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California Audio Labs Icon MK2
34 Reviews
rating  4.59 of 5
MSRP  995.00
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Reviews 1 - 5 (34 Reviews Total) | Next 15

User Reviews

Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by mixedupfiles a Casual Listener

Date Reviewed: July 19, 2009

Bottom Line:   
I believe this unit was built around 1993. I purchased it in 2008, as a backup player, for around $125 from Audio Systems' (Austin, TX) consignment section.

For the first few months that I owned it, I only used it as a transport and relied on an external Burr Brown 192/24 based D/A converter. Recently, when reorganizing my rack, I decided to also connect the Icon MkII to my preamp via the analog connections. The difference was like night and day. I'm not one to throw around hard to quantify words like Soundstage, Timbre, Depth, etc. All I can say is that when using the icon's own internal 18bit Burr-Brown DAC (PCM61P), to my ears, the sound is absolutely fuller and less grainy. It's so noticable that I'm sure I could do a blind A/B test on this ten times and choose the icon's internal dac every time (when compared to my external 192/24 DAC).

Now then, the big question is - why? I normally don't buy into audio voodoo, but in this case, a 15 year old 18 bit DAC clearly sounds much better than a 2 year old 24 bit DAC. Could it be that the Icon MkII's DAC is "hand trimmed" (whatever that is)? Could it be the 24 bit digital filter? Could it be the "discrete fet output stage"? Who knows? All I can say is that, without a doubt, this player was a steal at $125.

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Used product for:   More than 1 year

Duration Product Used:   Casual Listener

Product model year:   Pre 1995



Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by timoteo a Audio Enthusiast

Date Reviewed: October 26, 2008

Bottom Line:   
I bought my California Audio Labs Mk II brand new when it came out years ago. I had a Nakamichi CD player I wasn't very happy with and replaced it with the Cal.

After all these years I've been having a problem with it (the left channel drops out occasionally; "rebooting" the player fixes it), so I went shopping at my local audio stores for a new CD player.
I listened to just about everything they had: several NAD players that have gotten good reviews, a $3000 U.S. Lyngdorf audio CD player, a couple of Arcam players, the Rega Apollo, the NAD M5, and the Cyrus CD8x. After doing a lot of listening and fretting about players, I've pretty much concluded that this player is really very good compared to any of the players I've listened to recently.

All the players I listened to except one of the NADs just had no driving bass. They had deep bass, but the bass guitar line was just not there. They all sounded rather "thin" to my ears. I listen to a lot of rock, jazz, electric blues, etc. and, for me, none of this music sounds "right" to my ears without a good solid bass line. If you listen to electric music at live events, the bass guitar is not shy. It provides the foundation to the music - the driving rhythm. Without this foundation, I just can't listen to a CD player for long - I lose interest in the music.

The CAL Icon Mk II has plenty of driving bass rhythm that is missing from the other players I listened to. The bass isn't sloppy or muddy - it seems pretty tight and well-defined. You can follow the bass guitar line and you can easily differentiate the bass guitar from other instruments.

The midrange is warm and a bit forward, which is good for electric music. Yet, when I listen to vocal music it sounds very good still.

The highs are good, but most of the newer players I listened to have a little sharper highs, but these same players have no "drive" to them. I guess if you lose some of the bass, the highs will sound a little sharper. The difference in the highs was small, thoujgh

What surprised me the most is that CD player technology has changed so much since the Cal Icon MK II came out - dual 24-bit D/A converter chips, multiple isolated power supplies, etc. I fully expected the new CD players to put my Cal Icon to shame. I expected that they'd all sound a lot better than my CAL Icon, they'd have a lot more detail, and they would just really open up the music and make the poorly recorded or old CDs that I have sound so much better, but that wasn't the case at all. After listening to a lot of CD players at the local audio store Saturday, I finally went home and played some of the same music I listened to at the store on my CD player and found that its sound was actually as good as and in some ways better than any of the players at the store.

