Yamaha CD-X1 & CD-2 CD players

CD player prices continue to go down and, surprisingly, sound quality goes up; the Yamaha CD-X1 is an example of both. It's a front-drawer loader with some interesting innovations. Pushing the Open/Close button opens the drawer; it can be closed either by pushing the same button again or by pressing lightly against the end of the open drawer. (We understand this was done because many such players have been damaged by users trying to force the drawer shut by hand.)

The unit has three operating modes: Auto, Manual and Single. In Auto, play begins as soon as the drawer is closed, or as soon as the AC is turned on if a disc is already loaded. In Manual, play begins only when you press the Play button. Single is the same as Manual except that the unit goes into Pause after playing a single selection. Pressing Pause then plays the next selection.

Track selection is by band number only; there is no indexing facility. (Personally, I think indexing is the least important programming feature of CD for a home user.) You can program the unit to play only specified bands on a disc—up to 23 of them—but only in the disc sequence. That is, you can't program it so that band 5 follows band 3. You can also play any of the bands which were not selected, without canceling the programming. You can program the unit to repeat, until canceled, a single band or any segment between any two points on the disc. Program memory is canceled by pressing the Cancel button, opening the drawer, or turning off the AC.

When a disc is loaded, the LED display shows the track number and elapsed time through the band it is playing. Pressing a button marked Check/Rt shows time remaining on the disc. This button also shows you what bands you have programmed for play, in case you've forgotten; any one band can be canceled without canceling the others.

Pressing the Search + or – buttons takes you forward and back by bands, or you can fast-speed in either direction at any of three shuttle speeds. Sound is heard at reduced level so you can tell where you are. For fastest shuttling, the arrow buttons are operated with the unit in Pause; no sound is audible but the timer shows your location on the disc.

The CD-X1 is one of the fastest operating players I've used. It took a mere 4 seconds to get from the start of a disc to the first note of band 10! Even the drawer action is surprisingly fast. The tracking system also seemed superb. The unit was immune to all but violent jarring, from any direction, and I never once heard a glitch from a disc, including one that has caused problems with other players. All control functions worked flawlessly and offered no surprises.

And the sound? Well, by a small margin, this is the best-sounding CD player I've used to date—just a hair better than the Philips/Magnavox 800. I am hard put to describe the sound of the CD-X1 except in terms of what is absent. There seems to be nothing between me and the original sound; soundstage width and depth are amazing (if the recording has it); there is virtually no high-end edge from good recordings; and the colorations I hear vary from recording to recording, indicating them as the source rather than the player.

I don't know how much better CD players are going to get, but the fact that differences between the best ones are becoming miniscule would seem to suggest that they are approaching an irreducible minimum of distortion. Obviously, the recordings are now the major obstacle to superb sound from CD.

If you don't need remote control, this is unquestionably the CD player to buy; if you do need remote control, check out the Yamaha CD-2, which we're in the process of testing.

Yamaha CD-2 CD player (from May 1985, Vol.8 No.2):

When I first heard a CD player—the original Sony CDP-101—I was instantly seduced by the many things it did extraordinarily well and was inclined to blame on the recordings the things it didn't do well. This conclusion seemed to be supported by the fact that CBS and Deutsche Grammophon CDs were (predictably) coarse and shrill-sounding, while those from M&K and Telarc sounded substantially better (although still not all that great). I based my optimism about CD reproduction on the almost literal accuracy of a couple of Sony's PCM processors that I had used, plus the reasonable assumption that CD at least could have that same capability. Shortly thereafter, I penned an editorial in which I said that CD would henceforth become my new standard for judging most aspects of analog-disc sound, and urged Stereophile readers to buy a CD player so they could know what I was talking about.

I was immediately branded a tin-ear, a heretic, and a traitor to the Cause by most of the perfectionist audio community. My faith was unshaken, partly because I knew how good digital audio could be, and partly because I assumed that Sony's first CD player would use D/A conversion and audio circuitry that was at least as good as that in their PCM processors. But I must admit that I expected, along with the audio "establishment," that all CD players would sound essentially, if not exactly, the same.

I shoulda known better. That this was clearly not the case became evident when I heard my second CD unit, the Kyocera DA-01, and observed that it made all CDs sound somewhat better than had the Sony. Since then, every CD player I have tested has sounded more or less better than any I had heard before. The Yamaha CD-2 is the first exception to that rule.

This is not because the CD-2 is a sonic step backwards, but simply because it is a full-featured version of the Yamaha CDX-1 (the last player I tested) and sounds pretty much like the CDX-1. If there is a sonic difference between them, I am not sure I would detect it except in a side-by-side comparison. (Since the CDX-1 was returned to Yamaha ages ago, I could not compare them.)

Unlike the somewhat austere CDX-1, which offered limited programming and control facilities, the CD-2 comes complete with nearly all the bells and whistles of which the CD system is capable. It has displays for track number and elapsed time of the current track and of the entire disc, remaining disc time, and program stored in memory. It has two-speed forward and reverse search functions, with audible cueing (at reduced level) to let you know where you are at any moment. When the search button is depressed, it scans slowly for the first three seconds and then goes into high speed.

