Pioneer PD-9700 CD-player
Some £400 plus players are respectable pieces of engineering by any standards. This is the case with this relatively trim looking heavyweight, which includes extensive antiresonance measures and sits on five feet. The headline feature, however, is the so-called 'Stable Platter Mechanism' in which the disc is placed on a platter which supports the disc surface, reducing resonances and adding rotational inertia to absorb unwanted motor and other artefacts.
The disc is inverted, and the laser tracks from above the disc surface. The idea is not a bad one, but despite Pioneer's clear implication, this is not the only way to skin this particular technological cat, and the mechanism doesn't appear to be very extravagantly engineered.
The PD-9700 employs Pioneer's own species of low-bit digital conversion, and some rather sophisticated audio engineering in the form of separate transformers as well as power supplies for the digital and analogue circuits and Class A output FET amps. The player is not overloaded with controls and is stylishly designed with an attractive defeatable display. Optical and electrical digital outputs are included.
Musically this player can be classified as 'very good but'. However, it's a clear improvement over cheaper Stable Platter models in the range, which tends to confirm that the platter design is not the dominant factor here. The Pioneer made an immediately strong, confident impression in an AR sampler track called Breakthrough, an instrumental featuring high hat and piano. The Pioneer PD-9700 displayed immaculate timing and a prominent treble which never sounded sharp or aggressive. The bass was sure-footed and colorful, if a shade dry, and the icing on the cake was a large scale, open stereo soundstage.
Mary Black's plaintive Schooldays Over was more than routinely well reproduced. In stark contrast to some of the closest competition at this price, the voice was not merely forceful and well projected, it had an organic, expressive quality, and an initially surprising mellowness in its lower registers. There was some loss of the blood and thunder, and the subtlest layers of ambience in fine recordings, like the Stravinsky Rite, tended to be somewhat wooden.