Bang & Olufsen Beogram CD-X CD player

The Danish Bang & Olufsen firm is the undisputed leader in audio when it comes to dramatic product styling and ease and versatility of use. Their designs have won more design awards than those of any other audio firm, and each new lineup of B&O models seems to offer even more control convenience than the last batch. Sonically, none of their components to date has been any better than "very good," and some have done significantly less well than that. In reviewing them, we have had to compare them with their pricewise competition among the brands we normally think of as "high-end," and B&O's components have not stood that comparison very well.

Taking Control
The CD-X CD player has the same distinctive and attractive styling that we now take for granted in B&O products: the sloping clear top panel—which means you cannot stack them one atop the other, a disadvantage in some installations; and a glossy black "pop-up" panel which covers the component's operating controls when not in use. But the CD-X also has a feature I have not previously encountered on any B&O product, nor, indeed, on any other audio product at all.

The CD-X's entire complement of controls appears to consist of nothing more than two small pushbuttons, marked "Eject" and "Play," protruding from opposite ends of its projecting front skirt. That's it; there are no other "controls" of any kind, at least in the usual sense of the word. All other functions seem to be represented only by printed labels under a clear plastic panel in front of the pop-up cover. But these are, in fact, the other controls. They are capacitance switches, which operate merely by the proximity of a fingertip.

To activate any function on the CD-X, you just touch the appropriate printed word or number, and the player responds appropriately. There is no hesitation, and the "switch" action is both noiseless and absolutely positive (usually). It is occasionally necessary to press down moderately hard on the "switch" to make better contact, in order to elicit a response. Moistening your finger also works (footnote 1). Generally, however, operating these controls makes one feel rather like King Arthur's Merlin! A mere touch of the magic finger, and my wish is its command! Just a little bit spooky.

The touch panel is made of a very hard material, which might be glass. This makes sense—the panel will need frequent cleaning due to the buildup of finger oils, Plexiglas accumulates a filigree of hairline scratches when wiped off frequently.

Generally, the instruction manual for the CD-X is exemplary in its clarity and logical straightforwardness, qualities which other manufacturers should emulate. My only complaint is that nowhere is B&O's US address listed. B&O probably assumes that your friendly dealer will answer all your questions, hold your hand, and take care of any malfunctions, but not all dealers are that eager to give you the time of day after you've bought something from them. Some even have the effrontery to go out of business; in such an event it would be nice to have the manufacturer's US address.

Clear instructions notwithstanding, unfortunately, learning to use the CD-X is not all that easy. Operation is not intuitive from the layout and labeling of the controls. The front-skirt pushbuttons, being long and flat, look as if they should be pressed down like piano keys (it won't work) instead of pushed inward. Then there are two controls marked Play—the one on the front skirt, and a touch control on the sloping front panel. The skirt switch is used to turn the player's AC on and off. Pressing it with the unit off and a disc loaded will start play immediately; pressing it subsequently will turn the unit off. To commence play when the unit is on, you must actuate the other Play control. How's that for logical simplicity?

Then there's a button marked Stop. This does not terminate play and send the laserhead back to the start of track 1, as on most other players; instead, it acts as a Pause button, though to resume play you press Start again, which does not restart the disc from band 1, as on most other players.

The Stop switch is also used to load the player and Start the disc spinning, without initiating play. Oh, wow! European manufacturers have never been world-renowned for their human engineering, but the control configuration on this CD player borders on the ludicrous.

In other respects the CD-X is much better. To open the top when the player is turned on, you push the Eject button inward, and as the top opens, a pivoted, circular metal shelf rises like Lazarus from the disc well. You just drop the disc on top of this shelf and the disc seats itself properly for playing. Lowering the lid (by pressing Play or shoving it down by hand) causes the shelf to fold back down into the well, settling the disc over its center spindle. If you forgot to remove the disc from the well before shutting the CD-X off, you can unload it manually by unlocking the top with the Eject button, and lifting the top by hand.

When the top door is open, the laser assembly is clearly visible under the disc platform, but the laser is turned off until the door closes again. It's not possible to get "zapped" by the laser beam, although considering the extremely low power of CD lasers, and the width of the beam even an inch away from the lens, the legislator's terror of CD lasers is unjustified.

"Logging-on" to a disc—reading and displaying its track information—may be done in either of two ways. Gently pushing down on the plastic top panel will cause the motor drive to take over and finish closing the lid, read the disc tracks, and stop the disc from rotating. Or, you may hold your finger on the Stop switch for 2 seconds, which will cause the player to do the same thing.

There are two sets of illuminated numbers (reds and greens), and a row of unilluminated (white) numbers, under the lower front touch panel. When a newly-loaded disc starts to play, or is logged-on, the green numbers display the tracks on the disc (up to number 20). When play commences, the number of the current track blinks on and off. The red numbers then display the elapsed time into the current track.

