|Sony SCD-CE775 SACD/CD Player|
|Home Theater Audio Sources CD Players|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Friday, 01 February 2002|
Page 1 of 2
When Sony and Philips first released the Super Audio CD as the high-definition successor to the compact disc and competitor to DVD-Audio, players (notably those from Sony) were both expensive and limited to two-channel capabilities. Early Sony players were aimed at a stereo audiophile market, now virtually extinct everywhere except in Japan. Many initial disc releases, too, were stereo-only, and only Philips manufactured multi-channel players.
That has all changed with the advent of lower-cost players that offer the full multi-channel performance of which SACD is capable, now available via mass-market outlets. One of the first easily affordable SACD multi-channel players is the Sony SCD-CE775. This unit lists at $420, but is available on the street for up to $100 less. The unit offers an affordable entry-level experience of the possibilities of multi-channel SACD, but it is an audio-only player, unlike more expensive products that also play DVD-Video discs.
This machine is intended to replace an existing CD player, including a five-disc carousel configuration, with stereo and six-channel RCA outputs. The unit will play conventional CDs and all current types of SACDs, including dual layer and hybrid types. The unit is supplied with an almost-comprehensive remote – virtually the only function not provided on the remote is the ability to turn the player on and off. This can only be accomplished from the front panel.
The rear panel of the SCD-CE775 is extremely straightforward, with a block of four pairs of analog RCA outputs (stereo L & R, plus six-channel surround), a TOSLink optical digital output (for CD replay only, of course), and a pair of mini-jack sockets to interface with Sony’s Control A1 system control.
The front panel is very much like Sony’s equivalent CD-only player, and offers few surprises beyond the purely manual, non-remote nature of the power switch. You can change discs while another disc is playing, program and shuffle the order of tracks (a function I have never used on any player I have owned), and so on. A large fluorescent display provides system information, including text data on SACDs and regular CDs that include it, and you can also label discs yourself (but note that the data is stored in the player). There are some SACD-specific controls, including an illuminated button that selects between two-channel and multi-channel SACD areas, and another control that selects between CD and SACD layers. The panel is completed by a quarter-inch headphone jack and level control.
There is little to see inside the unit, but of particular note are the DSD1702 converter chips from Burr-Brown (now part of Texas Instruments). There are three of these two-channel converters, and they have quite a good reputation. They are capable of handling both DSD and regular PCM, the latter up to 24-bit/192 kHz sampling, so they would be ideal for universal DVD-A/V/SACD players (of which only one is available at present, from Apex), along with the NPC parts now available. In the Sony player, we can presume that only one chip handles any PCM, and that only 44.1 kHz, 16-bit is for CD replay.
An interesting aspect of the output configuration is that the stereo left and right outputs simply duplicate the front left and right: in the case of CD replay, both output signal, and in the case of multi-channel replay, they both deliver only the front left and right signals, with no down-mixing to the left and right outs – this would actually be very difficult to do in a consumer player, as DSD signals do not lend themselves to DSP operations like mixing very easily.
Where this player really scores, however, is that it contains a complete bass management system to ensure that whatever your speaker configuration (within reason), you can set the player up to deliver bass frequencies only to speakers that you have indicated can handle them. Not only can you configure the six-channel output, but you can also set up the two-channel mode, according to the manual. In Direct mode, signals are fed direct to left and right speakers with no messing about, just as an ordinary CD player would handle it. On the Sony SCD-CE775, there is also a mode that brings your home theater subwoofer into play, in case your front speakers are a little lacking in bass extension. Cool. Well, it would be cool, if I could find it. Pressing the MENU button and scrolling through the options showed me the multi-channel configuration, but not stereo.
The multi-channel configuration mode does not include all the speaker setups you might have, but it includes all the common ones, such as five large speakers with or without sub and with or without center front, five small speakers with sub, and large front speakers and small surrounds with or without sub. About the only setup it can’t handle is large fronts, small surrounds and no center front. There is also a multi-channel direct mode, in which each signal is fed directly to the appropriate output, with no bass management at all. You would use this if your receiver handles bass management itself and you don’t want to do it twice (which you really don’t want to do).
You might also want this mode if you are trying one of the more adventurous surround configurations that some people are using. Both DVD and SACD share the ability to send the full audio frequency range down any one of the six available channels. This means that there is no point in sending bass down its own special “Low Frequency Enhancement” channel: producers and engineers please note. The LFE was a movie sound invention designed to stop bass effects (like asteroids crashing into the Earth or dinosaur footfalls) intermodulating with the regular audio channels in the old analog days. It has no place in music, and even if it did, it has no place in a modern “5.1” – or rather “six-channel” system. In fact, SACD regards all channels equally. So why not use the former “.1” for something more sensible? Why not indeed, and this is exactly what Telarc have done with many of their new SACD and DVD-A recordings, using the LFE for height information, to drive a loudspeaker over your head. This is not as wacky as it sounds: the effect is nearly as impressive as going from stereo to surround, so don’t knock it. Chesky Records goes one step further and uses both the LFE and the center front channel to drive two speakers at the side of the listening area, mounted about 30 degrees up. The result on the “1812 Overture,” for example, is very impressive (see separate review).
If you decide to try one of these settings, you would ideally take the signals from the channel(s) of the player direct to its own amplifier and speaker(s). Do not go through your receiver unless you have big speakers all round and thus have your receiver’s bass management turned off, with no sub. Otherwise, if you have smaller speakers in some places, your system’s bass management will ensure that any low bass in the four or five main channels will come from your sub, so you need to bypass that system to drive your overhead speakers without their signals becoming entangled with the bass management system in your receiver.
Back to the SCD-CE775: You also have the means to balance the output levels of the different channels for best results. There is a built-in tone generator that cycles through the outputs to help you do this, and you can balance the relative channel output levels with reference to the front. It’s actually a bit fiddly, and you can’t balance the outputs individually, but the facility is there.