I did listen to a Cyrus CD8x (a $2000 U.S. player) and I was absolutely stunned by the amount of detail in the music. The detail was truly incredible - better than anything I've ever heard! I came home and was thinking seriously about just buying it the next day the store was open. But, I was so stunned by the detail that I didn't even listen to see if it had bass too. I came to my senses and decided that buying a $2000 CD player on one listen wouldn't be very wise. By the time I got around to going back to that store to listen to it again, they had stopped carrying Cyrus because they had had a lot of problems with them.

For my money, the California Audio Labs CD player is, overall, the best player I've heard so far. It's really a shame these guys went out of business.

Expand full review >>

Used product for:   More than 1 year

Duration Product Used:   Audio Enthusiast

Product model year:   1998

Price Paid:    $1000.00

Purchased At:   Audio Systems Austin



Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by MTM a AudioPhile

Date Reviewed: June 6, 2007

Bottom Line:   
I bought this unit (with the powerboss HDCD upgrade) for a slightly heavy price at 600 but I don't regret a thing. I'd buy it again at that price many times over. The following review is singing the praises of the POWERBOSS equiped unit; I cannot attest to the quality of the regular Icon mk2.

My system is very revealing. I use high end studio monitors of various sorts (recent ones have an 18" JBL sub), Threshold amplification on the low frequencies and various EL34 based tube amps for the midrange/upper frequencies. It is biamped with a world class active crossover and my latest passive crossover utilizes charge-coupled (9V battery powered) caps so the end result is details, details. I reap breathtaking transient attacks. It is also very clear and open without any constraints to speak of. I would describe my system in one word as "effortless". If a source component is harsh in any way- it will drive you out of the room in an instant.

Back to the little Icon mk2 powerboss. My impressions start out very much like the flattering review in Stereophile, in that I have been a fan of vinyl throughout most of this hobby and choosing the medium 10:1 over digital. I had yet to find a CD player that captured the soul of performances and had that quick lively feeling that vinyl does. That is, until I met this CD player. It has been said before, but I'll say it again: The icon (with powerboss) comes about as close as you can get to a quality turntable set up.

The bass got me first. I know good bass, because I spent my entire youth playing in rock bands. Mastering the bass guitar was one of my fleeting attempts at coolness and I know what a high end bass rig is supposed to sound like. Ditto for most musical instruments. I wanted to be a recording engineer for years and I used to spend countless hours in the studio volunteering. I learned a lot of things, but mostly- I became conditioned to proper sound. It is for these reasons I can safely qualify my impressions of the Icon mk2. The Icon gets it right. It really gets it right. A bass guitar is not just a bass guitar- it is the whole bass rig being played IN your listening room. The immediacy of the strings as they relate to the timing cannot be explained in mere words. Imagine it is like holding some of the instruments in your hand. It is visceral and real.

But it's all good. And by 'good' I mean proper. The leading edge of notes, the weight and body of the note itself, and the gentle decay of those notes is just the way it was intended to be (read: recoded/performed). Drums of any kind blew me away the first time I plugged it in, and they continue to impress to this day (years later!). They are taught and open at the same time. I wish I could put it into words. No matter what the genre, no mater what the intimacy- it was just right. Not too loose, not too tight, not too forward, not too laid back- Just like Goldilocks and her choices in oatmeal, seating, and bedding "just right". It is very balanced- without anything standing out of order- no exaggerated highs or boomy bass. Everything is tight and right throughout the entire 20-20,000kHz listening range.

oh, and the vocals....People, this thing does vocals very VERY well, which is surprising considering it can pound the sheetrock off the walls with a proper crescendo. If you don't want the NY Philharmonic or Metallica playing in your listening room- keep your hand on the volume or they might pay a visit. Usually, a component has it's strengths and weaknesses. You pick the piece that suites your style, and don't worry about the tradeoffs. Not here. This player does it ALL. It is not just a "jack of all tades"- it is the master of those trades. Vocals will reduce you to crying. Imagine being on a date with Ella and she leans over and sings to you- personally. That's what you get every time you load the tray.

I don't know what happened at the Audio Lab when this thing was being R&D'd, but the moon must have been set over the 7th sun and the planets aligned just right for magic to shine on it. The strange thing is CAL attempted to "better" the little Icon powerboss several times and failed. The term "greater than the sum of its parts" cannot be more applicable than it is right here in this unit. Opening it up reveals nothing spectacular- basic parts, Wima caps, etc...but somehow , SOMEHOW- it works WAY better than it should.

