Vintage Portable Compact Disc Players
I was looking at old and vintage portable compact disc players (PCDP) in the year 2004. It started when I was reading posts from a group of audiophile enthusiasts collecting vintage PCDPs and they all agreed that the audio performance of these old gadgets were much superior to the modern ones.
How old are these vintage portable players? Let’s look at the Sony D-5, which was manufactured in 1984. So in the year 2008 it is already 24 years of age! Many who are into vintage players agree that these old players out perform those models made after 1995. In those years when I was hunting for these old PCDPs, a good condition Sony or Denon PCDP could cost around US$300 on ebay auction!
The more popular models collectors sort after are Sony D-5, D-25, D-35, D-88, D-303, D-515, D-555; Denon DCP-100 and DCP-150; and Technics SL-XP series of players.
Sony D-9 (left) and D-40 (right)
So how good actually are these players? For me I connected theses old players to my home speaker system and compared them with Musical Fidelity A-3 CD player and Marantz SA-14 SACD/CD player. Of course these vintage PCDPs are of no match to the full size audiophile grade CD players, but if you take into account the price of the equipment, these PCDPs do perform to a respectable standard.
The vintage PCDPs do have their reasons of being superior in quality compared to the modern counter parts. In those days manufacturing cost, size of the player and battery life are of not top priority yet. The early Sony players are made of solid metal chassis. A heavier chassis and higher power consumption allow these vintage players to deliver more punchy sound.
The Sony D-5 probably is one of the first PCDP in the market. I do not own one of this, but instead I have a similar D-14. D-14 is made of solid metal, heavy like a brick and runs on 4 size C batteries! The line-out power is astonishing, but the one I have run very hot during playing back of CDs.
D-14 with DC adaptor and Philips 6800 (background)
The 1990 Sony D-35 is an interesting model. It is relatively slim compared to players of the same generation. It has a large LCD display and numerous buttons on the top cover. The 1991 Sony D-303 is built like a tank, a very nice looking player.
D-35 (left) and D-303 (right)
The D-555 from Sony, manufactured in the year 1989, is probably the PCDP packed with the most features: headphone out, line out, 10 level digital bass boost, optical out, 5 band equaliser, DDS and surround sound control, and digital volume control.
Sony D-88 (year 1988) is yet another interesting PCDP. It is the smallest in size in that generation, and in fact even smaller in foot print than today’s PCDP. It is designed for 8cm CD playback, but the 8cm CD is difficult to find today. Although designed for 8cm CD, the D-88 can also play back the standard 12cm CD. There is a button for user to adjust the laser pick up in order to play 12cm CD, but then when in this mode the player is no longer portable as the CD is exposed outside the player, like a tree cutter!
Sony PCDPs are more innovative in design and of great variety. In comparison the Denon design is more down to earth, but equally well built. The Denon D-100 and D-150 are very sort after by collectors. The SL-XP series of Technics are relatively slim and small compared to Sony and Denon, and use extensive plastic construction. One of the Technics model SL-XP 150 has a very special mid range performance, which makes vocal listening really pleasant. However, in terms of musical performance, personally I much prefer the Philips AZ 68XX series of player. The sonic character of the Philips is full of punch, well balance all around performance, and can be powerful and delicate depending on the music. However the Philips players are not as reliable as the rest, and the feel of the construction are not as good.
SL-XP6 (left) and SL-XP1 (right)
If you were to ask me is it worth collecting these vintage players? Well, good audio performance as they might be, these are very old electronic gadgets that are unlikely to last very long. I feel that the risk of these players breaking down is so high that if you need to pay for quite a fair bit then it is not worth collecting. Modern branded players though the audio output is not as superior, but I feel that they are decent enough for most purposes. And from the portable point of view the newer players are much smaller in size, lighter in weight and the batteries last much longer.
Few years back I still get to see these new generation PCDPs on sale from brand like Sony, Panasonic and Philips. But today in year 2008, or even in 2007, the small and minute MP3 players have become the main stream portable music listening gadgets, the branded PCDPs are no longer selling in most shops.
Today I still carrying a portable set up with vintage PCDP, a Sound Devices headphone amplifier and a Sennheiser HD 25-1 closed headphone, for me listening to music on the train. I don’t really care about the weight, but the music performance is fantastic, and I still have lots of vintage PCDPs to last me for very very long.
24 years of Discman: 1984-2008