This review is the first in my series on disc
players, with a focus on two-channel playback of the CD format. The primary
objective of the series is to compare the Redbook performance of several
multi-format and CD-only units. The basic impetus is to establish a
landscape of levels of performance among players of various prices and
Details on the manufacturer (Creek), founder, and designer
can be seen in my review of the
Creek 5350SE Integrated Amplifier. The CD50
mkII CD Player is currently the only disc player in the Creek product lineup, soon to
be joined by a higher end model. The CD50 mkII replaced the CD50, with a
number of changes, making the new model inherently different from its
predecessor. Unfortunately for owners of the CD50, they cannot have that
unit upgraded to the mkII.
The changes include a ROM drive, replacing the Philips CDM12 transport. The
data are fed into an ATAPI bus; this is said to provide a virtually jitter
free signal. Also, a 50ms digital buffer (FPGA) stores, converts, and feeds
the data to the digital outputs and a Crystal CS4396 Delta Sigma 24 bit /
192 kHz DAC. The CD50 mkII does not feature upsampling, but the upcoming higher
end model will. Per Mike Creek, “The buffer is not intended to be a shock
prevention device, but can help to eliminate the effects of microphony and
This revised model also claims a symmetrical layout, shorter signal paths,
and better measured performance due to “. . . the distributed power supplies with
seven digital and five analog low noise voltage regulators, plus low-noise
resistors. A higher frequency clock oscillator is synchronized with the
micro controller and buffer clock to minimize internal interference. Two
separate high current power transformers are used in the CD50 mk2. The
voltage to the digital and analog circuitry, LED display, and ROM drive are
kept completely separate for maximum immunity from any interference that
could degrade the purity of the musical signal.”
The following is Mike's response to the component choices and the salient
reasons for change:
“The choice of a DVD ROM drive was to eliminate the frustration of having
to totally redesign the transport circuitry every couple of years as DC
transports are often replaced or changed. In fact, now there are only a few
left and they are not as good as they used to be. Hence changing to an
industry standard DVS product that produces a pure digital output. This
cannot be used in a CD player, so we extract the useful digital information
with a Field Programmable Gate Array (FIFO, First in First Out device) which
buffers the data and converts the signal into the correct formats for SPDIF
out and that suitable for being input to the DAC directly. We currently
re-clock this data to make the waveform as accurate as possible and
especially to reduce the level of jitter significantly and therefore when
clocked with a good quality, low jitter, master clock oscillator, the signal
is recovered with as little loss as possible by the DAC. The CD50 mk2 uses
the standard sampling rate of 44.1 kHz. At this price level, we feel no
improvement can be made with up-sampling techniques. If it to be used it
must be done properly and that would significantly increase the cost. Our
soon to be announced up-market model will have up-sampling and other special
techniques to wring the last ounce of performance out of the signal.”
The unit is designed to allow for future upgrades by adding modules to the
motherboard and software upgrades to be delivered by replacing the EPROM
chip. These upgrades will enable remote control and serial connection of the
player with next-generation Creek equipment or proprietary room controllers.
Unfortunately, these upgrades are not intended to allow for future playback
of hi-res formats (more on that below).
The CD50 mkII is currently only available in a brushed aluminum finish. The
front panel buttons include Play, Stop, Pause, Open/Close, Skip Forward,
Skip Back, Search Forward, Search Back, Shuffle, Repeat, and Standby
functions. In the middle is a display window, with green characters, most of
which are legible across a room. The remote is a full-function plastic
affair that was well designed and laid out, without becoming an objet d'art.
The rear panel has a power switch, detachable IEC input, a pair of
gold-plated RCA, two control jacks, a coax, and optical digital outputs.
The remote control was about average. Usable, but
On the question of why a CD-only player in this day of multi-format and
universal players, Mike Creek gave me two reasons: performance and economics.
Below are his thoughts on the subject.
“A universal player, which will play SACD/DVD-A formats, will compromise
one or other, due to the conversion that is required to achieve
compatibility. However, it will not be optimized to play CDs as well as a
dedicated CD player. Try it yourself and you will hear that it is so. Try
another analogy; Would you use a SUV to perform as a Sports Car? The word
Sport is in there, but that is where the similarity ends. Let us hope this
format war ends soon, with a clear winner. Until then, I would much prefer
to listen to and make a good CD player, rather than an average or bad SACD
The economic reality is very important. To manufacture CD Players, a company
must pay Philips/Sony $25,000 for a licence and 2% of the sale price as a
Royalty. To own a licence to make DVD's costs an additional $5,000. Not so
bad, but add the multi-channel licenses and the DVD-A and SACD ones to it
and you're talking upwards of $100,000. I am not that rich, or concerned to
make these products that I will pay that fee. Not to mention the additional
cost of replacing my 22 year collection of CDs with something that really
doesn't actually guarantee an improved performance.”
As with the 5350 SE integrated, it is obvious that Mike Creek has spent a
lot of time and effort evaluating every component choice and design aspect.
