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Gold Note CD-1000 MKII review

  • “You’ve got a what?!” said my ex-wife and daughter in unison. My son was even blunter: “Why are you reviewing obsolete technology?”. The object of their ire – Gold Note’s new CD player, the CD-1000 MKII. Did they have a point?

    CD sales are struggling whilst streaming is powering ahead. And many with large CD collections have long since ripped them to a computer (haven’t they?) with the donor discs, at best, relegated to aesthetic service? And hasn’t the steady flow of new CD player models coming to market been reduced to a trickle?

    OK, but it’s not all one-sided. Open its internal DAC to external streaming sources and the CD players jump from one-trick pony to multi-horse carriage. This is where we find Gold Note’s CD-1000 MKII. At €3,990 / £3,455 / $4788, its CD capability should be up to snuff but its coaxial and optical inputs make it streaming-friendly. Perfect for the Linhay (Devon barn – my home). The timing was good too, an eBay-plus-wine accident (oops) saw a job lot of 450 CDs arriving at the same time as the Gold Note. Ripping would have to wait.

    Overview

    Gold Note’s IS-1000 streaming amplifier recently spent time here. Comprehensive functionality and a graceful sound, all founded on clarity. Build quality was admirable too, with understated looks that whispered style rather than shouting it.

    The CD-1000 MKII is similarly blessed, its discrete fascia giving way to Gold Note’s signature air vents slashed stylishly into the casework. Was this overkill? The thing runs cool as a cucumber – but those vents, they do look good. Build quality is also fine; in both senses of the word.

    Available in two configurations, the CD-1000 MKII’s base model (reviewed here) incorporates a Burr-Brown PCM1796 DAC and offers an optical and a coax input, making it a true multi-tasker. An extra €810 / £863 / $972 gets you the reportedly better-sounding PCM1792 chip and a USB input.

    Should the base model wear USB? Maybe – there are certainly fewer streamers and computers with coax outputs than USB – hence my purchasing an ALLO DigiOne to Roonify the Gold Note disc spinner (US$215 for the complete DigiOne Player).

    Each of the CD-1000 MKII’s digital inputs is limited to 24/192 PCM. MQA is a no-no too. Undoubtedly, some will bemoan the ‘low’ 24/192 ceiling. For me – and probably you – it’s a non-issue. This box is a CD player first, a streamer second.

    Still not sated? Go for the external upgrades – a power supply (€3190, £2900, $3828) and/or two alternative tube outputs (€3250, £2680, $3900 or €5600, £4820, $6720). Upgrade paths for when the bug bites.

    Functionality and operation

    On outputs, we get a digital coaxial plus both single-ended and balanced analogue outputs. I went with the latter.

    The disc mechanism is Stream Unlimited’s JPL-2800 from Austria. dCS’s £20k Rossini Player uses the same. The Gold Note’s 9 x 2.5cm OLED display is admirably clear but also remote control defeatable. Speaking of which, go with the heart (and wallet) for the £200 optional metal remote — a tactile delight, it’s well worth the money.

    Controls are limited to standard CD player click buttons, with Next Track and Previous Track doubling up to scroll through the CD-1000 MKII’s inputs. They’re not labelled as such and only work in this second mode when the disc tray is empty.

    Dance partners

    The main cast was an Ayre EX-8 streaming amplifier (£7570, review to come) playing through the now-resident Graham LS6 speakers (£2,200), with Tellurium Q Black 2 cables (£270) as conduit. Atlas XLRs hooked the Gold Note into the Ayre’s balanced inputs.

    A Blue Jeans cable (£25) too S/PDIF from the Gold Note’s coaxial output variously to the Ayre EX-8’s DAC and Mytek Liberty / SBooster combo (£1200). The same cable fed Roon to the CD-1000 MKII’s coaxial input courtesy of the ALLO DigiOne.

    Note: the CD-1000 MKII’s coaxial input likes to see 5.5V, which flummoxed the 5V output on the ALLO DigiOne (the S/PDIF standard is 5-6V, so both technically comply). A switch to the higher voltage BNC output (via an adapter) sorted it.

