Over the years I have collected more than 2,500 CDs and my library is carefully organised in alphabetical and chronological order. All are ripped and stored in WAV format on a music server ready to stream to my music streaming player. The original CDs are rarely played. So why then should I get excited about reviewing my first CD player in four years from British designer Exposure?
This Exposure XM CD player is a half-width chassis design sporting a top loader disc mechanism with a magnetic puck. The player has two digital outputs – a 75ohm BNC coaxial connector and Toslink for optical connections. Stereo RCA analogue outputs are also included and the CD has a built in Burr-Brown PCM1716 DAC with 8x over sampling. The Exposure XM CD player retails at £1,200 in the UK.
The Exposure XM CD player isn’t what I’d describe as much of a looker but the aluminium facia has a pleasant enough aesthetic with the buttons proud on the front. A solid on/off power button to the left is joined by play and pause and previous/next track buttons but, of course, there is no need for a disc loading open/close button as CDs are loaded manually into the top. The CD will not read without the puck or the top sliding cover being in the right place. The front display showing track info is red and gives the unit a retro feel. The sliding disc door is a rather plasticky affair, but it is entirely functional and simply does the job of protecting the CD.
I have been listening to the Exposure XM CD player through the Fyne Audio F1-5 standmount speakers, recently reviewed, as well as a pair of floorstanding Focal Chora 826s and a pair of Klipsch Heresy IV speakers. I have mostly listened to the XM CD player with its matching Exposure XM5 integrated amplifier, as well as the T+A PA 2000 R integrated amplifier. Using the XM CD player as a transport I was using the Chord Hugo 2 as the DAC. I felt I may get a cleaner delivery from the CD player as a transport because the PCM1716 DAC is a slightly older model and the Hugo 2 performs outstandingly an outboard DAC.
There is a simple tactile and physical joy with using this CD player that puts it up there with a vinyl listening experience. To load a CD, you must slide the cover away from the loading bay, pop in the CD, apply the magnetic puck into place and slide the cover over to activate the initial reading of the data on the CD.
The CD player is crisp, clear and accurate which are surely the key requirements of any CD player
With T+A’s integrated amplifier
The CD player is crisp, clear and accurate which are surely the key requirements of any CD player. Additionally, the mechanism itself is absolutely silent. Resolution is excellent with my go-to live recording of the November 2014 Carnegie Hall concerts from Ryan Adams delivering the precision of the fingers on the guitar strings in New York, New York as well as the doleful piano chords in Sylvia Plath.
In comparison to the best CD player I have, a slightly more expensive but discontinued Oppo BDP-105, the XM sounds at least as good in output and the finger detail in the strings on tracks like This is Where We Meet in My Mind, from the same live Ryan Adams CD. I have had at least as much fun with this CD player as I did with the Vertere DG-1 turntable last month as the novelty of CDs overtook me once again.
The accuracy of the CD player is demonstrated in rich tones, particularly in tracks like Money for Nothing by Dire Straits where the thunderous opening with the crisp drums is overtaken by one of the greatest guitar openings ever, surely. The XM copes with the dynamics of this track well and I am left listening to the rest of the album for long forgotten gems, like Why Worry, which seems particularly appropriate in these times.
I have found I am getting a slightly improved sound in the bass and midrange with the CD player isolated on a set of Vertere Iso Paws. The Iso Paws are squidgy isolation feet used by Vertere with their high-end turntables. I am not going to say it is revelatory, but it makes an improvement to my ears. The chassis of the CD player may be described physically as light, and I believe the Iso Paws are helping the mechanical stability of the player.
With Exposure’s XM5 amplifier
To partner with the Exposure CD player, I have the matching half-width XM5 integrated amplifier, which is a decent piece of equipment and priced at £1,380. It has a dynamic, bouncy and powerful sound and it complements the CD player nicely. It also enables the subtleties of the CD player to be revealed and confirms there is a crispness in the CD player’s output. As a transport with a digital cable, the XM CD excels and this is possibly where it is at its best. I personally prefer the sound of the amplifier’s Wolfson DAC output to the Burr-Brown output from the CD player.
The pairing makes an attractive setup and a remote control manages them both. Speaking of the remote, it is a bit light and plastic. It is not a looker, but it is wholly functional.
Using the Exposure XM CD player with a Toslink digital output to a Chord Hugo 2 several points are clear. The Hugo 2 DAC is that little bit clearer in terms of clarity of instruments and soundstaging. Combined with the T+A integrated amplifier the power and dominance of the soundstage is revealed from the CD player in tracks such as David Bowie’s Lazarus from the album Blackstar. As the track builds to its conclusion, the drum snares sound great and Bowie’s rich vocal tone is so devastating, it reminds us all why we listen to music like this.
For anyone still excited by CD this is a must-hear silver disc spinner without a doubt
Spending time with Exposure’s XM CD player reminds me that I have not had this much fun since the Vertere DG-1 turntable package review. As with vinyl, I’ve enjoyed playing CDs and being encouraged to listen to a whole album and rediscover those often-overlooked album track gems.
For anyone still excited by CD this is a must-hear silver disc spinner without a doubt. Whether you are looking for a CD player or a CD transport, Exposure’s perfectly-formed XM CD delivers value and performance and is very well worth considering indeed.
Totally silent mechanism
Retro red display
A little cheaper