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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; Wyetech Labs Jade; Supratek Cabernet Dual [on loan from owner]

EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; Canary Audio CA-308s; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Bel Canto e.One S300; Eastern Electric M-520
Headphones: AKG K-1000 w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; audio-technica W-1000
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1

Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber [on loan]; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular five-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: $1,699

When Kam Leong Leung aka Steven requested a review of his new Raysonic CD128 with the above press shot tease, I knew nothing - about him, it or the company. Well, I had heard "Canadian-based, with Chinese origins". It's actually Toronto/Ontario and the manufacture happens in Raysonic's own Chinese plant. That connection made perfect sense considering the large Asian community in Canada. I had seen the ads. I'd even read a few reviews on Raysonic's integrated tube amps, most of them moderately to wildly positive. What caught my attention with the CD128 were four items: top-loading operation; a quartet of 6922 triodes in the output stage to suggest fully balanced operation; US representation by Steve Monte who has established Opera Audio in America; and a sticker price of $1,699 that whispered "Second Coming of MiniMax".

Should that last reference be too obscure, Eastern Electric's MiniMax player from Hong Kong has long since topped my list of highly commendable digital music makers on a real-world budget. It's $1,099 and backed up by a US importer who jointly owns the brand with the designer and practices a very strong service ethos. And, the tubed MiniMax is one powerful performer that only gives up a wee bit of resolution to save you from coitus interruptus digitalis that so often spoils the fun with affordable CD players. Our own Paul Candy owns one and uses it in his reference system. I'm always looking for additional recommendations in this sector. For $1,850, Opera Audio's Reference 2.2 Linear is another one. Would the CD128 join these two as the third must-audition for anyone shopping in this price range?

Where the MiniMax is styled as a squarish box with a conventional drawer mechanism, the Raysonic goes a few steps farther and sports Classé/Plinius-reminiscent case work. It also avoids the trend to garishness which condemns certain imports for more conservative fashionistas. With a front fascia entirely uncluttered by buttons and only the basic controls arrayed in a circle 'round the backlit clear well cover -- with the four valves peeking out of a recess that cleverly completes the circle -- the CD128 spells subdued chic. It should find favor with a crowd that's matured well beyond steroids, gold chains and pimped-out Escalades. Number crunching is provided by Burr Brown's PCM 1732 single chip first introduced in 1999. It "combines the HDCD
decoding and HDCD filtering contained in Pacific Microsonics' PMD-100 chip along with Burr-Brown's 24-bit 96/88.2kHz DAC technology" [from Stereophile's News page]. The CD128 thereby avoids 196kHz upsampling and the newer DACs which implement it. That and its valved output stage -- a nearly de rigeur ingredient when you consider origins -- could spell preconceptions with those inclined to equate parts with predictable outcomes. While at parts, the laser pickup is a Sony KSS-213Q [above] which also appears in Spark Audio's CDT-23 and Shanling's HDCD-S12 for example. Remote upsampling to 96kHz is included but requires that the player be in stop mode before the up/down switch is performed.

Max output voltage is 2.2, S/N ratio >100dB, dynamic range 102dB and power consumption 22 watts, with distortion given as less than 0.003%. Dimensions are 48 x 30 x 13cm (L x W x H) and weight is 11kg. One glance again at the CD128 and those struck down by yellow fever will make feeble jokes about dumb blondes - that she's a looker but little else.

And it's true. Audiophiles are a tough crowd. Finesse your appearance and they'll assume mediocre sonics. Provide sterling performance with blah cosmetics and they're perfectly content. But then there's regular customers who want it all. Without remortgaging the house they haven't bought yet. I somehow think the CD128 was created for them. If listening should sign off after aesthetics and attractive pricing which are a given, we'd have ourselves another hot recommendation. The semi-exposed tubes mean that nobody will have to wield a screw driver. Even little old ladies may apply. What's not to like?