Touching the Display mark on the top panel changes the readout to show the total time elapsed since the disc started playing, while touching it again displays the track number and index number (if any) of the current track. There is no indication of total playing time for the disc until play is completed. (This will not sit well with people who like to make cassette copies of CDs.) And even though the green numbers stop at 20, the red display can read track numbers up to 99 (which appears, for some reason, to be the maximum number of tracks the CD medium will allow.)

You can select any track merely by touching the appropriate white number and then touching Play. And you're not limited here to the displayed numbers. For example, you can play track 99 of a disc (assuming it has 99 tracks) by touching the white 9 twice and then the Play switch, but when playing any track beyond number 20, none of the display numbers will flash to indicate play. There is not, however, any way of calling up an index number on a disc that has indexing. This can only be done by cycling the red Display to show track and index, and then fast-shuttling to the desired point, which is a bit clumsy.

The CD-X has a pretty fast response for most functions. It takes about 2 seconds from the time you punch Eject until the top cover opens, 9 seconds to go from Track 1 to the start of the last track on a 5-track disc (50 minutes into the music), and a remarkable 7 seconds to seek from the start of Track 1 to the start of Track 99 on the Denon 38C39-7147 Test Record!

You can program the CD-X in two ways: by selection or rejection. To select a program, you touch the white number corresponding to the first band desired, then touch Store. All of the green numbers then go out except the one corresponding to the track you selected. You may then continue programming in this manner for up to 40 selections. As with the track callout, programming calls can include any number up to 99.

Rejection programming, which retains the original play order but allows you to choose those selections you don't wish to hear, is done by touching the appropriate white numbers, followed, each time, by the Clear switch. There is also the option of canceling a program while playing any track, and reprogramming the disc without interrupting current-track play until you're ready to hear the new program, which you start with the Play switch. This is an impressive lineup of operating features indeed!

Sound Quality
I must confess that, even before I listened to the CD-X, one thing about it predisposed me to expect sonic mediocrity. A Philips-system player under the skin, it comes equipped with the cheap nondetachable 2-foot output cable supplied with the Philips circuitry. This, to me, is an indication that B&O is not overly concerned about the perfectionist user, who considers as God-given his right to choose one of the many varieties of premium interconnect cables available.

So, does the CD-X sound mediocre? Well, not really. It is, in fact, one of the better-sounding CD players I've heard recently. It does not have the suave ease of the PS Audio or the depth and ambience of the PS, CAL, and the Meridians, nor does it have the superb low end of the recent Sony units (whose sound over the rest of the audio range it closely resembles). Its bass is a little on the warmish side and not too strong in the areas of heft and impact.

In fact, the B&O CD-X sounds very much like a stock Philips player, which means it's about 80% of the way up the quality ladder from lousy to state-of-the-art. This sound quality leads me to wonder whether B&O's customizing involved anything more than the obvious changes in cosmetics and operating features. Certainly, it can be argued that the CD-X is reasonably priced for the unique features it has to offer, but the $9 cheaper PS Audio CD-1 offers considerably better sound, while the Sony CDP-55 also offers rather better sound than the CD-X for a hefty $300 less, and throws in a versatile infra-red remote control unit as well.

As I see it, the CD-X's market will consist of those people who don't mind foregoing some measure of sonic excellence in exchange for B&O's unique and coordinated styling. It will probably be purchased to go with other B&O components, or not at all. Not being a big B&O styling fan, I wouldn't opt to spend my $700 this way; if you are, you will at least get basically good sound to accompany the appearance.

Footnote 1: Threshold's original 800A amplifier also used a capacitance on-off switch, and the person I bought it from, Max Gottschalk of Tucson (store name: Imagineering) created a line of home furnishings that included lamps with capacitance switches. Simply touch the lampshade and it was on! According to Max, the characteristic capacitances of men and women are different, so you could make a "sexed" lamp operable by only men—though I don't know why you'd want to.—Larry Archibald
Bang & Olufsen A/S
US distributor: Bang & Olufsen America, Inc.
1751 Lake Cook Road, Suite 620
Deerfield, IL 60015

volvic's picture

In the 80's was considering getting one of these or some other B&O cd player, yes they didn't sound great but no CD player sounded "great" then either. So....was about to take the plunge. When a technician who worked at an audio store (remember in store technicians?) told me in confidence that opening a B&O and comparing it to say a Revox was night and day. Sold! bought the Revox player, which I loved for many many years.

jmsent's picture

Philips assembled the entire player in their factory in the Netherlands. B & O designed the touch panel assembly, control computer board and the motorized lid system, along with the physical design. The mechanism and electronics were straight from Philips and very similar to what they were supplying on their own. This was a first generation player using 14bit 4x oversampling DAC's. It was built like a tank. The whole internal chassis was diecast, as was the CD mechanism: the CDM1. BTW, Revox used the same mechanism in their player.

volvic's picture

The B225 was 14 bit and used the same Philips mechanism, I opted for the B226 that was 16 bit. Great machine and a little quirky, even the tray was very noisy when loading. I swapped players many times before and after but always lusted after one of those B&O's, they just struck me more as lifestyle products rather than high end CD players. Still, great memories.