CD: The story so far

A year after the launch of CD, Martin Colloms looks at the progress made by player manufacturers before reviewing the new generation of machines

This issue marks the first anniversary of CD's UK launch, the Philips CD100 appearing on these shores in March 1983. There has been some comment in the press concerning a 'second generation' of CD players and this appears to be the case for some manufacturers.

The Hitachi DA-1000 player has now been supplanted by the DA-800, a Sony CDP-101 lookalike. To Technics' first top-line SL-P10 model are added two new front-loaders, the SL-P8 and SL-P7, the latter priced at just under £400. Toshiba's first rather bulky XR-Z90 has been edged out by a new front-loading slimline design, the £389 XR-Z70, which is two-thirds the price of the '90.


Cash Discounts
Meanwhile, both Sony and Philips have quietly refined their existing models and a brief re-evaluation of the current Sony CDP-101 is included here. Both companies are also becoming more competitive in terms of product pricing, with special offers or cash discounts offering an effective machine price in the range from £350-£450. Finally, a full update of the Marantz CD-73 is also included. This machine was originally suspect in the very early months, but is now rumoured to be on good form.

The front-loading, motorised drawer system pioneered by Sony is almost becoming a standard feature of new CD players, leading to slimmer, smaller designs. Likewise infrared remote control has proved to give a decided market advantage, and is used by the Sony machine, the Toshiba XR-Z70 and Technics SL-P8.

With a better understanding of the small optical quality variations in discs from different record companies, players are offering consistently better error correction, so confirming the power of the error-concealment algorithms.

Compact disc cannot supplant vinyl for many years, if indeed it ever does so completely. But it is now making worthwhile progress.

Hitachi Da-800
Hitachi belongs to that small group of manufacturers that design their own machines. The new DA-800 is a drawer-loading machine, superficially reminiscent of the Sony CDP-101. Beneficial developments include a reduction in the number of integrated circuits needed and simplification of manufacture, resulting in lower costs and improved operating facilities.

I had found the controls of the DA-1000 to be rather awkward to use, and in this respect the DA-800 is much improved. Ten buttons allow easy selection of required tracks or track combinations, and up to 15 of these may be memorised in any order for subsequent play.

The fluorescent display includes track number, index number and elapsed time, and the machine has the ability to access the finer track subdivisions or index points on discs that have these encoded, which is not all that common as yet. This machine provides some truncated segments of audio output during fast forward and reverse, greatly aiding the cueing operation.

When a disc is loaded the display will indicate the number of tracks and the total playing time; it subsequently shows the track playing and the total elapsed playing time. An anti-shock switch is fitted at the rear of the player for use with badly eccentric discs and/or conditions of severe vibration or shock. Error correction is mildly impaired under these conditions, and in any case in normal use the shock immunity is pretty good.

A headphone socket is included, with a variable level control which also adjusts the audio output from the sole phono terminals. As such, it's simple to connect this player directly to a power amplifier.

sqnote Sound Quality
This machine gave good first impressions. With the normal CD 'attack', 'solidity' and 'sparkle', it should please critical purchasers. With continued auditioning using top-class equipment some shortfall was detected when compared with other similarly priced players such as the Marantz/Philips models.

A small amount of 'punch' and clarity was lost in the bass, while the stereo image appeared slightly more two-dimensional with a shade less depth and ambience. In the upper range the DA-800 was less 'airy', with a 'cloudier' treble, while tonally it was a trifle 'bright', albeit nicely balanced in the midband.

The DA-800 is one of the better new generation CD players. lt has useful facilities, a healthy output and good track access speed. Few would find fault with it, but from an audiophile viewpoint, used with expensive ancillaries, one could find a different machine at a comparable price with a little more treble subtlety and depth.


Marantz Cd-73
The first batch of CD-73s did not give the best sound. However, a recent production sample was found to be marginally better than a good, mid '83 Marantz CD-63 sample.

First generation, but none the worse for it, the CD-73 uses Japanese external parts and chassis with internals installed at the Philips player factory. Certain details set it apart from the Philips front-loading CD300. The latter has a captive output lead whereas the CD-73 employs gold-plated phono sockets.