Friends ask me why, in this day and age, I’m reviewing a CD player.
"Because," I tell them, "you keep bringing CDs for us to listen to."
CDs are still a viable music format. I have a great appreciation for what’s being done with music servers and other types of computer-driven audio components, some of which are astounding in their level of performance. But at the end of the day, when I go into my listening room, I have a ton of CDs to choose from. For me, it’s just as easy to load a disc, sit back, and get into the music.
Copland, founded by Ole Møller, has been making high-quality electronics in Denmark since the 1980s. I first encountered Copland’s offerings at a late-’80s Consumer Electronics Show, and found them extremely well made and well regarded -- as they are to this day. Copland has seemingly always provided high-quality European construction without going overboard on price.
So when the opportunity arose to review Copland’s new CDA825 CD player ($6500 USD), I was more than a little excited to hear what it could do in my system. I was put in contact with Diane Koebel, of Divergent Technologies, which distributes Copland products in North America. She set the review in motion, and shortly thereafter a Copland CDA825 arrived.
The Copland CDA825 came neatly double boxed with everything intact. A solidly built, top-loading CD player with clean lines, no sharp edges, and a feel of high quality, the CDA825 uses the highly regarded Philips CD Pro2 transport mechanism. One unique thing about the CDA825 is its hinged, circular transport door, which pivots left or right, in an arc. The door is about 7" in diameter and a half-inch thick, with an indentation on the top, near the edge, for you to place the tip of an index finger to move the door left or right. The door rides just a few millimeters above the player’s top plate, on a gasket of thick, hard rubber that surrounds its perimeter. At the back of the top plate is a knoblike stopper that keeps the door from turning a full 360° when opening. Under the door, at the back of the transport well and offset to the edge, is a 5" brass shaft that fits smoothly and precisely, with almost no play, into a hole in the player’s top plate, allowing the door to pivot. The very tight tolerances at work here are evidence of the precision with which Copland constructs the CDA825.
Other touches I very much appreciated were the lamp inside the disc well -- helpful when reaching down inside to insert or remove a disc -- and a small disc clamp with an embedded magnet, to secure the disc during play.
The CDA825 has one DAC chip per channel. Each chip is a Wolfson dual-differential WM8741 24-bit/192kHz device and is actually two digital-to-analog converters -- hence the dual-differential topology, a design that should increase the signal-to-noise ratio. Another feature of the CDA825, and one that I think is rare in a single-box player, is the digital buffer between its transport and DACs. This stores two seconds’ worth of data, to isolate the drive from the DACs and thus reduce jitter.
The CDA825 is a minimalist design. On the front panel, to either side of the central display, are a total of six small silver buttons, each surmounted by a red LED. From left to right, these are Operate/Standby, Stop, Pause, Previous Track, Next Track, and Play. The rear panel has pairs of XLR and single-ended RCA analog outputs; an RCA digital output is also provided, as are an IEC input connector for the power cord and, around the corner from that, toward the rear of the left side panel, a master On/Off switch. You can use this to turn the CDA825 fully off if you’re not going to be listening to music for a prolonged period, but the Copland did sound better when I left it on at all times.
I’ve recently made some changes to my system that have made it possible for me to hear further into the music. My reference preamplifier is now the highly regarded Purity Audio Design Silver Statement, my reference power amplifiers the fine OTL-195 monoblocks from McAlister Audio. The rest of my system largely remains the same: an Esoteric DV-50S DVD/SACD/CD player serves as my digital source, and my speakers are Meadowlark Heron i’s -- but I also got good use from a pair of Dynaudio Sapphires.
Most components have certain sonic attributes that audiophiles initially find pleasing; for example, you should always expect to get nice, open, extended high frequencies, midrange presence, and satisfying bass. But the next step is to be able to really feel the music. Whatever type of music it is, you should expect it to speak to you, and allow you to feel what the musicians are trying to convey.
It didn’t take long to hear that Copland’s efforts and design goals for the Copland CDA825 have been fully realized. On firing up the CDA825, my first impression was that it let me connect to the music -- for me, the most important thing. The CDA825 excelled at communicating the music to me.
The Copland’s sound was a little to the warm side of neutral, which made the music sound more natural than a more lean and detailed character would have allowed. The CDA825’s high-frequency performance was airy, and the player retrieved a lot of detail, but without ever sounding etched or overdone. At times I thought it sounded soft, but when I listened for certain sonic cues from my musical references, they were delivered with all of their information and nuances intact, leaving me wanting for nothing. The CDA825’s smoothness in the highs added to the player’s intrinsic musical quality.
The CDA825’s reproduction of the midrange had good presence and dimensionality, neither falling short of nor outperforming a lot of the better CD player offerings. Its bass performance had a special quality: full and slightly warm, but tight and tuneful at the same time. When I played music loud, the bass was about equivalent to what I’ve heard from many single-box CD players, but when I listened at any level lower than 99dB, the bass sounded as it does in concert: alive. The bass of my Esoteric DV-50S, and several other popular players I’ve heard, can sound a bit tilted to the bass at times. The CDA825 communicated a realness that made the music-listening experience more enjoyable. In terms of other sonic parameters, the CDA825 did good jobs with detail retrieval and transient response. The pace and rhythm were also above average. Slower-paced music, such as orchestral funeral marches, moved slowly, while more up-tempo and hip-hop music caused my toes to tap, my head to bob, and encouraged me to play riffs on air guitar.
The CDA825 delivered a wide, deep soundstage with good height, and did an exceptional job of giving performers a sense of dimensionality and space on that stage, which extended well past my speakers’ outer side panels, but more behind the speakers than between or forward of them. The CDA825 was also uncanny in its ability to separate instruments, making it easy for me to follow individual parts in complex passages, aided by the Copland’s ability to let the music emanate from a dark, quiet background.
