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File updated third time in February 2009

First I invite you to read the big battle of giants story:
This is the list:

Alphabetical list of CD players

After collecting serious dose of experience, hundreds of evenings with the soldering iron, reading countless schematics, and 20 years of listening - I came to some conclusions which may be interesting or just useful for you.

I decided to divide all the world's CD players into 4 categories...

Tadadada drums rolling...

Category 1
: Hi-Fi nirvana: players offering higher quality beyond any criticism. (After lampization and some tweaking of course).
They are rare, difficult to get, expensive sometimes. If you do not have them - and you want the best - get them and work a little to unleash their full hidden potential.

Category 2
. Very good players which are normally of standard quality, but definitely worth effort of lampization. After tuning and lampization - they will be fantastic. If you are lucky to own them - do it. If you want to try - buy them, usually for next to nothing - and enter very very close to Nirvana.

Category 3
. STAY AWAY from these !   (and look into category 2 or 1).

Category 4
.  OTHERS - with a comment.

After just 2 months the things became more complex than that simplistic scenario, so I was forced to add another category: ZERO which is TOP.

Category ZERO: best players that have the best DACs money can buy today

Why I list these players and not others?
Because I chose carefully only the interesting gems.
The  bad ones - I ignored. Like all pletorrhea of TDA1547 dac based players. All Sony 
CX20XXX chip players.
Having said that - I wish I could see more of players. I realize I have only scratched the surface.


Category ZERO
: best DACs money can buy today:

Buffalo DAC - unfortunately only in kit form but extremely easy to assemble. The first run was using Sabre reference 24 bit DAC from ESS and the newest one is upgraded with Sabre32 chip. Even the older chip  impressed the living  daylights out of me and the new one is even better. I am enamourated with this DAC, especially if driven by a semi decent transport. I can't possibly imagine someone dissatisfied with this sound except maybe the die hard TDA1540 fanatics.

CS4397 for example on a simple DIY DAC "Lampucera":
/ and its follower CS4398 Zhaolu DAC2,5C Driven by a good transport (or any transport really) it shines like a diamond. This is my GEM, my Kooh-I-Noor of Audio world. Only the Buffalo seriously challenged the Lampucera. At the price of 40 Euros we can consider it a joke but in fact this is not a joke.  I would without hesitation recommend it to someone who has Ongaku amplifier and asks me for advice on CD player.  That is AFTER the oscon mods of capacitors.

ARCAM Diva CD73 and Wolfson DAC WM8740 - a recent newcomer to hifi scene - Wolfson - it is a real killer, shame it comes in Vout  output only. Probably most people will agree that it sets the CD standard VERY high, and all other DAC makers must go back and do their homework again. To my ears - after lampization with 6H6P tube the Wolfson is for sure one of the best DAC from current production, only beaten by the Buffalo  ESS Sabre32. Having said that I know there is a new Wolfson model WM8741 out and also the dCs Ring Dac may be worthwhile. Cambridge CD player AZUR is so nicely made I fell in love with it. It has one stereo Wolfson or two mono ones, depending on MK.  Buy one and send me flowers and a case of wino. 640 MK1 which is the same as 540 Mk2  is a better option than 640 Mk2  because it is cheaper and plays the same quality. Arcam Diva 73 is for a lot more money the definitive Wolfson application.

Burr-Brown PCM1794 DAC found in Shanling CD 300 - a killer but AFTER lampization. The best burr-brown in the history for sure, if you liked the Shanling 200 with
PCM1738, the CD300 will blow your wig off. I am surprised how few manufacturers adopted the BB dac. (I am curious how good is their latest BB PCM1798 ?)

Analogue Devices AD1862 in TEAC VRDS-25 player. and DENON DPD2560  A nice all rounder. Very very safe choice that will appeal to everyone.

Philips DAC chip TDA-1549 applied in one
of 9 players which were lucky enough to have it. Marantz 49, Philips 751, 753, Marantz  cd5000, MICROMEGA MINIUM and Sugden Master. A cheap and simple DAC that equals the best ones in sound quality. Nirvana Seal of Approval.

