Along with the new Pro-Ject MaiA DS3 stereo integrated amplifier (my review of which you can read May 1), the company also sent along its new value-engineered CD player, the aptly named CD Box S3 ($549, all prices USD). It’s not the only current CD player in the “Box Design” range, as the company also has the more upscale CD Box DS3 ($899) as well as the positively highfalutin CD Box RS2 T ($3199). But I specifically requested the S3 in this case because readers regularly write me asking for advice on a good, affordable CD player that just plays CDs—not SACD or DVD-Audio or any other higher-resolution format—and I have to admit, I have a bit of a blind spot in this area. The only other CD player in this budget range I’ve auditioned in recent years was the Rotel CD11 Tribute, which (incredibly!) still sells for the same $599.99 it cost when I reviewed it two years ago.
As you can see, the CD Box S3 comes in a box not wholly dissimilar to that of the MaiA DS3, though it’s a bit smaller to account for the different sizes of the chassis. As with the DS3 units, it also looks like Pro-Ject is using a standardized box for the S3 line, with a sticker applied to the side once it’s decided exactly which product is going within. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: that sort of thing is a really smart approach to cost savings. It’s not that the company cheaped out on the box; it’s simply that economies of scale and some flexibility in terms of usage keep costs down without impacting the quality of the product.
Open up the lid of the packaging, and you’re greeted by two small instruction manuals—one in English, the other in German. As with the MaiA DS3, there’s a thick layer of expanded polyethylene padding protecting the gear itself, and at the back of the box there’s a smaller accessories box.
Underneath that top layer of thick EPE foam, the CD Box S3 rests safely wrapped in a thin bag. You can see here that there’s a notch-out in the front, which would indicate a space for a control knob of some sort, but there’s no such knob on the CD Box. Again, as with the MaiA DS3, this is indicative of the fact that even the padded inserts for the Box Design lineup are standardized. I’m guessing this insert would fit any of the products in the S3 line, and a quick look at images on the Pro-Ject website supports that hunch.
With the CD Box S3 out of the packaging and plopped next to a 56mm speed cube, you get a good sense of its scale. It’s even itty-bittier than the MaiA DS3. I have to admit here, slot-load optical drives squig me out a little bit. But I like the layout of the buttons and especially the 1.54″ display. As you can see, the player also comes with a little credit-card remote. The larger wand-style remote that comes with the MaiA DS3 is supposed to control all of the Box Design components as well, so I’ll test that out when I get the player connected to the amp.
Flipping the CD Box S3 around to get a look at its backside, we can see that its connectivity is simplicity incarnate—just a stereo line-level RCA out and a coaxial digital output, should you decide to use it as a transport. The only other connection is a port for the 9V power adapter, and you can see here that Pro-Ject includes three different attachments—one each for Type A (North America and Japan), Type C (Europe, South America, and parts of Asia), and I believe Type G (Middle East, UK, Ireland, and parts of Asia) sockets.
With the CD Box S3 all unboxed and ready to go, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pull the MaiA DS3 out of the rack and stack the two, just for the sake of comparison. They’re a pair in terms of width at 206mm. You can see that the CD Box S3 is a bit shorter at 55mm (vs. 71) and substantially less deep at 153mm (vs. 240). As a result, the wood panels for the DS3 line won’t fit the components in the S3 line. So if you plan on mixing and matching—especially if you plan on stacking—keep that in mind. But they look good together, and I think they’d make a rocking little executive desktop system.
Whether the CD Box S3 stacks up with the MaiA DS3 in terms of performance, though, will have to wait for my full review, coming soon to SoundStage! Access.
. . . Dennis Burger