Reviewer: Paul Candy
Source: Rotel RCD-971 CD player modified with IEC jack to replace captive AC cord
Preamp/Integrated: Audio Zone AMP-1, Manley Labs Stingray, Antique Sound Lab AQ-1003DT [in for review]
Amp: n/a
Speakers: Meadowlark Kestrel 2, Reference 3A Dulcet [in for review]
Cables: DH Labs Q10 loudspeaker cables, DH Labs Revelation and Air Matrix interconnects, DH Labs Power Plus power cables, WireWorld Aurora III+ power cables, Audience Maestro interconnects and loudspeaker cables, Audience powerChord AC cables [in for review], GutWire C Clef & Power Clef SE power cables [in for review]
Stands: Premier three-tier, filled with sand.
Powerline conditioning: Blue Circle BC86 MkII Power Line Pillow, GutWire MaxCon Line Conditioner [in for review]
Sundry accessories: Grand Prix Audio APEX footers [in for review], Walker Audio SST contact enhancer, Walker Audio Vivid CD treatment, Audience Auric Illuminator, GutWire Notepads, AudioPrism Isobearings, Vibrapods, dedicated AC line with Hubbell outlets, homebrew acoustic treatments, Creemore Springs Premium Lager and one 140lb pure breed Newfoundland affectionately known as 'Fat Bastard'
Room size: 13' x 17' x 8', long-wall setup.
Review Component Retail: CDN $1,899 [ca. US $1,430]

I first became aware of today's subject during a visit last year to one of my favorite Toronto HiFi haunts, Applause Audio. Proprietor Rob Doughty offers an eclectic mix of audio equipment and contemporary art. Some months Rob does more audio business, other months art seems to be the dominant seller. Rob has strong proclivities towards all things tubular and analog. The only reason I suspect he carries any digital products at all is strictly due to market demands. When Rob has positive things to say about an affordable CD player, I take notice - especially one that does not require selling one of my kids to raise the necessary funds. However, I have certainly been tempted on occasion! While Rob is a fan of digital gear from the likes of Audiomat, Vecteur and 47Labs pricey PiTracer and 4705 Progression DAC, few affordable disc spinners have floated his boat. However, the CD-22 somehow manages to keep Rob's vessel from capsizing. While attending the Montreal show, I stumbled across the Canadian distributor's room for HIT Audio and was impressed with several of the products on display. Needless to say, this planted the seeds for today's review.

The HIT Audio CD-22 is a modified version of the German-designed, Chinese-built Cayin CDT-15A CD player. Apparently this stock player has a considerable reputation in Europe and the Far East but is all but unknown on these shores. HIT audio, not unlike PartsConneXion/Underwood HiFi, are a group of audiophiles who tweak stock units to offer cost-effective upgrades. HIT offers modified versions also of two other Cayin products, the MT-32 and MT-88 vacuum tube integrated amps. The altered CD-22 sports "...MIT Multicaps from the USA, WIMA and ELNA capacitors from Germany, Nichicon capacitors from Japan... and more! The resistors used in the critical signal paths are high-quality types from Japan. Signal cables are pure silver..."

While I was unable to obtain exact details on the full range of modifications, it would appear that compared to photos of the stock unit I discovered on the web, a considerable number of changes have been made. The specifications of the CD-22 are as follows:

  • Philips CDM-1210 transport and CD7 II servo system
  • Burr-Brown PCM 1732 DAC w/ onboard HDCD decoding
  • OPA2604 op amps in the solid-state analog output stage
  • 24bit/96kHz upsampling via Crystal CS8240 sample rate converter
  • Multicap, Elna, Wima caps, high purity silver signal wire
  • Vacuum tube output via Sovtek 6DJ8/6922 triodes with choke filtration
  • Frequency response: 20Hz-20 kHz +/-.5dB
  • SN ratio: 90dB (tube output)
  • Dynamic range: 102dB (HDCD)
  • Cross talk: 90dB
  • Output: 2V
  • Dimensions (L x W x H): 17.3" x 13.8" x 4.3"
  • Net weight: 26.5 lbs

Like the stock Cayin CDT-15A, the CD-22 offers a choice between a solid-state and a unique choke-filtered tube output stage via two pairs of what appeared to be high quality RCAs. Also on the rear panel are coaxial and Toslink digital outputs and an IEC power inlet. The front is simple and elegant with just the basic controls - power on/off, stop/open, play, skip forward, skip reverse. The display offers three stages of dimming accessible from the remote. On the far right are two LEDs to indicate HDCD decoding and 24/96 upsampling. Further options such as programming, direct track access and upsampling are provided on the attractive solid metal remote. However, the infrared coverage is restricted to a narrow angle and requires aiming directly at the eye on the CD player to operate. The interior is well laid out and executed. I did not see any loose solder balls or any signs of poor workmanship. All in all, this is one solidly built and attractive piece. It was simple to operate and I experienced no problems at all during the three months I had the unit on loan.

    The disc drawer motor assembly was exceptionally quiet, smooth and well behaved. Disc initialization and track access were quick and painless although every time I pushed play, a mechanical click was audible due to the CD-22's digital muting circuit. Apparently all CD players have one to eliminate digital noise that can occur at the start of a disc. Most players use a transistorized circuit which remains in the signal path even when playing. Some -- generally more expensive -- players use a mechanical relay to remove this muting circuit from the signal path altogether while in playback mode. Hence the click when the play button is pushed. It's the relay removing the circuit.

    Internally, the CD-22 is not unlike the Eastern Electric Minimax which Srajan recently waxed lyrical about. The DAC and output stages seem similar, with even the remote virtually identical. I suspect that both units are sourced from the same Chinese firms. However, the HITman has a fancy choke filter and what I assume to be a more robust power supply with greater filtration. Considering that the pricing is very close, it would have been interesting to have compared the two products. In fact, my subjective assessment of the CD-22 is probably not unlike Srajan's as I found the tube stage to offer real benefits over the sand-based output.

    I burned in the CD-22 for two weeks 24/7 with a CD on continuous repeat when not listening to my system. At first, playback was a little hard and bright but over the two weeks, it gradually improved. I experimented with the opamp and tube outputs on several occasions and generally preferred the tube output stage. Incidentally, the OPA2604 chips are socket-mounted, i.e. not soldered directly to the board. One could easily experiment with higher-spec devices such as the AD825 or OPA627 which are favored by many audiophiles and third-party modifiers such as the PartsConneXion. Of course the same can be done with the twin 6922 tubes in the valve output stage. I didn't have any other tubes handy during the review but Charisma Audio's Bernard Li suggested vintage tubes such as Telefunken CCa, Valvo E88CC red label with D getter or Philips Miniwatt E88CC pinched-waist to bring the HIT CD-22 to an even higher performance level.