Tandberg 3015A CD player

Tandberg of Norway has a rather ambiguous corporate image among audio perfectionists. Long considered to make some of the best tape-recording equipment around, the firm has never been seen as a leader in electronics, despite some bold—and reportedly good-sounding—forays into the realm of $2000 preamps and $3500 power amplifiers. Perhaps this is why, when Tandberg started making CD players, high-enders were uncertain how to respond. A CD player is not a tape recorder, and (according to belief, which proved wrong) a digital signal is uncorruptible until it becomes audio—an area where Tandberg had no such brilliant track record as Krell or Audio Research or Threshold. Ergo, a Tandberg CD player could never be better than quite good (footnote 1).

AHC, in his CD-player survey (Vol.10 No.1), hinted that this prejudgment of the 3015A—then in its 14-bit incarnation—may have been incorrect, judging its sound to be among the best of the machines he auditioned. The current version, with an identical model number, uses the Philips 16-bit D/A chip it was supposed to have used initially but didn't because it wasn't available as soon as Philips had anticipated. But the current machine appears otherwise to be identical in every way to the '86 model.

The $1895 3015A is a 4×-oversampling 16-bit player with separate DACs (on the same chip) and a single power transformer. The deck, power supply, and digital board are all of Philips manufacture; Tandberg uses their own aluminum chassis and analog board. All the analog active devices are discrete bipolar transistors, DC coupled throughout. There are no capacitors in the circuit path, and neither is there any feedback anywhere in the audio circuit. Arrays of resistors are used to provide the precise values needed for minimum distortion in the absence of the parameter stabilization normally provided by feedback. The common power supply delivers four pairs (+ and –) of isolated, regulated outputs to the logic board, DAC, and audio sections. The deck uses Philips' single-beam laser system, which eliminates several critical adjustments that are sometimes subject to drift in 3-beam players (see Sidebar).

The player delivers a fixed output level of 2 volts max, and has no other output connections except a front-panel-controlled headphone jack.

Purely on the basis of its drawer assembly, the first impression of this player is that of very flimsy construction. The drawer itself is made of plastic and is quite lightweight, and when open, there is a great deal of vertical slop in it. The impression, though, is misleading, because when the drawer closes, it seats firmly against its subassembly, forming an essentially solid block which, when tapped, sounds very inert. Overall construction of the player is, in fact, very good.

The pushbutton controls are unusual. They are round and slightly protruding, rather like thin knobs, and although they produce a slightly irritating mechanical click when depressed, they have a very nice feel to them, all giving that small tactile-feedback "snap" which, on a computer keyboard, gives assurance that you've depressed a key all the way. Otherwise, the 3015 hews to true audiophile tradition in that it is not very convenient to use. It comes without a remote control (although it's an available option), and there is no number pad either on the player or on the remote. You wanna play track 12? You punch the Track+ button 12 times, or hold it in for about 6 seconds. Program four selections? You use the Track+ button to "locate" each track, four times. It does have an Index find, but you have to call that out the same way, by punching or holding the Track+ button. Calling out track 99 on a test disc takes about 45 seconds, which seems like a small eternity while you're doing it.

Now, I could be tolerant about this sort of love-me-despite-my-shortcomings attitude when all such handicapped CD players sounded much better than their full-function cousins, but that choice of sound versus convenience need no longer be made. Similarly-priced players like the Denon DCD-3300 and the Sony 705ESD have shown it is possible to combine full operating convenience with very good sound, so the acceptability of the 3015 must turn entirely on its ability to outperform those units in terms of sound quality. But does it? Well, yes and no.

Response times, to the things the Tandberg will do, were gratifyingly fast. Only when selecting another track during play does it seem a little slow, taking about 2 seconds to acknowledge your command, and this was hardly enough to quibble about. With a disc loaded and the drawer open, the player took 5 seconds to start Track 1 after punching Play. Starting with the door closed, it took 2. From the start of Track 1, it took 5 seconds to access Track 15 (the access-time test) of the CBS CD-1 test disc. (Dialing it up took longer.)

The 3015A appears to have excellent tracking and error-correction, as it played every surface glitch on the Philips Test Sample 5-A disc without a trace of distress (footnote 2)

The sound of this player is very much like the Denon DCD-3300 ($1700), which is to say it is a little laid-back and a shade more rich than outstandingly detailed (like the Sony 705). If the term "digititis" means something to you, this player has as little of it as anything you'll find for under $5000. Bass performance is superb, slightly surpassing that of the Denon, and fully equalling the best I have heard from any players, including the top Sonys which have maintained preeminence in that area almost from the start. Soundstaging is wide and quite deep, but perspectives are slightly compressed because the closest instruments sound a bit farther away than they should. Imaging is solid and stable, with excellent center fill. Low-level detail is superbly rendered—as well as from any player I've auditioned. (All of this puzzles me, as no previous player with as rudimentary, and skimpy, a power supply as this has approached it in soundstage width, imaging stability, or sheer cleanness of sound. It would seem that a brute-force power supply may not be as important in terms of sound quality as it is cracked up to be.)