Perhaps the bronze'n'silver two tones of Raysonic's integrated amps? Thankfully for those who don't fancy them, the CD128 avoids 'em. Ditto for the corner turrets. Those do recall Shanling or Simaudio, albeit in the square rather than round. While present owners of Raysonic amps could wish that the matching CD player was more styled to actually match, shoppers interested in just the source component might prefer that it doesn't. As it turns out, Raysonic has the former covered as well - with their all-silver amps that reduce the two-tone scheme to a mere glimmer 'round the controls.

The firm's tag line The fusion of sound and style on their trade show banner is by no means an ambition statement exclusive to Raysonic. In fact, Ayon from Austria, as per website photos of their CD-1 as well as Spirit and Spark integrated amplifiers, seems to have contracted with Raysonic to pursue similar cosmetics. Considering Ayon's existing lineup, that's a nice compliment for Raysonic.

As my review loaner trekked not digits but through its DHL journey from Guangzhou to Larnaka/Cyprus via Shenzhen, Kowloon/Hong Kong, Brussels and London/Heathrow, I reflected on how most of us remain blissfully oblivious. To the dizzying mix of parts origins in most anything we own. Then add the protracted journeys some of it travels before we spot it behind a store window. That hidden parts list? It might well read like a designer dish. Chilean sea bass deglazed with 1997 Brancott Vineyards Reserve Sauvignon Blanc from Marlboro/New Zealand. Braised with French fennel from the Languedoc region; with Tuscan baby tomatoes from Montalcino; Sonoma County garlic; and a dash of Texan cilantro. Add a bit of ordinary salt and pepper, serve up with a $15.00 bottle of sparkling designer eau.

Does any of it matter beyond appearances and ego? (Don't ask whatever happened to home-grown food.) High-end audio descriptions may be peppered with equivalent parts listings. Perhaps they're hoped to inspire snobbery or add cachet. Do those matter? If you enjoy and use the component as much as you can, surely not. Let the chefs and designers worry about what goes in and where it's from. Snobbery can get expensive quickly. Plus, that American designer capacitor you consider so chic is probably offshored as well. Again, consumers mustn't care. It's all global village now.

Our concern -- especially with audio goods containing moving parts -- should be support. In- and outside the warranty period. With CD players or transports, common problems are that certain CDs may eventually no longer play or require repeat TOC protocol to be accepted. Higher tracks may no longer read or cue up too slowly. While top loaders eliminate the mechanical drawer interface, the laser pickup moves just the same. Issues here often don't crop up during short-term review loans. Hence boiler plate warnings should always remind buyers of CD players. Check that service, repair and replacements will be available should such failures occur. They're most often related to the laser assembly, sled and governing software, hence due to that specific parts supplier, not the actual manufacturer of the final machine (unless one of the few firms that manufacture raw CD/DVD drives actually built it). Sometimes code rewrites can fix the problem. Othertimes it's physical parts replacement. That's true for any such machine regardless of where it's made. Origins really don't matter. Service support does. Raysonic's CD128 comes with a 1-year warranty (90 days on tubes) and in America, Quest for Sound/NAT Distribution handles all service. End of boiler plate. On to the actual dish.

It's a peach. Fastening eyes, hands and screw driver on the physical machine only drove up anticipation beyond what the submitted glamor shots already had incited to agree to this assignment. It's a case of pictorial injustice. You must see and handle the CD128 in person to fully appreciate what $1,695 are buying here. Since that's a fact, let the shots duly pale by comparison. Even the remote -- prior reviews of Raysonic integrateds had complained about a plastic clicker -- is a nice solid chunk of silvery metal now. The enclosure proper with its interlocking corners reinforced from the insides is a poster child for precision CNC work. Besides being substantial and awe-inspiring (echoes of Butler Monads anyone?), it must also avoid the predictable ringing of the ubiquitous square-cornered casings that use folded sheet metal.

