Sony CDP-101 Compact Disc Player Further JGH Thoughts
Stereophile's attendance at the 1984 winter CES was greeted by many questions with regard to our perceived unqualified support of both Compact Disc and digital recording. We had hoped it would be clear by now that our support for Compact Disc is not unqualified but it apparently is not clear.
For the record: Stereophile has tested two digital recorders, the Sony PCM-1 and PCM-F1, and found (as have many others) that both did an extraordinary job of copying analog originals and an excellent job at live recording compared to similarly priced analog units. We have good reason to believe that digital recording is not inherently injurious to recorded sound.
Stereophile has reviewed (at the time of this writing) four CD players and found some differences but a similar general character.
We have listened to 40+ Compact Discs and found enormous variations in sound quality; we have no access to original master tapes and are thus unable to assess the contribution made by either CD manufacture or the CD playback process to the sound although this opportunity may come up in the near future. But Stereophile sees no reason why Compact Disc cannot offer facsimile reproduction of the tapes from which they're made.
Finally, our suspicions are aroused by the recurrent bad CDs to which virtually all listeners have been exposed. Let me clarify. Even though the best CDs, in our opinion, exceed the potential of analog in some respects and fall short in others in other words, they're a worthy competitor—most CDs sound quite terrible. Now, you can say that the medium has potential, but when so many examples aren't good you wonder if the medium isn't doing something to the sound, something that occurs in some in stances and not in others.
Doug Sax has written a letter to Hi-Fi News & Record Review with caustic words for the Sony PCM-1600 series digital recorder and the changes it makes to the sound during editing and copying; each generation that's run through the Sony unit involves a degradation in sound quality, in unmusical and disharmonic fashion. If Doug's analysis is correct, this problem (which could affect all CDs to some extent since an original tape has to be put in the 1600 format before being made into a CD master), goes a long way to explaining some of the variability in CD quality: the more editing and copying done in 1600 form, the worse the sound.
Which brings us to the misperception of Stereophile's stand on the issue. To a certain extent, we are to blame for the misperception. The following answer to a letter appeared in Vol.6 No.5 (p.62):
"If you, or any other readers for that matter, are considering the purchase of a $1000 turntable you might consider instead the purchase of a CD player, which can be had for slightly less than the cost of a top turntable and will give you much better sound."
We simply went overboard in our support of a medium that has such great potential. We don't know if a Compact Disc player can provide "much better sound" than a combination of top analog equipment."
Why? The big reason is lack of good software. Of the CDs we've auditioned, only 4 or 5 can hold a candle to the many great analog discs. CD is truly in its infancy. The great CDs are very good—but that's no reason to abandon the pursuit of excellent analog disc reproduction for all it's worth. There's just too much wonderful music on analog records. And the manufacturers of analog record-playing equipment have been working harder than ever to get absolutely the best from those analog grooves. Pursuant to this, Stereophile will be reviewing the best analog equipment we can get our hands on, and pushing out the reviews you'll see them in the next four issues.—J. Gordon Holt