And you can listen for hours upon hours and it keeps delivering the goods without a hint of fatigue. I have auditioned/owned some very impressive CD players, REGA's, Levinsons, Krell's, etc- but this little honey keeps me content. SACD on a very high end unit is definitely a good thing, but XRCD's, HDCD's, MFSL 24kt Gold's, and plain old Redbook CD's on the Icon are about as good as you will ever want. I do not know what guides people into spending >$1,500 on a CD player when you can score one of these for +/- $500.00

OK, all this aside- here is yet another amazing attribute. It is now 2007 and this CD player performs as well as it did on production day. It is SO well made. Never have I had a problem with the tray or anything else. It has never been serviced and I don't think it ever will. It is the Mercedes DIESEL of CD player construction. I'm afraid to let anyone turn a screw on it because it may anger the audio gods. I want it to remain just as it is- producing some of greatest digital music I have ever experienced.

This CD player can trick you into believing the muscial event is happening- right here- right now- before you. Listening to this thing is an experience one has to...well...experience! It is worth several times its current marketplace value (~$500)- especially when putting it head to head with the likes of the Krells, Levinsons, Wadias, etc... Before even thinking of buying ANY other CD player- you would be doing yourself and your wallet a major disservice by not trying out one of the Icon powerboss CD players. This CD player has GOT to be the ultimate sleeper. History will show this thing is/was one of the all-time greatest CD players ever conceived (albeit by accident). It is a benchmark and a classic. It is rugged, affordable, and appropriate for all genres in all systems. My highest praise. Buy one, so I can say "I told ya so!"



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Used product for:   More than 1 year

Duration Product Used:   AudioPhile

Product model year:   1996

Price Paid:    $600.00

Purchased At:   Audiogon



Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by jukeboxtheater a AudioPhile

Date Reviewed: March 12, 2004

Bottom Line:   
Are there audible differences among cd players? Listening to this player convinced me that there are indeed. The Icon gives the music a strong bass foundation that's missing in lesser players. This foundation helps the music maintain its rhythmic pulse. Midrange performance is likewise exemplary, being warm and ever so slightly forward which helps bring out musical detail that again lesser players miss. If I had one qualm with this player it would be in the treble region. The highs are a little on the soft side and just a tad grainy compared with some Rotel players I've owned. Guess you can't have everything...

By the way, I'd just like to take a moment to point out that at no time in this review have I mentioned the other components in my system. Personally, I think that reviewers who list their other audio components (you know the people who write "my system consists of... blah, blah, blah...") are pretentious losers seeking groupie approval. Nobody cares what kind of system you have!!! All we want to know is what you thought about the product you're reviewing. Sheesh...

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Used product for:   3 Months to 1 year

Duration Product Used:   AudioPhile

Product model year:   1997

Price Paid:    $300.00

Purchased At:   ebay



Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by dave101010 a Audio Enthusiast

Date Reviewed: January 11, 2003

Bottom Line:   
I have been looking to get rid of the digital harshness that comes from cd's. No matter how accurate sounding the system sounded, something was missing! I tried the MSB Link111, which at least made the music worth listening to...I purchased DHLabs cables thruout, but the accuracy I was able to achieve had so much digital harshness, that I had to try something else. So, I went on the internet and found this player, and read the reviews. It seemed to perfect for me, a warm and liquid sound, without the digital harshness.
It is better that I had hoped!!!This player has the powerboss/HDCD upgrade, and the sound coming out of my speakers is so involving, articulate and sweet, I cannot believe the improvement over the MSB Link (basic version). I have a bright system for a reason, carver tfm-55 amp-380 per channel-ct23 preamp/dhlabs q-10 cables with the bi-wire 10ga. silver sonic cables-Paradigm reference 100v2 speakers.

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Used product for:   Less than 1 month

Duration Product Used:   Audio Enthusiast

Product model year:   1996

Price Paid:    $350.00

Purchased At:   e-bay




Reviews 1 - 5 (34 Reviews Total) | Next 15

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