Jay’s Audio CDT3 MK3 Compact Disc Transport Reviewed

Price: $4,998.00

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Streaming music is all the rage for audiophile of all ages and at any level of progress in the hobby. Vinyl has had an unlikely comeback with today’s youth, perhaps as an anti-technology statement to their often-too-connected or too-much-blue-light world that we live in today. Inside the audiophile hobby, there are still people who love playing silver discs. Tens upon tens of thousands of dollars have been invested into these collections, and they aren’t going anywhere for these long-time music enthusiasts. While streaming can be more convenient, I still have over 2,000 Compact Discs, and find the process of selecting and playing music from a disc to be a therapeutic process. For these audiophiles looking to get the last possible drop of performance from their CD collection comes the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3.

Priced at $5,000, the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 is a top-loading CD transport (that means no internal DAC, which would make it a CD player). The unit weighs around 40 pounds, which is remarkable for a CD transport these days. Forget vibration, as this aluminum chassis is tank-like in its construction. The cool factor is off the charts with the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3. How does it compare to the best in HD streaming or other high-end spinners of silver audiophile discs? We got you, friends. We got you. 

Jay's Audio CDT-3 MK3 CD Transport is a top-loading unit like the old Mark Levinson No. 31
Jay’s Audio CDT-3 MK3 CD Transport is a top-loading unit like the old Mark Levinson No. 31

What Makes the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 Audiophile CD Transport Special? 

  • The power supply in the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 is no joke, as often the biggest factor in the overall performance of a very high-end audiophile component, be it a transport, DACpreamp or power amp, is the power supply. Designer Jay Ho, in this third version of this CD transport, uses a discrete linear power supply, with uses five encapsulated Talema transformers. That’s fancy. 
  • The designer personally tunes the CD mechanism/laser so that the tolerances for performance are exacting. This isn’t a cheapy mechanism from an off-the-shelf CD player that could also be sold for $39 at the local Walgreens. Jay’s uses the CDProLF mechanism, and then tweaks it for maximum performance. 
  • Much like high-end Compact Disc players from the 1990s, the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 has a clamp that helps stabilize the CD in the transport when it is spinning. That adds to the CD-playing ritual and overall cool factor of this audiophile experience. 
  • You can adjust the upsampling from 44.1 kHz to 176 kHz via a switch. 
  • The build quality of the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 is like an audiophile version of an M1A1 Abrams tank. A component like this is designed to go on top of your audiophile rack and be the star of your audiophile show. This is audio jewelry that comes with some bespoke setup and thoughtful engineering, but it is also very pretty. 
  • Digital outputs on the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 include COAX via RCA/BNC, as well as AES/EBU. Also included is I2S via HDMI, which separates the clock and data signals as well as RJ45 (LVCOMS).

Why Should You Care About the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 CD Transport?

Anyone who buys a Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 is, without question, an advanced-level audiophile. He or she likely owns quite a few Compact Discs, and might think that streaming or legacy audiophile disc formats (think: SACD, DVD-Audio, DSD etc… ) just don’t sound as good as the actual silver disc. They like the idea of listening to a record in the cadence that the engineers, artists and producers intended more than having an algorithm or AI pick their music. Doing all of the little things as well as possible is viewed as a tremendous positive. This is who wants a Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 in 2024.  

Here's a topless photo of the Jay's Audio CDT-3 MK3 CD Transport
Here’s a topless photo of the Jay’s Audio CDT-3 MK3 CD Transport

Some Things You Might Not Like About the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 CD Transport

  • At $5,000, there is no internal DAC, when good DAC chips cost a few dollars in today’s semiconductor market. Audiophile companies might sell DACs for thousands, tens of thousands and, in a few rare cases, well into the six figures, but this is a CD transport only, despite its size, beefy power supply and so on. 
  • Forget playing audiophile legacy formats like SACD and DVD-Audio. DSD is out too, according to the Jay’s Audio website. Yes, these are dead formats, but the consumer who wants a silver disc spinner like the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 likely owns many of these valuable, increasingly rare and often quite HD-resolution discs. Oppo Digital knew that they needed to deliver on every format. The Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 is singular in its focus. 
  • The Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 is a top-loading CD transport, thus you need to consider the location of your installation so that you will have room to insert a disc. 
  • Twelve months seems really short for a warranty for an audiophile component made in China (granted, handmade, and with a lot of care) that physically spins discs. Audiophile components with moving parts are much more likely to break than others that are more stable or static. 

