Saturday, 7 April 2018

RETRO-MEASURE: 2001 Sony SCD-CE775 5-disc SACD/CD Player (CD test)

Sony SCD-CE775 sitting below the Panasonic Blu-Ray player... A relatively large box - 17" wide, 15" deep, 5" tall.
Every once awhile, I like putting up measurements and thoughts on gear that I either own or borrowed of an older "vintage". I think it's good to have measurements of these older equipment for the sake of perspective! These days, it seems like the moment one buys a new smartphone, wait a few days and we see an announcement for the next generation of product... It was not always like this of course :-).

For this post, let's have a look at the performance of one of my favourite budget audio players that I have owned for the last 16 years - the Sony SCD-CE775, one of the earlier consumer-level SACD players released back when the SACD was viewed as the new-kid-on-the-block of digital formats. This specific model was released in 2001, at around the same time as multi-channel SACDs became available for sale - there was a copy of Kind Of Blue multichannel SACD in the box. I picked this unit up new in the summer of 2002 I believe and it has been a constant on my audio rack since then. My thought at the time was that this would be my back-up SACD/CD player, but as history would have it, with the transition to computer audio, I sold off my Sony SCD-555ES at some point back in 2004 and just stayed with this multi-changer and my old DVD player for spinning disks.

Since seriously ripping all my audio into the computer mostly between 2004-2007, I have rarely needed to play any more CDs in the main sound room. In fact, although this machine has been sitting on my audio rack since moving to my current home in 2013, it has been dormant until running the tests here!

Unfortunately, I have never seen measurements for this device. I know that this player was quite well regarded back in the day. A few reviews - herehere and here - are still available online dating from that time period at the turn of the millennium.

After 16 years, it still works very well. Quite a smooth 5-disk changer mechanism (much better than previous JVC and terrible Harman-Kardon FL8380 HDCD multi-disk changers I've owned). When used regularly back in the day, I never had any issues with stuck disks or read errors (unless the SACD/CD truly had visible defects on the read surface). As you can see above, the front display is capable of showing CD-Text. I also like the "EX-CHANGE" button that allowed the changing of disks while it's playing the current disk. The standard plastic remote works fine although these days, I just program everything into my Harmony universal remote.

It has a relatively large push-button switch to turn it on. The only thing I wished this device had was an on/off remote button to put it to sleep. Otherwise, I've always thought that this was a great device that sounds very good... Price back in the day? MSRP US$400 but I'm pretty sure I got it for around CAD$350 at the old Future Shop here in Vancouver (before they got bought out by BestBuy).

Measurement set-up is similar to what I've done over the years. The only difference is of course, this being a CD player, I simply burned appropriate test tracks on to a disk to play. I used some inexpensive Memorex Cool Colors 700MB/80min CD-R I had. Burned the CD-R with my computer's LiteON iHAS124 DVD-RW drive at the slowest 16X burn speed (remember back in the day there were all kinds of concerns that high burn speeds added jitter?), verified to be 100% error free using Nero Burning ROM 2016.

Measurement chain:
Test CD into Sony SCD-CE775 - 2ch stereo output --> 6' generic shielded RCA cable --> Focusrite Forte ADC --> 6' generic USB cable --> Windows 10 laptop
Notice that I'll be measuring the 2-channel RCA outputs; there are also multichannel outputs that are used for surround SACD. As usual these days, my measurement system using the Forte ADC and laptop is run off the ultrabook's batteries which helps reduce 60Hz North American mains hum and is free of ground loops.

Let's start with an oscilloscope reading of a 1kHz square wave:


The Sony manual lists RCA output level of 2Vrms. Yup, indeed, this is what we see with a peak voltage of 3V. Notice how well the two channels overlay on each other. This demonstrates excellent channel balance.

Let's have a peek at the impulse response from the RCA output:


That's nice. An orthodox linear phase sharp roll-off filter. Absolute polarity is maintained.

Here's what my "Digital Filter Composite" graph looks like (based on the Reis Test) for this machine:


That's quite good. As expected based on the impulse response, the roll off is steep, there is minimal ultrasonic leakage with the 24 and 25kHz image frequencies >50dB below the primary signals (19 & 20kHz). Also, great to see an absence of significant intersample overloading comparing the 0dBFS and -4dBFS white noise signals. This suggests a good amount of headroom when the 16-bit signal is processed by the digital filter.

