Single disc vs. multidisc DVD and CD players, do expensive disc players sound better?

 Week of August 15, 2004

 Q: I am thinking about buying a new DVD player because my current one does not play DVDs that I burn on my computer.  I would also use the player for music CDs. Are there significant differences in sound reproduction between single disc units and multi-disc changers when playing audio CDs?  I consider myself a critical listener but not a fanatical audiophile.
-Theron J. Abbott, Derby, Kansas

A: There is no reason a multi-disc unit cannot produce the same sound quality as a single disc unit.

Another question to consider, though, is how much difference in sound quality exists between CD/DVD players to begin with?

There is a lot of debate about this in audiophile circles.   Some   “golden ear” audiophiles say there are significant differences in the sound produced by different CD/DVD players.     Others say that digital audio signals are reproduced so cleanly that any differences between players are beyond the range of human hearing.

The latter group seems to have scientific evidence on their side.   Scientifically-controlled third party listening tests have shown that people do indeed have trouble distinguishing between the sound of different DVD and CD players, even when comparing very expensive and very inexpensive ones.

My own stance is somewhere in the middle.   I believe differences to exist, but they are small and you need a very good sound system to detect them.  

Bear in mind that if you are using a digital connection between your DVD player and a surround-sound receiver, you will not hear a difference at all, no matter what DVD player you use.   The player will transfer 1s and 0s over the digital connection to the receiver, which will convert the digital data into the sound you hear.  

Finally, we have the issue of Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD-Audio (DVD-A).   Discs created for these new digital formats will sound noticeably better than ordinary music CDs- but we are comparing formats, not players themselves.   Like other CD and DVD players, the difference between competently designed SACD and DVD-A machines is small at best.

Players that support CD, DVD, SACD, and DVD-A are referred to as “universal players”.   Many of these universal players will also play MP3s and JPEG pictures burned to CDs, but to be considered a universal player, it must only support CD, DVD, SACD, and DVD-A.

In a nutshell, I think you can buy a changer and get superior sound quality, you should not spend a fortune, and as a critical listener you should look for a top quality universal player so you can enjoy SACD and DVD-A.  

I strongly recommend you consider Onkyo’s new DV-CP802 six-disc universal changer.   I have owned and used many Onkyo products and have found Onkyo always does an outstanding job with CDs, DVDs, and digital surround sound.   The DV-CP802 uses top-drawer audio and video circuitry that should please your critical side, and it supports SACD and DVD-A as well as MP3s and WMA audio files.   It will also display JPEG photographs and yes, it will play the discs created in your computer’s DVD burner.

The Onkyo DV-CP802 retails for $500.   It’s a little bit expensive for a DVD changer, but well worth the asking price, especially for a critical listener such as you.   It will give you the top-drawer quality you seek as well as allowing you to enjoy the superior SACD and DVD-A formats.

Shoppers on a budget check who want a universal player should check out Pioneer’s single-disc DV-563A, selling for under $150 at most retailers.   Another good choice is Samsung’s DVD-HD841.   The DVD-HD841 also offers special HD upconversion to produce excellent video quality with HDTV-capable televisions.

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