Listening to the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 CD Transport… 

I connected the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 to my PS Audio Directstream Mk2 DAC via a Kimber DV-75 coaxial cable. I also tried to utilize the I2S via HDMI, but could not get a good connection, despite several tries with different cables. The DAC kept displaying a red dot to indicate no connection. Accordingly, my listening was all accomplished via the coaxial connection. 

When playing Burmester’s Art of the Ear, Volume II Compact Disc, and comparing it to the audio file I ripped from that same disc, and played via Roon, I found there to be more similarities than differences. The first track is “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” by Radka Toneff. Switching back and forth, with the volume matched, between the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 spinning the disc and the audio file being served via Roon, the difference that I noticed most clearly was the position of the soundstage. When listening through the transport, the leading edge of the soundstage seemed to be slightly closer to me. During some run-throughs, I thought I heard a touch more detail on the piano when listening to the actual disc, but I could not confirm that with great consistency, and the one guest I was listening with did not hear it. To be polite, the comparison was very close. 

“Tin Pan Alley” by Stevie Ray Vaughan is also found on this same compilation Compact Disc, but you can buy it on the album Couldn’t Stand the Weather on CD (Amazon). I figure if I am going to be listening to the same track over and over, I might as well put on one of my favorite blues tracks with real audiophile credibility. As with the other tracks I listened to on the Jay’s Audio transport, the soundstage was positioned a bit more forward than when the track was streamed, which was an advantage. The locations of the individual instruments remained well-defined, making it easy to sit back and listen to the music with a realistic representation of the soundstage before you. As with “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” I noticed, that when listening to the disc as opposed to the streaming version of “Tin Pan Alley,” the higher guitar notes seemed to have a bit more energy. Perhaps this contributed to the shift in soundstage position. 

Where things got harder to discern the differences was when doing a volume matched A-B test with the Marantz SACD 30n, which is a $2,999 Compact Disc and SACD player. While the differences between streaming into a high-end DAC from PS Audio, versus feeding it a digital connection from the Jay’s Audio transport, were nuanced, the delta in performance between the Marantz SACD 30n and the Jay’s Audio CDT3 MKIII were even more refined. Again, I would suggest that the strength of the Jay’s Audio product is how forward and in-the-event that the music sounds when using said high-performance CD transport. That remains the same feeling for me when comparing the $3,000 Marantz and the $5,000 Jay’s Audio transport, but the cost differential and SACD capabilities make the Marantz a very fierce competitor. 

“Tin Pan Alley” by Stevie Ray Vaughan

Lastly, I listened to Bob Dylan’s “Man in the Long Black Coat” from the Mobile Fidelity Compact Disc, and found this track to be the one with the biggest difference between the disc and streamed version. This stripped-down track focuses Dylan’s voice and guitar work. I find the vocals on this track to be particularly natural. When listening to the track played straight from the disc, the vocals seemed to be slightly better formed and more solid than when streamed. I tried playing the track via Roon through the network input, and switching back and forth with the transport, and I could pick up which was which every time. 

Bob Dylan’s “Man in the Long Black Coat”

Will the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 CD Transport Hold Its Value?

This is a tricky question, as who can predict the real-world lifespan of the Compact Disc? Most people wrote off vinyl, but now Millennials (over 50 percent don’t actually own a turntable, either) now pay as much as $100-plus for a used record. Could CDs see a similar comeback? Never say never, I guess?

Jay’s Audio isn’t a household name in the audiophile world in the United States, thus it isn’t sold in many establishment audiophile retailers in the United States, which doesn’t boost its resale value. The internal fragility (there’s nothing fragile about the case or metal work) and weight of the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 makes shipping more expensive on this CD transport than others, which factors into resale value, too.  