When I listened to singer Jane Monheit’s The Lovers, the Dreamers and Me (CD, Concord CRE-31197-25), I was totally captivated by her phrasing and the purity of her tone. I’m always impressed by the way Monheit holds a note, then gives it a little tickle at the end, just to show how she can take a melody and own it. Gretchen Parlato’s style is distinctly different. When I listen to her The Lost and Found (CD, ObliqSound OS 113), especially "Holding Back the Years" and "Better Than," I can’t help feeling that she’s singing just to me in her intimate, seductive way. The CDA825 let me explore the different stylings of these two very excellent singers. I could easily hear the tonal colors of each voice and the differences in the singers’ inflections, and really feel the different emotions each evoked.
One of my favorite guitarists is Nels Cline -- if you want to hear some avant-garde, free-form improvisations, listen to his The Inkling (CD, Cryptogramophone CG105). The album begins with Cline playing simple chords, in "New Old Hat," that give no idea of how things will change over the next few tracks. In "Spider Wisdom," "Sunken Song," and "The Inkling," Cline and his quartet seriously explore chord structures and dissonance. The CDA825 let me easily dissect the different musical lines in these players’ musical experiments and appreciate what they’re expressing. The silent backgrounds from which music emanated with the CDA825, and the ability to discretely identify each instrumentalist’s image on the soundstage, made getting into this album all the more enjoyable.
Double-bassist Brian Bromberg’s Wood (CD, A440 MusicGroup 4001) showed how adept the CDA825 was with bass. On solo tracks such as "Come Together" and "All Blues," I could hear deeper into Bromberg’s exceptional technique and full tone. I always marvel at how, as he twists and bends them, he can make bass chords sound as if they’re on some kind of bass trampoline. The CDA825 was able to bring out all of this disc’s detail and information -- it didn’t sound soft or woolly, but had sharp transients, bass detail and fullness, and dimensionality around his instrument. The CDA825 did an incredible job of producing the illusion of a bassist and his instrument in my listening room, playing for me alone.
While on the theme of bass, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite (CD, Sony 483699 2) has driving, tuneful bass beats that are addictive, and were especially so with the CDA825. More than a couple of times when friends dropped by to listen, they asked, during the familiar bass melody that pervades "Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)," which track was playing -- as if they’d never heard it before. I got a kick out of seeing their embarrassed smiles when they admitted they’d never heard it like that before. The CDA825 also brought out Maxwell’s smooth falsetto; the Copland was, in a word, inspiring with this track.
The CDA825 also did a wonderful job with symphonic music. With Enrique Jorda and the London Symphony Orchestra’s recording of Manuel de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat (CD, Everest SDBR 3057), my room felt as if it had been transported into the orchestral venue. The sound was airy and spacious, and the bass sounded full, deep, and tight, providing a stable foundational support on which everything else was built. The woodwinds and brasses came through especially nice and pristine, sounding very real and layered. Again, the CDA825 separated the instruments, allowing me to hear each section of the orchestra perform its distinct function while also hearing them, together, present the work as a whole.
The component I compared with the Copland CDA825 was my reference Esoteric DV-50S DVD/SACD/CD player ($5500, discontinued). Both players had a warm, natural sound, and I spent hours going back and forth between them. At first I felt the Esoteric sounded a little bit more musical, though the Copland did a better job with transient response and detail retrieval, and sounded more accurate in the bass. But the differences were small -- this was one of the few times that my friends and I haven’t been able to reach a consensus on which component was better.
What pushed us over to the Copland side of the ledger was, oddly enough, the shelf it sat on. It turned out that the CDA825 didn’t like the slate shelf I’d placed it on: the music didn’t sound as warm or full or musically involving, or the bass as powerful, as when I sat the Copland on shelves of maple, oak, or myrtlewood, or on a Black Diamond Racing shelf. There it showed its true colors, performed like a champ, and, for its musicality, earned our nods over my reference Esoteric player.
I grew quite fond of the Copland CDA825, which I found to be a reference-level CD player in many respects. Its build quality is first rate, and it was well behaved in my system, giving no problems at all. I also appreciated the Copland’s ergonomics -- all of its functions were straightforward, and the LEDs on the front panel made it easy to tell what the CDA825 was doing. It was a little weird at first getting use to the buffer’s two-second delay, but after about a week I didn’t notice it much.
For under $10,000, the Copland CDA825 is a formidable CD player. If you don’t have a lot of SACD or DVD-Audio discs, it should be on your short list of CD players to audition. If you play nothing but "Red Book" CDs, I highly recommend you give it a close listen. Its combination of excellent build quality, clever design, and utterly musical performance will make it a rewarding CD player to own.
. . . Michael Wright
- Speakers -- Meadowlark Heron i, Dynaudio Sapphire
- Sources -- Esoteric DV-50S DVD/SACD/CD player; Merrill turntable; Gill Audio Elise and M2Tech Young DACs
- Preamplifier -- Purity Audio Design Silver Statement
- Amplifiers -- McAlister Audio OTL-195 monoblocks
- Interconnects -- Dynamic Design Lotus Mk.2 and THB
- Speaker cables -- Dynamic Design Lotus
- Power cables -- Dynamic Design Lotus and Spirit
- Power conditioner -- IsoClean 60A3
- Accessories -- Epiphany Stand Systems Celeste Reference equipment stand
Copland CDA825 CD Player
Price: $6500 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
North American distributor:
Divergent Technologies, Inc.
480 Bridge Street
Waterloo, Ontario N2K 1L4
Phone: (519) 749-1565
Fax: (519) 749-2863