While some may consider the addition of valves to digital players a mere fad, there are good sonic reasons to do so. If properly implemented, tubes can replace some of that notorious digital glare with a less fatiguing, lush, richer and more dimensional presentation. That is, in a nutshell, what I heard with this piece. The tube circuit offered greater liquidity, image density, romance and an inviting warmth that I found to be quite intoxicating. Not that the sand-based circuit was chopped liver. It was a degree drier, less spatial
but offered a lower noise floor, sharper imaging, a more distant aural perspective and more defined leading edges. Suffice to say, the tubes stroke your behind while the opamps kick it. Think of the 6922 choke-filtered stage as a robust red wine with a full, fruity taste and just a hint of spice. The OPA2604 stage has a drier sharper flavor with less aftertaste. As with decent wines, one is not necessarily better than the other but simply different. With the choice of different output stages and upsampling, one has plenty of options to custom-tailor playback to one's preferences, not to mention the ease of swapping opamps and tubes.

Over the five years that I have owned my $700 Rotel RCD-971, I have been underwhelmed with most players in the same price range and even up to $2000 and have felt little urge to upgrade. I'm not sure why but the little Rotel has a uniquely smooth and beguiling sonic ease that belies its modest price and serves all musical genres admirably. It is a fine example of a product that is greater than the sum of its parts. It simply has that nearly ineffable musicality that can be so elusive in audiophilia, especially at this price. I even preferred the 971 to its more upscale brother, the RCD-991. The Rega Planet, some of the Arcam players of the day and other makes either did not measure up or just refused to offer a significant enough sonic improvement for the added outlay. With the addition of Black Diamond Racing cones and a WireWorld Aurora III+ power cable via the after-market IEC jack I installed, the Rotel's performance far exceeds its bantam price of US $699. The CD-22 is the first player in the <$2000 range to impress me enough to consider replacing my venerable Rotel. It has the same warmth and ease of the Rotel but adds greater dimensionality, image density and weight. Note I am referring to the choke-filtered tube output stage. While solid state delivered slightly better performance than my Rotel, that difference alone would not persuade me to trade up.

Especially vocals stood out on the CD-22. Peggy Lee's rich tone leaped more freely into my room [Capitol 97308]. There was a lovely warmth and ambience to her voice that made for a more involving listening session. The percussion in "Fever" simply blossomed into my space with greater presence and I had a better sense of the recorded acoustic space. Whether real or studio manipulation, it just raised the hair on my neck more. The snapping fingers that accompany this track sounded more vivid and real just like a human being rather than an electronically produced sound as on other similarly priced players I have heard.

If you are thinking that the 6922s imparted mushiness or flabby bass, you would be incorrect. High-powered boogie material such as Fila Brazillia's Brazilification [Kudos 13] exhibited rhythmic get-up-and go without any bloat or lethargy. However, the OPA2064 stage did offer sharper dynamics and slightly greater rhythmic grip.

Ray Brown's double bass on The Real Blues [Concord 1027] was solid and well defined. Pitch accuracy appeared spot-on. In comparison with the Rotel, there was greater extension and as I noted above, a more dimensional and full-bodied presentation with
greater harmonic richness. The Rotel was ever so slightly drier and less dimensional. On the Cayin's solid-state stage, leading edges were more pronounced and notes let go faster. The tube stage was more languid and romantic, with individual decays fading further into the background.

On more demanding classical music, these two differing sonic traits were just as apparent. The tubes allowed for a more relaxing and natural string tone, be it Tacet's wonderful recording of French string quartets [Tacet 118] or large-scale works such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt's traversal of Dvorak's macabre yet fascinating Symphonic Poems [Teldec 60221]. Instrumental and orchestral weight was greater with the choke-filtered glowing glass outputs whereas the sand outputs delivered sharper imaging and a more distant perspective but also introduced a very slight grainy sheen to the strings.

I tried the upsampling feature and nothing I heard changed my opinion of this feature. However, I am not prepared to write off the entire technology yet as I have not heard other iterations of this process such as offered in Bel Canto's DAC-2 or Musical Fidelity's products for example. As with the Music Hall Maverick SACD/CD player and Music Hall Mambo integrated amplifier, I gave up after extended experimentation. With upsampling engaged, some discs sounded slightly more open and defined. But most displayed increased hardness, edge, diminished bass and odd spatial distortions that I suspect were phase-related. Instruments and voices would all of a sudden shift around on the soundstage. It was very disconcerting. I found the soothing effects of the PCM-1732's onboard HDCD filter preferable to all this excessive number crunching.

The CD-22 responded well to vibration control devices such as Black Diamond Racing cones and especially the Grand Prix Audio Apex footers which simply offered greater focus and an uncanny sense of increased resolution and extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum. Power cables also had positive effects on the CD-22's performance. The best was the GutWire Power Clef SE followed closely by its cheaper sibling, the C Clef and right on the heels, the considerably less expensive WireWorld Aurora III+. Power conditioning via GutWire's MaxCon also benefited the Cayin with a perceived lower noise floor and enhanced clarity. Keep in mind this was in my system. You may reap greater riches with different footers, power cabling and conditioning. For me, the HIT Audio CD-22 was a hit, not just a single or a double but a home run. For less than two grand, you get a sharply appointed,
well-built, exceptionally musical silver disc spinner with all the bells and whistles including selectable upsampling, HDCD decoding and a choice between opamp-based or tubular analog outputs. While I favored the valve stage's un-digital smoothness and warmth, the sand-based stage cut a more detailed and dynamic sonic swath. Further upgrades and experimentation would have been painlessly had I simply swapped out the op amps or the tubes, not to mention experimented with further aftermarket power cables and vibration control devices. Those audiophiles prone to tinkering under the hoods of equipment will have a field day with this piece. Consider that as icing on one scrumptious chocolate cake. Or is it a vanilla torte? With a little tweaking, the CD-22 can be whatever flavor strikes your fancy. This is definitely one to put on your shortlist of players in this price range.
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