Quad Cdp Elite (£1199)

Impressive sound and considerable flexibility thanks to six digital inputs

With the 99 CDP-2, Quad took a full-function CD player, fitted its DAC with a selection of digital coaxial and Toslink optical inputs, and provided both fixed and variable outputs to enable the device to serve as a preamp. Aside from not featuring digital inputs such as balanced XLR, USB and others current and forgotten, the 99 CDP-2 and now the Elite CDP enable their owners to accommodate six extra digital sources.
   The new player is essentially an update, with circuitry improvements and aesthetic changes like the better front panel illumination. It has the exact same dimensions, right down to the same indents in the top for stacking. So owners of 99 Series components can integrate Elite units without having to change shelving or worry about synergy and compatibility even with QUADlink connections and the use of the old remotes.This integration of old and new is a Quad tradition dating back to the move from Quad II to 33/303. Only the colours will differ.
   As Quad unashamedly explains it, ‘the CDP is essentially a CDS CD player with the digital preamplifier functionally added – the challenge was to add this feature without degrading the CD playing quality.’ This means using the same Cirrus Logic Crystal DAC, ‘selected for its sound quality’. The layout of the Elite CDP has been devised so that the various supplies are separated back to the transformer windings, and the CD transport should not have any deleterious effects. As for its line outputs, the analogue section’s signal path is minimalist, with only a single active stage per channel. This includes the balanced QUADLink output which we used to feed it to a 909 as well as to a 99 preamp for part of the review period. (QUADLink is a fullybalanced connection system for use between other Quad Elite products, eliminating all other cables save for the speakers. It carries system controls, synchronising the units, and manages remote commands.)

Comparing it with our notes for the CDS, we detected no remarkable differences when using the Elite CDP strictly as a CD player. The Elite CDP is decidedly analogue-ish in the best sense, with the BGO CD equivalents of recent Sundazed Hollies mono LPs sounding deliciously similar.
   Stereo versions of the same material were ultra-wide, extending beyond the borders of our LS3/5As set-up. There was ample air around each player, a superb sense of front-to-back depth and a welcome freedom from digital nasties. Even more impressive was the playback from mono sources: you could almost disassemble the ultra-fine weave that is The Hollies’ harmonising. Sweetness, smoothness, silkiness – the three ‘S’s, without the debilitating fourth, sibilance. ‘Look Through Any Window’ jangled and chimed as we first remember it from nearly a halfcentury ago: scintillating treble that came to symbolise the sound of the First British Invasion.
   A sorely-needed, recent CD of Ian And The Zodiacs’ finest efforts, equally indicative of the seductive charm of the era, provided the Jagger/Richards song, ‘So Much In Love With You’, again showing that what once seemed a dearth of bass, leading to an impression of too much sparkle, had been an unfounded complaint.
   Using FLAC recordings, we found the CDP to be a great leveller rather than a poster child for digital. Yes, there was a leap between MP3 or some of the other highly-compressed formats aimed at personal hi-fi users, but two flavours of FLAC seemed indistinguishable. It was not a disappointment, but neither did it do much to promote 48k over 96k. So for us, the joy of the Elite CDP is its plethora of inputs. Which just happen to be in the same box as a fine CD player.

The Elite CDP is even nicer than the 99CDP-2, the revised aesthetics enhancing the desirability. For the money, provided you want a bunch of digital inputs and don’t mind using lateral thinking for USB, it’s a bargain: great-sounding and eminently practical.

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Originally published in the Yearbook 2011