GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published May 1, 2008


Tangent CDP-50 CD Player


Before reviewing the Tangent Amp-50 integrated amplifier back in February, I’d never heard anything from this brand, which is owned by the Danish firm Eltax. At the time, I was impressed by the Amp-50’s low noise floor, something I hadn’t expected from a component costing only $259 USD. For everything it offered -- including handsome cosmetics, a phono stage, and surprisingly good sound -- the Amp-50 was an easy recommendation. Given the high standard set by the Amp-50, and the fact that it’s sold at the same low price, it goes without saying that I was curious to hear how well the Tangent CDP-50 would perform.


Like the Amp-50, the CDP-50 comes wrapped in a gray cloth bag to protect it from dust and scratching. The comprehensive instruction manual includes plenty of diagrams to guarantee that setup and operation are straightforward. What I said in my review of the Amp-50 bears repeating: Tangent clearly wants their customers to enjoy the experience of owning and using their products. I’ve reviewed components costing ten times as much whose makers didn’t go the same distance to impress the buyer. To a lesser degree, buying a Tangent is akin to buying an Apple computer: Both firms pay attention to such details as attractive packaging and helpful instructions, which pays huge dividends in how their products are perceived. Their competitors would be wise to follow their example.

Designed and engineered in Denmark, the CDP-50 is made in China. It measures 17"W x 2.75"H x 11.25"D and weighs 9.5 pounds. That’s pretty light, but the fit and finish are excellent, particularly for the price: an attractive brushed-aluminum faceplate and chassis and a blue backlit LCD display. In appearance the CDP-50 is a perfect match for the Amp-50, and its remote control, too, is identical -- lightweight and flimsy, looking and feeling like the quality of remote you’d expect to accompany a CD player selling for under $300. Nevertheless, the remote performed flawlessly, and has the added benefit of controlling not only the CD player, but the Amp-50 and Tangent’s DAB-50 tuner as well.

On the rear panel are both single-ended RCA analog and TosLink optical digital outputs. The latter were helpful, allowing me to connect the CDP-50 to the digital input of my Bryston B100 SST integrated amplifier. The Tangent could then operate as a transport only, leaving the digital-to-analog conversion to the B100’s onboard DAC (a $1000 option). Tangent doesn’t specify which DAC chip the CDP-50 comes equipped with -- something I would have liked to know.


I connected the CDP-50 to the analog line-level inputs of the Bryston B100 SST integrated using Kimber Kable Tonik RCA interconnects, and to the Bryston’s digital input via AMX’s Optimum AVC-45 optical cable. The Bryston drove PSB’s Platinum M2 bookshelf speakers through AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cables terminated with banana plugs. I compared the Tangent with an NAD C542 CD player as well as the Bryston’s onboard DAC. All electronics were plugged into a Blue Circle BC6000 power conditioner.


When I listened to Eddie Vedder perform "Society," from the Into The Wild soundtrack [CD, J-Records 88697-15944-2], the Tangent CDP-50 conveyed the tonalities of Vedder’s voice and acoustic guitar with fine clarity. The sonic landscape was smaller than what I hear through my own front end (the NAD C542 as a transport feeding the Bryston B100 SST’s DAC), and Vedder’s guitar had less weight in its lowest register, causing it to fill the room less completely -- but there was no mistaking the deep, distinct sound of Vedder’s voice, which created a credible sense of presence between the speakers.

In general, the CDP-50’s sound was a touch lean in the bass. As I listened to the title track of Pink Floyd’s Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd [CD, Capitol 5 36111 2], it was apparent that Nick Mason’s drums were missing some of their impact, which stole a bit of his playing’s power. And although David Gilmour’s electric guitar sounded clean, it lacked some of the bite and edge it has through my reference setup. In the CDP-50’s defense, the sparse piano notes that open "Echoes" hung eerily in the air above the speakers, demonstrating the Tangent’s ability to precisely place sonic images -- one of its greatest strengths.

One of the better examples of this was "So What," from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue [CD, Columbia/Legacy CK 64935]. The CDP-50 did a wonderful job of specifying the positions of the performers across the front of the room, which showcased its ability to create a wide soundstage with a tangible sense of depth, and indicated a good level of refinement and detail. Bill Evans’ piano emerged almost directly from the left speaker, while Jimmy Cobb’s drums could easily be heard toward the rear of the stage, behind the right speaker. John Coltrane’s tenor saxophone sounded a touch bright in the highs, as was true of Davis’ trumpet as the two traded solos. Although Paul Chambers’ standup bass didn’t have the necessary depth for it to be physically felt, the toe-tapping rhythm of this track made for a coherent musical whole, and I got the sense the band had a lot of fun recording this piece.

