Sony D-7S portable CD player

There's a race on between Sony and Matsushita, to determine who can build the smallest battery-operated CD player with the most features. Sony currently holds the lead with its second-generation D-7 ($300), about 30% smaller than the first "pocket" CD, the D-5. Most of the reduction is in height; both players have a horizontal cross-section only slightly larger than the CD itself. The illusion of smallness is further enhanced by an angled front panel with beveled edges.

Several features have been added, most notably the ability to program up to 16 tracks, in any sequence. Despite AHC's carpings, I find this to be a useful feature even for classical listeners, as it permits easy excision of disliked works, or even movements (footnote 1). There is also a "Shuffle Play" mode that runs through the tracks in random sequence. This can add sparkle to pop albums that have gone flat. One may also repeat the entire disc, a single track, or any arbitrary section (footnote 2).

The disc may be scanned during Play, either discretely by track, or continuously at high speed. The continuous scan is even faster when the player is in Pause (but the program is muted). The various play modes are cycled through by a single pushbutton and shown on the LCD, minimizing the number of controls crammed on a tiny front panel.

Despite their size, the controls are easy to find and operate. Unfortunately, the carrying case flap does not have an opening to access them. Worse, when the flap covers the controls there is no isolation. Slight pressure on the flap can switch the player to an undesired operating mode.

Although the case "has the look and feel of real vinyl" (it really ought to be leather), the designer gave it deep corrugations, probably intending to make it drop-proof. It's a good idea, as I doubt a portable CD player could survive the fall to a concrete surface. As for resistance to non-damaging shocks, the D-7 comes off badly. A modest tap anywhere on the case (or sometimes just a light touch!), causes a 10- to 40-second backward skip. The D-7 thereby earns the First Annual Zaphod Beeblebrox "Impossibly Incredibly Unbelievable" Award for over-sensitive CD tracking. Although a normal walking pace doesn't upset things, the jarring from a brisk stairway descent knocks the laser off-track. Jogging is out! You can rotate the D-7 briskly, "and the band plays on," but how many of us listen to music while spinning?

The D-5 had a bulky battery pack that clipped to the rear (footnote 3) and held four C cells. Alkalines were expensive, running about $1/hour, and NiCads didn't give much playing time. Sony solved these problems with a thin battery pack that sits under the D-7; the duo is slightly thicker than the D-5 alone.

The pack "weighs like lead." Which isn't surprising, as it holds 3 lead-acid cells (probably gel cells). They give an admirable 4.5 hours playing time on a full charge, the AC adapter recharging the cells fully in eight hours, and to 90% of capacity in four. Extra packs cost $45. They must be attached to the player for recharging, which is not that inconvenient with such a short cycle.

The instructions hold a dire warning to recharge immediately after every use, no matter how short, or the cells will be damaged! This seemed excessive, so I called Sony. I was told that unlike NiCads, which thrive on heavy discharge and full recharge, lead-acid cells prefer a shallow charge/discharge cycle. Sony wanted to so frighten the user that he wouldn't run the pack into deep discharge. I give mine four hours' recharge after every few hours of listening.

Now that the [megillah] is over, how about the sound? I compared the D-7 with my Yamaha CD-2. The Sony came off second-best. Transients were slightly rounded-off, and occasionally sounded a bit grundgy. On simply-miked CDs (such as the [Opus 3]s), the Sony showed a pronounced loss of depth and spatiality, and a flattening of perspective. Voices, especially, lost roundness and focus. This was judged the unit's major failing, and a fairly serious one. It was audible both on Stax Lambda Pros and on Acoustat Sixes. This was with the line outputs; the headphone output further reduces openness, air, detail, and sparkle.

As a home unit, the D-7 is not recommended; there are other players with better sound and greater operating convenience, for not much more money. But you don't buy the D-7 for home use (except perhaps for casual listening while doing something else, which is how I'm enjoying it as I write this). The D-7 is a Yuppie toy to be paraded before the have-nots, so you need good headphones for out-of-house listening.

None are supplied. (The D-7 comes in two packages. The D-7S, which I bought, has no headphones. The D-7DX includes the MDR-E282, of that cerumen-gathering ilk you jam into your otal cavity. The '282 is not yet available separately.) I tried everything I had, including the Sony MDR-7 and MDR-W30, with generally awful results. Fat, muddy bass and a sucked-out upper-midrange with a screechy top end were common. The least bad of the lot were the MDR-40, the 'phones that come with the WM-D6C (Walkman). But what was a mild bass heaviness and slight brightness on the Walkman became a muddy low end and a hard top on some CDs. The D-7 seems to exacerbate the bad qualities of the headphone it drives. A few minutes' listen to the MDR-CD5 "digital-ready" phones revealed that they have more substantial bass, a smoother and less aggressive top end, and greater midrange detail and naturalness. They're a good bet, but I couldn't audition them long enough to give an unconditional recommendation.

Summing Up
The D-7 is recommended as a portable player (in Class D of "Recommended COmpoennts") for its sound quality alone; it is not recommendable as a "budget" player), if you can find a good-sounding set of headphones. Listen carefully before committing your cash, and don't say I didn't warn you.

Footnote 1: !!—John Atkinson

Footnote 2: Pursuant to JA's "!!" I have to say that BS's enumeration of the D-7's "features" only serves to justify AHC's carpings.—Larry Archibald

Footnote 3: The player's rear, no doubt.—Larry Archibald

Sony Electronics Inc.
16530 Via Esprillo
San Diego, CA 92127
(858) 942-2400

jimtavegia's picture

Still decent sound through my AKG K-271s or my Sennheiser HD-380s. It beats watching Flea Market Flip, Horders, or Walking Dead reruns which my wife is into these days. Chip and Joanna are pretty good at flipping houses. I know...a sad life.

naim00's picture

jimtavegia, which "2 newer" Sonys do you use? Over the last few years I put together a small collection of Discmans but at the end of the day I listen to this little gem. Reading through this review I had a tinny background voice chanting "little did he know"(with nice Brit accent like from the movie "Stranger than Fiction"). Who could have imagined that in a few years even Linn and Naim start making CD players, but by that same time Sony gets into the race of making the cheapest Discmans. Portables like D-5, D-25, D-555 will be forgotten and outbid by digital shock protection and, eventually, by MP3.