The first CDP you can by, the Philips CD101.

I could still remember fondly of Philips and Sony's promise of "Perfect Sound Forever" when the Compact Disc, or CD was launched to much fanfare in the year 1982. How time flies, and in 2007, the CD celebrated it's 25th Anniversary.

I have noticed in certain used hifi clasifieds lately that certain older models of CDPs have been moving up in price. Example in point, I was browsing for my dream Marantz CD7 three years ago, and along the way bumped in to a Marantz CD10, I could have it for RM$1.2k. Today, I see the same model asking for RM$2k. Another example of that same period in time, Meridian 206 CDP was asking for RM$1.8k, today that same model is seen advertising for RM$2.3k. Another Marantz, the CD94MKII was then asking for RM$1.6k, I recently see one sold for RM$3.2k. Also a significant model like the Philips CD101 was just recently sold for RM3k plus to a collector.

So what makes a CDP a collectible classic?

a) It must have some form of significant time line marker for the product, like the above said Philips CD101, which was the 1st mass produced CDP you could buy in 1982.

b) It's technical spec must be of the right sort, mainly the transports must have the revered swing heads like the Philips CDM1 or 4 variety. Or the Teac VRDS series. Also considered equally important is the DAC chip. The right numbers to go for are of course the Philips TDA1541 variety or the TDA1547 or simply called DAC7 or Bitstream, depending on marketing speak.

The magical chip, Philips TDA1541 DAC operating in balance mode.

c) It must be reasonably rare of the kind. Some Marantz models like the CD & DA12 pair, where only 500 pairs was ever produced, and mostly are now in the hands of collectors and industry people(I'll come to this more later). Another example is that it's rare simply because at that time of product launch it was priced out of this world! Case in point is the Linn CD12, it's price was RM$60k when launched in 1999. The Denon DCD S1 is also another HOT model, rare because it was never sold outside Japan.

A rare find! Denon DCD S1.

d) Very naturally, being an audiophile product, it must not only sound good, but BENCH MARK GOOD!

So I will list a few here that I would personally consider a classic, however, I must admit that I am probably not the most authurotive figure on the subject matter.

Sony: Let's start with one of the co-developers of the format. The Sony 337 & 555ESD. These are the two more popular of then early Sony machines. They employ Sony KSxxx series transports and borrows the TDA1541 DAC chip from Philips. Inovation includes battleship build quality like double layered copper chassis and transparent military spec PCB boards(Sony 555ESD only). The sound is typically analytical Sony, with lots of details and full on gutsy bass.

Lil' Bro, Sony CDP-337 ESD.

Big Bro! Sony CDP-555 ESD, with transparent mill spec PCB!

JVC: The JVC1050 K2 CDP was considered state of the art at the time, because it uses the same K2 DAC chip developed in house by JVC to master XRCDs. I have not had the oppurtunity to audition one before, but it'll be interesting.

JVC 1050 K2.

Note K2 chip inside the JVC, on top right of pic.

Teac: The first Teac Esoteric player to feature the famed VRDS transport was the P700 and D700. It is considered a classic just so, because it started a trend where all future higher end models of Teac, from the VRDS10, 25SE to the current Esoteric X05 series incorporated the ultra stable transport with disc clamp built in.

Teac VRDS 25SE. All VRDS models are best used as transports only, to be mated with other DACs.

Naim: The CDS1 from Naim is a classic because it was the company's first digital product. It featured the all the right Philips parts, like a top mounted CDM1 swing head transport and the TDA1541 DAC chip. In typical Naim fashion, the later Naim CDs3, CD tray is a manual swing design, which is still in use for today's latest Naim products. The sound, however is typically olive Naim(which die hard flat earthers loved so much!).

Naim CDS1. Note, the tube funnels are not part of the package!
The Naim CDS3, note the Philips CDM transport mounted in to a swing tray? Just like today's Naim CD5X.

