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Personal CD Players through the ages ~ A Review [Updated 10/05/2003]

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Thread Starter 
As Promised, here is my seemingly long awaited comparison of quite a few of the 'classic' Discmen that us old school player collectors seem to crave so badly... This review incorporates both headphone, and line out usage, basic functionality, build quality and portability into its results.

Foreword

As many people here are aware, there are a seemingly growing number of people who scour ebay looking for older personal CD players… These players are from as far back as 1984 all the way through to the last great players from 1998… Their value now in some cases exceeds their original retail cost.

Is there a reason for this? Well, yes and no. The older players had a tendency to place sound quality before portability or practicality, even though ultimately there is only a very small number of these players that can match even budget full sized CD players in terms of sheer sonic ability…

Then again, for those of us that don’t have ‘golden ears’, or for those of us for whom space is too tight to mention, one of these older players, when used as a deskbound player could well bring hours, if not years of happy listening!

On with the review……….

Equipment Used:

Discmen:
  • Sony D5 / D50
  • Sony D88
  • Sony D2 / D20
  • Sony D555
  • Sony D25S
  • Sony D11
  • Sony D800K / D180K
  • Sony D33
  • Sony D303
  • Sony D111
  • Sony D211
  • Sony D311
  • Sony D515
  • Sony D141
  • Sony D151
  • Optimus CD3400
  • Sony D231
  • Sony D777
  • Sony D465
  • Sony D-E905
  • Sony D-EJ1000
Amplification:
  • Creek OBH-21SE
  • Full Spec ‘META42’ (using Burr Brown OPA627 Op-Amps)
  • (Connected to the units by a 'generic' $10 3.5mm-two RCA cable)
Headphones:
  • Sony MDR-CD1700 & Grado RS1(Amplified 'Line-Out' Use)
  • Sony MDR-D66SL 'Eggos', Koss KSC-35 & Sennheiser PX250 (Headphone Out Use)
Music
  • S-Club 7 ~ Reach... Brit pop at its worst, but what a lot of people listen to...
  • Tori Amos ~ In Your Cloud - A nice breathy mix, typical of Ms Amos
  • More Music From The Motion Picture 'Gladiator' ~ Homecoming - Mostly instrumental piece that starts off quite gently, but moves on to a huge roaring crescendo

…And on with the review…

Key To Ratings

I am giving all players facilities here a star rating for what I can perceive as their value to the sound / functionality of the players…

***** ~ Forget it, this is just plain junk – avoid at all costs!
***** ~ Tolerable in very small doses, but still best avoided
***** ~ Below average – listenable / useable for short periods
***** ~ Average – what you’d expect, but nothing more
***** ~ Pretty damned good – above average and well worth a try.
***** ~ Pretty much top of the tree – what I perceive to be very good with extended use
***** ~ A winner! – sterling performance – one of the elite!

The Early Years ~ 1984 - 1990

Sony D5 (D50 in Europe and the Far East) (Manufactured 1984)

This isn't technically a Discman, Sony hadn't invented the name 'Discman' at that time... This is Sony’s second ever commercially available player, after the CDP-101 full sized unit, and came in at around $450 way back in 1984... It’s built like a tank, being about as square as a CD jewel case, but being about four deep.

Technically, it is portable, if you have the battery pack to fit onto the back (used 4 'C Cell' batteries, which would last about 2 hours) but the unit has no internal battery (so its either use the additional battery pack, or docking station with wall wart), no shock protection of any description, no sound EQ settings whatsoever, and you can only fast forward / rewind through a track, by changing the mode of the player from ‘AMS’ to ‘Search’... this unit really is a bare bones player from a technical point of view, but we mustn't forget that this was only Sony's first ever venture into making CD players smaller...

Button layout is very minimal, as is the display on the unit, although you can find out how much CD playtime is left by holding down a 'Remain' button, which for its day is a pretty cool feature... apart from that button count is very limited, with Play / Pause, < & > (Track Skip), Stop, and 'Mode' which has some very basic programming options...

Its greatest asset to me, is the amount of volume this unit can push out... I don't have any proper measurements, but it can go louder (if you're insane enough to do the same) than my META42 portable amp!

On the downside though, this players motor (and accompanying wall wart) run very hot with prolonged use, I would strongly advise for this player to be used on a hard surface (table top) rather than say... a bed, just to avoid any potential melt-downs

Power Requirements:
Internal Battery: Not Applicable
External Battery: 4 x C Cell batteries
Mains Power: 9v docking station (9v jack, centre negative)

Main Features
Headphone out power : Undetermined, but VERY loud.
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary
Line Out Options : 3.5mm jack plug if not using docking station, else RCA jacks
Bass Boost: Non Applicable
Disc Retaining method: Overhead Clamp (in the lid)
MultiBit DAC (Brick Wall Filter)

Current Availability: Limited to die-hard fans here on head-fi, and EBay ~ finding a fully working unit is getting harder to do, purely for the age of them - Expect to pay between $50 ~ $100 for a good condition unit

Headphone Output

Wow! - That was the first word that entered my head when I heard this unit a week ago... Something so old shouldn't sound so good, what with old-school DACs, and original lasers (that if you even breathed on them, they broke) and the like... Using the D66 Eggos is a pure revelation!

