Component Reviews

Sony SCD-CE595 SACD/CD Changer

Price (Street): $149

Published on April 15, 2005

Specifications

Type: CD/SACD multi-channel player
SACD Player:
  Playback Frequency Range: 2Hz to 100kHz 
  Frequency Response: 2Hz to 50kHz (-3dB) 
  Dynamic Range: >100dB 
  Harmonic Distortion: <0.0035%

CD Player:
  DAC Converter Super Audio D/A 
  Frequency Response 2 Hz – 20kHz (+/- 0.5dB) 
  Dynamic Range more than 99dB 
  Harmonic Distortion Less than 0.0039% 
  Total Output Level Analog Balance: 2Vrms (fix)

Inputs and Outputs:
  RCA Output 5.1 Channel 
  RCA Output 2 Channel 
  Optical Digital Output CD Only

Weights & Measures 
  Approx. 12 Pounds 
  Approx. 17 x 4.33 x 16.53 (WxHxD in inches)

Sony Corporation of America
550 Madison Avenue, 
New York, NY 10022 

Voice: (800) 222-7669
www.sony.com

Joe Audiophile Proclaims “A Super Bargain!”

Trivial Bits

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 the Audio Asylum 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 Basics

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.

 

The Sound

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.

 

So…

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 the Asylum
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.

– Review By Scott Faller 

- John Sunier




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