Radio Shack Optimus CD-3400 portable CD player Page 3

Well, maybe one reason is that this player departs from flat—warming things up in the bass, toning them down in the upper midrange and treble. And most manufacturers don't dare depart from flat. On a portable, who cares? Besides, with most headphones, especially cheap ones, a little added warmth and a subdued top end would be a blessing. Maybe it's only on a portable that a designer can get away with producing a CD player that sounds like a good moving-coil cartridge!

"This may be an accident," said one of my friends—a high-end manufacturer. "Does RadioShack design for sound quality?"

Who knows?

Maybe this is a fluke. Maybe RadioShack will realize their mistake and correct the superb sound quality lest people begin to expect this level of performance from other Optimus products. (Better get a CD-3400 while you can!) But perhaps RadioShack does care, and does design for sound quality—at least some of the people who design some of the products for RadioShack, some of the time.

I think the guy who designed the CD-clamping mechanism used in this player is a genius. Obviously, the transport has to be working well in order to get this level of sound quality. Obviously, too, the analog output section in a portable CD player has to have its limitations. You can't do much in the way of power supplies, for instance—it's just not possible.

So maybe what we have with the CD-3400 is a killer transport! (Heh-heh.)

Maybe this would be a wonderful combo with the Mark Levinson No.30 processor. If only I had the necessary digital cable! (I've ordered one from RadioShack.) Realistically—or maybe I should say, Optimusly—the thing to do might be to get the CD-3400 and buy an Audio Alchemy DAC-in-the-Box or an Adcom GFD-600 processor. It'll be interesting to see if you get the same distinctive tonal quality that you get with the CD-3400 and its own analog output section.

It'll be interesting, too, to see whether all of us who are so captivated by this player will stay in love with it—or get bored because of its lack of ultimate resolution, limited dynamics, recessive upper midrange, etc. Well, at the very least, we'll have a nice-sounding portable for use with cheap headphones. I remember I once called a moving-coil cartridge—the no-longer-available Shinon Red—the "Carnegie Hall" of cartridges, which may have inspired the naming of the Carnegie cartridge (also no longer available). This may be the "Carnegie Hall of CD players." The old Carnegie Hall, that is—before the renovations cleaned and shined up the sound.

Years ago, before there were any dedicated CD transports, I listened to a couple of early processors with a number of CD players equipped with digital outs. They all sounded different. Transports matter—maybe more than processors. Maybe it's a good transport that produces the sense of air there necessary to make CD playback sound like good analog—that is, like real music happening live. Maybe all you need for a good transport is a silly little soft plastic hub with fingers that hold the CD nice and tight.

I always wanted a top-loading CD transport. Of course, I had in mind something a little more elegant. CD-player drawers have always given me anxiety, like when I was a kid worrying about going down the drain (or down the toilet). I could put it in—but would I be able to get it out? (Heh-heh.)

I put several friends on to this player. One of them bought the player and then took it over to a certain high-end dealer.

Customer: Here, play this.

Dealer: You gotta be kidding.

Customer: No. But not out here—let's do it in back, away from the other customers.

[They sneak into the back room.]

Dealer: Holy S—! It smokes a [certain well-regarded processor selling for several thousand dollars]. My wife wants a portable. Maybe I should buy her one of these.

[The dealer goes back and forth between the CD-3400 and the expensive processor, trying to make up his mind which he prefers.]

Customer: Can't tell which one you like, eh?

Dealer: [gasping] I think I prefer the RadioShack.

Well, if it's good enough for a high-end dealer's wife, it's good enough for me and you, right? Certainly if you buy one of these, do be sure to share the pleasure of your discovery with your favorite high-end dealer. It's so convenient to carry the CD-3400 when auditioning equipment—it's portable. (I laugh my genuinely evil laugh.)

Take a tip from the high-end dealer I just mentioned: Buy an Optimus CD-3400. RadioShack will "cheerfully" refund your money if you're not satisfied.

Flash!

This RadioShack thing is really snowballing! John Curl has caught on, too. Meanwhile, Dick Sequerra called with some interesting tidbits. First, Dick said that the player's turntable mechanism is a Mitsumi CD-ROM drive, with controller; as a CD-ROM unit, it has very low jitter and very low error. How can it be so cheap? Mitsumi expects to produce this particular CD-ROM platform in quantities of 3 to 5 million units. Second, Dick pointed out that the line-out cable provided with the player reverses the left and right channels. I'm not sure whether the cables are mis-wired or the jack is mis-wired, but do check your channel orientation. (The headphone jack is properly wired.) Third, the player sounds better on batteries than it does with an AC adapter. "It benefits greatly from a linear power supply," said Sequerra.

Finally, I got to use the CD-3400 as a transport, using the line-amp cables. (Why didn't I think of this before? I did—but the cable didn't work the first time I tried it, possibly because I didn't get a good enough connection into the processor's coax-in jack.) And yes, this player does appear to be a super transport! There will be more, I'm sure, much more to come—and not only from me. Both John Curl and I have put Bob Harley onto the player.

So what's going on here? Dick Sequerra, for one, feels that the CD-3400 offers top-flight performance—particularly in terms of its transport. As for expensive transports and players, Dick raises the possibility that it's a case of the emperor's new clothes—maybe we've all been had. Well, I never told you to run out and pay thousands of dollars for a transport and thousands more for a processor. Meanwhile, I invite any moles within the RadioShack/Tandy organization to get in direct touch with me, particularly if you have more killer products like this. The High End, with its outrageous pricing, needs a good shaking up—maybe even a shaking out. Let's give 'em hell. (This will never get printed.) Happy listening!

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