Sony CDP-XA7ES CD player Thomas J. Norton returns

Thomas J. Norton returned to the Sony CDP-XA7ES in January 1997 (Vol.20 No.1):

Differences in sonic character were quite evident when I compared the Mark Levinson No.37/No.36S combination with the $3000 Sony CDP-XA7ES. And the balance was not, in every respect, on the Levinsons' side—the comparisons drew attention to a quality of the Levinsons' sound I haven't remarked on to this point.

With its exceptional resolution, detail, and overall clean, clear sound, the 37/36S did sound rather cool and detached, appealing more to the intellect than to the emotions. Once we get beyond measurements, it is difficult to judge with absolute assurance the "accuracy" of any electronic component in the reproduction chain, given the vagaries of even the best program material and loudspeakers. But the Levinsons struck me as relaying as much of the truth as is possible about any given CD. The Sony was fuller but less taut in the bass, softer and not quite as pristine in the highs, and less well resolved overall. But the XA7ES let me forget the equipment and get involved in the music at least as often as did the Levinsons. In particular, the Sony had a palpable immediacy and ease in the midrange that was very flattering to the human voice—a quality that this fan of vocal music particularly appreciated. The more analytical nature of the 37/36S combo could not duplicate this.

I commented above on the No.37's ability to relay the tension in music—an important attribute which was matched by the No.36S. The Sony did this less well, but emphasized instead an easygoing competence and balance. It reminded me, in fact, of the sound of the Accuphase DP-65, reviewed in the October 1994 issue (Vol.17 No.10). There I spoke of an "organic wholeness" to the sound. And while I have not heard the Accuphase in two years and will not attempt to compare it in detail to any of the products discussed here, the Sony struck me in much the same way. But despite all of this, I did find the Levinsons ultimately superior to the Sony, particularly in ways that matter to a reviewer.—Thomas J. Norton

Thomas J. Norton wrote again about the Sony CDP-XA7ES in July 1997 (Vol.20 No.7):

Following my review of the $3000 Sony CDP-XA7ES CD player last November (Vol.19 No.11, p.153), a number of readers observed that I did not comment on using it with its variable output. Fair enough. Most readers will need the flexibility offered by a preamp connection, in which case the fixed outputs will be most appropriate. But a few words are in order for those who want to use a direct hookup from player to amp, and they'll find some of those words in my review of the Mission 754 Freedom 5 loudspeaker elsewhere in this issue.

To summarize, with the Missions, the overall sound from the variable outputs hooked directly up to the Aragon 8008 amplifier was sweeter than the direct outputs running through my Rowland Consummate preamplifier; the latter combination sounded a little too cool and analytical with the 754s—though this has definitely not been my experience with less bright-sounding loudspeakers.

Those who may be contemplating using the Sony from its variable outputs, and who can live with the lack of system flexibility this requires (one source only, or swapping connections whenever you want to listen to tape, LP, etc.), should encounter no serious problems with impedance matching. My measurements of the Sony indicated an output impedance of 195 ohms from the variable output, which should be a good match for any conventional amplifier I know of, tube or solid-state.—Thomas J. Norton

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