JVC XL-Z1050TN CD player

The $800 JVC XL-Z1050TN 1050 is the Bitstream successor to JVC's popular 18-bit XL-Z1010, which got an enthusiastic thumbs-up from Robert Harley in April 1990 (Vol.13 No.4). Its styling is, in my opinion, much improved over the older player's, with the distinctive brushed-bronze finish of the rest of JVC's XL-Z line. The rear panel sports fixed and variable outputs (footnote 1), as well as Toslink optical and coaxial digital outputs. As with the 1010, the JVC features their proprietary K2 Interface, a circuit that reduces jitter by resampling the pulses with a short-duration gate just ahead of the single-bit JVC JCE-4501 DAC chip.

Internally, the 1050 looks impressive, with a much beefier power supply than most mass-market CD players I've examined; the power supply is supposedly one of the improvements made to the 1050 over the older 1010. The aforementioned K2 Interface circuit is enclosed in a shielded mini-enclosure, to guard against both electrical interference and prying reviewers. The analog stage features the same blue-blob film caps I keep seeing in all the Japanese players, including the Sony and Denon, and the ubiquitous 5532 op-amps, one chip for each channel. The outputs are AC-coupled with extremely large-sized 47µF/50V electrolytic caps.

Sound Quality
"The JVC gets the midrange right"; that was my first thought when I heard it, and it's still the player's most salient characteristic. Vocals seem to hang in midair with the 1050, which in this area almost rivals the Theta DS Pro Basic. Where the Theta edges the JVC is that last dollop of 3-D dimensionality it's become so lauded for, but the JVC offers a very similar midrange presentation, one that's totally unexpected from a mass-market Japanese CD player. With certain CDs like the amazing-sounding new Kenny Rankin Because Of You (Chesky JD63, footnote 2), the vocals are very nearly as finely rendered, as grainless, and as spatially distinct as the Theta, which is extraordinary performance for the money.

Low-level detail, too, is a strong point with the 1050, which almost seems to swagger, "Ya want fractals? I'll give you fractals!" In what seems to be a trend for me and Stevie Ray Vaughan CDs, I caught a bit of extremely low off-mike vocal scatting at 2:11 into the jazzy instrumental take of Kenny Burrell's "Chitlins Con Carne" that I hadn't noticed before with several of the other players reviewed here.

Another example of the 1050's clean low-level behavior was the track "My Romance" on New York Reunion; I was listening to it one day when suddenly I thought I heard my name being called from outside my house. "It's those guys that beat the crap out of Dan Rather!" I gasped, maybe a little paranoid after watching David Duke stomp Buddy Roemer in Louisiana's gubernatorial primary (footnote 3). But no, there it was at exactly ten seconds into the track; either the piano's pedal is squeaking "oh-ee," or David Chesky's trying to wrest control of my mind. This kind of hyper-detail is a trick at any price, much less the JVC's $800 retail tag.

Where does the dream end? The deepest bass doesn't have that balls-to-the-wall slam of the Theta, or even of the otherwise unremarkable Denon DCD-2560. It's fairly clean, but you don't get the ultimate extension and control of the more expensive processor. Even so, the JVC never failed to get my mojo working on material like The Commitments soundtrack, or especially disc 7 of the Stax/Volt box set, with its heaven-sent chronological medley of Otis & Carla's "Tramp," "Soul Finger" and "Knucklehead" by the Bar-Kays, Otis again on "Shake," Albert King's "Born Under A Bad Sign," and finally Sam & Dave's "Soothe Me." Unbelievable, heroic ART that makes a bunch of GIANT UMBRELLAS STUCK IN THE GROUND seem infinitely pointless by comparison (footnote 4).

How does the JVC do it? The same way most inexpensive gear that aspires to high-end performance does it: by sinning mostly by omission. Where the JVC does this is at the frequency extremes; the bass isn't the deepest or strongest, and the high end is slightly rolled-off and forgiving. Not sweet, just forgiving. By avoiding the typical astringency in the high end of most players in this price range, the 1050 draws you into the presentation, where the clear-as-a-bell midrange and above-average depth/staging deliver the knockout punch.

