Radio Shack Optimus CD-3400 portable CD player Tellig again
"So tell me, Sam—do you think the Optimus CD-3400 portable CD player from RadioShack is that good?"
It was a high-end manufacturer friend.
"Yeah, it's great. Bought yours yet?"
[long pause] "Yes, as a matter of fact." He paused again, as if for emphasis. Or maybe he was searching for something to say. "It's not very detailed."
"I never said it was. But how does it sound for $179.95?"
"Bought mine for $129.95," he corrected. "Pretty good, actually."
"You haven't heard it at its best." I started to rev up. "If you really want to hear what the CD-3400 can do, you need to use it as a transport."
I heard what sounded like a groan.
"Do you have to tell me this?"
Another friend called—an importer.
"I bought your Optimus CD-3400, but I don't see what Joe Grado, Dick Sequerra, John Curl, and all you guys are raving about."
"You don't? Have you used it as a transport?"
"Yes, but the Forsell Air Bearing CD Transport is definitely better." Even over the phone, I could tell this was said with a straight face.
"I'll bet the Forsell's better—for 38 times the price."
Then, just a few days later, at the Stereophile High-End Hi-Fi Show, in Florida, John Atkinson stopped me and said, with a straight face, "The Mark Levinson No.30/31 combination is better."
Did I ever suggest that the CD-3400 was better than Mark Levinson gear? Or Forsell? Or Krell?
"A Krell? Hell, no!" I said to Lewcik, who is awaiting his new Krell Studio CD player. "All I'm saying is that the CD-3400 is great for what it is."
And trust me—as a transport, it's even better. Remember, if you don't think you got your money's worth, RadioShack will refund it.
Seriously: "Sam, are you serious?"
"No, Sam. I mean, are you seriously using the Optimus CD-3400 as your reference digital transport?"
You bet—until some high-end manufacturer loans me a better transport to use. I'm sure there's better stuff around; I just don't have any of it in the house.
It's true: with the CD-3400 I sacrifice remote control—a minor pain in the butt. But I actually find the programming features on the CD-3400 a pleasure to use. The player is easy to operate. It's ergonomic—the controls are well thought-out and well laid-out, and programming is straightforward.
Here's my system: Remember, the CD-3400 sits on a slab of Sorbothane atop the plate-glass stand I described. Then I have an Audio Alchemy Data Stream Transceiver plugged into the CD-3400's digital out via a two-buck RadioShack adapter.
The Audio Alchemy Transceiver leads to an Audio Alchemy DTI Digital Transmission Interface—the so-called jitterbug, an accessory which should be unnecessary but can sometimes do wonders to take the edge off digital and keep the jitters away from the listener.
A second Audio Alchemy Data Stream Transceiver goes from the DTI to an Adcom GDA-600 processor.
The processor, in turn, feeds into the line-stage section of a B&K Pro 10 preamplifier (latest version, and considerably improved). The B&K Pro 10 leads into whatever amp I'm listening to at the moment—currently an Electrocompaniet AW20. Speakers are Quad ESL-63 USA Monitors. Cables are whatever I can scrounge (footnote 1). All the equipment is plugged into API Power Wedges.
So what about using the CD-3400 by itself?
As a portable player, fine. Get yourself a set of Grado SR60 headphones, plug them into the CD-3400, and enjoy good sound on the go. But for your system, I think you need something better. As a player, the CD-3400 strikes me as having too much coloration (overripe mid- to upper bass and a rolled-off top end) and too little resolution. But this very tonal balance—with its added richness—makes the CD-3400 ideal with headphones.
I assume that you've bought your CD-3400 by now. (If it goes on sale, buy another and keep one as a spare. Or buy extras as gifts.) This month, I tell you how to maximize your investment.
Basic transportation: The CD-3400 is equipped with a digital out—strange, perhaps, for a RadioShack player, but the Shack does sell a DCC deck with direct digital in (footnote 2).
The first thing you want to do is get the player on a solid foundation and stop it from sliding around.
Here's what I did, and it works, although some folks claim I've violated one principle or other of physics.
I already had a 10½" by 17" piece of ¼" plate glass that was cut for another purpose. I stuck some German Acoustics metal cones under the glass, then let the tips of the metal cones rest in a set of metal cups you can buy with the cones. I used four cone/cup combos rather than three.
Next, I cut out a piece of Sorbothane (available in sheets from AudioQuest) about the size of the CD-3400, and stuck it to the glass. Then I stuck the player to the Sorbothane. No glueing necessary—the stuff just sticks.
I positioned the player slightly to the left of center, to allow room atop the plate for the "transmitter" of the first of two Audio Alchemy DST digital transmission line cables. (The digital out is on the right side of the player.) The Alchemy "transmitter" rests on the plate glass.
Does this careful tweaking of the CD-3400 work?
You bet! As with all good transports, it pays to fool around with supports, cones, etc. Besides, you don't want the little bugger sliding around every time you change a disc.
Now you're in business. Like I told Bob Harley when he bought one of these players, be prepared to have your socks knocked off when you use it as a transport!
Footnote 1: The CD-3400 comes with digital out, so no modification is necessary. But the digital out is a 3.5mm miniplug—of necessity, considering the player's size. You need an RCA-to-mono-miniplug adapter, available for about two bucks—from the Shack, natch.—ST
Footnote 2: Lately I've been having fun with some of the cheaper stuff from XLO.—ST