Radio Shack Optimus CD-3400 portable CD player Tellig yet again
"Is that a J in your ad, or a fancy Y?" I asked Dick Sequerra.
"It's a Y. My ad man made me do it."
"Yudge for yourself," reads Dick Sequerra's ad in the July and August '94 issues of Stereophile for his Power Station for the RadioShack Optimus CD-3400 CD player. The ad made Lars happy: "People are starting to talk like me," he chirped. "Yust you see. I am afraid you're going to change the language. I notice that Yohn Atkinson slips every now and then and throws a Y in there."
"This unit can cause real trouble," Dick said, his evil laugh matching my own as he handed me the Power Station—a handsomely made 10½" by 3½" by 7" box that beefs up the power supply of the RadioShack Optimus CD-3400 portable player. The chassis is brushed aluminum, the faceplate is stainless steel, and the top is an anti-resonant phenolic laminate that Dick says was developed for the aircraft industry.
The Power Station's top is painted with a black Nextel finish (Dick says this improves the CD-3400's sound), and a heavy-duty toggle switch on the front changes the unit from Charge to Operate. The CD-3400 sits in a sculpted space in the top.
Three wires—power supply, line out, and digital out—connect the Power Station to the player; the hole where these wires exit is covered by an easily unscrewed cap. The Power Station takes the CD-3400's two outputs and gives you proper RCA plugs for line and digital outs. You still connect headphones directly to the player.
Inside Sequerra's box is a battery charger and a replaceable, sealed, 6V lead-acid battery (footnote 1) that Dick says should last up to five years. A "charge" light on the front panel lets you know when the battery is charging, a "float" light indicates when it's done. To operate the player, throw the toggle switch to the right so that you run the player off the battery. The AC mains power is now completely isolated, even though the Power Station may still be plugged into the wall. While the Power Station/CD-3400 combo is too big to carry around in your briefcase, you can still easily carry it from room to room or out to the back deck.
If you use the Power Station you can expect to get at least 20 hours of music from one charge, so you're unlikely to run out of yuice during a listening session. To me there's nothing more annoying than listening to an opera on the deck and having my CD player die halfway through it.
The Power Station looks neat—especially that toggle switch on the front—and it's cool the way the CD-3400 sits inside its own sculpted seat on top of it. You might be able to rig up something on your own using a motorcycle battery, but you wouldn't have such an elegant, well-finished package. The Power Station exudes quality.
But do you achieve, as the ad states, "ten-thousand-dollar player performance for only $480"? (The Power Station is $300; the CD-3400 adds $179.99.) Well, as the ad also says, "Yudge for yourself." I may be the wrong yudge—I have no $10,000 players or transport/processor combinations on hand, but I do know that it performs better than the CD-3400 alone—whether used as a player or as a transport.
You get quite a lot from the Sequerra Power Station. With it, the CD-3400 sounded clearer, more controlled, tighter, and less mushy; the timing improved; and, especially when compared to running the CD-3400 off an AC-line power adapter, I heard a noticeable lack of grunge.
In my system, the excellent $2350 Meridian 508 CD player easily outclassed the Shack/Sequerra combo both as transport (with the Adcom GDA-600 processor) and as player. But the Shack/Sequerra with more expensive processors? Try it with your Mark Levinson No.30 and let me know.
The CD-3400's limitations became more obvious when I used it as a player in combination with the Power Station. As Dick Sequerra said to me, the CD-3400 "is what it is." What it is is a portable CD player with a necessarily modest analog output stage and headphone amplifier—very good for "what it is," but still not a Meridian 508, which had more resolution and refinement than the Shack/Sequerra combination with the CD-3400 used as a player. Neither does it probably have sufficient output to drive most power amplifiers directly, without a line-stage. There's also that matter of coloration: highs seemed a little rolled, the upper bass a bit overripe.
So, should you buy one of these Power Stations?
Hell yes! Don't worry about whether it performs as well as a $10,000 player/processor combination—you weren't going to buy one anyway. I love the CD-3400—for "what it is"—and the Power Station makes it even better. The sound is tighter, more dynamic, cleaner, and resolution is greatly improved—even if it stops short of being phenomenal. I use the Shack/Sequerra combo around the house, and particularly in my office, with a pair of Grado SR60 headphones. The Meridian 508 lacks a headphone amp, but even if it did have one, the machine's too big to carry around.
The Marantz CD-63, which I use in my single-ended system, does come with a headphone amp, but it's also too big to carry around. And I can't listen to it out on the deck because I gotta plug it in. Besides, I do like the added warmth and richness of the CD-3400 when used with headphones.
Dick Sequerra is having fun making and selling this unit—mischief is afoot here—and I think you'll have fun using it. After all, fun is what this hobby used to be about until manufacturers realized...no, I won't say it, but it's important for us to take back the High End from the High Rollers. Incidentally, you can use the Power Station with any other portable CD player that takes a 6V input with a positive tip. But another player may not fit so snugly into the sculpted seat—this unit was custom-made for the CD-3400.
One more thing: If you buy a Power Station, be sure to pick up a spare CD-3400—especially if it goes on sale again for $129.95 (footnote 2).
Footnote 1: Lead-acid batteries must be disposed of properly. When you need a new one, you can send your old one to Sequerra.—ST
Footnote 2: I heard a rumor that RadioShack has discontinued the CD-3400, reportedly because of an unwillingness on the part of the unit's OEM manufacturer to continue making it.—JA