Using RightMark Audio Analyzer, I can compare the 16/44.1 result with other devices measured over the years in my collection of gear with the same general setup and RCA cable for each:


In the comparison here, we see data from Oppo BDP-105 as USB DAC (I noticed that I had forgotten to measure the CD-player performance previously), the 5th Generation iPod from 2006, Sony MDP-750 LaserDisc from 1994, my TEAC UD-501 USB DAC often used as a standard comparator, and the Oppo Sonica DAC from 2017.

Notice that overall, "standard resolution" CD (16/44.1) playback isn't all that "challenging" for decent devices. Yes, there are differences especially with the older device - the Sony MDP-750 LaserDisc and my old 5th Generation iPod can be seen to measure at a somewhat lower level than this Sony SACD/CD player objectively.

Looking deeper into the performance levels, here are some graphs for comparison:
Note that I zoomed into the vertical scale for some of these plots like for the noise level.
Of all the devices, the Sony SCD-CE775 demonstrated slightly more high frequency dip down to -1dB by 20kHz. Interesting, but I don't consider this an issue. It also was middle-of-the-pack in crosstalk and IMD+N.

Finally, let's have a peek at the 16-bit Dunn J-Test result:


Nice, a rather good J-Test - remember, this is with an inexpensive CD-R burned at 16X! We see a small amount of low-frequency jitter at the base and no significant sidebands. From what I can tell as per this demonstration, jitter even with consumer-level CD/SACD players was not a problem for reasonable quality devices for 20 years already.

Impression:
Overall, this is a very good sounding and excellent measuring device released initially back in 2001.

I suppose historically this device represents that transition point between "standard resolution"-only CD players before the release of SACD/DVD-A (prior to 1999/2000) and the shift to hard drives and solid-state portable devices which in time evolved for many audiophiles to true high-resolution playback systems like modern USB DACs (TEAC and the two Oppos measured). Interesting that looking at the objective results we can actually see this "middle-of-the-road" performance at the turn of the century as indicative of the quality available to consumers as we entered the realm of "high resolution audio"... Have a look at the IMD+N and stereo crosstalk comparison graphs for example.

Unfortunately, I don't have any SACD test disks to measure how much resolution can be extracted from a DSD signal. Also, this Sony player was unable to play homemade burned SACD-R disks like what I did to measure the Pioneer DV-588A years back (nor have DSD file over USB read capability like the Oppo BDP-105 of course). I can however look at the noise level coming out from DSD playback to see that we indeed have a bit of extra ultrasonic noise coming out of the DSD output:


As you see on the graph, this is the first 60 seconds or so of track 1, "Speak To Me" from the 2003 hybrid SACD release of Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon recorded back at 24/192 using my ADC. The extra relative noise is a well known phenomenon with DSD64. With the Sony SCD-CE775, we see that it peaks around 60-70kHz.

Well, what can I say... I'm glad that I kept this Sony disk player. I honestly have doubts if I'll ever buy another disk spinning device purely for audio playback in the sound room. While I can show some differences in measured 16/44.1 performance between this CD player and various DACs, high quality devices that reproduce the signal accurately sound way more similar than different.

Finally, something funny (perhaps disturbing!) that I recently noticed was that the Sony Playstation 1 remains on the Stereophile Recommended Components List of 2018 as a "Class C" device! Now, having listened and measured a PS1 SCPH-5501 (said by some to be superior to the ancient Stereophile-reviewed SCPH-1001) a number of years back, I can say without reservation that this Sony SCD-CE775 blows away the PS1 in terms of sound quality. Subjectively, to me this device sounds more dynamic, has very neutral frequency response, and has excellent rendition of nuances (I had a listen to Radka Toneff & Steve Dobrogosz's Fairytales and thoroughly enjoyed it). Objectively in every way from smoother frequency response, to lower noise level, to significantly better jitter rejection this bests the PS1 of course! [Another reminder of the idiosyncratic subjective interest demonstrated in these "best of" lists that speak more of the writers than the devices or underlying sound quality itself...]

So... Based on sound quality alone, can I therefore suggest that this is at least a "Class B" device for CD and maybe even "Class A+" for SACD hi-res? As far as I am aware, these Sony SACD players operated fully in DSD without a PCM conversion stage unlike some inexpensive SACD players back in the day. Plus with the convenience of a remote control, 5-disk changer, multichannel capability, CD-TEXT display, this is one heck of a bargain if available in good condition at a good price on the used market!

--------------------------------------------

Ahhh, back from Spring Break - Maui was awesome of course, but home, sweet home...

