Monday, February 18, 2019

Hifi Corner

24 Years of Discman

Vintage Portable Compact Disc Players 







I was looking at old and vintage portable compact disc players (PCDP) in the year 2004. It started when I was reading posts from a group of audiophile enthusiasts collecting vintage PCDPs and they all agreed that the audio performance of these old gadgets were much superior to the modern ones. 


How old are these vintage portable players? Let’s look at the Sony D-5, which was manufactured in 1984. So in the year 2008 it is already 24 years of age! Many who are into vintage players agree that these old players out perform those models made after 1995. In those years when I was hunting for these old PCDPs, a good condition Sony or Denon PCDP could cost around US$300 on ebay auction! The more popular models collectors sort after are Sony D-5, D-25, D-35, D-88, D-303, D-515, D-555; Denon DCP-100 and DCP-150; and Technics SL-XP series of players. 




Sony D-9 (left) and D-40 (right)



So how good actually are these players? For me I connected theses old players to my home speaker system and compared them with Musical Fidelity A-3 CD player and Marantz SA-14 SACD/CD player. Of course these vintage PCDPs are of no match to the full size audiophile grade CD players, but if you take into account the price of the equipment, these PCDPs do perform to a respectable standard. 




Denon DCP-100 



The vintage PCDPs do have their reasons of being superior in quality compared to the modern counter parts. In those days manufacturing cost, size of the player and battery life are of not top priority yet. The early Sony players are made of solid metal chassis. A heavier chassis and higher power consumption allow these vintage players to deliver more punchy sound. 



The Sony D-5 probably is one of the first PCDP in the market. I do not own one of this, but instead I have a similar D-14. D-14 is made of solid metal, heavy like a brick and runs on 4 size C batteries! The line-out power is astonishing, but the one I have run very hot during playing back of CDs.





D-14 with DC adaptor and Philips 6800 (background)



The 1990 Sony D-35 is an interesting model. It is relatively slim compared to players of the same generation. It has a large LCD display and numerous buttons on the top cover.  The 1991 Sony D-303 is built like a tank, a very nice looking player. 





D-35 (top) and D-303 (bottom) 



The D-555 from Sony, manufactured in the year 1989, is probably the PCDP packed with the most features:  headphone out, line out, 10 level digital bass boost, optical out, 5 band equaliser, DDS and surround sound control, and digital volume control. 







Sony D-88 (year 1988) is yet another interesting PCDP. It is the smallest in size in that generation, and in fact even smaller in foot print than today’s PCDP. It is designed for 8cm CD playback, but the 8cm CD is difficult to find today. Although designed for 8cm CD, the D-88 can also play back the standard 12cm CD. There is a button for user to adjust the laser pick up in order to play 12cm CD, but then when in this mode the player is no longer portable as the CD is exposed outside the player, like a tree cutter! 











Sony PCDPs are more innovative in design and of great variety. In comparison the Denon design is more down to earth, but equally well built. The Denon D-100 and D-150 are very sort after by collectors. The SL-XP series of Technics are relatively slim and small compared to Sony and Denon, and use extensive plastic construction. One of the Technics model SL-XP 150 has a very special mid range performance, which makes vocal listening really pleasant. However, in terms of musical performance, personally I much prefer the Philips AZ 68XX series of player. The sonic character of the Philips is full of punch, well balance all around performance, and can be powerful and delicate depending on the music. However the Philips players are not as reliable as the rest, and the feel of the construction are not as good.





SL-XP6 (left) and SL-XP1 (right) 



If you were to ask me is it worth collecting these vintage players? Well, good audio performance as they might be, these are very old electronic gadgets that are unlikely to last very long. I feel that the risk of these players breaking down is so high that if you need to pay for quite a fair bit then it is not worth collecting. Modern branded players though the audio output is not as superior, but I feel that they are decent enough for most purposes. And from the portable point of view the newer players are much smaller in size, lighter in weight and the batteries last much longer. 





Philips AZ6848 



Few years back I still get to see these new generation PCDPs on sale from brand like Sony, Panasonic and Philips. But today in year 2008, or even in 2007, the small and minute MP3 players have become the main stream portable music listening gadgets, the branded PCDPs are no longer selling in most shops. 


Today I still carrying a portable set up with vintage PCDP, a Sound Devices headphone amplifier and a Sennheiser HD 25-1 closed headphone, for me listening to music on the train. I don’t really care about the weight, but the music performance is fantastic, and I still have lots of vintage PCDPs to last me for very very long. 


24 years of Discman:  1984-2008


Speaker system



I like listening to classical music and my friend who is an expert in hifi system recommended me a system, which I like very much and has been enjoying music with it.


