Well, I did something that I swore to myself that I would never do. I bought an SACD player. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I have anything against SACDs or anything, it's just that I'm still carrying a grudge (sort of) from when we all got duped with the introduction of CDs. (Editor Steve sez the rumors of SACD's demise during the CES 2005 only weeks ago makes one wonder....)
Back in the 80's when the powers that be decided to phase out vinyl in favor of this new format, I resisted the change. During the 80's and early 90's there wasn't a lot of what I consider 'great' music being recorded, I was pretty content with my vinyl rig and a decent reel to reel. I continued my vigil until the early 90's when vinyl started getting really scarce and then I finally had to succumb to the industry pressure. I finally broke down and bought a CD player. It was one of the cheap units on the market at that time.
I was pretty un-impressed. Sure, the background noise was quieter, it was convenient and all that but, CDs just didn't sound like music to me. Over the next few years I upgraded my CD player a few times. The sounds got better but it still didn't sound better than my modest vinyl rig.
In the late 90's I upgraded to decent CD player. It was an Arcam 8se. For a CD player, this thing sounds pretty darned good. It does lots of things 'right.' Then I bought the AH! Njoe Tjoeb from Kevin at Upscale Audio. This is when CD's started sounding (to me) really good. Still not vinyl, but this little player sure makes CD listening extremely pleasurable. Since that time, my CD collection has grown by leaps and bounds. I really couldn't tell exactly how many discs I've got but it's got to be hitting the grand mark (or there abouts).
My logic for not buying an SACD player was pretty simple. If you own one, you have to feed it. Granted, 1000 or so CDs isn't as many as some of the guys I know (or read about) but if I ended up liking the sound of SACD's, that means I have to re-buy a big chunk of my music collection. That could get pretty damned expensive.
One of the other contributing factors why I never bought a SACD factor was the cost. We all read the ads and reviews of these super cool players like the Shanling that look and sound great but I'll be dipped in buttermilk if I'm going to drop a couple large on a piece of gear that needs regular feedings at 20 bucks a meal.
Enter a certain discussion board. I've got a love-hate relationship going on with this place. Depending on which forum you log onto, you will ether find a nice, friendly crowd that hangs out and talks about audio and music, or you could be witness something that resembles ancient Roman times. A time when unassuming Christians were being thrown to the lions for entertainment. These lions are the Gladiators of our modern times. They hide behind the shield of the Internet and hack the limbs off anyone that that stands in their path. They fear nothing and no one (mostly) because they can hide behind the anonymity of their pseudo-names but I digress (sorry).
With a passive interest, I happened to click on the Hi-Rez Hiway and saw a post form one of the inmates about a cheap SACD player that can be bought at (gulp) Best Buy. Well, the word cheap gets my attention almost every time so I decided to go take a look at the player at the Sony website.
Sure enough, it's an SACD player. So I surfed over to the Best Buy website to double check the price and availability. Sure enough, it's cheap and available. Well, lucky me, I just happen to have some Best Buy Bucks (a $100 gift card) staring me in the face that I got as a Christmas present. Knowing this player is only $149 made the decision (impulse actually) that much less painful. So looked over at my lovely wife, opened my mouth to say "I'm off to buy an SACD player." and then I came to my senses. I just said, "I'll be back in a few" and slid out the door.
Two hours and 200 bucks later I slithered back in the door. Remember what I said about feeding these damned things? There's your proof. Well damn, I can't buy an SACD player without having music to play in it, can I? Thus begins my tale of woe.
The Sony SCD-CD595 is a simple, no-frills SACD player. Unlike many of the Sony players, you don't need to hook this thing to a TV to set it up. It's just plug and play. It's a five-disc player that can only handle CD's and SACDs, sorry no DVD-Audio's.
The 595 has a minimum amount of user definable features. Unlike its big brothers (the ES series and others), this player doesn't have any filtering settings. It's pretty basic. The only features you get beyond the most fundamental are the ability to turn the LED display off, switch between text and time modes, switch between CD and SACD mode, and the ability to two channel and multi channel modes.
The housing is your typical inexpensive case. Relatively thin sheet metal painted flat black to hide fingerprints. The faceplate is plastic. The buttons and controls on the front are all relatively easy to read and operate. The five disc tray is your typical plastic. It has a fairly smooth operation without being too clunky. The feet are just the plain old plastic jobs that don't provide any (well much anyway) vibration isolation.