Whether you can pin it on JVC's proprietary K2 anti-jitter circuit or the enhanced power supply, the 1050 takes the same 5532s, electrolytic coupling caps, and mid-grade resistors as the Sony CDP-X555ES and Denon DCD-2560 players, and delivers a sound that's on a whole other level entirely. In fact, I preferred the sound of the 1050 to the similarly priced Audio Alchemy DDE/Rotel 855 combo, which I found to be more forward and slightly harder-sounding through the mids and highs. Add in the fact that the JVC player was also the best-sounding transport of the players reviewed in this issue that had coax outputs, and the 1050 looks like a winner.

Summing Up
For $800, I'm not sure you can do much better than the JVC XL-Z1050; it offers a musical sound, good looks, and can serve double-duty as a really fine transport if you decide to buy a separate processor down the road. Chris—this one's got your name on it.

Footnote 1: Ignore these; as with every other player I've tried that had them, the variable outputs sound significantly worse than the fixed pair. C'MON! Get off that fat ass and change the volume atcher preamp, soldier!

Footnote 2: One of the highlights of my trip to this past AES convention in New York was spending some time with Chesky's Bob Katz in his listening-room/design-lair, listening to some of his latest work. In my opinion, Bob is one of the most talented recording enginears today, and the tracks that we heard were, to a one, uncanny. The Rankin CD may be the Bobkat's best-sounding release to date, even if the music is a wee-bit white-bread for my unwashed palette (although the bass-vocal duet on Monk's "Round Midnight" is killer!).

Footnote 3: Am I the only one who thought former Klanmate Tom Metzger's comment about Duke's KKK tenure in the November 18th Newsweek—"His flagrant womanizing was an embarrassment to the movement"—was the funniest thing ever in that magazine?

Footnote 4: Albert King never got uprooted by the wind and smushed some poor lady. I rest my case.

Elmwood Park
NJ 07407

BradleyP's picture

I have one of these in near-mint condition that I bought new in 1992. That's a 24-year old CD player that has been my main digital front end all along and still performs flawlessly. A couple of years ago, I decided to see how much difference it would make to use it as a transport and bang a $1000 DAC on the end of it. The sonic difference was miniscule. I'm not sure if it was even better, just a little different, so the DAC went to my desk system instead. I certainly got my money's worth!

Allen Fant's picture

It's all in the measurements, specifically, the S/N ratio. The players from Japan always did well in this respect. Denon, JVC, Yamaha, Sony ES and Pioneer Elite. In 2016 and moving forward it is difficult to find a spinner go above 110dB.

Oldsport's picture

My first CD player was a Yamaha. I didn’t know any better. Then came the JVC. It really wasn’t bad. I sold mine to a cute woman I wanted to ask out. I don’t think I ever actually did ask her. The fun thing I remember about the 1050 was that it could actually show that green markers could make a difference in the sound. I had two identical copies of the Gregg Smith Singers doing, among other carols, In Dulci Jubilo. They were a fine group of disciplined, well-trained voices that never went for a “hoity-toity,” pretentious sound. Out of curiosity, one disc got green-penned, one didn’t. The CD without greening sounded quite pleasant, but if you tried to follow the individual parts of the polyphony, it could be difficult. Throw in the marked CD and it would become a piece of cake to follow any part you wanted. I (and who am I, anyway?) figure the green absorbed stray light and the eye pattern got tightened. Who knows? But I swear you could hear it, though my best friend still laughs derisively at the idea. Nowadays, my CD player is too good for the green pen to make any difference. I prefer it that way, but I know what I heard...back then...when we ate rocks and we liked it!

Sal1950's picture

Bought my new back in 92 after Corey's and others positive reviews. Had it till 2010 when I needed to downsize my system to move into much smaller retirement digs. It was and is one awesome player, I tried it alone and against a number of high end DACs on the digital output. Never could justify the expenditure on the newer big buck DACs. The JVC sounded just as good as anything I tried it with. To boot the whole thing is built like a tank (18 lbs!) and with good care should last a very long time, it was built using all top notch components. Besides it was MUCH better looking than my computer system that houses all my music today. :(
I hope the gentleman that bought it off ebay is enjoying it, it worked and sounded "as new" when the UPS man handed it to him.
One of the all time great classic CD players!

PaulW's picture

I've been using mine since 1992 as well. I've got it connected to a Micromega DAC into C-J pre and power amps and it sounds just fine to me!