If nothing else, it can be said that Creek products are not the result of
whimsical choices, but deliberate and painstaking thought is put into every
component and design feature.
I could take the easy approach and write about the
sound of this player without comparison to other players. But being the
glutton for punishment that I am, I insist on creating a ridiculous amount
of work for myself and compared the review sample to two other units.
All comparisons were level matched for each combination of CD player,
speaker positioning, and listening levels of 60, 70, 80, and 90 dB as measured
at the listening position with a Radio Shack SPL Meter and a pink noise tone
recorded at –20 dB. The units used in comparison were the Adcom GDV-850
CD/DVD-A player (MSRP $1,000) and Sony DVP-NS755 CD/SACD player (MSRP $250).
I used one of my favorite tracks to test for imaging and detail "General
Image and Resolution test" (Chesky Jazz and Audiophile tests Vol2; Chesky;
JD68). The Sony fell far short of the Creek by a wide margin. At the start
of the track the musicians seemed trapped in the right speaker, and the
instruments were not very distinguishable in space. Played on the Creek, the
sound seemed to emanate from a source far and clear from the speakers, and
the individual instruments were easily identifiable in tone and separated in
space. Also the images from the Sony were not as stable or defined as on the
Creek. Further on in the track when the musicians are circling the
microphones, with the Creek, I could track the location of the drummer in
space and heard him circle around me as it is intended to sound (only with the
speakers in a nearfield setup), but with the Sony it seemed as if the circle was
smaller and entirely in front of me.
The first test was sufficient to establish the wide rift in performance
levels between the Creek and the Sony players. But, I wanted to see if my findings would
repeat on another track. Playing "O Grande Amor" (Stan Getz and Joao
Gilberto; Getz/Gilberto; Verve; 314512414-2) the Sony definitely had a
narrower soundstage, placing the sax almost center stage instead of halfway
between center stage and the right speaker. The wider stage painted by the
Creek is likely due to better channel separation. Focusing on the sax solo,
the Creek laid bare a lot more detail than the Sony, and made the Sony sound
veiled and dark in comparison.
For a fairer comparison, I switched in the Adcom GDV-850, which at $1,000,
retails for $500 less than the Creek and offers more function as a DVD and
DVD-A player. On "Havana Café" (Paquito Rivera; Chesky Jazz and Audiophile
tests Vol2;Chesky;JD68), the Adcom presented a little less detail than the
Creek. The soundstage on the Adcom was comparatively a little pushed back,
almost distant, while the Creek's presentation was more up-front, intimate,
and warmer sounding.
A much more revealing test was "Coming of the Mandinka" (V.M. Bhatt, N.
Ravikiran, Taj Mahal; Mumtaz Mahal; Waterlily Acoustics;WLA-CS-46-SACD),
perhaps due to the impeccable quality of the recording.
The stage on the Creek was much narrower, which is a likely indicator of
poorer channel separation. However, the Creek's presentation was more
forward and intimate and much more preferable to me. The resonance of the
sympathetic strings on the Mohan Vina was more prominent and richer sounding
on the Creek. While the resonance was audible on the Adcom, it was less
pronounced and thin sounding in comparison.
I have listened to this track many times, but for the first time I noticed a
very high-pitched resonance from the Chitra Vina at about 4:15 into the
track. It actually sounded like feedback, or the sound you get by circling
the rim of a wine glass with a wet finger. A quick call to Kavichandran
Alexander of Waterlily Acoustics confirmed that sound was due to the extreme
excitement of the sympathetic strings. This high-pitched sound was
definitely more pronounced on the Adcom, and was rendered from far stage
right. With the Creek it seemed almost center stage and less noticeable.
I had a good estimate of the differences between the two players, but I wanted
to do one final test before rendering an opinion. On 'Rimshot' (Eryka Badu;
Baduism; Universal; UD53027) the Creek considerably
outperformed the Adcom in terms of detail and punch with the very low
synthesizer notes, and sounded warmer and more detailed on the delicious
vocals from that vocalist.
So, basically, the Creek just plain ran circles around the Sony. It had more
detail and warmth in the midrange, as well as more extension and detail in the bass
compared to the Adcom. The Adcom had a much wider stage, a farther and
distant presentation and a balance more tipped to the higher frequencies.
Other than the wider soundstage, I much preferred the Creek to the Adcom.
To answer the basic questions:
Did the $1,500 Creek sound better than the $1,000 Adcom and the $250 Sony?
Yes, except for a wider soundstage with the Adcom.
Were the differences significant? Yes, they were consistently identifiable
on various tracks. But, differences between these disc players are small in
absolute scale. Probably closer to the magnitude of differences you would
find in amplifiers with the same price differences as seen in these players.
- Arvind Kohli -
Speakers: Dynaudio Contour 1.3 MkII
Triangle Electroacoustique Titus 202
Subwoofer : ACI Force
Amplifier: Cayin 265Ai (integrated)
Digital Source: Sony DVP-NS755; Adcom GDV-850
Power Conditioner: PS Audio P300
Cables: Self Designed