Meridian: How can we mention Naim without Meridian? The company's first CDP, the Meridian MCD Pro 888 was basically a Philips CD101 with a modified output stage and beefed up power supply. It showed the world that "Perfect Sound Forever" can be further perfected upon! For that, how can it not be a classic? In recent times, Merdian's CDPs got better and better, but still largely based loosely on the Philips parts bin list, like the Meridian CD206, which feature a box design, bolted together at the back, using Philips CDM1 transport and TDA1541 DAC chip. I would strongly speculate the current Meridian G808 CDP to be a classic in the making! However, only time would tell.

Meridian MCD PRO 888. Doesn't it look like a Philips CD101?

Meridian CD206, note the Philips CDM1 swing head transport, built in to tray?

Linn: There is only one Linn player that fits the classic bill. It's the Linn CD12. Built to rival the long lived Linn LP12 turn table in spirit. It was considered to be the closest to analog sound as CDPs get. Many whom heard it are convinced that the CD12 is as good as the LP12! Too bad it was too expensive(it was sold for RM$60k a pc then!), and only very few were sold. In fact Linn has discontinued the CD12 only to carry on with the LP12. What an irony and surely, a pity too! If only I can audition one for my self!

Sounds as good as the Linn LP12? The Linn CD12.

Marantz: There are many Marantz CDPs that surely qualifies as classic, but the top 3 would probably be starting with the CD94 & CD94 MKII. These babies are the most sought after in the used market as they are available and pretty cheap(even with today's high prices) comparitively to the next 2 models up. All the necesary goodies are there, like the heavyweight build quality, double layer chasis construction, the Philips CDM1 swing head transport and TDA1541 S1(specially matched tight tolerence DAC chips). It's also one of the earliest Marantz CDP to feature XLR balanced output(CD94 MKII only) You can say the CD94 MKII is the one box CD & DA12 econo combo!

The Marantz CD94 & CD94 MKII. Twins?

Next up is the Marantz CD7. It was considered to be significant as it was Marantz last hurrah! to CDP technology and Ken Ishiwata, the Marantz designer kept the best and last remaining TDA1541 S2 close tolerence matching DAC chips for this project. By then Philips had already stop production of the chips and Marantz only had enough to built 750 CD7s. The fully discreet and balance output stage of the CD7 deserves a special mention as it is a blue print for all future Marantz high designs, including the later Marantz SA1 and the current top of the line Marantz SA7. The magic of the the CD7's sound is however, deeply rooted in the DAC chip.

My beloved Marantz CD7, stripped for your viewing pleasure!

Lastly, probably, the most sought after Marantz CDp is the CD & DA12 combo pair. Only 500 of these combo pairs were ever built. It is said that till this day, Ken Ishiwata and the famed reviewer, Ken Kesler still uses the CD & DA12 combo for their daily music listening. They are very good friends of course and are in the same opinion that no modern CDP has beaten the Marantz combo for musicality. And that is really saying something about this player! Again, the transport in use is the Philips CDM1 and 2 pairs of TDA1541 S1 are employed in the DAC section.

Ken Ishiwata & Ken Kesler's CD machine! The Marantz CD & DA12.

Philips: How can we forget about the co-conspirator who brought us in to the digital music world? Of course, the Philips CD101 is an instant classic for being only the first of it's kind. The other notable Philips models are the CD850MKII which is the best bitstream DAC player ever built. Also need to mention the Philips CD960, which was then a top slot CDP, using CDM1 transport and TDA1541 DAC. Then of course there are the Philips cousins to their glamourous Marantz cousins, sans the audiophile jewelry bits and pieces! Like the Philips LHH1000 which is the bread & butter Marantz CD & DA12 combo! Another one to look out for is the Philips LHH800R, which is the Marantz CD11LE cousin! According to Stereo Sound Japan, both are breathtakingly good sounding!

The first Bitstream Philips 850 and 850 MKII.

Philips CD960, striped bare naked, just for you!
The poor cousins, Philips LHH1000.

Philips LHH800R.


