Sony CDP-101 CD-player
Designed to fit into a midisized (350mm) format the Sony CDP-101 player is visually attractive with its upmarket Espritish styling and large, clear light action switches. It's a front loading machine with a powered drawer and with the open/close control switch mounted on the drawer front. This is a not uncommon arrangement but one I find slightly disconcerting in use for after lifting a lazy finger to operate the drawer you are called upon to snatch the aforementioned digit away before it is run down by the drawer. Irrelevant and silly, I know, but one of those things which could ruin my day.
Moving quickly on to the main control panel neatly set onto a slightly sloping portion of the fascia we find a masterpiece of ergonomic layout. Now I know the use of such phrases in sales literature virtually guarantees that the thing will be impossible to drive but in this case Sony really have got it right. The two large switches are for Play and Pause and then the pickup motion controls are grouped together. Fast searching is possible in both directions with a choice of fast and not so fast speeds, plus there is the usual skip facility allowing rapid accessing to the start of the next or previous track on the disc. Grouped together are a number of smaller switches which control the pre-programming of selections in the memory and the Repeat function. Recently I commented on the uselessness of such a function only to have my knuckles rapped by a reader who pointed out the difficulty of learning guitar breaks when you keep having to lift the arm off the record. He's right of course. I'd just forgotten my days as a budding Hank Marvin with a Curry's '3watt or bust' record player with an arm weighed down by two extra pennies to boost the volume and improve the tracking. It says something for our perception of music when I remember how powerful and LOUD it sounded at the time. However, this is all light years away from perfect sound forever, but I will mention one other use I've found for the Repeat function. Sometimes I desire to run amplifiers and speakers in a 'party mode' (ie, flat out for 10 hours) particularly if the manufacturer has claimed the item to be as tough as old boots. How easy it is to set the CD player to Repeat, turn the volume up, close the door and go out for the day.
Coming back to the CDP-101 we find a comprehensive visual display with both elapsed and remaining play times being selectable.
There's a timer operation switch which is of no interest unless you own the rest of the Sony rack system and want to programme Meatloaf to wake you up at 6.30am, and finally there's a front panel jack outlet with separate volume control - useful facility if you're using the Repeat facility to learn guitar solos and don't want to drive neighbours/parents/ spouse into a blood-letting frenzy!
For me one of the best features of the CDP-101 is the remote control system and in particular the command box which is easier to operate and more comprehensively equipped then the player's front panel. All the operation controls are neatly grouped together with a preselection/ memory controls in a second group. When in doubt a Reset button can be pressed whereupon the player will go into the Stop mode and lay dormant awaiting the next command. There's also a Direct Music Select switch whose purpose I never did discover, other than to find that the disc commenced playback whenever it was pressed.
Inside, the Sony is quite well built with some extremely neat printed circuit boards linked by cable looms with plug-in connectors making for easy servicing. The circuits themselves showed no surprises, the technology being all Sony's own with their proprietary error correction chips (also used by Philips and others) and a single 20017 Digital-to-Analogue converter being time-multiplexed between the two channels. This is a quite common technique designed to save money and it does work well provided a few things are borne in mind. First, because of leakage which occurs across the electronic switches at high frequencies, there will be an increase in crosstalk between channels. Then it should be remembered that the D/A converter itself is now being asked to work at twice its normal speed and this could cause a loss of linearity of lower resolution of small signals. Finally because each channel is decoded in turn there will be a few microseconds delay between the channels. For stereo playback this delay is irrelevant since it is equivalent to moving the head closer to one speaker by a distance of a few millimetres, but for AM broadcast use in mono such a time delay will cause spectral interference between channels and cause a subjective loss of high frequencies (although with AM broadcasts limited to a 5kHz bandwidth this problem would pass unnoticed).
The auditioning of this player followed our usual pattern with the outputs being fed to a Krell amplifier via my own design of passive control unit with a number of speakers in use (but, I hasten to add, only one pair at a time).
The sound heard from Sony CDP-101 has a certain character which, for me at least, is immediately recognisable as "Sony variety CD". The sound stage is wide, open, and expansive but with little portrayal of depth. Everything holds together in a stable, cohesive, fashion with surprisingly good detail portrayal, the analogue distortion of the voice on Elton John's Your Song being only too obvious. I must say that the bass guitar on that same recording really came across well with excellent tonal colours.
The treble, however, consistently contained an incessant electronic glare which on a wideband playback system I really found tiring with some records.
Temporarily hooked into a lower cost system based around a NAD 3020A amplifier the sound was much easier to live with, with all the positive attributes of CD still being evident.
As usual this CD player was taken into the laboratory for testing where, apart from poorer stereo separation at high frequencies, there were no problem areas, the overall standards of performance falling into the 'Average' category.