in the shops). So, I ended up contacting Peter Q at the factory (I had got the DAC kit from him previously and what a nice, down-to-earth guy he is too) - he had some CDT-Ones in stock so I ordered one (actually ended up with an ex-demo model that he also had - for a very nice price too). Two days later, it arrived.

The CDT-One contains Black Gate capacitors so I was expecting a long burn-in period (but with it being an ex-demo model, would this be so?). Normally, you would allow 300-800 hours for BG burn-in (that's around 12.5-34 days continuous use).

First Impressions
An ex-demo model - I wonder. The unit came in the correct box with no additional tape around it, the unit was clean as a whistle in its own plastic sealed bag, with brand new remote, remote batteries, and power cord. Even the protective strip was intact on the display.

The back of the unit has mains input, mains switch, coax output, and 2 'emergency' buttons (eject and play). The front of the unit has the CD drawer and the display (very nice it is too). There are no controls on the front - you have to rely on the remote for all functions.

The remote itself has all the functions that you would expect. This includes a continuous repeat option for the initial burn-in process.

As well as the number buttons, the functions are:
Open/Close, Play/Pause, Stop, Memory, Skip-, Skip+, Search-, Search+, Time, Repeat, Random, and Intro.

First Listen
Separation! The instruments don't interfere with each other - they remain completely separate. This creates more depth to the music and the lack of depth was something I always hated about my previous digital set-ups. I have always liked homing in on individual instruments (being a musician in one of my previous incarnations) and now it seems that much easier.
There also appears to be more channel separation and less crosstalk - the sound stage is definitely wider than my other players.

Hi-hats sound like hi-hats. I'd not really noticed that they had sounded SO bad before, but they sound damn good now.

Effects such as reverb can be heard much better than ever before - sometimes sounding quite nasty but I've had enough experience with such things as to know that it is actually more realistic.

Bass is not as deep as the MicroMega but what there is of it is extremely well defined indeed. Perhaps some burn-in time will rectify this.

So, I will be leaving the player on constantly and set to disc repeat (press the repeat button twice). The other equipment, however, I will be switching off as normal so as not to confuse any improvements with, say, a well warmed amp.

100 hours
The only noticeable difference is that the bass has extended down further but has left a bit of a hole in the upper-bass area. Still well defined though.

235 hours
The upper bass 'hole' has filled in nicely. Also, the upper regions appear to have become more defined and less harsh. It's as if there were dips in various parts of the frequency range that are now starting to get filled in. I have a feeling that there is more to come.

503 hours
Why 503 hours? I have been spending all my time listening to all those 'old' jazz CD's that I couldn't bear to listen to because of their age - which are now listenable. I then decided to listen to one of my 'reference' CD's and was quite blown away by the difference since last time.
The entire frequency range has evened out; every part of the music is now given an even chance. You can tell that this is a power supply thing as very loud, multi-layered, multi-instrument driving effects are performed effortlessly; whereas in the past these types of effect would have ended in a bit of a mush, you now get to hear every part. Will it get any better? It's hard to believe that it could, but I'm going to carry on and see.

896 hours
Something very strange just happened. I sat down to work with the volume down low and heard a very different, entirely musical sound. It's quite difficult to explain really - forget about such things as frequency EQ and the like - this is something quite different. In fact, I thought it was me in terms of my receptiveness; but no, it has stood the test of time.

I feel that this exercise has been very rewarding. It has proved to me that such things as 'burn-in' exist and are actually required, that Black Gates can do special things (given the appropriate time), and dedicated transports can make a big difference.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this transport as I would any of my present components.

The most important lesson that I have learned in the past couple of years is that, when it comes to hi-fi, you must forget about reading those specs that you used to study so religiously and start believing what your ears are telling you.

Written by Paul Brookes
Published 5th May 2005

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