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Positive Feedback ISSUE
CD-1 CD player
as reviewed by Fown-Ming Tien
After hearing a number of Onix products, I concluded that they had figured out a magic formula for value. The Rocket RS250MkII bookshelf speakers are entry-level in price only, while the H34 integrated tube amp is a screaming deal! Not only do these products deliver sound beyond their price, they also deliver in the aesthetics department. Not to be left out, the new Onix CD-1 CD player ($1500) adheres to the same formula, marrying great looks and great performance at a great price.
According to Mark Schifter, founder of AV123.com, the CD-1 is a rebadged MBL CD-2 CD player with a beefed-up power supply. A quick peek at the CD-2 player on the MBL website reveals external similarities. Aside from the fact that all of the Onix player's gold buttons are in a single row to the right of the blue LED display while the MBL player has two rows, the players look identical. The gold buttons look very upscale against the glossy black acrylic faceplate. The rear panel of the CD-1 has a digital coax output, a pair of analog RCA outputs, and a pair of analog XLR outputs. The single-ended jacks are copper, and appear to be of high quality. The 24-pound weight of the player is indicative of a well-damped chassis. Attention to detail also extends to the remote control, which is beautifully constructed from a solid block of aluminum. The CD-1 has a built-in volume control which allows for direct connection to an amplifier, and can only be adjusted via the remote control.
While most manufacturers are going with multi-format or 24-bit upsampling, the Onix CD-1 is a Redbook-only, non-upsampling player that features a 16-bit Delta Sigma 2 DAC. I must admit that I was a bit baffled by this, since my experience with upsampling DACs and players has been positive, but I never judge gear by its spec sheet alone. I plugged the CD-1 in and let it run for about a week before doing any critical listening. Experimenting with power cords, I tried the Eichmann eXpress6, the Revelation Audio Labs Precept, the VenHaus Audio Flavor 4, and the ElectraGlide Reference Standard Fatboy, and ended up using the Eichmann and Revelation Audio cords. I tried some of the VenHaus Audio interconnect offerings, here for review, to connect the player to a pair of Scott Endler stepped attenuators, also in for review. These neutral, transparent passive attenuators fed my Jeff Rowland 10A stereo amp, which is also quite neutral, with a slightly warm and smooth midrange.
My initial impression of the Onix CD player was quite positive. For the price, the CD-1 does things quite nicely. Unlike most solid-state players in this price range, it sounds quite smooth, with a tube-like warmth, liquidity and fullness in the midrange. Although the bass is also a bit warm, it is relatively full and authoritative, while the high frequencies have a natural timbre. Music has a nice sense of weight and texture. The CD-1's overall warmth allows it to rack up points for musicality. Throw in a disc and get ready to be drawn in! The slightly dark high end invites lengthy listening sessions without fatigue. This is quite possibly the least digital sounding CD player I have heard in this price range.
The CD-1 performed admirably in direct A/B comparisons to a number of DACs partnered with my Audio Alchemy DDS-Pro CD transport. Compared to my former digital reference, a modified P-Tech setup (Monolithic P-3, P-Tech P-1/A interpolator, and Modwright level-2-modded P-Tech P-3/A), the CD-1 not only had greater authority and weight in the midrange and bass regions, but had a fullness and warmth that made it more engaging. Nevertheless, the CD-1 gave up ground to the P-Tech setup in air, detail, and resolution. Cymbals did not have quite the same clarity and separation on the CD-1. Bass, while weightier, was not as articulate. The P-Tech setup also had a slightly better soundstage. Choosing between the modified P-Tech gear and the CD-1 would be a very tough call. The CD-1 has a wonderfully seductive midrange that gives the player its soul. I could easily live with it, despite its weaknesses. Against the $975 Benchmark DAC-1, which was very close in performance to my P-Tech setup, the CD-1 gave up more ground in terms of openness and transparency, but again won me over with its midrange and its more powerful bass.
It was not until its competitors headed into much costlier price ranges that the CD-1 had difficulty keeping up. The CD-1 simply could not deliver the same level of refinement as an Empirical Audio-modded P-Tech P-3/A or the Dodson DA-263, DA-217MkII, and DA-218 DACs (the cheapest of which, the DA-263, costs nearly twice as much as the CD-1). The CD-1's midrange and bass performance had carried the day in the previous comparisons, but this was not the case against the Dodsons. All of the Dodson DACs delivered a more textured midrange and bass, with better focus, body, and detail. The CD-1's imaging was not as precise. Its soundstage was not as wide or deep. Placement of instruments was more imprecise and vague on Diana Krall's The Look of Love. The most glaring weakness of the CD-1 was in the highs. All of the Dodson DACs resolve high-frequency information with amazing resolution, transparency, and smoothness.
The Onix player performs quite well as a CD transport. In comparisons with my Audio Alchemy DDS-Pro, I had difficulty distinguishing substantial differences, but I eventually concluded that the DDS-Pro was a bit smoother in the highs and delivered better-controlled bass. When I tried connecting the CD-1 directly to my amplifier, the sonic results were good, but the soundstage collapsed in width and depth and the highs and lows were sloppier and more diffuse. Everything seemed to be pulled in compared to using the Scott Endler passive attenuators in line with the amp.
In conclusion, the Onix CD-1 CD player is an impressive performer. It was able to go against my much more costly ModWright-modified P-Tech digital front end, as well as the upsampling Benchmark DAC, and come away with a draw. It can serve as a capable transport if you upgrade to a higher-end DAC, but in the meantime, it is a wonderful CD player. It delivers a lush, highly musical sound, with a wonderful sense of weight, pace, and authority matched with a gorgeous high-end appearance that few players in its price range can match. If you are looking for a Redbook player in the CD-1's price range, it definitely must be considered. Fown Ming-Tien
CD-1 CD player