But in the end, who the hell is going to sell one of these CD transports? I just don’t see many of them coming up used, thus the rarity of the component will make it a very unique listing on somewhere like Audiogon.com. It just seems far more likely that a unit like a Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 will remain in your system for a long, long time after it arrives to your home. 

The Jay's Audio CDT-3 MK3 installed in Brian Kahn's reference audiophile system including Revel F328BE speakers and McIntosh electronics
The Jay’s Audio CDT-3 MK3 installed in Brian Kahn’s reference audiophile system including Revel F328BE speakers and McIntosh electronics

What Is the Competition for the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 CD Transport?

Bricasti’s new $12,000 M19 is an SACD- and DSD-capable CD transport from one of the top brands in the audiophile world. Bricasti is not priced like Oligarch Audio, but it isn’t cheap, either. Their DACs are simply world-class, and this new transport (review pending from Michael Zisserson later into 2024) is an exciting one. The fit and finish of the Bricasti M19 is smoother and more polished. The front-loading drawer is more utilitarian, but not as flashy, and flashy is kinda fun with the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3. 

I reviewed the Marantz SACD 30n for $2,999 (buy at Amazon), which plays SACDs, but no DVD-Audio like the Bricasti above. This is another really well-built CD player but, unlike the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3, the Marantz SACD 30n (read the review) has a built-in DAC, with fixed as well as variable outputs. The industrial design of the Marantz SACD 30n is also more polished than the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3, with a more sophisticated LED screen and more nifty yet utilitarian buttons, but the front-loading vibe on the Marantz still isn’t as exotic as the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3. The Marantz allows you more access to network music as well, which is nice for those of us who have discs ripped and stored on network-attached drives.  

Since we went up-market with the Bricasti M19 as a $12,000 transport, how about a player from Reavon in the UBR-X200 that is more in the vein of an Oppo Digital BDP-203 universal disc player? You likely aren’t going to find that insane level of resolution here with the Reavon, but its internal DAC is very capable (and included), while this well-made unit can play every disc format both current and legacy. Unless you are a CD-only person, you might need a second silver disc unit for your system, and this one might just check all of the boxes for many audiophiles. 

Here is a look at the output options on the rear of a Jay's Audio CDT-3 MK3 Compact Disc Transport
Here is a look at the output options on the rear of a Jay’s Audio CDT-3 MK3 Compact Disc Transport

Final Thoughts on the Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 CD Transport

The Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3 transport is for the listener who already has a great system, but wants to dial in that last couple percentage points of performance with their digital sources. With most high-quality DACs, there is not going to be a big difference in performance when feeding them supposedly the same Red Book Compact Disc-quality signal. However, there is some difference, at least with the well-reviewed and respected PS Audio DAC that I am using. 

If you are an audiophile with many Compact Discs in your collection and a high-end DAC, you want to make sure that you can feed that DAC with the highest-quality digital signal possible, and that is why the Jay’s Audio CDT3 MKIII exists. While many DAC manufacturers claim that their products are virtually immune to jitter and other problems with digital signals, and perhaps some are, do you want to take that chance when seeking the highest-quality playback from your Compact Discs? Neither do I. 


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Trevor

Hi Brian, I’m a skeptic regarding the value of expensive CD transports until proven otherwise. If the sound quality of Jays & your player are similar, then in my mind the acid test is, how each player reacts to disc imperfections, particularly concentric scratches. Scratches require a player with perfect HW & SW interactions. In my own tests I’ve found the Sony BDP-S1700/3700/6700 Blu-ray players to be far superior to my many (10?) DVD & CD players. In a HiFi setting, these Sony players require a small HDMI display (Rasp Pi?) for setup/control/display. Of course, in selecting a transport, jitter & bit perfect operation are also important but that requires sophisticated measurements beyond the scope of our resources.

Robert

I wouldn’t buy it because it’s not a universal player. And BluRay audio is an audiophile thing too. Also, I love top loading players. But they should put the controls on top too. It defeats one purpose of having a top loader. It’s a no brainer. And before you say it has a remote, open and close is usually something you want to do at the player. And sometimes play.

Trevor

So Brian, how does Jay’s fair with scratched CDs?

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