The remote is much like you would expect. It's black plastic and the layout is fairly ergonomic. It does have a switch on it that allows you to control a second CD player. Trouble is, the second CD switch doesn't conform to the Philips IR standard. Oh well.
On the back panel you will find all of the outputs. The 595 comes with a total of seven outputs, Front (left and right), Rear (left and right), Center Channel, Subwoofer and an Optical Digital Output. The Optical output only works in CD mode, so a tubed output buffer stage for the SACD channel isn't available yet.
A while back I had one of the 595's big brothers in the house for a few days or so. Tim, one of my friends, lent me his showroom 777ES demo so that we could do a "Vinyl is Better than SACD" demonstration for a group of local audio imbeciles (I proudly count myself as part of that group, TYVM). We all met at my Audio Pleasure Dome to perform the experiments. We hooked it all up to my Fleapowered System and started spinning black and silver discs. When all was said and done, we proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Earth still revolves around the Sun. One thing I discovered, as I peered threw the lens of the telescope, was that the Asteroid Belt was much closer than I thought it was going to be.
Needless to say, this had me hoping that this inexpensive little player would be a decent performer. I didn't realize just how decent it would turn out to be. Right out of the box the 595 sounded pretty darned good. Granted, it was a little harsh and a tad bright but that didn't scare me at all. Nearly every piece of electronic gear sounds bad when you first break them in.
After nearly three weeks of nearly continuous (24/7) play, I figure this is about as run in as it gets. The 595 has drastically smoothed out. Gone is most all the grit on the edges of the music. The highs aren't near as tizzy as they once were. It's turned into a very nice little player.
Over the past few weeks my SACD collection has grown exponentially. I went from owning exactly one SACD (that I bought by mistake BTW) to having about 20 or so. I've picked up a variety of different titles. Everything from some classical (Yo Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott's Paris La Belle Epoque) to some hard core rock and roll (David Bowie's Heathen).
Nearly each and every SACD I feed this thing simply amazes me how good this little $150 player sounds. While I can't put the 595 (while in SACD mode) in the same league with the big boys out there, but it will damned sure make most of the existing moderately priced Redbook players sound pretty putrid.
When you get your hands on a well-recorded SACD, the 595 can show some serious signs of life. The Yo Yo Ma I mentioned earlier is a good example. Playing his quarter century year old cello, the sound reproduction very good. This SACD provides a marvelous amount of detail. Detail that you just won't hear on the standard CD issue (which I have too). Things like the strike of the hammers on the piano strings rather than just a played note. The mistaken draw of the bow on the backstroke across the cello string on the way to another note. Ma's finger movements up and down the neck of cello. Everything we audiophiles live for, it's all there for us to behold. And the best part, it's not fatiguing in the least.
It's been a while since I listened to a piece of gear that it's sent chills up my spine but the 595 was able to do that. That tells me one thing; the music was clean enough that it made forget I was listening to a piece of gear. For me, that's a pretty tall order.
As most of you are well aware, SACD has a distinct advantage over Redbook reproduction because of the sampling rates and playback frequency response. For those that are unaware, an SACD player samples at over 2.8 million bits per second as opposed to the 24 bits of the new releases they are feeding us now days. CD Redbook has that 'Brick Wall Filter' that stops the uppermost frequency extension around 20kHz whereas SACD's don't fall off until near (theoretically) 100kHz. Also, the SACD dynamic range can be 120dB on a DSD (Direct Stream Digital) recording where a CD is limited to 96dB (unless they compress the snot out of it, then it's like 10dB).
The sound coming from this player is pretty darned even top to bottom. The timbre is darned close. The output stage lacks a bit of life. It's not that the dynamics aren't there because they are very good. It's just that being a tubephile, listening to a solid state output always sounds a little thin to me. This thing could really use a good tubed output stage to make it come to life.
Well, you just happened to stumble across the right article because in the next six months or so, one of the local Audio Idiots and myself are planning on designing, building and publishing the schematics for just such an animal on Enjoy the Music.com. Right now we are leaning towards a transformer coupled 6SN7 design. We'll walk you through every step of the design, building and implementation of this tubed output buffer stage. On the other hand, if you aren't handy with a soldering iron and schematics, Steve at Decware sells a very similar mod for around $400. I haven't heard it but looking at the design, it should sound just fine too.