Others worthy of mention:

DCS Elgar DAC, this is monumental in a sense that it was the first up sample 16bit data to 24/192 in the year 1996. Up sampling is now the common feature of today's CDPs. I heard this once in an super set up and it sounds sublime, in a sense that it doesn't sound like digital or analog!, it's just out of this world.

The DCS Elgar DAC, the first up sampler, way ahead of it's time!

Wadia 861SE, this model has been around since 2002, despite the arrival of a supposedly superior format SACD. In 2005 it got an SE moniker to signify certain internal changes, however, that precision VRDS tranport is still in used with in house propriety DAC. The sound is superbly detailed, if a little mechanically inclined.

Wadia 861SE with it's tongue sticking out!

Sonic Frontiers SFCD1, being one of the first high end design to incorporate a pair of 6922 tubes for output section. It also features an Ultra Jitterbug chip, said to eliminate jitter and has HDCD decoding! It a very sweet sounding player, as many of my friends have fallen in love with it.

Sonic Frontiers SFCD1, the first digital tubed delight?

Denon DCD2650/3650G, this is a player of battleship size, with equally big sound to boot! It was one of Denons first high end designs that trully overspecs every part except perhaps the sound?

The battleship Musashi? Denon DCD2650.

Arcam Alpha 5, this started off as an el'cheapo Philips TDA1541 and CDM4 swing head transport donor to DIY projects, as until recently, you could get a used unit for RM$500 of so. But I've seen them advertised lately for as much as RM$1k.

The Arcam Alpha 5, it's so light you gotta load it with a brick?

Marantz SA1 and Sony SCD1, hey! they are SACD spinners for sure, but they are also a time line product as being the first of their kind and they signal the end of the CD era. However they do play CDs too!

Marantz SA1.

Sony SCD1.

And lastly, who can forget the all time most popular CDP called the Marantz CD63 and all it's other monikers like MKII, SE and very special KI??? However they are too many around to be considered a classic.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I would have probably missed a model or two, but hey! You can always share with me what you'd think of as a classic CDP.


16 comments:

fafafion said...

Once upon a time,Marantz was owned by Philips;That was when Marantz produced its best products

The biggest impact that Philip had was in developing the DACs;the Philips transport has always been a bit of a suspect.

The famed philips triple crown DACs are still used by ZANDEN top of line stratospherically priced machine;according to them nothing the Japanese ever produced ever come close.

Nowadays ,if you talk about digital reproductions there is only one name that keep breaking new ground;the venerable british digital specialist;dcs...their work are simply the best IMO.

bl woo said...

Hey panzer,

All the talk on digital and no mention of dcs and Wadia?

THEY are the ones that make the real breakthrough in cdp.Others simply repackage the philips and sony,change the caps;copper chasis, beef up power supply etc.....

Anonymous said...

I like your article!!! For me I like the Quad CD66 I am not sure it is a classic, but I like the way it sound and look. Unfortunately I am not the owner, haven’t seen it in our local second hand market yet. I still keep my Marantz CD60 in my home, play it once a while. Thanks for sharing panzer.

Lim

Anonymous said...

congratulations you license approve!

Anonymous said...

congratulations you license approve!

maggielurva 愛美姬 said...

good research, panzer.

i would like to add american brands like CAL (california audio lab) & theta, tho' they are not exactly pioneers.

kiarch said...

Panzer,

Good research paper. I would like to add my CDP, 47 Lab-Flatfish.

You realised that its this magical chip - 1541, a non-over-sampling, that has been the sole reason for the soring price of 'classic' CD player.

I have my personal view of 1541, wonder what would be the takes of the rest/Panzer?

timo said...

Kiarch,

1.Heard the 47 lab-Flatshih And I can only describe it with one word;MAGICAL

2.the 1541 chips are more valuable than de beers finest diamond,and the japanese manufacturers are smart enought to realize this;I think at the moment Japan has the biggest stockpiles of the superbly engineered chips

Panzer said...

fafafion,

I agree that Marantz best days were when Philips was boss. They access to the best parts bin for CDP building.

bl woo,

Thanks for pointing out my oversight. I was pretty sure I missed out a few. Flaw rectified, both DCS and Wadia are represented in the list now.

