Arcam CDS50 CD/SACD Network Player

hfncommendedBased on Arcam's 'FMJ' CDS27 CD/SACD disc spinner and network audio player, is the more affordable CDS50, complete with new DAC, the brand's best kept secret?

CD players, along with integrated amps, have long been such a mainstay of the Arcam product catalogue that it comes as something of a surprise that the CDS50 we have here, selling for £699, is now the sole silver disc spinner in its lineup. This, after all, was the company responsible, in 1986, for the first CD player both designed and manufactured in the UK, just four years after the format hit the shops and at a time when Linn and Naim were both sticking to their 'no good will come of this' guns.

Not too long after that the company also launched a UK-built entry-level player designed to take on the Japanese majors – Denon, Marantz and Sony – at their own game, but then that was the Arcam way in those days. Among its 'first British-built' list were counted the Black Box DAC [HFN Jun '88], the Delta 150 NICAM [HFN Dec '90] and Alpha 10 DAB [HFN Jan '99] tuners and, perhaps most memorably, the Delta 100 [HFN Jun '92], the only UK-designed and assembled Dolby S cassette deck.

Dressed To Impress
As followers of the brand will know, things have changed greatly at Arcam. The old factory, staffed largely by a local workforce drawn from the families of the local military base, is gone as indeed is the military base itself. The company still has a presence nearby, but these days it's in a shared office development just across the road from the old manufacturing facility, and the name over the door is different. Arcam is now owned by Harman International, itself part of Samsung, and what were once the company's new offices now play host to the UK wing of Harman's Luxury Audio group.


While the CDS50 is now made in China, there's still a sniff of 'old Arcam' about the player, as it shares the features and capabilities of the CDS27 [HFN Aug '15], albeit with some significant changes. Not least of these is the adoption of a snappy set of new clothes, in the form of the current 'HDA' look, which has taken over from the somewhat functional FMJ styling of past Arcams. It's a smoother, softer style, extending across a lineup currently encompassing both stereo and AV products, but it still has an air of fitness for purpose to it.

The CDS50 certainly isn't unique among modern CD players, most of which have increasingly become multifunctional devices, some with extended digital input capability, others with full-blown network streaming onboard. Where it is unusual, however, is in its disc-playing for not only is this a network-capable CD player, but it also plays SACDs.

That's unusual in CD players as a whole, being usually reserved for a few 'universal' Blu-ray players and a handful of very high-end stereo machines, and as far as I can tell the CDS50 is the least expensive dedicated CD/SACD player on the market, undercutting the next most affordable, a Denon model, by a healthy margin.


Purist Player
That immediately makes it of interest to listeners like me, with a hefty collection of SACD discs. Yes, it's possible to rip such software to a computer and play it over a network – though strangely not with the CDS50's network section, which tops out at 192kHz/24-bit – but for many users such conversion will involve jumping through too many hoops compared to the simple action of placing a disc in a drawer and hitting play.

So this is a purist stereo disc player, but with the addition of network playback, either via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and it also has optical and coaxial digital inputs, to which external sources can be connected. Also, a USB-A 'host' socket allows playback from suitable external drives, and can also be used to update the player's firmware if and when required. The only downside of this USB provision is that the socket is on the rear panel, so best suited to drives connected and left in place as a library rather than as a means of quick playback of a few tracks copied from a computer. However, it shouldn't be too much of a chore to run a short (and inexpensive) USB extension cable through to the front of the player if you're a frequent 'stick-swapper'.

Diverse DACs
The player also has both coaxial and optical digital outputs (LPCM only) alongside analogue outputs on both RCAs and balanced XLRs, plus the usual 'home automation' connections – RS232 control and a 12V trigger input for remote on/standby switching. Arcam has kept the front panel of the CDS50 admirably simple, with nothing more than an oversized power switch and four simple transport controls below the display, while the remote control is the company's standard multifunction handset, able to look after both the player and an amplifier.

The controls remain relatively simple and although it is possible to scroll through files (in streaming or USB playback mode), it's not the most pleasurable task especially if you're accessing a large music collection. It can take a lot of key-presses, and a good deal of squinting at the display, to find the music you're after. Fortunately Arcam, to quote the old line, has an app for that.

Internally, the CDS50 reveals that it is closely related to the CDS27 it replaced. Indeed, at first glance the two look identical within, from the CD/SACD transport and the layout of the boards to the switchmode power supply (feeding separate regulated supplies for the disc mechanism, digital and DAC/analogue boards). Yes there's been some tidying of the internal routing between the two models, but the network/USB board certainly seems the same, as does the transport, although that in the review sample lacked its identifying label.

Waterbeach, Cambs
Supplied by: Arcam (Harman International Industries Ltd)
01223 203200