Authorized Parasound Dealer
Manufacturing is expensive. First there are the one-time costs. You have to dump a lot of money out to design a product, and an equally large amount to produce the tooling that allows you to build it. After all that, you still pay an amount per built product in parts, assembly, and other overhead. One of the guiding principles to manufacturing says that making two of something doesn't cost twice as much; it costs considerably less. Not only do you get the economies of scale working for you on the individual builds, the initial design costs are spread across a larger run and shrink on a per-sale basis. The result of all this in many industries is that companies pool the manufacturing of complicated parts. You see this all the time in automotive design. The Geo Prism I drive around is almost identical to the Toyota Corolla, with a huge overlap in both parts and assembly. Yet there's still enough differences in the final product that they can be easily distinguished from each other.
In the precarious world of high-end audio, trying to absorb every R&D dollar and design a product totally from scratch is a quick trip to exorbitant prices. Smart companies outsource a variety of parts to other, often larger, companies. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the construction of CD players. There are very few places where entire CD transport mechanisms are designed and built: Sony, Philips, Matsushita, Pioneer, etc. The rest of the industry buys at least the actual laser mechanism, if not the entire playing mechanism, from one of these big suppliers. There's still plenty of room for high-end companies to add value by improving power supply regulation, tightening up component tolerances, providing additional damping, and other such changes. The final resulting products can vary widely in capability even though they share a common heritage in portions.
The last few years I've been happily using a Rotel RCC-940AX five-disc CD changer (review available). It continues to play many hours every day. There are a number of features I'm now stuck on with this player and refuse to give up. Foremost is the ability to swap out two discs while playing. Recently it's become obvious that this changer is becoming rather outclassed by newer designs when it comes to sound quality. While I gave up on the internal DACs some time ago, the Toslink digital output has recently proven to be much less desirable than the coaxial outputs on other players I've tried. This is especially true when using a really good external DAC. Unfortunately, it's tough to find a high-end changer with a well implemented digital output. There's certainly an element of snob appeal in the industry that promotes sticking with a single-disc unit instead of using one of those horrid changers that the masses buy. So I was glad to find the Parasound C/DC-1500, advertised as both a regular player and a transport. It seemed to sound good in some informal testing, and it featured all the convenience functions I was looking for, so I borrowed one to test out.
Well, after getting a closer look, it's no wonder it seemed so familiar. At least 3/4 of the parts inside are identical to the Rotel changer I already use! I popped open both boxes to see the details. The CD tray, transport section, and laser mechanism are all the same as far as I could tell. The outside cover is the same size and material but is finished differently. The case itself, including the front part of the tray, looks different; you get the usual Parasound "like anyone really rack-mounts this stuff" holes on the side and such. The front panel is similar, but some minor differences are apparent. The Rotel has a set of buttons to move directly to each of the five discs on the changer, while the Parasound has a large track display. Both players take the same remote inputs, with the Rotel having a slightly larger and heftier remote than the Parasound which makes the buttons easier to use.
Moving on to the parts that affect the sound is where real differences appear. While the Rotel player has a power cord molded right in, the Parasound uses an IEC connector that gives the potential for an improved cord. The power supply is nearly the same, but the Parasound uses a fuse near the cord while Rotel bypasses that section with a wire. The main transport circuit board is almost identical. The real reason to like the Parasound better than the Rotel is the output circuits. My Rotel changer has one tightly spaced output board with all three outputs (Toslink, left & right analog) together. The C/DC-1500 has one board for the RCA jack coaxial digital output, while another substantial board features the analog outputs. These are obviously more complicated circuits, with parts like the Burr-Brown PCM 67P D/A converter (hybrid 1bit/18bit ladder DAC with 8X oversampling) that are better than was Rotel was using. It's no wonder the Parasound player retails for an extra $150 above what the (now unavailable) Rotel changer cost. Another bonus is that you can upgrade the C/DC-1500 with even better digital outputs. Parasound sells the AESOP ($99) to add AES/EBU XLR outputs, while the ADAM ($225) module provides AES/EBU and AT&T ST Fiber Optical outputs. Both are supposedly easy enough for customers to install themselves.
Encouraged by what I found inside, I hooked up the Parasound changer to my system as a transport. The DAC used was the Lexicon DC-1. Digital interconnects were DH Labs and Canare coaxial cables, while the old Rotel changer used Monster Toslink cable. Also wired up was a Rotel RCD-955AX, which has proved to be a decent transport with coaxial output in my previous testing against more modern units. A few trends emerged during an afternoon of comparisons with the same CD in all three players. The Toslink Rotel changer was, as usual, the clear loser. A rolled-off bottom end made the midbass sound fat, while a variety of soundstage weirdness made some recordings sound like they were made in a bad room. Cymbals were artificially steely (even on Steely Dan), and everything that went through it sounded a bit flat compared with the other two players. Listening to the players with coaxial outputs was a much tighter competition. Most of the time, I had great difficulty telling them apart. As far as I could tell, switching between the DH Labs digital cable and the Canare provided nearly negligible changes as well with the Lexicon DAC. The bass on the Parasound sometimes seemed a little more robust, but I wouldn't swear too firmly on that being a real difference.
Having acquitted itself as a good transport, I grabbed my Rotel RSP-960AX preamp and compared the sound of the Parasound's internal DAC against its digital output running through the DC-1. While this is an obviously unfair test, the Parasound fared surprisingly well. It was a bit harder on the ears, with more of a tendency to screech on harsher recordings. The Lexicon has better control over the bass, and the C/DC-1500 internal DAC just couldn't pull off the same growl on really deep notes as the much more expensive unit could. A much more appropriate comparison was to compare the internal DAC against the CAL Gamma, which had been a big upgrade for my Rotel changer. This comparison was really a wash. The Parasound by itself sounded almost exactly the same as the Parasound as transport/Gamma as DAC combination did. My conclusion from this is that you'd easily need to spend at least $500 to get a significantly better outboard converter than the one Parasound already provides.
No CD player review from me would be complete without a look at the error correction ability of the poor victim I've been given. I was surprised to find that Parasound claimed the ability to correct defects up to 2mm in their product literature; the nearly identical mechanism in my Rotel changer certainty wasn't capable of that. Sadly, the Parasound wasn't either. It played through 1mm gaps without error, but even 1.25mm ones caused occasional skipping. This is decent but hardly exemplary performance, and I'm a little disappointed considering the optimistic spec sheet.
Overall, I found a lot to like about the Parasound C/DC-1500. Used by itself, it provides excellent entry-level performance at $650. And the well-implemented coaxial digital output, with even better quality outputs available, gives a well-defined upgrade path. Those who are looking for a CD changer but don't want the compromises of the mass-market units should certainly consider the C/DC-1500 on their shopping list. I know when my existing changer begins its death throes, this Parasound player is a very likely replacement for it.
Price as configured: $650 USD
Review Source: Avalon Audio Video