Equipment Review No. 1 October 2001
SONY Super Audio CD Changer SCD-CE775
SRP: $200 [For those reading this review in our archives, the price was first reduced from the original $400 to $200 and Sony has now entirely discontinued the player. A great deal if you can still locate one!]
5-disc changer with provision for changing other discs while one is playing
Toslink (only) digital out for CD playback only
2-chan. analog out jacks
multichannel analog out jacks
headphone jack with level control
control jacks for use with other
Freq. Response - 2 Hz to 50 KHz
Dynamic range - 103 dB
THD - .0020% or less
Wow & flutter - measurable limit
44.1 CD playback:
Freq. Response - 2 Hz to 20 KHz
Dynamic range - 98 dB or more
THD - .0025% or less
Wow & flutter - measurable limit or less
Power consumption - 25 w
Dimensions - 17 x 4 1/4 x 15 3/4 inches
Weight - 13 lbs. O oz.
Sony Electronics Inc.
1 Sony Drive
Park Ridge, NJ 07656
Two Sony multichannel SACD players were introduced simultaneously - the SCD-C555ES at a SRP of $1700, and this entry level unit at $400. While it wouldn't take long to run up that lower figure buying SACD software at retail, it's good to have some price points of interest to more consumers than the first stereo SACD player, which was launched at a painful $5000. We have quite a difference here, in appearance, weight, operation and options. The 555ES, incidently, is also a changer, but double the weight of the 775 and sporting several additional features, including a coaxial RCA digital output jack.
The 775 has a fairly large display window which shows the selection to be heard just prior to the music beginning. To the right of this text display is the Automatic Music Sensor knob and display. The AMS is the best solution to track selection on optical discs that anyone has come up with; why didn't we have it all these years on standard CD players? A small grid displays the numbers of the tracks in consecutive order, ranging from 1 thru 15 (for more tracks than that on a disc, you have to resort to the standard track advance button). The knob allows instant selection of the track you want - counterclockwise to go lower and clockwise to go higher. The squares in front of the track number you select go dark. The track you want comes up quickly the moment it is selected with the knob. What a delight!
The display also indicates what format is being played - standard CD, stereo SACD or multichannel SACD. You have the option with two additional buttons on the front to force the player to select other than the default layers on a hybrid multichannel SACD. Although it starts out in multichannel function, you may select the stereo high-res layer, or for comparison the 44.1 CD stereo layer. The multi/stereo button illuminates when multi is chosen and goes out for stereo, so you can see the setting from across the room. The supplied remote duplicates most of the controls, but not the AMS.
In-Player Speaker Management
Since we may be stuck with analog-only multichannel outputs for some time, the players are beginning to incorporate channel and speaker management functions. Though, as will be seen shortly, not quite enough as yet. The multichannel management function of the 775 begins with pressing Menu on the unit, which changes the function of the AMS dial. It can now be set to display 2 channel or Multichannel speaker mode and eight different playback modes. They start with MCH Direct - meaning each signal outputs directly from each speaker. Other options are for full range (Large) speakers all around with and without subwoofer, small speakers all around with subwoofer, large speakers in front and small at surrounds with and without sub, no center plus sub and finally no center and no sub. The output level balance can then be adjusted, but note that word "balance." The balance between the center speaker and the left and right front (together) can be adjusted, and the same for the balance between the pair of surrounds. However, the center cannot be raised or lowered independently from just the left or right and the same for the front/back adjustment. This is better than no management at all but independent level control over each speaker would be best. And the next step would be an option to independently direct the center channel and LFE signals to an additional different pair of output jacks for feeding side, front or rear height channels as used on the various alternative six channel approaches.
Another feature of the 775 is the ability to label discs with up to 15 characters and have that stored I the player's permanent memory chip. The AMS knob is used in this case to select the letters of the alphabet and number sequence that appear in the grid normally displaying the consecutive track numbers. You can also use the remote control but now you must use the nine number buttons which have alphabet equivalents printed next to them; it gets to be a pretty arcane task for someone not particularly anal-retentive.
How It Sounds, CDs
Having learned how important extended break-in can be with these players, I ran the 775 400 hours on multichannel SACD playback and 200 hours on CD playback. I first compared 44.1 CD playback with the other two players at hand - the Sony 9000ES stereo SACD player and the Pioneer DVD-AX10 also reviewed here this month. I didn't have my Arcam CD changer installed as yet and so couldn't carry out what would probably be the most fair comparison - both being changers and somewhat close in price. But against the Pioneer and Sony 9000ES the 775 standard CD playback was a bit flat and characterless. Massed strings failed to have the richness and depth exhibited on the other two CD players. I wasn't able to make use of the digital out, which is only for 44.1 CDs and not for SACDs. I was surprised to find only a Toslink digital output - no coaxial! I'll make a note to do that later to see if the quality on standard CDs goes up a notch when using an outboard D-A processor. My MSB D-A hasn't failed to enhance playback at least a modicum on every player I've tried it with in the past. I also didn't have time to check out the effect of various isolation, suspension and weight tweaks on the player. Due to its extremely light chassis such might effect a considerable improvement.
How It Sounds, SACDs
Now we're into much brighter territory. The stereo SACDs sounded very nearly as rich, liquid, detailed and dynamically alive as on the Sony 9000ES, and better than on the Pioneer player - which converts the SACD signal to PCM. The Stravinsky-conducted Rite of Spring on a Sony SACD - used as test material in the Pioneer review as well - had a similar impact, clarity, and ability to hear that this was a rather old analog tape with some noise problem but confined to the background and not affecting the exciting up-front orchestral fireworks. Putting five stereo SACDs in the changer tray provided an entire evening of high-res entertainment without lifting a finger - this could get addictive in the same way the Arcam MCD CD changer quickly became. I wondered why I hadn't gotten into a changer long ago. After all, these changers don't risk destroying your precious recordings, as nearly all LP changer mechanisms did at one time or another.
And so on to the multichannel SACDs, especially the 13 of them reviewed also in this issue of AUDIOPHILE AUDITION. In a word, superb. The details are in the software reviews, but in general the player did a great job of creating an enveloping sonic environment that draws the listener into the music in a way that most stereo cannot do. There was a greater depth and detail to nearly all aspects of the sound - pitch, dynamics, transients, blending of different instruments, and of course spatial aspects - not just in the area of the surrounds but more of a holographic soundstage up front.
Most readers probably already have an excellent CD player or CD front end of separates, and probably a good DVD-video player as well. (In many cases these will be one and the same unit.) So you don't need the progressive scan DVD feature of the Sony 9000ES and the so-so CD performance of the 775 doesn't matter, especially if you are using it as a changer for background music. So here you have a really reasonable entry into the wonders of both stereo and multichannel SACD. I'm planning to purchase mine; that's my vote.
- John Sunier
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