I recently took delivery of an Onkyo C-S5VL SACD/CD player. I didn't buy it for the SACD playback, but more so for the redbook CD playback. There aren't many reviews out there, or posts here about it, so I thought I would just post some quick impressions. These are just quick impressions because I haven't had it all that long, but there are some characteristics that are very obvious to me already.
Woo 3 OTL amp
Beyerdynamic DT990/600 ohms
My old source: Teac "Reference" PD-H300mkIII CD player. I got it new for $100US. This wasn't a bad little player, and I definitely think it performed above its price point. Although, despite it having the word "reference" in its name, I don't think it is on par with true "reference" players. It seems like just about every manufacturer maker puts the word "reference" in their product descriptions these day without warrant. Anyway, this player wasn't bad. It did have a few weaknesses, though, that were highlighted by my amp and cans. Mainly, it was just a smidge light in the bass. Just enough to rob a little energy from some good rock recordings. However, most importantly, vocals were slightly recessed. They blended into the background a little bit. Now, I completely think that differences between digital sources are subtle at best. But, sometimes these subtle differences can synergize with other components in your chain to make things a little more obvious. In my case, I could easily tell that bass, energy, and vocals were just a tad lacking. They lacked enough to make we want more. Another thing left me slightly confused about this player. It was a smidge laid back, especially in the mids, but also had a hint of digital graininess to it. I could detect the digital graininess even when played through my tube OTL amp.
Enter the Onkyo. This seems to have corrected the problems mentioned above. During my first audition of it, I immediately noticed more bass and more PRaT (even though I don't really like that term). The music, particularly rock, seemed more alive. It wasn't night and day difference, but just enough to make notice some more energy.
I then proceeded to go through many of my favorite albums to reacquaint myself with them through the new player. It was a similar story: they all seemed to have just a hint more bass than I remember hearing from my old source.
After going through several of my favorite CDs and getting a sound imagine stuck in my head, I then hooked up my old source to have a re-listen.
The differences were extremely subtle, but they were there. The Onkyo has a hint more bass, but feels a tad more alive. There is more energy in some songs. Rush's "Tom Sawyer" sounds rather pedestrian on the Teac, but it sounds more alive on the Onkyo. Also, the vocals are slightly more pronounced on the Onkyo, which is a good thing. They are no longer fighting for space with background instruments.
Another neat thing I noticed, which took several times going back and forth between the sources, is that the Onkyo sounds more analog than the Teac. It's just a little more smooth and musical. I'm sure this has a lot to do with the digital filters that Onkyo utilizes. I don't claim to know anything about them, or how they work, but I can say that they do alter the sound slightly. I settled on Filter 4, which is supposed to be some sort of apodizing filter, because it sounds very analog. It's the most vinyl-like I've ever heard a CD. Now, I'm not claiming that CDs are ever going to sound like vinyl; I'm just saying that this is the best I've heard a CD at approaching the smoothness of vinyl. The gap between vinyl and CDs is till large, but this made it just a tad smaller. Overall, I like it very much.
I still have a lot more listening to do and more observations to think about. I still can't tell any differences in soundstage width or depth, or even overall detail extracted by the Onkyo compared to the Teac. But, I can say without a doubt that the Onkyo is slightly better than the Teac in terms or bass, PRaT, vocals, and smoothness.
I like it a lot. Well worth the price. I'm sure there are better players out there, but this one has made me very happy.