The CD-2 can be programmed for up to 12 selections (in any order, footnote 1), and individual selections can be added or deleted without loss of the rest of the program. It can call out any selection by index number (if the disc is indexed) or by track number up to 99. You can cue up to any spot on the disc (to within 1 second) according to elapsed time by shuttling with the fast forward or reverse buttons while the player is in Pause or Stop, watching the minutes/seconds readout. You can program in three-second spaces between selections, select any segment of the disc for indefinite repeat play, set the unit to start playing automatically as soon as a disc is loaded (or as soon as the player is turned on if there is already a disc in it), or set it to pause after each track until manually restarted.

The infra-red remote control unit which comes with the CD-2 duplicates all of the player's front-panel controls except those for programming, numerical call-out, and AC off/on.

The CD-2 is as fast-acting as the CDX-1, which outdid in this respect every other machine I had previously tried. (It took 7 seconds to call up band 99 from a cold start, which happens to be 1 second longer than it takes for the Philips-style players to get to track 1!). And like the CDX-1, the CD-2 appears to be foolproof in operation. If you try to push the drawer shut by hand when the unit is turned on, it is retracted automatically. Even if it's off, you can shut the drawer by hand without stripping gears. If you give the player incorrect instructions, such as calling out track 10 on a disc that has only 8 tracks, it merely plays the highest-numbered band on the disc. All in all, the CD-2 worked flawlessly.

Sonically, the CD-2 (and CDX-1) have diminished the difference between the best CD and the best analog-disc reproduction to the point where even rabid digiphobes are going to have to admit that the CD has promise (footnote 2). The differences in high-end quality (which is where CDs have generally made a poor showing) between, say, Telarc's and Sheffield's CDs and analog discs are now less than the differences between either label's analog discs when played with different high quality cartridge/preamp combinations (footnote 3). The CD sound still lacks some of the (exaggerated?) depth and spaciousness of analog discs, and is a shade dry in a manner that some may find "less musical," but audible distortion, as such, is low enough at most recorded levels to be directly comparable with analog.

At high levels, the CDs are unmistakably cleaner, although loud cymbal clashes from CD still have more of a sizzle to them than I hear from the analog discs. (Which of these sources is closer to the sound of the original recording is moot; I will only say that, in this one respect, I prefer the analog sound. See "As We See It" in this issue.)

In short, the CDX-1 continues the trend of evolutionary improvement in CD reproduction. Had I not just auditioned the English Meridian MCD player (at $800 list), I would have said that the CD-2 and the CDX-1 are the best-sounding players I have heard to date. As of now, both are merely the best I have encountered that use a deck I could live with. (The Meridian is designed around Philips' clunkiest deck.)

One final precautionary note. Our CDX-1 produced a large DC offset at its outputs while in Play or Pause mode but, oddly, not when in Stop. If plugged into a preamp's input that is right next to the Phono position on the selector switch, switching between those settings can cause tremendous plops that are strong enough to blow fuses or damage the amplifier or loudspeakers. (And anyone who wants to compare a CD with its analog-disc equivalent will have to switch back and forth while the player is in Play.) Make sure the CD-2 is not plugged into the inputs next to the phono setting on the Selector switch (footnote 4). It has been reported that numbers of CD players have this problem; we should have an update on which ones in an immediately upcoming issue.

Footnote 1: The CDX-1 can be programmed for up to 23 selections sequentially, which may or may not be an advantage over the 12 random provided by the CD-2.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 2: Don't count on it!—Larry Archibald

Footnote 3: In my ongoing debate with JGH concerning the merits of CD, I must admit that this is true. It is still true, however, that CDs differ from all the different analog "versions" of a disc in a particular way—they sound like CDs, to a more or less degree.—Larry Archibald

Footnote 4: We at first wrongly blamed this on the Conrad Johnson PV-5 we had been using. It has since happened with other preamps, but not with all. It depends, apparently, on whether or not unused inputs are grounded by the selector switch. The problem seems to occur with preamps which do not ground the unused inputs.—J. Gordon Holt

Yamaha Electronics Corp.
6660 Orangethorpe Avenue
Buena Park, CA 90260
(714) 522-9105

volvic's picture

In 1984 I had a great summer job that payed a heck of a lot of money, after setting aside what I needed for University (which wasn't that much in Canada), I had enough to either buy one of two things I coveted; a Rolex or the Yamaha CDX-1, after several auditions I decided that CD still didn't cut it for me and just couldn't compete with vinyl. I opted for the Rolex which I still own and will be passing on to my son, whereas the CDX-1 has been confined to the dustbin of history. I didn't buy my first CD player until 2000 when I finally purchased one of the last Karik/Numerik combos that Linn made. The point being, in hi-fi, a second sober thought before making a large purchase can go a long way and being an early adopter has its drawbacks.