The shocking news this past week was that Oppo will be saying "farewell" after 14 years in the business! Maybe at some point we'll hear more about why they're deciding to do it at this time. While this is surprising, maybe there's also something to be said about the wisdom of bowing out at the height of their achievement. I don't think it would be surprising if they're of the opinion that spinning disc machines are fast becoming legacy products. In fact, I suspect that UHD Blu-Ray is the last major format for the 4.7" disk physical form factor introduced back in 1982 as good-ol' CD Digital Audio.

I was so shocked by this news that I went ahead and ordered an Oppo UDP-205 for my own use :-). While I was certainly interested in the UDP-203 as well, I figure I might as well go for the top-of-the-line. This will replace the LG UP970 UHD Blu-Ray player I've been using recently. [I see that Oppo is "considering" a final production run on the UDP-205 in July/August 2018 if the current stock runs out.]

As usual, I'll make sure to post up some measurements and thoughts on the Oppo UDP-205 in the weeks ahead once I play with it, listen to some music, and watch some movies :-). Will be interesting comparing the performance from this device with the Oppo Sonica DAC I had last year and even have a peek at the MQA feature and filters to see if they're identical to the AudioQuest Dragonfly and Mytek Brooklyn. So far I think MQA is only available through USB storage and MQA-CDs with the current firmware, MQA through the USB DAC from a computer hopefully will be forthcoming to complete the full feature set.

For those who have built a piCorePlayer machine (like this post last year), just a note that an updated version of piCorePlayer to 3.5.0 has been released. So far this version is working well for me along with the latest nightly Logitech Media Server 7.9.1 (Linux version 1522249619). I've posted a little addendum on incorporating DSD playback with WV compression to address some changes with the latest piCorePlayer's settings.

On the music listening side, this week ds58 at Computer Audiophile PM'ed me to suggest an album to check out: The Lake Poets' Live at The Minster, free to download from B&W's Society of Sound! There are standard resolution ALAC and 24/96 FLAC versions available. Excellent sounding acoustic recording with an average DR13 for the album to boot :-). Thanks ds58 and B&W!

Enjoy the music and have a great week ahead everyone!

17 comments:

  1. Actually, if you look at this super old TC Electronics paper:
    https://service.tcgroup.tc/media/Level_paper_AES109(1).pdf
    The Sony D50 (Discman) beat those big ass Denon, Marantz and Yamaha CD players in terms of intersample headroom.

    Also about jitter of CDR playback, it is the worse case I've ever seen, with a Denon player. See the attachment in this post:
    https://hydrogenaud.io/index.php/topic,104406.0.html

    Significant sidebands without even using that specialized J-test signal.

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    1. Ha, I remember back in the day when Stereophile (Tellig probably, but I'm not sure) went gaga over the Radio Shack 3400 , one of RS's portable 'Discman' like CD players, circa mid-1990s. I doubt they ever measured it like this, though.

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    2. Thanks for the info Steven. Just googled and I found that article with measurements in Stereophile's website.
      https://www.stereophile.com/content/radio-shack-optimus-cd-3400-portable-cd-player-tellig-again

      BTW I used the same CDR disc to test another CD/cassette combo (Tascam CD-A750) and the result is clean, only some low level harmonic distortion.

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    3. Hey guys...

      Thanks Dtmer for the links. Wow, that Denon DN-C635 result is rather disappointing!

      Also good to see that Nielsen paper on intersample peaks I guess from 2000 (AES109)? Intersample overs have obviously been well known technically but more attention on it in the audiophile press only in the last few years...

      Can't say I've ever owned a "Realistic" or "Optimus" CD player, but that's funny with the Optimus CD-3400 as reference CD player :-).

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    6. Thanks Dtmer, good find! I didn't recall whether SP was doing J tests back then or not. I see that they weren't addressing intersample overs, though...as Nielsen and Lund wasn't yet published...

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  2. Hello,

    Have you ever measured the headphone out on a piece of kit? Do you want to? ;)

    I've often wondered how they compare to all the different after-market DAC's people spend (sometimes obscene) money on. I've always suspected (but never had a way to confirm) they are a neglected piece of really good gear for virtually nothing spent. They are kind of the Rodney Dangerfield of the hifi world, they can't get no respect. From an engineering perspective they are closest to the source, have relatively modest performance requirements, and the production volumes for economies of scale to justify doing a really good job 'once-and-for-all' on the hw design and components, so they could well be great analogue outs.

    (I should probably add that I have skin in the game here. :) Being of the opinion a system as only as good as its weakest link, and that designers can get the most from a system when they have complete knowledge of and control over each piece in the chain, a pair of high-quality studio monitors being driven from the headphone out should give almost unbeatable bang-for-the-buck, and in a great sized package to boot. It also makes it convenient to switch to whatever source: CD player, phone, tablet, laptop I want to listen from any given time.)