Musical enjoyment comes when a song or an album grabs hold of you such that your attention is drawn solely to what you’re hearing. I’ve reviewed equipment costing quite a bit more than the CDP-50 that, while very good in some ways, failed to draw me into the music in this way. I never had that problem with the Tangent, which costs far less than some people spend on power cords.


I would have liked to hear how the Tangent CDP-50 measured up against another CD player retailing for under $300, but I didn’t have anything like that available to me, as I would suspect to be the case for most audio reviewers -- there just aren’t that many audiophile-grade CD players on the market for $259. Regardless, the CDP-50 proved a worthy rival for the NAD C542. Even at half the NAD’s price of $499, the Tangent sacrificed almost nothing in terms of quality of performance.

Several weeks ago I bought José González’s In Our Nature [CD, Imperial 9367-2], an album I’ve quickly come to enjoy. For anyone who enjoys folk music, González is an artist worth checking out. His voice is very soothing, and he shows incredible maturity as a songwriter. As I switched back and forth between the NAD and Tangent players, I found I preferred whichever I was listening to at the moment -- neither stuck out as better or worse, and both did a fine job of capturing the resonance of the body of González’s acoustic guitar and the intimate sound of his voice. The guitar’s strings sounded crisp, and the unwavering stability of the voice’s position between the speakers helped bring these performances to life in much the way it had Eddie Vedder’s "Society." Playing In Our Nature, I thought the Tangent sounded a touch more forward than the NAD; otherwise, I was hard-pressed to hear much difference.

I also listened to pianist Reinbert de Leeuw play Satie’s Gymnopedies [CD, Universal Eloquence 468 160 2], works I find as tranquil as Beethoven’s "Moonlight" sonata. With this disc, I had an even more difficult time trying to hear differences between the Tangent and NAD. Sometimes I thought something sounded different, but when I switched from one player to the other, I was no longer sure. I think it would be difficult to tell the two apart in a blind listening test.

It wasn’t till I used the CDP-50’s optical output to send the digital signal to the Bryston’s onboard DAC that the sonic limitations of the former became clearly audible. The Bryston’s DAC helped create a better-defined sense of space that I could hear quite easily with Jeff Buckley’s Live at Sin-é [2 CDs, Columbia C2K 89202]. Music also played with greater power and sounded fuller through the Bryston DAC: Bass was not only more articulate but had greater weight, and the soundstage was deeper and more three-dimensional. The Tangent’s own DAC compressed the soundstage more, the left and right sides pulling in toward one another, and the rear of the stage less able to fill out the corners of my room.

Obviously, the Tangent CDP-50 isn’t the very best CD player you can buy. The better performance I achieved by feeding its digital output to the Bryston B100 SST’s built-in DAC is just what you’d expect, given the vast difference in price. However, when I compared the CDP-50 with the NAD C542, which costs nearly twice as much, I was hard-pressed to hear any difference at all. This indicates to me that while it can be bettered for substantially more money, the CDP-50 is hard to beat at $259. The NAD C542 has long been considered a very good deal; the Tangent CDP-50 is an even better one.


I wish the Tangent CDP-50 had been around when, as an undergraduate at university, I was building my first stereo system. At that time I had no experience with digital playback, and ended up buying a Panasonic carousel DVD player to listen to CDs -- a poor decision, given that I had no intention of ever watching movies with it. Aside from the facts that the unit stopped working just over a year after I bought it (to Panasonic’s credit, they covered the cost of parts for the repair, even though it was out of warranty), and that it seemed to take forever to read a CD, the sound was never as good as the dedicated CD player I finally switched to. I never made listening notes in those days, but I do remember that the CD player was more engaging to listen to, causing me to stop and take notice of the music more often than the DVD player ever had.

I tell this story because I think that something like the Tangent CDP-50 is a far more sensible choice for an audio enthusiast building his or her first system. It isn’t the proverbial "giant killer" that will put megabuck players to shame, but it performs so competently that it makes for a fine entryway to high-quality two-channel sound.

In short, the CDP-50 is another product from Tangent that I have no trouble recommending. Its fit and finish are all you could hope for at the price, and the same goes for the sound. Like the Amp-50, the Tangent CDP-50 provides the perfect starting point for someone looking to get into the high end in a very affordable way.

...Philip Beaudette

Price of equipment reviewed

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