Philips/Magnavox FD-1000 CD player

What, a high-fidelity product from Magnavox? The company that 20 years ago had a reputation for building massive, polished-console boom-boxes and was scornfully referred to in audiophile circles as "Maggotbox"? Some important things have happened to Magnavox since those days. Mainly, it became a subsidiary of the Dutch Philips company, co-developer of the laser video disc and now the audio Compact Disc. The Magnavox CD players are actually made by Philips for US distribution by Magnavox.

This is the smallest and by all accounts the cutest-looking CD player yet. It has a high degree of what I call "wantability"—you just look at it and you want to take it home. It is also the most slickly packaged audio product I have seen in years. Supplied with it is an impressive-looking plastic "album" containing all the pertinent paperwork (including a block diagram of the system), which will totally bewilder anyone without a powerful technical background. I suppose its intent is to impress buyers by overwhelming them with the complexity of the thing. Also supplied is a cleaning cloth and a rather bright-sounding pop sampler disc. The disc is labeled Sampler USA, which makes one wonder what the Europeans and Japanese get with their FD-1000s and whether it might have better sound.

Like most CD players, this is shipped with transit screws (two of them) which must be removed before operating the unit. Outside of that, setting up involves nothing more than plugging in a pair of cables (included). There is even a little compartment in the "album" for storing the transit screws, in case (Heaven forbid!) the unit has to be shipped off somewhere for repair.

The FD-1000 is a top-loading unit in which the disc spins horizontally. Press a button on top of the hinged lid, and it swings open automatically—smoothly and slowly, like a portal gate. You drop the disc in, push the lid shut, and you're ready to go. Disc removal is a little awkward, as its edges are not quite far enough above the bottom of the well to allow you to get a good grip on it. Southpaws have even less depth—not even ¼ inch—to get into. This poses some risk of scratching the playing surface due to dropping.

Sony's bottomless slideout drawer is still the most convenient for removing discs, allowing easy purchase either on opposite edges of the disc or, if you prefer, between one edge and the center hole. Both the Magnavox and the Sony, however, are far preferable to most of the bin-loading systems, which defy disc removal except by grasping the playing surface (which, despite CD manufacturers' claims about immunity to fingerprints, is a no-no).

The Philips' lid is of clear plastic, which means a visible buildup of finger grease (or frequent cleanings) unless one can get into the habit of always closing it by pressing the metal disc at its center.

At $599 this is one of the lower-priced CD players on the market. Cheaper ones are now available from several companies, notably NAD, Pioneer, Technics, and Sony. The FD-1000 includes most of the operating features of which the CD system is capable. The only features missing here but found on other players here are 1) remote control, 2) track or passage selection by time or index number, and 3) audible fast forward and reverse cueing.

There is no timing indicator on the FD-1000. Instead there are two horizontal rows of 15 green LEDs. When you turn the unit on, all 15 of the top LEDs light up. When you start a disc playing, the laser reads the disc's "table of contents" and the top LED display changes to show you how many tracks (up to 15) are on the disc, while the bottom row shows what track you are playing. If you wish to start with a track other than Number 1, you hold down a button marked Select, until the bottom LED has moved across to the track you want. You then have about 10 seconds to push Play or, if you change your mind, to do nothing, in which case play will start with Track 1. If yOu try to select a higher track number than is on the disc (15), an Error LED will light up and the unit will go back to the start of Track 1.

To advance to the track after the one you are playing, you merely punch the Play button once. Going back to the preceding track is a bit clumsier. To do this you must hit Stop, then call out the track you want with the Select button, then punch Start.

You can program a disc so that only certain tracks play, in any desired sequence, even including the omission of unwanted tracks. Or you can select certain tracks to be omitted, although with this mode (called Take-Out programming) you cannot rearrange the playing order of the others. Up to 15 tracks can be programmed.

The fast cueing mode is halfway in speed between Sony's Fast and Fast-Fast modes, and quite a bit slower than the Kyocera's (which was so fast it was almost useless). The briefest touch on the Philips' Fast button advances or backs up the head by about 3 seconds. (The slower of Sony's Fast buttons can increment by less-than-1-second intervals.) However, the FD-1000 is irritatingly slow when scanning over large spans of playing surface, as when moving from Track 1 to Track 10.

The access time of every CD player varies according to the number of indexing points in the program, but while it took the Sony CDP-101 six seconds to start playing Band 9 of a typical disc, from a Band 1 start, it took the Magnavox 16 seconds. And unlike the Sony, the Magnavox does not allow you to hear the program while you fast-forward, which makes it difficult to locate the passage you want, particularly if you're not entirely familiar with the music. (Is the section I'm hearing now ahead of or after the section I'm looking for?)

The FD-1000 is remarkably immune to external jarring, from all directions. In this respect it was a hair better than Sony's $1500 CDP-701ES, which was the most shock-resistant CD player I had encountered prior to this one. Tracking stability in the '1000 was superb—again comparable to the '701ES; not once was there a glitch or a dropout, even from discs which have acted up on other players.

CD Sound
But how does the FD-1000 sound? Although there is no mention of this in the literature, and no indication of it (that I could find) in the block diagram, this is supposed to be one of those CD players which use oversampling and digital filters, resulting in less phase shift at high frequencies. The block diagram supplied does show separate D/A converters and what appears to be a digital filter. Thus it should, in theory, sound better than what we've come to regard as conventional players, like the Sony 101. Does it indeed sound better? Indeed it does!

Sony's CDP-701ES player sounded very slightly sweeter and more open at the high end than their '101. The Magnavox sounds slightly sweeter and more open. In all other respects the three are essentially indistinguishable. But that one respect counts for something, particularly when the comparison is made between this and the Sony CDP-101 alone, without considering the 701; these two have to be counted as sounding quite different, with the Magnavox coming out ahead.

For $100 more, the Sony CDP-101 is much more flexible and has better human engineering. But with the Compact Discs I have on hand, the Magnavox produces less of the high-end irritation which many people have claimed to be an inherent weakness of the CD system (and which is indeed noticeable on many discs), and does so without any audible attenuation of extreme high end. The measured high-end response of the two units is in fact identical.

In other words, the Magnavox FD-1000 is the best-sounding of the CD players I have auditioned, which only confirms what I had heard about the unit before I tried it. This, by the way, is the player on which Telarc bases their claim that their CDs sound identical to their original master tapes.

Summing Up
This is one little honey of a machine, sonically so good that it may be some time before it is surpassed. Since the sound is what we're after, not the operating features, this is the player on which I do most of my CD listening.