Lim,

What an intersting coincidence, I still have a working Marantz CD60SE working in my dad's house! That player has been with me since 1992! Never broken down before.

kiarch, timo,

I feel the 47Labs Flatfish is an interesting choice worthy of classic status in the future for all it's unconventional, yet musical ways.
However as it is still current product, there fore cannot be included in the classic list just yet, unless it's been around as long as a Linn LP12 or Rega P3. Hope you see my point of view.

Also included in my latest update is the Philips CD960, because many of my dear friends felt it was just as big, if not better than the CD850MKII.

As for that magical TDA1541 DAC chip? I hope to do more research and hopefully share my findings later.

Thanks guys!

Anonymous said...

Note that TDA1541 DAC is in technically dnd perhaps hyped as the finest 16bit chip, giving you the good old 16bit sound. O/S mods make the SQ even more raw or generic 16bit. Thats what you folks really want and can't deny over later upsampling algorithms, 24bit, 32bit processing or whatever isn't it?. CD Redbook format is just simply 16 bit code and need a great 16bit DAC, thats it. Newer DAC's are in practice "backward compatible" chips.

miki166 said...

Think about Philips CD850mkII. I ve used modified one with upgraded Opa and IR HexFred diodes in power supply. I agree, its best bitstream cd player ever built.

Panzer said...

miki166,

Having been through a range of bistream players my self, including the Marantz CD10, Marantz CD63MKIISE, Marantz CD16D and Marantz CD17 MKIII. I can agree that bistream is very musical and up front in presentation. Great for rock, blues and pop music certainly. But less convincing with audiophile music, jazz and classical though.

At the end it really depends on your musical diet and preferences.

miki166 said...

Panzer,

Thank for info about the sound of Philips advanced TDA1547 + TDA1307 (DAC7 and DF7) bitstream converters based Marantz CD players (CD10, CD16D and CD17mkIII).

It was important to note that Philips CD850mkII used the older Philips non DAC7 integrated SAA7350 bitstream converter, which I believe provide a more analog like, laid back type of presentation in comparison to latter, more detailed and up front DAC7 based top Marantz CDP.
Different reviews of DAC7 players reveal problems with ultrasonic noise due to noise shaping, which could contribute to up front and even hard presentation with some amps.

I ve listen classical music and here my CD850mkII was particularly strong (smooth, spacious with solid feeling of depth). At the same time with rock and pop music, sometimes Philips was too much civilized, polite and rather bland.

I agree about sound character of Marantz cd63mkII. Before heavy modification, my friends 63mkII tend to sound just as you describe i.e. more up front and not nearly as smooth as my unmodified Philips.

Philips tries hard with DAC7 to made advancement of bitstrem chip sets to bridge inherent initial sound character - musical, smooth, spacious but uninvolving and less dynamic particularly in bass in comparison to multibit. I believe that this intention kill bitstrem magic, that’s why usually first generation TOP bitstream players based on SAA7320 & SAA7321 and the most successful, but rarely used audio grade SAA7350, are better.

Philips CD850mkII was not perfect, as I already mentioned, but its strongest points were analog like character, musicality, smoothness, spaciousness and lack of hardness.

Therefore, after important modification (OPA, power supply), this most ambitious Philips bitstream CDP (Philips CDM4 + most balanced Philips SAA7350 bitstream coverter) present, even today, a giant killer.

Panzer said...

miki166,

WOW! you certainly know a lot about CDP technology. Thanks for sharing! I now know why the Marantz sounded the way they do. Personally, I like the Marantz(Philip owner ship days)sound a lot. The newer models are more transparent and technically superior, however seems to have lost a bit of that little magic called "musicallity"?

Peter said...

Thanks for using photos from my website: http://www.marantzphilips.nl

Panzer said...

Peter,

Thanks for stoping by our blog. Your site is an essential source of information for us Marantz/Philips CDP owners.

Do keep up the good work in adding more information to your site.