Monday, April 07, 2014

Conclusion for eight reviews of vintage portable CD players


Introduction

Eight months for eight vintage portable CD players. That´s the time it took me to write the final article of my biiiiiiiiiig comparison. I hated that one and the article you´re reading even before I wrote them. I´ve felt them to be a huge mountain I had to climb before I´d be able to write anything else. For quite some time I´ve been planning several articles I want to write... about the FiiO X3 which I bought in October 2013, the FiiO X5 which was loaned to me by FiiO, about audiophiles / objectiphiles, MD recorders / players, etc. But the mountain kept getting bigger and bigger, all because these fuckin' things have been blocking me all the time! Not anymore.
You know... when I think about it, this comparison might be the last. I´m not interested in reviewing CD players anymore, they´re too bulky, most of them have bad headphone outputs, and so on. There are only two players I still want to have: the Technics SL-XP 700 and one of the more recent Sony portables with ATRAC3Plus decoding. That´s it. But before I talk too much, let´s get on with this conclusion.


The candidates

A bunch of vintage portable CD players


Sony D-202
Shall I recommend it? I don´t know. The line out sounds well enough for its age, the headphone output on my unit is broken. But it´s safe to say that the headphone output isn´t very well engineered anyway. The D-202 is one of those players often recommended by collectors, many times for the wrong reasons. Collectors pride themselves of knowing exactly which one of the vintage portables sounds best when in reality they´re listening to a bunch of errors produced by the headphone out. They then talk about 'warmth' and 'character'... nope, I´m sorry but those are all caused by cheap engineering. The D-202 is no exception as it´ll sound well over the line-out only. The rest? Built quality is mediocre, reliability might be an issue (for Christ´s sake: it´s 23 years old).


Technics SL-XP 505
Well, I could repeat the text from above written for the Sony D-202 as the SL-XP 505 has the same basic problems (age-related reliability problems, built quality, headphone output sound issues) so I concentrate on the one redeeming feature: sound quality. Remarkably characteristic over the line out (see? Told you that collectors like me recommend for the wrong reasons), it might offer a tasteful alternative for people seeking something that sounds well with pop, rock and jazz. All others: stay away from it.


Sony D-111
No. Just no. Don´t ever consider it, it feels like crap, sounds like crap, it is crap.


Grundig CDP-70
Performs well over the line-out. Might even be able to replace an older, stationary CD player. On the other hand it has one of the worst headphone outputs I´ve ever heard and measured. Built quality is awful too... well, it matches the ugly design so if I´d want to be positive I´d call it coherent (yes, I´m a cynic). Decide yourself. You might actually decide against it; it´s 21 years old, spare parts will be a problem, especially since the company that built it doesn´t really exist anymore.


Sony D-E705
Well designed and built, feature heavy (including a digital output), what more is there to desire? Ah, yes... the sound. The D-E705 sounds overly warm, like a warm cushion really. Only for people who want a warm and slow, not too aggressive sound. All others take the digital output (mediocre quality). If you want superior built quality, have a look at the D-E805 - it´s the same unit with a metal lid instead.


Sony D-E555
In essence the same player as above. No sonic differences, same features, different design (not for the better).


Sony D-E441
Almost boring sounding player. Otherwise a characteristic sound signature (doing it again), one I don´t like very much. But each to his/her own. I don´t know why, but people seem to like this player. On eBay it tends to fetch comparably high prices, if it´s the design or something else, I do not know. I certainly wouldn´t buy it again yet I´ll keep it only because it contains a spare drive for my Sony D-465.


Ciron QXX-28
At heart a very good stationary player. Ridiculously cheap no-name model. If it breaks down, it won´t hurt too much. Repairing it with spare parts? Not possible because no one knows who built it. Headphone output is usable with demanding high impedance headphones only because of very high noise floor. Sounds very well over the line out (with ESP off). Will also play MP3 with very high quality (but not gapless). Of the eight reviewed players, the QXX-28 is the only one I can partially recommend. But only if you use it at home and if you´re still able to get it.

Conclusion

You know, I have enough of portable CD players. I prefer MD technology when it comes to ancient media formats. Or modern DAPs like my FiiO X3 (yet to be reviewed). Or, I don´t know, something else (but not vinyl). Portable CD players however are only one thing: a reminder of ancient technology, nice to look at... some feel even good at the touch. But not these eight players, they´re all made out of plastic and their built quality isn´t on par with the more expensive models like the Sony D-335 or D-465. In terms of sound some fare well, most do not. I´m sure of one thing however: I cannot recommend any of them fully. All of them have more or less crappy headphone outputs, necessitating the use of an external headphone amplifier like the FiiO E06 or the E07K. Ironic as they are built for portable use, yet most of them are at their best when NOT used outside but at home. In hindsight I´m glad their time has passed. Before you panic: I might return at some point to vintage PCDP... it happened to me before on MD technology. Right now however I´ve enough of them.


Last update: 07.04.2014

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