[review by hifi kaki]

I don’t think we have to touch too much on the emergence of Chinese hifi. For a number of years and especially lately, the hifi press has been bombarding us with Chinese-made and Chinese-branded products. Most of the time, it was the tube amps, a product area where the mainland Chinese seems to have a knack in churning out a new model every other day.

The product under scrutiny here though is a CD player, from Shanling – a Chinese hifi company which apparently has been in the hifi business since 1988, and whose operations is currently based in Shenzhen, the boom town on the southern coast of mainland China.

What is in the Shanling?
Shanling – the two Chinese words that made up the name can be loosely translated as “The Spirit of the Mountains”, I could not find any information on the choice of the name though. However it does conjure up a certain image, doesn’t it? Probably it is aimed at describing the company’s house sound – Ethereal? Delicate? Otherworldly? No, No, my impression of the CD300’s sound does not fit any of these descriptions. I’ll come to that later.

This CD player is choked full of features, especially for a unit at this price point. For RM6k, you get a tubed (two 6922s) player; top loading, where the CD is held down with a magnetic puck; rca and xlr analogue outputs; rca and xlr digital outputs; and upsampling to 24bit/192kHz. I went through a few iterations to find the best combination for my extended listening sessions. Let’s go through a couple important ones here:

To 24/192 or not 24/192?
The CD300 had an upsampling feature which converted the data stream to 24bit/192kHz. This feature could be selected via remote or from the fascia. Although the selection could be done on the fly (while music is playing), I suggest you don’t, I got a couple of loud pops from my speakers doing it this way. Stop or pause your CD then do the switching.

The difference with upsampling on or off was not subtle. With upsampling, the images had sharper outlines and better separation, more details emerged, the soundstage expanded, especially in the depth plain. Without upsampling, the sound was warmer and fuzzier. Upsampling it was for me.

To RCA or to XLR?
I thought probably the CD300’s potential owners might not have an amp with xlr input, I decided to check out the difference between the CD300’s rca and xlr outputs. I should do this with the same interconnects, but I didn’t have 2 similar pairs, so I did the comparison with interconnects in similar price range – Wireworld’s Polaris III on rca and JPS Labs’ Superconductor FX on xlr. After adjusting (by ear) for the higher output level from xlr, I found the xlr connection to be superior, the sound opened up slight more, details and clarity improved further. The rca output was slightly warmer which some listeners might like.

I can’t say with 100% certainty that the difference was due to the outputs alone though. Due to the different interconnects and that my Pass Labs X2.5+XA60 amps were fully balanced, xlr might have an advantage in my setup, your mileage might vary.

When I switched xlr interconnects again, from JPS to Audioquest Sky, the CD300’s sound quality went up another notch. The music nuances came through more apparently, the sound was richer, I had a more intense emotional connection with the music. I’m not sure anyone would pair the CD300 with interconnects more expensive than the player itself, but this showed that the CD300 had great potential and would most likely respond to improvements in its partnering equipment.

In the listening sessions, it was AQ Sky via xlr for me then.

The Shanling’s Glories
Let’s just cut to the chase - the Shanling CD300’s sound was a Gong Li, not a Zhang Ziyi, if you can get my drift. It eschewed the thin, waif–like sound of budget cd players. Its sound was slightly big-boned and had good body. And like Gong Li’s early movies, the CD300 approached sound reproduction in an earthy and direct manner, without any pretension. Compared to CD players higher up the price ladder (try double or triple), the CD300’s sound might be slightly less fine-grained, and similarly its bass has slightly less impact (which can be heard on double basses on jazz tracks) but whether this would be apparent to you would depend on your equipment further down the chain and your music choice.

The glory of the CD300 lied in the midrange – especially vocals, both male and females. Since it had tubes in it, you might think that its vocal performance would be the rose-tinted, oh-so-romantic type. But no, to its credits, the Shanling did not add these colorations. It was just an honest, down to earth portrayal. Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Stacy Kent, Bobby McFerrin - all these voices came through nicely and naturally. Their performances was musical and connected with me. On Stacy Kent’s Collection CD (Premium, PRSACD27874), the vocal was rich and came through with a natural warmth, the sibilance was held in check and integrated nicely with the voice. The nuances in her singing were conveyed clearly. I could really spin this CD on the CD300 again and again.

Recently, I was re-discovering some of my older classical CDs. One of them was Franz Schubert’s Symphony No.9 “The Great” conducted by Leonard Bernstein with the Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam (Deutsche Grammophon 427646). Bernstein’s grandiose style was like a big slab of steak, nice to sample once in a while, but can’t be taken as a daily meal. On the CD300, the opening of the first movement was appropriately atmospheric, and there was a sense of air surrounding the performance, attesting to the CD300’s good resolution. The player also tracked the swell and ebb of the sound excellently. Even at the most complex passages, the CD300 held its composure and conveyed the music confidently. The only thing that my Copland CDA822 did better was at the crescendos, where the CD300 seemed to hold back just a tad rather than letting it rip. Overall, a very commendable performance from the CD300.

Are You Ready to Move Up?
The CD300 might not be meant for a system many times over its price, for that Shanling has their higher models, but the CD300 did not embarrass itself in my reference system, in fact it held my attention, allowing me to listen to music for hours at a time without any great urge to switch back to my own cd player, that was a big plus in my books.

The Shanling CD300 has high-end aspirations, but not high-end in price. It would be a great choice for someone who is ready to move up from entry level players. With its list of features coupled with its sonic performance the Shanling CD300 is great value.

Contact: Simon Liew 012- 3203380
Audio Synthesis, Amcorp Mall

9 comments:

km ng said...

M,

This I noticed over the years in the progression of hifi components especially in front ends.

The prominence of the objective aspect over subjective aspect of listening to components and systems in the reproduction of music.

Subjective aspect is musicality where everyone has his opinion.

Objective aspect is accuracy as true as possible to live music.

Isn't our ultimate goal to bring live music (or as much as possible)to our homes?

Panzer said...

km,

Well deserved observation. I kinda have a similar thought.

built62 said...

km/ panzer,
care sharing some thoughts on "bringing live music to home"? or if this can ever be achieved...

Anonymous said...

KM,
That ultimate goal refers to live unamplified music. I do not doubt that some systems sound better than the real live amplified performance simply because of the not so conducive location.

tz said...

i fully agree with anonnymous above..

a fully optimized ssystem can and has bettered life performance..

km ng said...

Panzer,

Like they say, good ears listen alike.

Built62,

We are are students of hifi .

My thoughts are to study recordings and hifi, love music and stay close to live performances. Try to visit as many systems as possible and learn from them. Keep an open mind and think out of the box.


Anon of 1:03PM and TZ,

I may agree if it's amplified in a lousy and noisy venue with poor sound checks. Like some of our local rock performances.

A simple, easy and free listening test for live unamplified music.

Listen to a school matching band as it marches before you in a open field. Notwithstanding the quality of play, can any hifi system better it?

km ng said...

P.S. If no school marching band, a funeral band also can. :)

jimmy said...

km,
i would like to listen to your set up sometime. ok kah..?

Anonymous said...

Simon must be thinking Malaysian hifier print marnee one la!