Crown CD-110 CD Player

hfnvintageIt may have been bulky with no fewer than ten batteries housed in its brittle case, but this portable player had an ace up its sleeve – its price. How will it shape up today?

When enthusiasts see a product from Crown it's perhaps natural to assume it has come from the American amplifier manufacturer of that same name. Yet this compact CD player from 1987, launched to bring the cost of portable players down to a more affordable level, bears the branding of another company called Crown – the Crown Radio Corporation of Japan.

Income Gap
Also a long-established manufacturer, at its peak Crown of Japan offered a huge range of electronic equipment. The underlying technology employed was usually basic, but the firm's speciality was in making new and exciting products that filled gaps in the market yet to be exploited. For example, Crown was one of the first companies to sell a transistor radio with an integral Ni-Cd rechargeable battery so that it could be operated (according to the catalogue) at almost no cost.

It also produced miniature TVs (black and white, and colour), a transistor radio with a record player built in (the TRP-126, described as 'unbelievably small') and what looked at first glance to be a pair of stereo speakers with drive units firing downwards into upward-facing omnidirectional cones. On closer examination, these speakers revealed themselves to be part of a complete audio system – the SHC-47F – which saw a stereo tuner, cassette deck and amp housed in one cabinet with storage for cassette tapes in the other.


The Crown CD-110 stands up to scrutiny! When in use the player would usually be carried the other way up or laid down flat on a table

The complete range was at times comparable in its breadth to that of the big players like Sony, though the quality was always somewhat more rudimentary. Nevertheless, Crown traded on the fact that its factories were in Japan and so its products could be relied upon to be sturdy, dependable and well designed.

Crown's presence in the UK market was at its height in the 1970s, its name becoming diminished in the eyes of UK consumers by the 1980s. This was because it was reduced to selling cheap radio cassettes in home shopping catalogues, with much of the innovation that had characterised its older generation of products now gone. It was lucky, therefore, that something arrived which enlivened the market for audio products of all kinds: the Compact Disc.

Integral to the opening offer for the new CD format was that portable players would soon become available. The public wanted them, but the technical challenges in making these compact machines a reality were not easily overcome.

Cell Division
Despite this, by 1986 there was a choice of models on sale, albeit at prices that put them beyond the reach of many. At a more technical level, the problem of providing sufficient battery power for the hard-working digital circuitry was still being explored. Many of the early CD portables needed either special rechargeable units or external cases filled with bulky and expensive torch batteries.


Schematics of the servo and DAC PCBs showing Yamaha's YM3015 DAC and the Mitsubishi M50421P signal processing LSI

Crown's answer to these issues was the CD-110 portable reviewed here. It was competitively priced and allowed the user to listen to CDs almost anywhere. By this stage the top manufacturers were producing tiny jewel-like players such as the Technics SL-XP5 [HFN Nov '22], but the Crown CD-110 was no rival to the likes of these. It was relatively large and housed in a slightly 'creaky' and brittle plastic cabinet.

As with the SL-XP5, space and cost were saved by running the circuit from a split battery supply (that is, two banks of cells that produced both a positive and a negative supply) instead of generating the necessary voltages internally from a DC-DC converter. In the case of the Crown player, this meant that ten AA-sized alkaline batteries were needed to give a few hours of portable listening. The width of these together defined the proportions of the casework, which instead of being close to the size of a CD jewel case (like the SL-XP5) ended up being comparable in bulk and weight to a small hardback book.

As with all early portables there was no attempt made to guard against skipping and mistracking as the unit was carried – one just had to be careful. To provide a more robust source of entertainment a version of this player was made with an integral AM/FM tuner, the headphone lead being pressed into service as the aerial.

Current Concerns
The fact that our 36-year-old review sample of the CD-110 appears essentially brand new, despite its delicate-looking casework, suggests to me that the original owner was less than enamoured with it. It looks undeniably 'budget' – both Sony and Technics could offer complete players at the time which in their entirety were smaller than just the CD-110's lift-up lid. Its operation also lacks finesse too...

To begin, one first has to slide a tiny switch on the lefthand side of the unit to turn it on. If you forget to switch it off again once you've finished, it will devour the batteries, rendering it useless the next time you want to listen. On the subject of batteries, the current-drain on the two banks of five cells is not identical so one set wears out faster than the other. Since there is no battery-condition indicator the remaining charge is impossible to ascertain – I wonder how many usable sets of expensive alkaline AAs the original owners of these players ended up simply throwing away.


Open wide... the bulk of the player is clear when you compare the casework with the 12cm recess where the disc resides. Note the linear sled for the laser, which is the ideal layout for portable machines

The headphones plug in at the front, next to a thumb-wheel volume control that is needlessly small. The rest of the keys are on the top of the unit, as is the LCD track readout. Just like the Toshiba XR-J9 [HFN Jun '23] there are ergonomic quirks to contend with. In the case of the CD-110 it is only possible to skip or repeat a track while in stop or pause mode. If you press the arrow keys when the disc is playing all it does is search through noisily and slowly.

A track sequence can be programmed but, as ever, this proves to be a tedious procedure, though in fairness to Crown this is usually the case no matter how much you spend. If you don't want to use batteries, a mains adapter is included. As this supplies two different voltages it comes with two little plugs on the end, one slightly larger than the other. It's a foolproof arrangement, but still looks distinctly 'home-made'.

Speed Read
So far I've had little positive to say about the CD-110, but it does have its good points. One of these is that it reads a disc's table of contents faster and with fewer disc rotations than any player I've ever encountered, suggesting that Crown's optical and servo systems are top notch. This is especially noteworthy as the laser block appears to be of Crown's own manufacture. It springs into action quickly when play is pressed too, and would no doubt flit between tracks pretty rapidly if it wasn't for the nuisance of having to pause the playback first.