The Chord Red Reference CD player is probably the best I've heard. It doesn't sound like any other in its class, and oozes quality. Built by British-based electronics manufacturer Chord Electronics, the Red Reference is a solid and exquisite piece of work. Apart from the signature bubble glass porthole, the outer case is made from solid aluminium and feels immensely rigid. So solid is the build that it makes a perfect support structure for the CD mechanism. An equally nice touch is the solenoid controlled fluid-damped door, which is at a 45-degree angle. However, I did have problems retrieving the CD because there wasn't enough finger room to lift out the disc. With fingerprints all over the back of the CD, it just makes you wish for a slide-out drawer. Apart from that, the Red Reference is a delight to use. The front panel design incorporates ball-bearing push buttons for the commonly used functions and a dual display showing CD status on one side and input, buffer and frequency information on the other. At the rear, connections are made via gold-plated phono or BNC coax, plastic optical fibre, or balanced XLR-style connections. The transport is a Philips CD Pro 2 powered by a switch-mode power supply that has its own AC filter. It's re-clocked using what Chord calls 'a highly accurate crystal oscillator' before the data is fed to the upsampling and filtering electronics. The digital signal is converted from 176.4KHz to analogue audio using 1024 tap filtering and a 64-bit digital signal processing core. This is followed by 64-bit seventh order noise shaping, 2048 times oversampling rates and improved pulse width modulated elements. The upshot, says Chord, is unprecedented low-level detail resolution. The DAC also features selectable RAM buffer technology that sequentially takes in all the data, re-times it and sends it out giving jitter-free operation. Digital data from other sources can also be fed into the Red via the optical or AES balanced XLR connections. The Red Reference, unlike some six-figure CD spinners, doesn't try to sound as if it has the analogue sounds of an expensive turntable; for instance, the silky, finely textured top-end or a vast ambient depth. Instead, it raises the flag for the CD and squeezes every ounce of musical performance from the disc. Listening to the Alison Krauss & Union Station live recording of When You Say Nothing At All, you have the feeling of being at the venue. The sound is neutral and balanced, and not at all forced. Then I gave the player a run for its money and put on Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, a CD that more than 20 years ago boosted CD and player sales. Mark Knopfler's guitar playing is fluid, the bass notes are solid and drum roll separation is layered and sharp. Brothers In Arms never sounded so good. The RED Reference makes you return to your CD collection and listen to notes missed out in previous auditions. The HK$182,000 price tag will make people think twice about acquiring it but the stunning design, the bullet-proof build and the sheer musical production prove there is still life in the CD. Highly recommended.