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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Esoteric UX-1, Yamamoto YDA-01, Ancient Audio Lektor Prime, Metronome CD One T [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03 (transistor), ModWright DM 36.5 (valves)
Amplifier: FirstWatt J2
Speakers: ASI Tango R, Zu Essence
Cables: Complete loom of ASI Liveline
Stands: ASI HeartSong Rack 2 x 3-tier, 2 x amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters, Advanced Acoustics Orbis Wall & Corner units
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail: $4,200 | €3,750 | £3.750 | CHF4.990

It all began with the CD128 for $1,699. That round-shouldered top loader with immaculately executed metal work and the trademark half-moon tube trench lit back in blue would put Raysonic Audio on the map. Its makers clearly aspired to more than just becoming another short-lived Chinese import with dubious headquarters in the West. Since then, the CD128 has spawned a quartet. Yes, this tube audio brand's digital source components now number five models. Geezus! That well exceeds any reasonable good/better/best scheme in a clearly dying category. To add confusion* to such opulent options, the 128, 138, 168, 228 and 238 nomenclatures don't signify a clear hierarchy. The CD228 under review is top dog, not the CD238. As pick of the litter, it's also the only one to sport an outboard power supply. Regardless, it lacks a USB input. For that matter, it lacks any digital input.

Whoops. Most punters today would stop right there. It recalls the tacky joke about the gynecologist who wanted to become a brain surgeon but was too short. Had I not reviewed the CDs 128 and 168 to be most curious about Raysonic's best effort in matters of plain RedBook, I too should have passed. But, curiosity killed the cat. I accepted the request of one Steven Leung, Canadian expat with his very own factory in the People's Republic of China. After having penned reviews on Raysonic integrateds and separates, my take is that digital front ends are their real forté. As their very best then, would the CD228 mean fortissimo?


* About the USB input, we will add it in the future. All our CD players have different design concepts and use different materials. The CD128 can read HDCD, the CD138 uses the CS4398 DAC and only its RCA output runs through the tube buffer while the balanced output uses transistors. The CD168 runs two DACs, on the CD228 both RCA and XLR outputs run through four Russian 6922EH Gold  tubes. The CD238 has a different look and its RCA output uses 6922EH Gold vacuum tubes.

Did this seem terribly persuasive to explain the purpose of five different models? I confess to still being confused.

The hefty power supply for the CD228 encloses two C-core power transformers, an input cap/coil/cap filter and a huge supplementary filter choke for additional ripple suppression. A single horizontally mounted valve performs voltage regulation and stabilization. There are twelve 2200uF/35V and five 10,000uF/16V storage capacitors. The high-voltage supply for the four 6922s of the main unit runs transistors, two 220uF/200V caps and two regulators.

The main unit runs a suspended Philips VAM 1202 transport on top and Philips SAA servo circuits beneath. The quartz oscillator clock runs at 16.9344MHz while D/A processing is by two dual-differential Burr Brown PCM1792 24-bit/192kHz chips. Op-amp I/V conversion is via BB OPA 2134.

There are twelve 10,000uF/25V capacitors, two 220uF/160V units and six large MKP Solen 4.7uF/400V caps. The compact tube output buffer mounts its quartet of Russian EH valves military-style, i.e. horizontally along the left cheek. The outputs are relay switched and like the identical power supply, the classy chassis uses 7mm aluminum panels with extruded corners bolted from the inside.

Besides tucking the valves out of sight, another distinguishing features of the CD228 over its stable mates is the hinged lid. It automates TOC read-in upon closure if you've properly placed the puck first. The previous blue backlit scheme—how I wish it were a valvacious orange—remains, with a narrow acrylic ring inside the CD well and the straight-lined six panel controls. The blue can be extinguished via the metal wand.

There's chip-based volume control from the same wand. There's black or silver overall livery. And, there is a $4,000 sticker for what is just a CD player with no add-on functionality. It sounds like a hard sell on paper. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Because if you go for build quality and cosmetics, Raysonic's CD228 surely begs your attention long enough to actually lend an ear. The real question is, then what? Will go quote Rhett Butler to tell USB that frankly my dear, you don't give a damn?

Before we answer that, a big piece of the Raysonic puzzle is their metal work expertise. As the factory tour snap shots show, this is a subject of great pride to this firm who has invested heavily into the necessary machinery. Naturally, the generic audiophile is quick to condemn beautiful hifi. Too much dosh on looks, not enough on sound.

Add the Chinese connection and a price that more than doubles Raysonic's original claim to fame. In matters of psychology, we're well beyond 'luxury bargain shopping' which still worked with the CD128. Now one aims for a customer who'd consider Ayre or Cary or Resolution Audio. That range of the market continues to be dominated by American and European brands. In the case of Ayon Audio's CD3, a $6.999 sticker is fully expected.*

$4.200 for Raysonic's CD228 meanwhile could strike some who are down with yellow fever as unduly steep. It is all a matter of perspective. On the subject of which, some power amps have smaller supplies than the CD228 whose power consumption is 38 watts. To get such a massive affair is quite unheard of in this price range. Yet it's a common rationale mirrored in many a high-end preamp. Retain the basic circuitry, seriously overbuild the power supply (which could then require its own enclosure to contain all the extra bits and beefier transformers but also brings with it extra shielding benefits). CD128 + external PSU = CD228? Clearly not exactly. But the general drift does apply. Presto, the pricing is exactly where it should—and has to—be.


* Many have noticed the cosmetic similarities between Ayon and Raysonic CD players. Having reviewed models from both companies, we know the circuitry of the CD1 and CD168 to be quite different. Looking at the Ayon CD3 power supply meanwhile as shown in this review of the German Stereo magazine, it seems not far removed from the CD228 at all. The CD3 does however run 6H30s and adds an AC polarity indicator on the chassis. And the main unit could run different circuitry. Still, the price offset remains relevant in this context.

It's in Raysonic's use of operational amplifiers for I/V conversion where a completely discrete component like my Yamamoto SoundCraft YDA-01 D/A might still have the advantage. A comparison to it would be mandatory over the CD228's S/PDIF output.

To wrap up specs for the Raysonic, max output voltage is a high 4.7V to support amp-direct drive, a claimed S/N ratio of better than 100dB, dynamic range of 110dB and output impedance of 110/330Ω on RCA/XLR respectively. Frequency response is 20Hz - 20kHz within a claimed ± 0.2dB window. Combined weight of the two-some is 17kg of which 10kg go to the power supply.

The CD228 clearly is Raysonic's attempt at a serious statement of their digital expertise gathered since the firm's launch in 2000. Coincident with the upmarket ambitions for this model are more understated cosmetics. The protruding display mount of the 128/168 is gone as is their circle motif of tube trench and control buttons. The back-lit illumination remains but is defeatable for those who find it garish. The concept's only failing is the lack of digital inputs—April Music's $2,495 CDA-500 gives us a threesome of RCA, Toslink and USB as does C.E.C.'s entry-level CD 3800—but many audiophiles might overlook this more antiquated interface if sonics were top shelf.