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Reviewer: Glen Wagenknecht
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Luxman Brid modified by Audio Upgrades to be a now tube-less,zero oversampling machine with integral volume control
Preamplifier: Audio Space Reference 2S, TrueHarmonix Soundmaster N°.23MkII Ref linestage [on review]
Amplifier: Bel Canto 200.4
Speakers: Apogee Duetta Signature, Paradigm Servo 15 subwoofer
Cables: Signal Cable Silver Reference interconnects and speaker cables, Audio Art SE cable loom
Resonance Control: Solid Tech, EquaRack Footers, Weizhi Precision Gold Glory footers, Boston Audio TuneBlock2 footers, Superspikes, and Black Diamond
Powerline conditioning: Noise Destroyer power filtration
Room size: 12' x 17'
Review Component Retail: $1399 Canadian

In recent times, Peter Lau and his Hong Kong-based company Audio Space have garnered considerable recognition and praise for their Reference Line of components but aside from their lofty efforts, the company offers a broad range of product to suit different needs and budgets. While the majority of the company’s ten years was concentrated on amplification both pre and power, they also offer a feisty little digital product, the CDP 8A CD player reviewed here. This is currently their sole entry in this segment. Despite modest cost, it aims high.

Compared to the company’s Reference 2S preamplifier in my system, the Audio Space CDP 8A is outwardly very different. Where the Reference 2S is an extrovert heavyweight flashing massive steel and glowing tubes, the CDP 8A is more reserved, hides its tube complement and displays no flashy accoutrements. But outward appearance is one thing, sound quality another. Any product carrying the Audio Space name plate and representing Peter Lau’s efforts is likely to have something interesting happening under the hood. That makes it worthy of attention.

The Audio Space CDP 8A arrived during the review of the powerful Acousticbuoy DAC2488 converter and was pressed into service as both secondary transport and digital source to compare against my modified Luxman CD player. This put the performance of the CDP 8A’s onboard DAC and analog stage under scrutiny. Many would view such timing  as a misfortune for the Audio Space and given the drastic difference in price, a blatantly unfair comparison. In such a lopsided contest, how could the CDP 8A compete?

With a Statement piece a designer has the  luxury to lavish virtually unlimited premium parts and construction on the creation of his object d‘arte. These items are the stuff of dreams but often far out of reach of the average audiophile. The Audio Space CDP 8A  aims at a wider audience with a more accessible price. This class of affordable High End product challenges the talents of a dedicated designer to maintain quality and give up as little as possible. Intelligent choices must be carefully made where they will least impact and most benefit the necessities of reliability, functionality and sound quality. Audio Space has wisely chosen a conservative approach. Rather than explore the highest numbers and latest hardware, they maximized the performance parameters of tried and true technologies and concentrated on the effectiveness of their analog output stage.

The CDP 8A is based on a Philips VAM 1202/12 transport and uses the veteran Burr-Brown PCM 1732 D/A converter chip which incorporates HDCD decoding and upsamples to 24/96. The inclusion of the HDCD decoding is a nod to the growing list of over 5000 titles currently available in this format and represents a genuine advantage to those with a strong CD collection. The output stage offers a choice of tubes or transistors. The tube stage is available on unbalanced RCA or true balanced XLR and consists of a complement of three 12AX7s (ECC83s). The solid-state output is by RCAs only and those eyeing an outboard DAC will find both optical and coaxial digital outputs. Individuals desiring to make an immediate comparison of the flavor of these different signals will find that all are available simultaneously. This is an intriguing benefit to explore which makes for quick and easy system matching.

While not up to the caliber of the Reference series, the internal parts list is a generous mix of high-quality and audiophile components like the very high-end Zero capacitor from Germany, WIMA and Rubycon units as well as custom-made Audio Space capacitors. All RCA connectors are proprietary Audio Space gold-plated copper. The power supply boasts a hefty toroidal transformer. Audio Space has assembled a decent parts complement to give the purchaser a potentially interesting level of flexibility. There is promise of some muscle under that conservative hood.

The relatively slim line black CDP 8-A came double boxed and nestled inside an industrial caliber open frame protective assembly comprised of 1.5" thick foam. The player is a reasonably hefty 16.5 lb (7.5 kg) and falls halfway between the heavyweight and lightweight levels, being considerably more solid and better equipped than entry-level decks but not as massive as the extreme competition. Case construction is traditional sheet metal with a thick aluminum front face plate. The transport is a front loader situated on the left side of the player. Front panel operation is minimal and accomplished by 5 round chrome buttons on the right side and a larger power button on the left. Simple, uncluttered but effective. A premium hefty metal remote is supplied whose button style is similar to that of the front panel and has a wider range of functions including numbered track selection, scan, mute and dimmable display lighting. The volume control on the remote is not applicable to the CD player.

The four supporting feet are intelligently thought out and well constructed. They are a half-sphere elastomer design for fairly effective isolation and resonance control and are a qualitative improvement over lesser designs. This is of obvious benefit given the use of a lighter sheet metal case. While the performance here can be bettered with dedicated isolation devices, the supplied feet provide a good useable starting point straight out of the box.

There is a muting circuit on initial power up which also engages on individual track selection. The  blue front panel display is dimmable but cannot be completely turned off. There is a red HDCD indicator on the upper right of the display which will light up when an HDCD encoded disc is inserted. A manual is provided as well as a power cable but the unit will benefit from the use of a better aftermarket AC cord. It was good to see that although the CDP 8A may not have the mass or mystique of their Reference line product, Audio Space has included a pair of white gloves and a cleaning cloth. Nice touch.

The CDP 8A was evaluated through all available outputs except optical. Performance as a transport into the Acousticbuoy DAC 2488 was checked via the coaxial digital out. Primary preamplification was by Audio Space Reference 2S but the fortuitous arrival of the TrueHarmonix Soundmaster N°.23MkII Ref linestage gave me the opportunity to assess the CD player’s balanced output and interface with a second preamp. Signal Cable Silver Reference Digital was used into the DAC and the Audio Art IC3-SE XLR cables were used in the balanced evaluation.

As a transport, I encountered a small issue with the Acousticbuoy DAC. There was a brief burst of digital noise on the closing of the CD drawer. This was not repeatable with a different DAC and unique to the combination. A minor mechanical problem occurred early on with some occasional stickiness of the drawer and that unit was promptly replaced by the distributor indicating strong product support. Operationally, the unit otherwise performed flawlessly. Now the review began and a few CDs were chosen.