Finally - a TDA1541A/S1 chip applied in any NAIM or Sony or Creek or Arcam or Musical Fidelity  player and with NOS modification and lampization. The TDA chip is very sensitive to surrounding electronics. The capacitors, the power supplies, the signal, the ground. NAIM is in a class of  it's own when it comes to electronic engineering. So the NAIM applications are closest to perfection. Add a nos mod (non over sampling) and this is the killer.  Check this one:
NAIM CDS1  or this one:  NAIM CD3.  Also SATCH dac with tube output stage. Also Cambridge Audio CD2

SONY cdp- 555 ESD  SONY CDP-227ESD and CDP-337ESD / CDP-333esd
This family was recently upgraded to category zero after I performed successfuly the NOS mode modification. Without NOS the Sony were a touch mechanical, with NOS they are outstanding. A huge improvement. But quite difficult surgery.
This is a top family of players from SONY, with absolutely breathtaking  mechanism KSS190A (except the 227) to be found in all top Accuphase players, and with one or two  DAC chips TDA 1541. It is so well made it is like a dream.
For lampization I can't think of a better player. There is NOTHING to upgrade inside  - just add 6H2P tubes.
SONY CDP-227ESD  - the wolf in sheep clothes is the best value for money, in my opinion - one of the best CDP ever made. Using second from top Sony mechanism KSS151A and two parallel Philips TDA1541A (non S) but with very intelligently laid out PCB - unlike messy Marantz and Philips. Sony is like a Marantz but made by people who went to Polytechnic, but not the one next to a coffeeshop.

REcent addition to the family is my new find - the old almighty Analog Devices DAC AD1865. Recently the Chinese people of Analogmetrics started making a great DAC with this chip. At 150 USD it is a steal. Otherwise - AD1865 can only be fount inside Audionote gear (up to DAC 4 and DAC5) and in one Wadia DAC - Wadia 12, and in Rockna DAC from Romania (this does not play well at all). Now after making my own DAC from scratch with this chip I know why Peter Quvortrup, Andrea Ciuffoli and Wadia people chose this DAC as the top one. It is in the very top of the list, well - maybe third from the top. A notch higher than their own AD1862.

Finally - an odd contender because it costs a fortune but it is really  a good un. Audio-Note DAC4. How all digital audio should be built and sound like. The ONLY CD gear that does not require tuning, modding or mobbing. Just what the doctor ordered. They have this tendency to sound best with Philips based transports like Audiomeca Mephisto.

Category 1: (Generally reserved for "current output" (Iout) DAC types)

Grundig 9009 - The former king of single ended players. Solid built. Good mechanism and laser - CDM1 MK2, lots of space for lampization, good power supplies with many regulators. Two TDA1541A-S1 DACs in parallel mode. Fantastic display, remote, and overall ergonomics. Very teutonic, mean machine. Before lampization it sounds like shit really.

Philips CD-880 - After re-visiting it and doing the second unit I decided to bring it all the way up here. The top "Belgium made" Philips puts all its predecessors to shame,. The PCB is actually one of my favourite philips TDA1541 pcb of all time., just a hair behind the Naim superboards.  If it wasn't for the AWFUL display I would rank it right after the Grundig. With NOS it betters the grundig 9009 which unfortunately CAN NOT be nonoversampled by design.

Marantz CD94 and CD80 , Philips 960 - all three just about equal, well built but not spectacular. Single DAC, not as good ergonomics as the Grundig. Overall - top class but without a bullet. With my slight preference to the 94 with better caps, smaller output board, nicer mechanism (1-MK1) and better looks.. Philips CD960 is 100% identical with the 94 except the phillips has not the wooden side cheeks and has slightly different display.

Marantz CD94MK2 - If you need balanced operation - as I do - there is no equal. The only one CD player with TDA1541A-S1 in dual differential mode - ("XLR ready")  that I am aware of. For RCA users - it has absolutely nothing better to offer than the three marantzes above. In SE mode - MK1 is a lot cleaner design, with more easy and open sound.

Cambridge Audio CD2 and CD3 - the British attempt at overkill player. These guys must have been in love with TDA chips - they even got a bulk discount. 4 stereo DACS per player - nobody had beaten them so far. Non-S variant, but with very simple and good electrical design. Good caps, power supply regulators, and so on. But the sound - does not get 4 times better than from one chip. These players are about equal to the Grundig, but ergonomy - is British garage style. Ugly as a sin. Not for everybody. Jaguar E-Type lovers will adore them.

Copland 288 and 289 - built like a dream, good looking as everybody get out. Two pairs of great DAC chips from Burr Brown (PCM63K) and some older units come with TEAC VRDS  mechanisms if you are lucky. Not balanced but parallel chip arrangement. The best CD of all I tried without any mods at all - as they come.

Meridian 506.20- The first non-TDA player in this category. The company, similarly to Naim and Linn  - has cult followers who worship these little black boxes. The only one in this group with voltage output from Crystal Semiconductors Cirrus delta sigma DAC chip. which is usually a no-no (I mean the voltage out not the Cirrus ;-). Without tubes it is quite OK, but with lampizator - it really flies. Very addictive sound. No room inside for lampization. The electrical design is super clean, super simple, money well spent.
It is internally balanced, XLR Ready . It gets my personal award for minimum bullshit - maximum music - engineering. The newest variant of this DAC chip is to be found in my LAMPUCERA minimalist DAC.