Fields of capacitance on the output board, plenty of regulation past the quality mains transformer and immaculate routing and workmanship all spell serious purpose. The CD128 is a beaut inside out. And its true balanced valve outputs represent advanced tweakdom such as ModWright or the partsconneXion team would dream up. If this player didn't perform, it certainly wouldn't be for lack of effort, mechanical execution, features or finessed finish. Alas, I still remembered a prior encounter with a Chinese digital machine. It sported equivalent high-concept aesthetics and first-rate assembly. Yet it had failed to come on song in the listening room. I knew that despite mounting excitement over the 128, hearing it would be the real test. Certain budget wonders of yore couldn't hold a candle to Raysonic's bombproof housing and classy machine work. Yet such blue collar chumps did raise neck hairs in their time. Its designers had paid their dues. They had a clear aural blueprint in their minds and knew how to cut corners without compromising that blueprint.
Experience then. It's the sole commodity an emerging market lacks. Its players have to catch up with a market that's already arrived until leads level out. That takes real familiarity with the competition, in this case the best from the West and Japan. Only then can newcomers define the current-most blueprint and tweak -- hopefully well beyond textbook execution -- what in our case are digital and analog circuits in a critical source component. Raysonic's CD128 has the bling and pride of ownership thing down pat. What about sonic standards? This becomes particularly relevant with any standalone piece. A full line -- like Raysonic's own tube integrateds for example -- can pursue any number of flavors. But choices with something for everyone may also disguise a lack of sonic vision and engineering focus. Incidentally, the latter is a common complaint which prospective importers have with
many deep Chinese lines. Their sonics, from model to model, are described as all over the place. They're deemed hit-and-miss affairs that mandate religious cherry-picking. The CD128 of course can only occupy one singular place (and not one inspired by amplifier circuits such as seem to be the specialty of this firm). It has to appeal to everyone as the one and only player in the line. Sex appeal and sonic maturity then? First, more sex and a different kind of maturity - fabrication.

Upon tripping the power mains on the right cheek, the banks of blue LEDs on either end of the valve trench fire up as do the clockface equivalents surrounding the CD well and the backlit command buttons on top. Simultaneously, the name Raysonic appears in the display. It's quite the show.

Shortly thereafter, the display changes to warm up and a little after that, the usual CD display replaces it.

Even the clam-shell packaging inside the double carton is a cut or three above and securely protects its contents.

A three-stage display dimmer allows you to completely extinguish the readout. The blue mood lighting remains unaffected. Upsampling is available exclusively by infrared. The display confirms choice with a brief F Up or F Down.

The inset bottom plate is significantly stouter than customary and even the footers continue the brushed aluminum scheme unbroken (the remote was photographed on the bottom plate and what you see next to it is an actual foot, not the magnetic CD puck).

As one tours the CD128 with its subtle surface textures -- the ring recess for the controls is sandblasted vs. the grained cover; the display holder, rounded corners and remote casing are gently pebbled to mimic sandblasting -- the level of execution and attention to detail become exemplary. (Audio Research's Reference CD7, to name but one highly regarded machine, may have the sonics licked but by comparison, it's nothing but a simple box artistically.)

The same pride of Taishan City workmanship continues inside the Raysonic. Once you inspect up close how the fully enclosed, smoothly curved tube trench has been realized, you can't avoid feeling profound respect. CGI in movie effects has made such strides that if the imagination can conceive it, someone somewhere can put it on film. Mechanical engineering by comparison remains choked by very practical limitations, certainly at our $1,699 price point. Anyone with even the faintest appreciation for metal work and assembly protocol will have to gush over how beautifully the CD128 team has integrated its high-flair concept with the concomitant execution nightmare.

Truth be told, the CD128 nearly seems like a showcase project intended to demonstrate the firm's fabrication resources. Those who benefit directly from the somewhat unreasonable largesse bestowed upon this machine are, of course, its owners. However,
possible OEM contracts deriving from it are the far more likely reason why the business men running Raysonic could ultimately justify it. Make no mistake - for a player priced as this one, such generosity goes far beyond justifiable without other concrete benefits to Raysonic. This by way of delicately suggesting that the competition has just been issued a serious artistic challenge.