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    1. Hi Allan,

      Yeah, over the years I have had a look at headphone outputs - mainly with devices meant to be used portably of course. Off the top of my head:

      AudioQuest Dragonfly v1.2:
      http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2014/08/measurements-audioquest-dragonfly-v12.html

      AudioQuest Dragonfly Black:
      http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2017/06/measurements-audioquest-dragonfly-black.html

      AudioEngine D3:
      http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2014/03/measurements-audioengine-d3-usb-dac.html

      PonoPlayer:
      http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2015/08/measurements-ponoplayer-another-mans.html

      iPhone 4 & 6:
      http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2014/10/measurements-apple-iphone-4-iphone-6.html

      Samsung Note 5:
      http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2015/09/measurements-samsung-galaxy-note-5-phone.html

      iPad Air 2:
      http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2016/02/measurements-apple-ipad-air-2-audio.html

      SLSM iDEA:
      http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2017/05/measurements-smsl-idea-usb-dac.html

      Light Harmonic Geek Out v2:
      http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2015/09/measurements-light-harmonic-geek-out-v2.html

      I actually also have a dedicated headphone amp with some small tubes inside that I have not measured yet... Maybe I can pull them out sometimes to have a look!

      As you can see, results from these headphone outs are generally pretty good. I certainly don't see why one could not be very satisfied with mating a portable player with good powered studio monitors.

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    2. Yes, I do remember many of those. I meant specifically on a hifi component... like the Sony SCD-CE775, for instance. :) That big 1/4 plug was staring at me in the photo.

      I've always wondered if the headphone out is (ever) appreciably different from the line out in signal performance. I'm not a huge hifi nut, so don't do a lot of reading on the topic -- too much fluff and subjective opinion passing for critical, expert judgement; in fact, you and Ken Rockwell are the only two internet blogs I regularly keep up with -- but I've never seen anyone review the headphone out of a non-portable, much less compare it against its line-out.

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    3. Hi Allan,
      I get what you're saying...

      Sure, I'll have a look at that for you in the next little while and compare how that measures!

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    4. That would be excellent. Looking forward to it!

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  3. Oops... That's SMSL iDEA.

    Also, if you're looking at laptops:

    Microsoft Surface Pro 3:
    http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2014/09/measurements-microsoft-surface-pro-3.html

    Older laptops (Apple MacBook Pro, Acer, ASUS):
    http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2013/04/measurements-laptop-audio-survey-apple.html

    iPod Classic 5th Gen:
    http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2016/09/retro-measure-2006-apple-ipod-classic.html

    Apple Lightning to phono adaptor (MMX62):
    http://archimago.blogspot.ca/2018/01/measurements-apples-lightning-to-35mm.html

    I'm sure there are others over the years :-).

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  4. One more comment which seems apropos, my disk spinning device is a ~25 yo Kenwood CD-404, 5 disc changer. I've been quite happy with it, and never more so since swapping in studio monitors + sub.

    And recently, (well, as of three days ago, it hasn't even arrived yet) I took the dive and got a Sony HAP-S1 on refurb. Ultimately, I got tired of having my music spread across a bunch of different devices. I wanted everything onto one machine with buttons and knobs. I still have a number of CD's I never ripped. This should be the impetus to get me to finally finish that job :), and maybe be my gateway into hi-res audio as well. It is something I've been interested by, but hadn't pulled the trigger on.

    Archim, I'd be happy to share it with you for your testing edification, but I'm afraid what the cross-border shipping costs would be. I'm in Portland, OR, and get to Vancouver about every other year or so. So near, and yet so far. :)

    (Yeah, the monitors top-out in SPL, but meh. At the levels I actually want to listen to 95% of the time, SPL is more than adequate and fidelity is beautiful.)

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  5. I only found your blog after your recent computeraudiophile piece on MQA, and have been poring through your musing since, enjoying pretty much everything I've read. In this review, you mention Vancouver BC as your home , which was mine, too, for >3 decades, so I wonder if we ever met in person? I'm the creator of silentpcreview.com. Would love to chat, perhaps meet... pls contact me by my email, which you'll find at SPCR, thanks!

    Mike

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  6. I wish you well with this player. The laser of the Sony drive in my NAD player of a similar age failed late last year. There are no longer any Sony spares and the noname replacement has just failed after light use over about 6 months...

    Chris C

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