Defining exactly what qualifies audio gear as "high-end" or "audiophile" isn't easy, but I'll give it a try. Sound quality that rises above what's available from mainstream manufacturers would lead the way, followed by exceptional build quality, and a high price.
Well, by those standards it's safe to say Emotiva's ERC-2 CD player is definitely a high-end machine. The only disqualifier might be the ERC-2's price; it's just $449, which includes free shipping in the U.S.. The ERC-2 boasts individually regulated and shielded power supplies that separately feed the CD transport mechanism, the display, microprocessors, and digital and analog electronics sections. Build quality, from the thick machined-metal faceplate; beefy, all-metal remote control; the Analog Devices' digital-to-analog converters; and fully discrete analog circuitry are all more in-line with what I'd expect to see on a $1,500 CD player.
You can also use the ERC-2 as a CD "transport" with an external digital-to-analog converter; it has a "professional grade" digital output XLR connector, as well as RCA and Toslink optical digital audio connectivity. The ERC-2 has RCA and XLR (balanced) analog outputs.
Where most digital players, including many high-end models that sell for many times the ERC-2's price have one- or two-year warranties, the ERC-2 has a five-year warranty!
I listened to the ERC-2 in my high-end system with Pass Labs electronics and Magnepan 3.7 speakers. It's a high-resolution system, so it was easy to hear just how spectacular the sound of this CD player really is.
The White Stripes' "Under Great White Northern Lights" CD, turned up to a healthy volume, put me in the mood. Man, Jack and Meg White were great together, fueling each other's rock and roll fantasies. Sitting here listening to this album gave me a new appreciation for Jack's unhinged vocal stylings and screaming guitar workouts. He sounds like a man possessed, and I mean that in the best possible way. This is music that wants to be played loud, and so I turned it way up, louder than I normally listen. I was having too good a time not to.
After the White Stripes' raucous noise I was ready to settle down with something a little more refined, a vibrant new recording from the Concord Chamber Music Society. The CD with music by Chris Brubeck, Michael Gandolfi, and Lukas Foss is wonderful, and I noted right away that the off-stage sound of the violin that appears near the beginning of the first track demonstrated the ERC-2's ability to reproduce soundstage depth. The sextet of violin, piano, clarinet, cello, acoustic bass, and percussion sounded gorgeous.
To finish up I compared the ERC-2 with my Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player ($999). OK, it's more than twice as expensive as the ERC-2, but it plays Blu-ray, SACD, DVD-A, as well as CDs. The ERC-2 only spins CDs. With the Attention Screen's new "Takes Flight at Yamaha" the sound was vivid. The drummer's hard-hitting dynamics made me jump, and that fact alone went a long way toward making a strong impression. It's a live concert recording, and its subtle ambient details put me in the room with the band. The BDP-95 shifted the tonal balance over a bit--so the instruments were more fully fleshed out--and the ERC-2 sounded cooler by comparison. The BDP-95's dynamics were even more realistic, so I preferred it overall, but the ERC-2 was still really nice on its own, and considering the price differential, it's definitely the way to go for a $449 CD player.