I just bet you are wondering about the Redbook reproduction of CDs, aren't you? For this one, I plugged in Gary Burton and Pat Metheny's Like Minds. This is a hybrid SACD/CD. The Redbook layer is extremely good as is the SACD layer. On Redbook playback I'm taken by how good this budget player really is. I've had a bunch of budget players through here over the years. Ones like the Teac's, Philips and the odd Denon. All of those tend to be a relatively harsh sounding. They typically have a very shallow soundstage depth. Imaging can tend to be a bit dodgy too. When you compare this little $150 player with those (and I still own several of them BTW) the 595 stands head and shoulders above them.
Now, on the Redbook side, the 595 won't compete with say an entry level Arcam or anything like that but it doesn't do a bad job either. The soundstage is fairly deep. It extends the best part of (oh say) five feet behind the speakers. The image placement is decent too. The performers show up right where they should be. Granted they are a little wider and taller than on a premium player but don't worry, it's not that bad, especially considering the price tag.
Know what? I don't think I've ever met a decent sounding, cheap piece of gear that I didn't like. This one is no exception. For 150 bucks, you simply won't find a better combo player (that I know of anyway). On the SACD side, you get a very smooth sounding digital reproduction. It does all those things we audiophiles marvel at. It sounds smooth, soundstages and images very well, it has a decent amount of finesse, plus it (on the odd occasion) can almost sound like real life. (Editor Steve sez... trying not to rain on your parade Scott yet i can't help but mention the $120 street price Pioneer DV-578A that plays both SACD and also DVD-Audio)
Now, if you decide to take the plunge remember, you have to feed the beast. Thankfully the costs of SACDs have come down. Over at a discussion board somebody posted that the SonyStyle.com store had loads of discs for like 10 bucks each. Needless to say, that got me in trouble with my lovely wife (again). SACDs are becoming more plentiful. Last I checked there were over 2000 titles and new ones being released every month.
I know, we've all read about SACD's demise. Hell, I've even contributed to the fervor. But look at it this way, this little player costs all of 150 bucks. Geez, I'll bet you spent twice that amount on your last pair of interconnects. Who knows for sure what is going to happen to the format. I just saw where Sony introduced for CES 05 a new, ultra sleek, SACD player. So that sorta makes those rumors of Sony's SACD demise null and void doesn't it?
Oh, I forgot to mention, I didn't try the 595 in multi-channel surround mode. Honestly, music in the round doesn't interest me in the least. I'm pretty much a two channel kinda guy unless I'm watching a movie on our Home Theatre. The thought of the drummer or bass player being behind me is pretty obtuse. (did you like that $.25 word?)
A word of caution. Not about the 595 but about buying SACD's in general. I've bought about 20 or so thus far. Nearly everything I've gotten has been very good (recording wise). You have to keep in mind that if you are buying a SACD re-mastered from analog tape, you will be limited to the original recording. Some of the new DSD's are pretty stunning and some….well….aren't. I bought three Telarc SACDs that were DSD, Rory Block Last Fair Deal, Robert Lockwood Jr. Delta Crossroads and McCoy Tyner Illuminations and they all suck. Not just suck, they suck like a Hoover. They all sound like they were recorded somewhere in the next county and the bands were playing behind a moving blanket. If I'm buying a high resolution medium, I (personally) think it should sound like high resolution rather than a piece of vinyl with a worn out needle. Needless to say, I won't take a chance on the Telarc label again. Three out of three is a piss poor batting average.
Oh, Mister Telarc, you can contact me any time you wish cuz I'd sure like a refund. Sorry for the mini rant guys. (Editor Steve sez in jest, Scott's taste in music and his favorite band sucks, so please forgive him. Ok, in all seriousness those titles are not necessarily the best Telac offers and this also goes to prove that the music contained within a master tape and the mastering play a huge part in the final outcome. Note the crappy sound of nearly every Rush recording post Signals)
Type: CD/SACD multi-channel player
Inputs and Outputs:
Weights & Measures
Price (Street): $149
Sony Corporation of America