There is a strong degree of irony that vinyl has pushed CDs into the dustbin of history. Vinyl had a very strong 2020 with consumers purchasing more than 22 million new records in N. America alone. Used record sales were even stronger. There is no question that the CD is on life support in the domestic market. Digital downloads and streaming have made sure of that. That the final shovelfuls of dirt will be delivered by those of us who love records in the digital media age was certainly unexpected.
All that being said – why are so many companies manufacturing new CD players? Why would the company that sells the most audiophile-grade turntables in the world offer multiple CD players and transports in 2021?
Because there is a market for products like the Pro-Ject CD Box DS2.
People still buy CDs. Music listeners in Germany, Japan, and China continue to buy millions of new CDs every single year; although 2020 might prove to be the year the dam finally broke in Japan with streaming approaching 20% of the market for first time.
Consumers purchased 31.6 million CDs in the United States in 2020. Yes – that is a far cry from the 942 million they purchased in 2000 but there is still demand. The 2020 sales data show another steep decline in sales; CD sales fell by an additional 23%.
A pre-COVID trip in March 2020 to Princeton Record Exchange uncovered bins of new and used CDs; used jazz titles from the JVC XRCD Series have been fetching between $50 and $100 each depending on the scarcity of the release. Rare SACD and MoFi gold CD releases are selling for twice their original asking prices.
When my local record dealer shuttered its doors in 2020 due to the COVID-19 lockdown rules in place all across New Jersey, they relaunched within days with a brand-new website and refreshed presence on Discogs and eBay.
What saved them during the early days of the lockdown? CD sales. A lot of them. More than 50 sold and shipped out each day when the record store was closed. Some of those CDs sold for over $100 each. Supply and demand are still a thing apparently. Especially when tens of millions of people are stuck at home and shopping online.
Pro-Ject are not alone. Rega, Cambridge Audio, Naim, Audiolab, Yamaha, McIntosh, NAD, Luxman, Audiolab, Marantz, Arcam, and Technics are all still in the game.
A Naim CD5si has been in operation in my system for more than a month and it’s making me remember why I loved CDs.
Because unlike streaming files…you actually own them.
A little Pro-Ject…
The resurgence of vinyl has been a boon for companies like Pro-Ject Audio Systems; the world’s leading manufacturer of turntables who decided to expand its operations to keep up with global demand. That uptick in business enabled Pro-Ject to invest its considerable engineering and manufacturing resources into a wider range of audio components (amplifiers, streamers, headphone amplifiers, loudspeakers) that are selling well and pushing the envelope from a price/performance perspective. These “lifestyle” components are serious pieces of hi-fi kit designed to offer complete solutions for music listeners who demand performance, albeit in a much smaller physical package.
For those transitioning to working remotely, the six levels of Pro-Ject components offer a very compelling road map for building a high-end desktop or home audio system that will not break the bank. Pro-Ject builds its components in Europe and there is a lot to like about the form factor which is very space friendly.
One of the most interesting components in the 2020 line-up is the CD Box DS2 CD player/transport/DAC ($899.00 – $1000.00 depending on finish) which has proven to be quite the performer over the past two months.
The CD Box DS2 is not a very large component (8”W x 3”H x 8”D) and will take up less space than even a large hardcover book making it ideal for a media unit or even bookshelf. The walnut endcaps are a welcome touch giving these somewhat utilitarian looking components some necessary warmth and depth.
The high contrast dot-matrix display conveys a lot of information which is easy to read from across the room and I found myself drawn to the teal blue color which isn’t irritatingly bright with the lights off.
The supplied remote is of the plastic variety that you consistently see at this price point which I found disappointing, but it does deserve high marks for its usefulness. You do not want to lose this remote unless you enjoy fiddling with the 8 buttons on the front panel.
The slot-in mechanism works very well; the CD transport is very quiet, reliable, and it’s clear that the transport has been properly isolated from vibration and RFI. Over the years, I’ve owned CD players and transports that were substantially noisier and less reliable so Pro-Ject clearly put a lot of thought into both the mechanical and electrical engineering of the CD Box DS2.
Pro-Ject selected the AK4490 DAC chip for the CD Box DS2 which makes it compatible with high-resolution digital tracks. It also features 4 digital inputs which only adds to its versatility as a standalone DAC. The USB input can be used with any computer and offers high resolution file support for PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and even DSD256. The optical and coaxial inputs can be used up to 24-bit/192kHz.
The CD Box DS2 also offers digital filters to shape the sound to your liking; 5 filters for PCM files as well as 2 filters for DSD can be chosen. It also offers two digital outputs to further pass a digital signal to another digital to analogue converter. A line level RCA output can be used for any pre- or integrated amplifier.
Having ripped 2,000 CDs to a dedicated Roon server over the past few years, I have not focused so much on my dusty CD collection but all of that changed when I inserted the CD Box DS2 into both my reference rig and home office system.
Making Music Easy…
Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass’ Take Love Easy (JVC XRCD, JVCXR-0031-2) has been available on both Tidal and Qobuz for a number of years as a high-resolution 24-bit/48kHz stream, but the CD clobbered it in every meaningful way; depth, resolution, and the richness of Fitzgerald’s voice. The streams sound quite good, but they don’t reach out and touch you in the same way.
The CD Box DS2 split its time between the Schiit Audio Ragnarok 2, Cambridge Audio Edge A, and Bluesound PowerNode 2i integrated amplifiers and the way that it breathed life into CDs long forgotten kept my mind focused on music and not COVID-19 which has turned New Jersey into a prison.
The DCC CD release of Wes Montgomery’s So Much Guitar (Riverside/DCC GZS-1078) is a tone monster and the CD Box DS2 soared through “Cotton Tail” and the rest of the tracks; the CD version had more detail, tonal color, and soundstage depth than any version available for streaming.
The CD Box DS2 was consistently good with most CDs but it will not turn horrible recordings into good ones; even switching between the 5 PCM filters did not act as a panacea. Great sounding CDs benefitted from the quality of the internal DAC and output stage and on that alone the CD Box DS2 would earn a solid recommendation.
When used as a standalone DAC, the CD Box DS2 delivered a robust and incisive presentation while being fed high-resolution streams from both Tidal and Qobuz; with slightly less warmth that I was hearing from the same CDs. Ella Fitzgerald sounded more vivid and tightly anchored in the recording space but with less body.
Music moved along with great pace regardless of source and that was a boon with jazz, blues, and rock recordings. There is nothing holding back music through the CD Box DS2.
Used as a CD transport into two integrated amplifiers with their own internal DACs, and two external DACs demonstrated the versatility of the Pro-Ject unit. Very few music listeners are likely to use the CD Box DS2 with a $5,000 DAC or $6,500 integrated amplifier but at no point did it sound out of place or embarrassed by the significantly more expensive competition.
If you still listen to CDs or are looking for a one-box interface for all of your digital streaming platforms, the Pro-Ject CD Box DS2 performs even better than advertised and is well worth the asking price.
For more information: Pro-Ject CD Box DS2 CD Player/DAC/Transport