Pioneer PD-8700 CD-player

What a cracking surprise this player turned out to be. Not least because pressing the eject key brings you face-to-face with a mini turntable platter (complete with rubber mat) instead of the usual CD loading drawer.

Why the platter? Well, the basic idea is to avoid the little wobbles and resonances that plague the CD as it whizzes between 200 and 500rpm on the motor spindle. Once the disc is loaded (silver-side up, supported over its entire surface), a motor engages the platter while a conventional laser assembly reads the CD from above, not from below as usual. Because the rotating disc is held more stable, data can be read more accurately, and greater accuracy means fewer errors and jitter, which means better sound.

In practice, the lightweight mechanism itself proved none too stable (on one CD player sample, it had the tendency to yaw as it spun) so it may take a more substantial implementation of the transport to give wobble-free results. Still, it's a neat concept.

This said, the PD-8700 sounds tremendous. It has a rare and delicate sound quality which it communicates with such emotion that terms like openness, transparency and resolution are inadequate. The heart and soul of vocals, for example, are not bleached from the scene as they are with all but a handful of other players.

The heartfelt voice of Mary Black singing Katie seemed simply to 'appear' from the speakers: an almost tactile image of the woman herself supported by the rippling sound of piano and guitar. It was as if the speakers didn't exist any more, as if they had melted to leave a 3D soundstage with the width, height and depth filled with the atmosphere of the music.

Unfortunately, the myriad features splashed across the facia of the PD-8700 do little to enhance its audiophile pretentions. Many makers relocate facilities like direct track access, peak search, index search, auto fade, random play and tape edit onto a remote control. In this case, however, a comprehensive array of widgets is provided on machine and handset alike, giving the player an unnecessarily busy appearance.

By contrast, its sound is far from cluttered. Percussion is'clear but sweet and untiring, while the bass from this Bit Stream machine, often a source of criticism for those who prefer the cruder, fuller bass of older multi-bit players, has the refined if not especially rumbustious quality that seems to characterise the breed.

The 8700 is not all things to all men, but then the very best Bit Streamer's usually manage to polarise opinion. Yep, the PD-8700 is equipped with genuine one-bit PDM digital-to-ana-logue converters instead of the PWM-types usually adopted by the Japanese. But these are Pioneer's own DACs, not Philips clones.

Two of these DACs are used to improve the 8700's resolution, and reduce both noise and distortion. And it's these new integrated circuits -rather than the fancy transport - that help give the player its special sound. They imbue the PD-8700 with a smoothness and openness that lets music gush forth from the speakers, natural and fresh-sounding.

Even the title track to Tangerine Dream's Melrose CD lost the artificial electronic quality that's sometimes highlighted by other players, when played through this machine. The rolling melody of the synthesisers seemed to appear in front of, around and in-between the speakers with an easiness and lushness that avoided drawing attention to boxes themselves. Maybe the drum line lacked depth and weight, but the captivating cry of the sax (a real sax in this instance) made it easy for me to overlook such shortcomings.

Yes, there are technical faults with this player's presentation, but when it comes to communicating with the heart and soul of music, Pioneer's PD-8700 has its finger on the pulse.

Pioneer PD-8700 CD-player photo