At present my system set up is as follows:


                           Marantz SA-14 SACD player on Goldmund cones
                           Musical Fidelity A-3 CD player on BDR Mk 4 cones  


                            Bryston BP-25


                            Bryston 4B SST Silver


                            Sonus Faber Grand Piano Home


                            SA-14 to preamp - DIY pure silver balance and RCA
                            A3 to preamp - Z2 Au/Au RCA                         
                            Preamp to Amp - DIY pure silver balance

Speaker cables:  

                             SonicArt, silver coated copper cables

Power cables:     

                            SA-14 - AFA Zeus II                                                                                                                      A-3 - AFA Zeus II
                            Preamp -    JPS Lab        
                            Amp - SonicArt  

Signal conditioner:  

                            Castle PLF-200, power amp connects direct








The charateristics of this system is neutral. However, good recordings will sound good on this system while the bad ones will sound horrible. This system serves me well, especially for classical music like symphonies and concertos. Female vocals are not so sweet. Sound stage is not that wide and deep. So far I am quite happy with this set up and is unlikely to upgrade for quite a while. 





Chinese Version

Headphone system on the move



My on-the-move hifi system consists of a set of not-so-portable portable CD Player (PCDP), headphone amplifier and headphones.




I am using vintage/old PCDP running on AA NiMH rechargable batteries. I have been a long time supporter of Philips and find their PCDPs have very all round and well balance sonic signature. There was a point of time I was crazy collecting old vintage PCDPs but not any more. The older PCDPs have much better sound quality compared to modern days design. I believe in those days power consumption and size were not the top priority compared to today's designs. As a results the music they delivered has much more punch and energy. However, due to the old age of these well made vintage stuff, they tend to break down and spares are generally not available. Therefore unless you are a vintage gadget lover, I would not recommend collecting these stuff if the price is too high. Anyway I am still happily using my vintage PCDPs with some anti-skid capability.

Although I very much prefer listnening music with my speaker system, having three young kids at home it make me very difficult to do so. Sad to say that nowadays I spent most of my time listening music using my portable system during the journey to and back from work and in the office.

In my present portable system, the PCDP is connected to the Sound Devices headphone amplifier HX-3 using the headphone out or audio out. The amplifier will then drive a Sennheiser HD 25-1 70 ohms professional DJ close headphone.

While open headphone will give a more natural sound, a close headphone is better for travel as it cuts off some surrounding noise. As a result, the volumn can be keep as low as possible and will not cause damages to hearing. The HD 25-1 that I am currently using though good in performance, but being fairly expensive so may not be value-for-money. The design of the HD 25-1 is quite different. The two head supports can be open out. The left side of the headphone can be tilted up for one-ear listening. The flexibility of the design allows wearing of the headphones in all kind of situation, but also made it not so easy to wear as there are too many adjustments available.




                                Headbands wide open                                                                        Left headphone folded 


After using the HD 25-1 for almost 4 years I had the stock steel cable replaced by an original Sennheiser replacement cable (part no: 74532). This cable is much more flexible than the stock cable but is terminated with straight 1/4-inch plug. There is a similar cable for the 600-ohm version of the HD 25 but according to the catalogue the cable is also steel cable. This one I am using is so flexible that I believe could be OFC. It is much longer than the stock HD 25-1 cable and the sound signature is more refined. 

The Sound Devices HX-3 headphone amp that I am using was designed for filming crews. It is built like a tank and can be quite heavy for some to carry around. Being an engineer I really like the solid build of the amplifier and what I like most is it is using 2 AA batteries. Also the power on light serves also as a low battery indicator. The LED is green with fresh batteries, yellow when the power is low and red when it is time to change the batteries.


The interconnect I am using from the PCDP to the headphone amp are DIY pure silver mini-to-mini cable and Ultimate Link solid core pure silver mini-to-TRS cable.

For those who want to know more about headphones can visit the following sites:


headphones for home




Ever since there are very young little monsters living at home, I have to spend many of my hours listening to music late at night using headphones. The expensive speaker systems very often have to play back kid songs instead.

I am having two headphone systems for home use. I use the preamp outputs of my Bryston BP-25 and feed the signals into my headphone amplifier, the German made Corda HA-2. This is a nice headphone amp with two impedance selection and three modes of cross feed. I use the same headphone amp to drive my Sennheiser HD-650 and my AKG K-1000.




For listening to vocals no doubt HD-650 is the ideal choice. However this headphone is an all rounder and it serves well also for classical musics. I use an after market cable Clou-Red. This headphone cable is on the stiff side but if you are not moving around it is perfectly OK. This cable did not have the best review but I am quite happy with it.




Next come the very power hungry AKG K-1000, not really a pair of headphones, perhaps is better be described as a pair of ear-speaker. Very special in design and look, and unfortunately is already out of production. The Corda HA-2 is able to drive this pair of ear-speakers, with the help of BP-25, but the volumn still need to be turned to quite high. Musical presentation is quite different but very enjoyable. A bit on the hard side, the K-1000 is well suited for classical musics with full of details and for this type of music the bass is perfectly adequate and correct. However, for play back of vocal, I believe HD-650 has an edge over K-1000 in terms of smoothness. 




If you have not already aware that the K-1000 was designed to be driven by a small power amplifier! Thus the K-1000 was supplied with an adaptor with speaker connectors. The K-1000 is using a 4-pin balance type of connector. I used the speaker cables from Sonic Art and made a 4-pin to TRS adator cable for the HA-2.  


You can also visit the following headphone forums for more information:


Singapore headphone forum


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