30 Something CD Players Group Test (Part 4) - Quad Elite CDS

4/15/2014 9:24:14 AM

Quad Elite CDS

It's the most expensive of the pack, but will its performance justify that price tag?

This is the latest version of Quad’s CD player, and the most costly model in the Group Test. Quad CD players started in the mid-eighties with the 66, which was targeted at buyers wanting a step up from budget machines, but was never intended to be a high-end machine. Quad silver disc spinners have always been overshadowed by the company’s superb range of electrostatic loudspeakers, so its players are still less well known than perhaps they should be. The headline feature of the Elite CDS is the 24-bit/192kHz upsampling DAC fitted, replacing its predecessor’s 24/96 converter.

Quad Elite CDS three quarter view 

Quad Elite CDS three quarter view

The unit is a little unusual looking, having a three-quarter width sculpted aluminium case with crenellations at the back, and an understated fascia with the minimum of controls - just four to cover the transport functions and disc open/close. The display is basic but clear to read, although the rather wobbly disc tray lets the side down a bit at this price. Inside the CDS gets a new transport mechanism and servo system, custom designed by Quad engineers; track access is swift, but the button layout is confusing at first. A new master clock is fitted, as is the aforementioned Crystal CS4398 24-bit DAC. Quad says high-quality electronic components are specified, with multi-layer circuit boards. Round the back there are analogue outputs and proprietary Quad Link connectors, plus an IEC mains input.

On test

In many respects the technical performance of this Elite CDS bears a strong resemblance to that of Quad's costlier Platinum DMP CD player. Both offer a high 2.4V maximum output allied to a very wide 110dB A/wtd S/N ratio while jitter is suppressed to just 115psec - the measureable limit for CD's 16-bit data. Both players employ the minimum phase variant of the DAC's digital filter (reducing pre-ringing for more post-event ringing) but although their time domain behavior looks the same, the CDS yields better attenuation of digital 'images' (-107dB versus -27dB).

Quad Elite CDS rear view

Quad Elite CDS rear view

The frequency response and output impedance are almost identical (-0.6dB/ 20kHz and 116ohm, respectively), which also suggests Quad is utilizing a similar analogue stage in both players. When it comes to distortion, the CDS has the edge, offering a very low and impressively consistent 0.0007%-0.0008% from 20Hz-20kHz.

Sound quality

As soon as the Quad’s laser lights the silver disc inside up, it becomes abundantly clear that this is a rather special-sounding device - one whose sonics are commensurate with its higher price. While this group has provided a few surprises, the Elite CDS restates the natural order of things with a beautifully detailed, delicate yet powerful sound. It is noticeably better than the excellent- value Rotel in most respects, and leaves the best of the budget machines - the Cambridge Audio - a good few furlongs behind.

Kicking off with the New Order track, and the opening few phrases display a wonderfully natural drum machine sound (if there is such a thing!), with an excellent sense of timing. The music isn’t thumped out at the listener in a brutish way, but still manages to be tremendously impactful and invigorating. Vanishing Point can tend to sound really rather compressed and muddled, but here it is neither; the Quad signposts the snare drum accent playing once every four bars that the others here have either glossed over or completely missed. And yet it all seems so effortless and undramatic, the CDS shows no sense of strain. Behind the frenetic drum track glides some beautiful keyboard work, chiming like only early digital synths should. Vocals are gorgeously smooth yet float like clouds over the main mix, rather than being submerged as with some other machines here. Most impressive of all is Peter Hook’s bass guitar work; suddenly it appears effortlessly in front for all to hear, and wonderfully tuneful. Everything is set perfectly in its place in the mix, too.

Crystal CS4398 24-bit DAC

Crystal CS4398 24-bit DAC

It is wonderfully spacious, with elements of the mix glistening out like stars in the night sky, in perfect focus. Rhythmically the song hangs together superbly, and the player’s transparency allied to its innate smoothness makes for an effortless, but nonetheless engaging listen.


·         Product: Quad Elite CDS

·         Origin: UK/China

·         Type: CD player

·         Price: $1,319.28

·         Weight: 4.5kg

·         Dimensions: (WxHxD) 321 x 70 x 310mm

·         Features: Crystal CS4398 24-bit DAC, 1x RCA phono line output, Quad Link connector,

Tray-loading CD drive


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