HD CD, Belt Drives, Compression Turn Up In High-End CD Players

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The 1996 crop of home CD players and CD separates will reflect the widening presence of the Pacific Microsonics High-Definition Compatible (HDCD) chip. At WCES, the ranks of HDCD licensees are expected to swell to more than 30 companies, including first-time entries from core high-end brands such as Threshold, Mark Levinson and Proceed. "More than 50 manufacturers have signed license agreements to use the HDCD decoder chip in its first year of availability," said Michael Ritter, president of Pacific Microsonics. The first CD systems with the HDCD chip made their debut at last year's Winter CES, and "by January 1996, more than 50 compact disc playback products with HDCD decoding will be available." Threshold is incorporating the chip in a new pure Class A digital-to-analog converter at $4,500. And Madrigal will unveil sibling, if not quite twin, CD players under the company's Mark Levinson and Proceed brands.

Technology from two existing Levinson separates, the No. 37 transport and the No. 36 DA converter, has been converged in an integrated CD player tagged No. 39. Madrigal said the hybrid machine, projected to sell for about $6,500, uses the 20-bit D/A converters found in the No. 36 model. The new unit also features the re-clocked digital output of the No. 37 transport to minimize electrically or mechanically induced jitter.

Meanwhile, Madrigal is offering under the Proceed banner the model CDP -- a $3,500 integrated player described as "superficially and functionally" like the more expensive Mark Levinson No. 39.

The CDP shares the Levinson's volume-controlled output (adjustable in 1/10dB increments) and choice of balanced and single-ended connections; the Proceed uses 18-bit converters and smaller power supplies. Both CD players come equipped with the HDCD chip. There will also be plenty of CD components on display outside HDCD's expanding realm. From Threshold's more moderately priced PS Audio collection comes an $895 converter, model DL-3, which is matched with a revamped version of PS Audio's Lambda CD transport dubbed the Lambda Two ($1,995). The new transport is touted for its lower digital jitter and an enhanced power supply.

Audio Alchemy, which has made a reputation for high-value CD components at very modest price points, expands the high-performance end of its line with the DDS Pro transport ($1,595). The design integrates a version of Pioneer's "stable platter" drive mechanism with a reinforced chassis and damping techniques, which are said to reduce mechanically and acoustically induced jitter to near zero. To further insulate the drive mechanism from disturbances, the DSS Pro uses four separate power transformers, all housed in a second chassis. Within the main chassis, 11 independent power supply regulator stages help to stabilize the current supply. The transport's low jitter factor is attributed in part to a temperature-controlled quartz-crystal oscillator used as the master clock.

Audio Alchemy will also bolster its catalog of value-oriented products with the Dacman D/A converter ($159). The device comes with a separate power supply to reduce hum, and its power supply can be upgraded to improve both dynamic range and bass performance. The new Dacman offers coaxial and Toslink connections. A third introduction by Audio Alchemy is the model ACD II integrated CD player ($499). "We've placed the emphasis on performance and value, not superfluous features or multidisc capacity," said company president Mark Schifter.

Belt-Drive CD

In something of a throwback to the era when the LP turntable ruled, Parasound will show its new model C/BD-2000 belt-driven CD transport. The rationale behind belt-driven LP turntables was that the mass of the platter and the elasticity of the belt together absorbed any variations in motor speed. Similarly, said Parasound, the C/BD-2000 achieves a high degree of rotational accuracy. The top-loading transport features a 3/4-pound CD clamp that both stabilizes the disc and increases platter inertia. The new Parasound presents both a coaxial output and a three-pin XLR connection for linking the drive to a D/A converter.

Rotel plans to bring two new CD players to Las Vegas. The single-play model RCD-940 ($450) succeeds the present RCD-940 -- and delivers a bigger power supply and a D/A converter chip that continuously monitors and stabilizes the digital bitstream. The second Rotel entry is a six-disc carousel changer called the RCC-945 ($500). The 1-bit system uses 8-times oversampling. All front-panel controls are duplicated on the remote, which also provides direct access to all discs and tracks.

Half the fun lies in pushing the remote buttons for Yamaha's new entry-level single-play model, the CDX-490 ($249). An ergonomically designed remote controller, paddle-shaped for easy gripping, offers large buttons arrayed with an eye to logical placement. Despite its modest price, the 1-bit CDX-490 boasts an optical digital output in addition to analog RCA jacks. Other features include digital volume control, three-level display dimmer control, and synchro recording. The emphasis is on the analog side in NAD's Model 514 CD player ($499). Along with a newly engineered analog filter, said to achieve improved rejection of noise-inducing artifacts and thereby improved dynamic range, the Model 514's analog circuitry has been contoured to preserve the sonic benefits of the filter.

Digital Compression

Also highlighted in the Model 514 is a compression scheme NAD calls Controlled Dynamic Range. By boosting soft musical passages and lowering the loudest levels, the system attunes CDs to late-night or background listening. Moreover, said NAD, because the compression system works in the digital domain, it is free of the "pumping" and "breathing" effects that can degrade music subjected to analog compression techniques.

Harman Kardon fills out its line of CD players with its least expensive single-play model ever and the successor to a strong-selling carousel changer. "Compact disc is still the engine that drives home audio sales," said Chris Stevens, president of Harman Kardon. "For that reason, it is critical for us to advance the technology of CD players while making them more affordable for both first-time buyers and for those seeking to replace their first CD units." At $299, HK's new model HD-710 sets a record-low CD price point for the company. Cardinal features include bitstream digital conversion, a fully discrete analog output section, and two-speed cue and review to facilitate locating precise points on a disc.

Like the single-disc player, HK's model FL-8300 five-disc carousel changer ($329) offers a coaxial digital output to an external D/A converter -- or directly to the digital input on the company's new top-of-the-line AVR-80 audio/video receiver. The front-loading FL-8300 carousel, which replaces HK's popular FL-8400, allows the user to switch two discs while one continues to play. Amenities include random play and intro-scan, and a headphone jack is provided for private listening.

Parasound could revive the direct- vs. belt-drive debate with its $1,550 belt-drive C/BD-2000 CD transport. The handful of currently available belt-drive CDs start at about $3,000, the company said.


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