Sony SCD-1 Super Audio CD/CD player Page 3

A Balanced Out On/Off switch sits next to the connectors, while an intriguing switch marked Standard/Custom sits mid-rear panel, a screw-down locking plate giving it added import. While it is true that higher sampling rates mean wider bandwidth, don't expect your preamp or amp to digest them lightly. Standard output rolls off the player's ultrasonic output above 50kHz so your preamp or amp won't oscillate, implode, and go to heaven.

All control functions are input via the remote or a series of buttons at the top of the fascia: major functions to the right, ancillary functions to the left, with the Open/Close actuator at far left. Hit Open and, after a dignified pause, the Slide-Top Loading Panel majestically lifts a little and glides smoothly to the side, quiet and luxurious in operation—almost indolent, à la Nöel Coward.

This player's downright leisureliness when initializing discs or changing lasers did try this New Yorker's patience from time to time. But it's not just for effect. The motor cover and floating mechanism insulate the transport from noise and vibration. The disc housing is treated with an anti-vibration coating. The contact point for the sliding mechanism is made of a "high-carbon textile" with a Teflon coating for acoustic insulation and reliability.

Once the top closes over a "chucked" disc, the SCD-1 checks for SACD or CD information and begins playback. When playing two-layer hybrid discs (fig.1), either the SACD or PCM layer can be selected.

The first of the ancillary buttons selects between five "24-bit Variable Coefficient" digital filters for 16/44.1 CD playback. The display mirrors their status: STD (Standard) plus filters 1 through 4, active only with conventional 16/44.1 discs. Pressing the switch cycles through these while smoothly and briefly muting the audio output. Next over, the Digital Out button activates or disengages the S/PDIF and optical output datastreams when a CD is playing.

One button over, Text proved informative and fun to use. SACD discs contain album title, artist name, and track titles, as do some 16/44.1 discs—such as the Belgian band Hooverphonic's Blue Wonder Power Milk (Epic EK 69363). It was hilarious the first time my favorite track, "Electro Shock Faders," popped up on the display while I was showing the player to a visitor. If the information exceeds 13 characters in length, successive pressings of the Text button will scroll through it all.

The jewel-like beveled-edge display window is made of luxuriously thick acrylic with a half-mirror coating within. Very tasteful and perfectly implemented. The player wasn't fussy, digesting CDs, CD-Rs, and straight and hybrid dual-layer SACDs. (All the hybrid discs worked just fine in the Burmester 969 and Forsell Air Reference CD transports, while JA reports that they played without problem in Meridian 500 and Mark Levinson No.31.5 CD transports.) The Sony won't read CD-RWs, CD-ROMS, or DVDs, however.

The SCD-1 was a pleasure to use. Its satiny flanks, pushbutton controls, the heft and finish of its CD "chuck," the readout window's elegant cut-glass appearance—every element simply oozed quality and thoughtful craftsmanship. From Sony, no less. I found myself rarely using the remote, preferring more intimate contact.

Filter kings
Now, about those 24-bit Variable Coefficient filters, which are anything but window dressing. In fact, the filters completely define the SCD-1's 16/44.1 CD sound—and, therefore, I feel, the player's potential for success or failure in the marketplace, as many audiophiles are heavily invested in 16/44.1 CD collections.

Basically, digital filters are used in CD playback to eliminate "images" of the audioband spectral content at multiples of the sample frequency. Sony posits that changing the cutoff characteristics of the digital filter changes the tone of the music. The filters can roughly be classified as sharp- (fast-) and slow-rolloff types. Sharp rolloff whacks everything above 22.05kHz—Ye Olde Bricke Wall. Slow-rolloff filters minimize the time-domain errors endemic to sharp filtering and so, it is said, improve the sound. Sony reminds us that although the filter primarily changes characteristics above the audible frequency range, the effects of those characteristics can still be heard. In comparison to "conventional" digital filters, Sony's VC24 handles double the number of steps with 24-bit word-length precision and direct 8x oversampling at a 16-bit word length.

The SCD-1's STD (Standard) filter sharply attenuates the signal above half the sampling rate (22.05kHz). Filter 1 ("dfil-1") "smoothes interpolation computations during 8x oversampling." Previous generations of chips, we are told, managed 8x oversampling by doing 2x oversampling three times. With VC24's "superior computing capabilities" (a little self-congratulation never hurt anyone), "direct 8x oversampling is performed simultaneously. The result is smoother processing and therefore clearer sound quality."