Tangent CDP-50 CD Player
Before reviewing the Tangent Amp-50 integrated amplifier back in
February, Id never heard anything from this brand, which is owned by the Danish firm
Eltax. At the time, I was impressed by the Amp-50s low noise floor, something I
hadnt 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
its 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. Ive reviewed components costing
ten times as much whose makers didnt 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.
Thats 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 youd 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 Tangents 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
B100s onboard DAC (a $1000 option). Tangent doesnt 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
Brystons digital input via AMXs Optimum AVC-45 optical cable. The Bryston
drove PSBs 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 Brystons onboard DAC. All electronics were plugged into a Blue Circle BC6000
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 Vedders 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 SSTs
DAC), and Vedders 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
Vedders voice, which created a credible sense of presence between the speakers.
In general, the CDP-50s sound was a touch lean in the
bass. As I listened to the title track of Pink Floyds Echoes: The Best of Pink
Floyd [CD, Capitol 5 36111 2], it was apparent that Nick Masons drums were
missing some of their impact, which stole a bit of his playings power. And although
David Gilmours electric guitar sounded clean, it lacked some of the bite and edge it
has through my reference setup. In the CDP-50s defense, the sparse piano notes that
open "Echoes" hung eerily in the air above the speakers, demonstrating the
Tangents 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 Cobbs drums could easily be heard
toward the rear of the stage, behind the right speaker. John Coltranes 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 didnt 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
Musical enjoyment comes when a song or an album grabs hold
of you such that your attention is drawn solely to what youre hearing. Ive
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 didnt have anything
like that available to me, as I would suspect to be the case for most audio reviewers --
there just arent 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 NADs
price of $499, the Tangent sacrificed almost nothing in terms of quality of performance.
Several weeks ago I bought José Gonzálezs In Our
Nature [CD, Imperial 9367-2], an album Ive 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 Gonzálezs acoustic guitar and the intimate sound of his voice. The
guitars strings sounded crisp, and the unwavering stability of the voices
position between the speakers helped bring these performances to life in much the way it
had Eddie Vedders "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
Saties Gymnopedies [CD, Universal Eloquence 468 160 2], works I find as
tranquil as Beethovens "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 wasnt till I used the CDP-50s optical output
to send the digital signal to the Brystons onboard DAC that the sonic limitations of
the former became clearly audible. The Brystons DAC helped create a better-defined
sense of space that I could hear quite easily with Jeff Buckleys 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 Tangents 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 isnt the very best CD
player you can buy. The better performance I achieved by feeding its digital output to the
Bryston B100 SSTs built-in DAC is just what youd 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 Panasonics 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 isnt 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.
Price of equipment reviewed