|Sony SCD-CE775 SACD/CD Player|
|Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Friday, 01 February 2002|
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To put the player through its paces, I chose a wide selection of music, on SACD and CD, and in every case the machine performed impressively, especially considering that you can buy one for little more than $300. The converter chips used in this machine are certainly very good, but as many people will know, the chips cost only a few dollars: the sound quality of a digital system relies less on the chips than on how they are used.
I started off with some of Telarc’s latest offerings, most of which I will be reviewing over the coming weeks. All are DSD recordings from the beginning, and issued in hybrid multi-channel SACD format, meaning that they have a Red Book stereo CD layer, a high-definition stereo area and a high-definition surround area. Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” – a Telarc standard, I suppose – is actually available in DVD-A format as well, and I will cover the pair of them elsewhere, but in brief, I would note that the SCD-CE775 claims a “playing frequency range” (whatever that is) of 2 Hz to 100 kHz, but a frequency response of 2 Hz to 50 kHz (-3 dB). SACD can certainly theoretically go up to 100 kHz (about the same as DVD-A at 192 kHz sampling), but both this and the Philips player I reviewed recently seem to draw the line at 50 kHz. Thus it did not really surprise me that I did not find the top end particularly extended. If anything, the DVD-A version had a little more apparent top. Where the SCD-CE775 really did well was not in apparent frequency range but in smoothness and naturalness of the sound. Having carefully calibrated the levels between my Kenwood DVD-A player and the Sony, I played the “1812” and noted that while my cat turned her head to see where the cannons were coming from on the DVD-A version, when I played the SACD, she jumped off the couch and left the room. Hmmm….
The difference was more apparent (to me rather than to the cat), however, when playing back Telarc’s “A Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas” and switching between the different recordings on this hybrid multi-channel disc. Yes, there seemed to be more top on the high definition recordings, but the main difference was that the CD layer sounded somehow contained and boxed-in. The stereo high-definition layer was much more lively, but the album really sprang to life in surround, where the ambience of the Mormon Tabernacle became fully apparent. The enormous arrangements on some of the better-known up-tempo carols, notably “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” sound as if they have been lifted from some huge-budget film score, and every little detail is audible. Interestingly, to switch modes on this machine, you have to go through Stop (otherwise you get a message on the display telling you to press Stop first), unlike the Philips SCD-1000 that can switch modes on the fly. But you won’t want to do this much.
Continuing with actual film music, “The Film Music of Jerry Goldsmith,” recorded at Abbey Road with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer, is another Telarc extravaganza, and it is sufficiently impressive to turn up as a demo disc with some (Philips) SACD players. The tunes are not all his best-known, but the impressive, dynamic arrangements and performance on this disc really popped out.
Chesky’s Bucky Pizzarelli disc Swing Live is also available in both DVD-A and SACD formats, and again I found the DVD-A had a slight edge on the amount of top end. Even so, the smoothness of the SACD was very appealing. The recording technique used on this disc does an astonishing job of recreating a New York jazz club, and the effect is almost uncanny. The SACD is essentially a “quad” disc, with no center front or LFE, yet it succeeds where almost no current surround recordings do in yielding convincing images between the loudspeakers, all around the room.
To check the behavior of the player on regular compact disc releases, I tried John Barry’s music from the movie “Playing By Heart.” It sounded very good on the player’s analog outputs. The Sony’s converters evidently outpaced those in my existing Philips CD player and even those in my receiver (when fed with the TOSLink optical feed from the Sony player). Strings were particularly fine and detailed. Finally, I played Gillian Welch’s breathtaking Time (The Revelator). The time the mixes on this album are often almost mono, but they sounded excellent and better than on my other players, with particularly clear detail on acoustic guitar and other acoustic instruments.
Excellent value for money
Comprehensive bass management system – a major plus
Excellent digital audio conversion for both CD and SACD
No remote power-off
Perhaps not quite as much HF end as you might expect, but smooth nonetheless
Need to press stop before changing modes (if that matters to you).
If you want to upgrade your CD player and would like to be able to play stereo and multi-channel SACDs too, this is the player for you. You will have to find somewhere to plug in its six-channel analog outputs, which are probably already in use for your DVD-Audio player (and if you are using the digital output for either, you are not getting anything better than CD quality – be warned!), but assuming you can surmount this obstacle, the Sony SCD-CE775 looks, feels and behaves like a five-disc carousel-style CD player. It does not, however, sound like one. It plays all kinds of SACDs including multi-channel ones and, in doing so, delivers a notably smooth and natural sound. The fact that a $300 machine can offer not only surround but also respectable bass management, setup and level control systems is quite remarkable and endeared this machine to me at once. I really want a true universal SACD/DVD-A/V player, but if the Apex isn’t any good and I have to have two players, the Sony SACD-CE775 is probably going to take care of the SACD department for the time being.
If you also need DVD-V replay, however, do check the rest of the Sony line, because for not too much more you can pick up a player that does all this and DVD-V too.