|Shanling/Underwood HiFi SCD-T200 Level-1 CD/SACD Player|
|Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players|
|Written by Thomas Garcia|
|Thursday, 01 January 2004|
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I’m not generally an early adopter of most new technologies. Usually, I prefer to wait for “the latest and greatest” to mature a generation or so. It's only been in the last couple of years that I've developed a strong interest in pursuing the current high-resolution digital audio formats. This hasn’t been due to a lack of inquisitiveness regarding the performance enhancements of these technologies, but rather to a scarcity of compelling source material. However, with the increasing availability of greater options in high-definition playback equipment, substantial increases in titles and a broader genre of music, I have begun eagerly pursuing these new formats and the improvements they offer. With a theoretical frequency response from DC to 100kHz and a potential dynamic range greater than 120dB, these new high-definition formats have the ability to reproduce the music with the highest degree of realism, resolution and detail. Needles to say, when I was offered an opportunity to evaluate the Shanling SCD-T200 Level-1 SACD/CD player, I greeted it with great interest and enthusiasm.
The sole distributor of the solid-state and vacuum tube hybrid Shanling SCD-T200 Level-1 SACD/CD modified player is Walter Liederman of Underwood Hifi. Using a stock SCD-T200 player manufactured by Shenzen SHANLING Electronic Co., Ltd. of China, the Level-1 Mod incorporates a multitude of key improvements. The player is made available via collaboration between Chris Johnson’s Parts ConneXion, which designs and completes the modifications, and Shanling’s importer, Music Hall, which provides the stock players and authorizes the Level-1 modifications. This highly customized Shanling is priced at $3,490, excluding shipping, and is covered under a full one-year factory warranty backed by Music Hall.
The graceful incorporation of dissimilar metal finishes and colors, circular glass vacuum tubes protectors, softly contoured transformer covers and the clear plexiglass lift-top disc loader all contribute to this player’s striking character. Accented with small amounts of gold trim and many interesting architectural features, the SCD-T200 could be a candidate for the Guggenheim. From its sexy high-tech appearance to the glowing amber color of the retro vacuum tubes and elegant, tasteful use of cobalt blue accent lighting, this component is extraordinary from every vantage point. During my audition, it was interesting and entertaining to hear the assorted descriptions bestowed upon the Shanling SCD-T200 Level-1 by all who viewed it.
Functionally, all the controls are laid out in a sensible and easy to access manner, elegantly integrated into the aesthetics of the player. All of the controls for the SCD-T200 are located on the top face, arrayed on both sides of the front panel display. Five metal buttons allow play/pause, stop, forward and backward track skip, and CD/SACD selection. Each of these functions is repeated, along with volume and muting buttons, on the beautifully machined and ultra-classy remote control. I found the inclusion of an extremely high-quality volume control very useful for configuring minimal systems, allowing direct connection to a power amplifier. The right side panel contains the tube-amplified, gold-plated headphone jack and the main power switch. Occupying the rear panel are two RCA unbalanced outputs for the vacuum tube stage, two RCA unbalanced outputs for the solid-state stage, one coaxial digital output terminal and a electrical receptor to connect the premium quality detachable power cord. Rounding out the accessories is a set of high-quality, machined isolation feet with footers for protecting finished surfaces. Both sets of unbalanced outputs, along with the headphone jack, are attenuated by a high-precision digitally controlled analog volume control. Overall dimensions are 20.9 inches wide by 15 inches deep by 8.25 inches high, at a total weight of 25 pounds.
The Level-1’s modification begins with the stock SCD-T200, which features a number of high-quality components, including the latest Sony KWM-234AAA drive, a Sony CXD2752R SACD decoding chip and a Burr-Brown PCM1738 24 bit/192 kHz DAC custom-made for SACD. Proceeding with the transformation, an extensive design and parts renovation of the stock Shanling vacuum tube and other solid-state (direct) outputs commences. In both output stages, various critical path and coupling capacitors and signal-path resistors are upgraded, and DH Labs 99.99% pure silver Teflon tape wrap jacketed solid core wire is added. The vacuum stage output tubes are swapped for a pair of Western Electric 396a devices. Concurrently, the solid-state stage modifications include two added custom adaptor PC boards featuring Burr-Brown OPA627 op amps for the main output buffer. The power supply receives not only various capacitor upgrades, but also two huge, additional 150uF 350V Black Gate VK series capacitors and 13 semiconductor changes. TRT silver-content Wonder Solder is used for all modifications. Finally, the internal chassis receives two sheets of Soundcoat damping to reduce potential mechanical resonance and feedback.
As you can imagine, the effort required to set up the SCD-T200 was basically nonexistent. While in the midst of reconfiguring my reference system, I decided to connect the Shanling directly, using two different amplifiers I had on hand, the Pass Laboratories X150.5 and the Lexicon LX-7. Positioned on a small equipment rack placed between my Revel Salons, total placement and connection of the Shanling took a whopping five minutes maximum. This simple exercise was a welcome experience after spending the last year assembling and configuring a multitude of surround sound processors and multi-channel speaker systems, each taking a substantial amount of set-up time.
I did experience one operational glitch with the first sample player sent for my review. The unit had difficulty accessing certain tracks and was unable to recognize several of my CDs and CD-Rs upon start-up. I discussed this issue with Walter Liederman and he concurred that there had been a problem with some of the first released units. I was immediately sent a second unit and was told that the problems had been addressed. The replacement player sounded identical to the first, but exhibited none of the operational mishaps.