Sony's $1500 Model 705ES (which has two separate power transformers for the electronic and the motor drive/servo) has even better detail and more-distinct layering of receding rows of instruments than the Tandberg, but is rather more upfront than either the Tandberg or the Denon. While probably more accurate, it sounds rather less suave on systems optimized for analog discs.

The Tandberg's overall sound is very smooth, relaxed, and effortless—remarkably similar in fact to excellent analog-disc sound, but a little less forward than that of other signal sources such as analog and digital tape and good FM. The 3015A may not be the most tonally accurate CD player money can buy, but it is certainly one of the most listenable, and should appeal more than most to those who consider analog disc (rather than more-reliable sources) to be the sound standard by which others are to be judged.

The Tandberg is sonically a little better than the Denon 3300—in low-end authority, overall neutrality, listening ease (by an extremely small margin), and resolution of fine detail, but with the Denon priced at $195 less and featuring a full complement of controls plus a remote at no extra cost, it is clear that neither is an obvious choice over the other. Ask Hobson, he knows what it's all about.

All in all, the Tandberg 3015A is a superb player. But I still have a gut feeling that the Sony 705's more up-front sound is more accurate—that is, more felicitous to the original recording—than the sweeter sound of the Tandberg and Denon. There is no doubt, though, that the latter two will sound better on systems that have been tailored to the sound of analog disc. Which means, most of the systems owned by Stereophile readers. I know which of the three I would choose for my own system, but you don't have to agree with me.

Footnote 1: Tandberg quit the audio business in the 1990s, though in 2020, one of its descendants, Tandberg Data GmbH in Dortmund, Germany, focuses on computer data storage products.—Ed.

Footnote 2: This has printed, on its playing surface, matte patterns and black dots of varying size to simulate scratches and fingerprints. All that's missing is a simulated peanut-butter smear. Nonetheless, not too many players will negotiate the largest obstructions without at least a small click or two.

Tandberg of America, Inc.
Plainview, NY 11803 (1988)
Company no longer in existence (2020)

georgehifi's picture

Good old TDA1541 equipped converter player, certainly more "musical" than the Sony's of the same era.

Cheers George

Ortofan's picture

... used the "good old" TDA1541 DAC chip.


volvic's picture

It was a sad day when Tandberg exited the hi-fi world in the mid to late '80s. Their products were built to a standard people pay thousands for today. True, this CD player and their Taiwanese built receiver weren't their best products and in some cases marked the beginning of the end of the company in North America. But their other products were magnificent. Still kicking myself for not buying a pristine pre-amp/power amp at a local HiFi store a few years ago. Might never get a chance like that again. Tandberg is the one company I still miss after all these years. Never selling my TR-2060.

georgehifi's picture

Yes, I've still got a Tandberg 5001 FM tuner somewhere, when aligned it's just as good as any Kenwood, Marantz or Dynalab ect

Cheers George

Ortofan's picture

... Tandberg model 5001 FM tuner?

georgehifi's picture

Ooops!! 3001, old age

tonykaz's picture

it was typical of the post 33.3 demise of 1985ish.

AHC was probably the best reviewer of that era, I purchased his recommended items which never lived up to his endorsements.

As CD mania overwhelmed the market in 1985, I shuttered all my Audio Industry businesses and returned to General Motors, never looking back until I happened to run into Tyll Herstens & Steve G. at RMAF11. They introduced me to Schiit & Sennheiser, god bless em !

Reading this old review refreshes the anxiety I felt about all things audio in the post 33.3 era. It felt like a Train Wreck finale for a promising Era. I still feel like: after all we'd been thru it has to end like that! ouch, hurt & whoa is me. .

Back to the Salt Mines.

Tony in Nevada ( which is even more corporate confining and entrapping than evah !!! )

ps. Gordon Rankin ( it had to be someone ) brought Redbook Greatness to Everyman, sealing 33.3's fate as a niche Collector/Hoarder endeavor

T-NYC's picture

The audio part of the company shut down Dec 31, 2000. However, a new company licensing the Tandberg name was formed by the service team who in addition to supporting existing products, released additional new Tandberg products that had been designed but not manufactured by the original firm. The other divisions went on to variously become the leading data backup supplier, a data router company, the world's largest language lab provider, plus one more I do not remember. They eventually were all sold for several billion dollars, which amply justifies the Tandberg Group's management decision to exit high-fidelity, although much missed and still greatly admired.

volvic's picture

Wow, in my neck of the woods by the late '80s the one store that carried them for decades, had pulled the plug on their products citing cheapening quality and no support. I have to be honest I never saw another of their products after that so surprised they were still around up until the late '90s. A crying shame all the same, one of the best hi-fi companies ever in my opinion.