    Ripping on the rip

    Antonio Meneses & Maria Joao Pires in a Live at Wigmore Hall recital. Beautiful music if you like it – I do – and a stunning recording even if you don’t. Roon played the ripped file into the Ayre EX-8’s network card (a £750 option) via Ethernet. I noted the precision of the playing, the tone of the cello and an over-arching ‘lovely’ acoustic. It doesn’t get better than this.

    Except it does. With the CD-1000 MKII used as CD transport, coax-ing out to the EX-8m, any A/B battle was over after a few bars, the ripped file skulking off into the corner. Wow.

    What gives? The ALLO’s admirable precision is supplanted by the Gold Note’s greater sense of ease and musical flow. In comparison, the ripped file sounds reserved, stilted, as if holding something back. Greater colour, increased richness, more flesh — all contribute to Meneses and Pires playing with more verve via the CD than the streamer. The cello’s midrange beauty just tugs the emotions harder.

    This result had me flabbergasted – so I listened for a good deal longer. Different music. Different DAC. I even tried upsampling the ripped file to hi-res PCM. I tried everything I could to knock the CD player’s grin off its face. And I just couldn’t, my findings falling consistently in the Gold Note’s favour. The silver disc spun via the Gold Note player won the day. Every day. A non-audiophile friend put it more succinctly – the file and CD were incomparable.

    DAC off

    The CD-1000 Mk2’s DAC proved its worth, this time without upsetting world order.

    Against the Ayre EX-8’s internal DAC – connected via coax to its disc spinning host – it was a close call but the Gold Note won out, making more sense of Grace Jones’ dense Hurricane courtesy of a touch more clarity. Bass was better controlled and music flowed more easily. This was a marginal victory at best; a scenario in which alternative cables might reverse findings.

    With the Mytek Liberty / SBooster playing decoder to the Gold Note’s digital output and compared to its internal conversion, it was the same result but more discernible: the Liberty majoring on bombast at the expense of some control, particularly down low. The Gold Note’s analogue outputs better cut through the complexity, affording greater separation to Jones’ Hurricane. Handled via the Gold Note’s internals, Grace Jones sounded more delicate. Aural memory tells me the Gold Note as DAC is closer to the Mytek Brooklyn+ than the Liberty.

    All together now

    With less complex tracks playing via the CD-1000 MKII, like Gretchen Parlato’s Holding Back The Years, that same sense of subtlety comes shining through. Bass and drums are well defined, allowing the delicate piano space to support (but not obfuscate) Gretchen’s vocals. Each element clearly is delineated but it’s not the clarity that stands out so much as a sense of gentle rhythmic flow.

    Changing gear to Queen’s swansong Made In Heaven or Beth Hart’s Lifts You Up and the CD-1000 MKII rolls up its sleeves to get busy with the swagger. Musical elements are still well defined but here it’s the grunt that grabs. Sounds are fleshed out, more corporeal. Orchestral music is the same – the weight of the Saint Saens Organ Symphony final movement portrayed majestically.

    The CD 1000 MKII’s sound quality is consistently high, majoring on clarity and light, not richness or meat, so pair accordingly.

    Conclusions

    My last CD player – a Meridian 508 – drew its final breath aeons ago. Computer audio, the holy trinity of greater convenience, more music and better sound, has won out in the broader market. And yet the Gold Note CD-1000 MKII well and truly harpoon’s the notion that all digital sources sound alike. In Italian hands, the CD audibly outperforms the file.

    Returning to CD forced me back into old listening habits and I don’t just mean getting out of the chair to change the CD. The bottom line is clear: for audiophiles, there’s real life in the CD yet, a view supported by high enders dCS who report their Rossini CD Player is outselling the DAC version. If you’re in the market for a CD player and can’t stretch to a dCS, put the Gold Note on your shortlist.

    The bigger question is whether you should be in the market for a CD player. The CD-1000 MKII is good enough to make those in camp ‘no’ rethink their position. And I didn’t think I’d be saying that.

    Further information: Gold Note

    Phil Wright

    Written by Phil Wright

    Phil is a Brit living in deepest Devon. Think: Tolkien's Shire but with killer cream teas. He's been around since digital audio's inception - he even wrote his dissertation on the introduction of the CD - but today's developments in both music and audio gear make him think 'we have never had it so good'. Phil is a Music-First audiophile with wide ranging tastes (Trad Jazz excepted): 5000 albums in his local library with the remainder coming from Tidal.

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