PrimaLuna Classic CD Player - Digital Playback Through Tubes

Some people think that the silver-disc is a dying playback format, but yet there are a lot of companies out there producing CD players from entry level to the very high-end. Why?

The use of CDs is still very prominent among audiophiles and music enthusiasts – especially with ever increasing price drops for albums on CD compared to its digital-download brethren and analogue (vinyl) cousin. There are a few shops here in Edinburgh where you can pick up a brand new album on CD for £3.00 – absolutely insane when you think how £30.00 will buy you ten albums; prices like this make CD players still very attractive to many people out there.

Until very recently I never gave the silver-disc much praise and considered it a sub-standard playback format; though this was my own delusional belief, it stayed with me for a long time. When compact discs where hitting their climax in sales, I preferred listening to vinyl records; compact discs never seemed to enter into the hi-fi system. I can still remember in the late-1990s when I upgraded my old stock tape player in my beat-up 1988 Ford Ranger pickup truck to a Pioneer CD player – though I started buying CDs, they never left the truck. But as time has moved on, with the ever increasing drop in price per album, I find myself being more and more drawn to the silver-discs. So what does a person in the hi-fi industry do when they start getting interested in a certain playback format of our beloved music? We experiment with everything bit of kit we can get our hands on.

The quality of playback through CD is much better than I ever gave it credit for; so much was lost when played back through my truck’s CD player. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve listened to plenty of CD players during demonstrations, at shows, at friends’ homes, etc., etc.; but I think part of my brain switched off in the past, writing it off as an inferior format. As a man not too proud to admit when he was wrong, I hold my hands up and say exactly that…I was wrong.

With time, technologies have improved and the ability for a CD player to extract information off the silver-discs is better than it ever has been. The reliability in the transport mechanisms has increased ten-folds; failures are no longer common. With the improvements in jitter clock circuitry hitting their all-time high and with better DAC chips up-sampling information to help remove some of the digital “harshness,” so often associated with CD playback, has made for some very revealing and enjoyable listening sessions.

Personally, I’ve been listening to three different CD players as of late; T+A PDP-3000 HV (£11,500), Naim CD5 XS (£2,245), and PrimaLuna ProLogue Classic CD Player (£2,495) – one in particular seems to standout when I consider performance level and price…

PrimaLuna is known for their high quality performance at affordable prices and the ProLogue Classic CD Player lives up this reputation. Back in 2008 this Dutch firm decided to go the full length in creating a full valve based CD player; which differs from most companies who generally just include a few triode tubes on the output stage and call it a valve/tube CD Player. Instead, PrimaLuna decided to take it a few steps further and designed a truly tube clock, called SuperTubeClock. The SuperTubeClock uses a military grade long-life triode tube to take over from a solid-state oscillator – triode valves are by nature very low in noise and exceptionally linear. In return the ProLogue Classic, has very low noise and jitter, which then allows for more details and nuances to be heard during playback.

When comparing it to the similar price Naim CD5 XS there are two very clear differences. Let’s start with the Naim. Like other Naim sources I’ve listened too, a Naim ND5 XS streamer sits pleasantly in my home system so I’m familiar with their characteristics, they dig deep into the recording and extract an extensive amount of information and playback in a very detailed, forward, and exciting manner. I never feel that Naim sources lack low-end slam or roll off on the very high end of the frequency spectrum. I find Naim sources to be very good indeed, but if you have an already “forward” sounding system, you may want to take care if you are considering a Naim source, just make sure to audition it in your system before purchasing it. With this in mind, I now move on to the PrimaLuna Classic CD player.

What really makes me smile when listening to the Classic CD Player is how it seems to have this analogue sound to it that the Naim just cannot replicate. Now, let’s be fair here, the Naim is a well accomplished player and carries itself without doubt. So the first difference is that Naim seems to draw slightly more detail out of the CDs. The second difference is that the PrimaLuna has a slightly less low frequency slam and the very highest frequencies are ever so gently rolled off, which inevitably takes away from having an “airiness” to the music. But where the PrimaLuna excels over the Naim, to my ears, comes with its beautiful midrange and its smooth/less aggressive way of presenting the music.

The Classic CD Player has one of the nicest midrange reproductions that I’ve heard in any digital source sub £8,000; it is so liquid and lush with a life-like presence that invites the listener into the music, reminding me of a high-end analogue playback source. I don’t know how many times I shut my eyes during my listening sessions with the it and truly felt I was listening to a turntable. The harshness we hear during digital playback in CD players is generally down to the clock/jitter ratio – with the PrimaLuna, that harshness was completely absent to my ears, which most likely has to do with why I continually see the would “analogue” written throughout my listening notes. I would say the PrimaLuna has a bit smoother and less aggressive presentation than the Naim.

The CD might not be at the pinnacle it once was as the go to playback format; however, this does not mean it's not alive and well. With the ability to get inexpensive albums and with companies like PrimaLuna producing silver-disc spinners that sound brilliant, I just don’t see CD ever going extinct. Both the Naim and PrimaLuna are excellent silver-disc spinners; it simply comes down to what you value most in how your music is presented during your listening sessions. For me, the PrimaLuna just brings the convenience of digital with the sound of analogue, and that is a hard combo to beat...

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