ZERO DAC from China with AD1852 chip. A very very nice allrounder. A DAC that everybody will like after lampization. I love it. At 100 USD price nobody will be disappointed.

Kenwood CD-7090:  looking cheap and simple, lightweight, inexpensive player, with just barely adequate Sony mechanism from cheap range. But what a delight - 8 DAC chips from top league - Burr Brown PCM1702. With balancing  transformers (or even without) they can be lampized from current outputs and the end result is spectacular. This is a real giant killer. Add some cap tweaking and stable clock and you are in audio Nirvana for sure.
It is internally balanced, XLR Ready. It has the most empty space for lampization of all players.

Denon CD-2560  Very well built player. The best denon for sure. The exotic Japanese Denons with massive wooden additions and heavy casing are electrically equal but not better, while they cost xx times more. Superb mechanism and good 4 DAC chips same as in Audionote DAC-5 and Teac VRDS-25. After the change from voltage output to current output - it can put to shame many top players. It is internally balanced, XLR Ready

Shanling T200 - after real lampization (not the chinese trick as is sold) - it is a great player. Even better player is their newest T300 from Shanling with fantastic Burr Brown PCM1794 DAC. Both are
internally balanced, XLR Ready.

Revox 226S, 126. Legend of Revox makes them special, but these are NOT reel to reel players ladies and gentlemen. Their CD's are not that awfully special, just very good. Not really legendary. But simply well made, simple and solid player with fantastic sound. Very delicate and sophisticated mechanism based on Philips CDM-0, hard to repair. Some people regard it (after lampization) as the best of all. Maybe they are right. After NOS mod they should be in cat Zero perhaps but this is not verified yet.

Krell KAV-300cd - the best non-tubed player I ever heard.

Also check: Pioneer PDS-06, Kenwood 8020DP, and  I am also investigating some Arcams with TDA (Excellent player is 70.2) chip and I still try to check out  Marantz 7 - the potential king of them all. The Stock CD7 recently was subjected to a direct comparison with lampized CD94MK2 and they equalized (CD7 has discrete transistor output stage). Considering the 10x price difference - I am quite satisfied. With some tube rolling and NOS - I am sure the lampized 94 will eventually win.
Philips LHH1000 series is impossible to get so let's ignore it.

Category 2:

Kenwood 5090 (and 4090) 
It is internally balanced, XLR Ready. Great musical player, detailed, dynamic, with great bass. Overall - the champion of budget lampization. Lots of space inside.
JVC1050Z K2  It is internally balanced, XLR Ready
Philips "Standard" series: Philips CD-630, CD-304MK2, Marantz 40, Marantz 50, Marantz 60, Grundig CD-9000, Grundig CD-8400 MK1 and MK2, Grundig 903, and over a hundred other models based on the same Philips schematics.
grundig cd 8100 /8400MK2 (optimal players for beginners). All the goodies plus lots of space, but price - 20 Euro !

Pioneer Stable Platter PDS-904 , S-703 and many many similar cousins. 
It is internally balanced, XLR Ready

Technics SL-PS700  
It is internally balanced, XLR Ready

Akai CD55 - after Iout conversion and lampization

NAD C 541
  grey, sad looking box with gigantic detailed and musical sound. Great buy.

Marantz CD63SE /CD-67SE  One of the most popular players of all times. With lampizator it shows unlimited dynamics and microdetail, Similar to Kenwood 5090. But with very limited space inside. The NPC dac chip is raw like sushi but very appealing to many people, myself included.
The main PCB is a good field for countless tuning tricks ala Thorsten.

Category 3:
Kenwood 1000D
Grundig Fine Arts 905

Also - TDA1547 dac based players. All Sony CX20XXX chip players. (Revox 426)  (Marantz CD17)  Teac D-10
Meridian 207 (what a horrible impossible bastard son of Philips technology applied in a garage by the mad scientist ! Despite premium parts like  TDA1541S2 chip STAY AWAY !!! RUN FOR SHELTER !!!)

Category 4:
Bang and Olufsen CD5500  
very interesting player but normal lampization process results with great sound but a loud pop when skipping track. Also no remote and no room for lampizator inside.
MHZS 66 and 88 - read my comments HERE

To all people who think that 99 % of CD players inside look like shit: I agree with you. Something like technical culture seems to be a long forgotten song.
Here is the picture of what the good looking product should be like - This is a US made  PS Audio DAC.