In operation, this unit is perfectly silent, what you hear is literally what is on the CD, there are no added artefacts like volume hiss, or being able to hear the unit processing commands (a series of squeals and pops can be heard on some units, when you press a button) ~ It appears that Sony were really out to impress with this unit, and eighteen, maybe even nineteen years on, they've done just that... with me!

Listening to S-Club 7s 'Reach', there is a nice punchy bass, with instruments placed on top with a seemingly incredible amount of separation, and clarity... and the vocals, Hmm Hmm, these little Eggos really do sound like full sized 'phones, this is one incredibly deceiving unit!

Moving to a much slower track, Tori Amos 'In Your Cloud', the instruments are placed deliciously around the headspace, you really do get the impression that Tori is stood in front of the other band members, with some of them stage left, and with the piano being closer, and to the right, and her vocals are so sultry... again, these little Eggos are showing themselves as true, full sized headphones in a small package... true, Tori's vocals aren't the last word in ultimate realism, but that improves dramatically when going up to the Sony CD1700s, so to me is more of a deficiency of the D66 than of the D50 player

Finally, moving to 'More Music From The Motion Picture Gladiator', Track 4, Homecoming... I'm at a total loss for words, this really isn't supposed to sound this good! - huge grinding bass notes replayed with impact, and yet at the same time delicacy, guitars that are plucked but with an air that is more appropriate for a full sized player... The movie inserts aren't of the best sound quality, but I think that could be mastering quality rather than playback, as the music around them sounds very clear, punchy, and concise... also, this is the only player that I’ve heard so far that can reproduce the crescendo at 3:05 cleanly through the headphone out!

Other members here have commented that this player has a bright treble, I must confess that there is a subtle hint of sibilance on certain tracks (seemingly, more often than not modern 'pop' songs), but that is certainly not enough to detract from the unit, and other instruments appear to be in place, and not splashy ~ on this brief comparison, the S-Club song did exhibit small traces of sibilance, whereas neither Gladiator, or Tori did... So I put the perceived brightness down to recording quality (or lack of it) but what people are hearing with this player is treble extension... something completely different, and highly sort after!

Line Out Output

The first thing that must be noted with the D5, before any ‘review’ gets underway is that it has a much louder output (read that as full sized unit level) than any of the other Discmen here

If the D50 is starting out how the line out comparison means to go on, then I’m highly impressed already! The bouncy S-Club 7 tune has a perfect weight to the bass, sounding amazingly controlled, the midrange, whilst certainly not being classed as rich ~ I would say is well defined, and above all accurate, the vocals do not offend in any way, and the treble is well in check, sounding sparkling, and clean... Separation isn't as good as through the D311s headphone output, but it is certainly acceptable enough, placing instruments in their place with ease, its just that very final "I can hear every instrument separately" factor that is missing, but apart from that, a highly enjoyable listen, one that I'm glad to have had the chance to do...

Tori's voice sounds totally captivating through the D50s line out, closing your eyes, you can imagine the sultry songstress to be placed about three feet in front of you, singing her ballad - especially the last word she sings... "Cloooooud", oh wow, that’s good! with the piano player just behind her, the soundstage seems much improved on this track than on the S-Club one, positioning is far improved (CD mastering quality issues??)... The bass is once again kept in check nicely, making this a nice warm listen... Age does not hold this player back, easily to my ears competing with my full sized, current spec CDP-XE570 deck, non-fatiguing is how I’d describe the sound... maybe not the last word in speed, but it is so delicate, so smooth... how could you want for more?

The first word that hits me when once again, when listening to the Gladiator sound track is 'Clarity', the bass notes sound superbly crisp, and detailed, in actual fact, that’s wrong, the whole frequency range is crystal clear, there is none of the 'exaggerated treble' that is sometimes apparent through the headphone output, even though this player is as old as they get, it is astounding me with its clarity, depth, soundstage, speed... This player really must have been groundbreaking in its day, seeing that even now, it still does not sound out of place when driving modern headphones, and a modern amplifier... If you want aggression, and attack out of your sound, this probably isn't the player for you, but if you want amazing clarity, with a superb quality bass... I heartily recommend this unit!

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

Only the occasionally noted grainy treble through the headphone out, and the complete lack of portability stops this being a giant killer!

Sony D88 (Manufactured 1988)

This is almost definitely one of the smallest Discman ever made, with quite possibly only the D82 being smaller (as it doesn’t have provision for 12cm CDs). Regardless, without the additional battery pack bolted on the top, this unit measures 95mm x 95mm, substantially smaller than a CD jewel case… even with the battery pack added, this only manes the unit 120mm in length.. a modern marvel from olden times! – In terms of height, this player measures in at a tiny amount less than 3 jewel cases tall… how did Sony cram all the goodies into this player??

In terms of functionality, there is the very barest of features on this player, with just play / pause, track access, and repeat buttons – along with a hold toggle, and the volume control. So playback functionality is kept to an absolute minimum. Another thing to not is that the LCD does not show track time – only track number along with the repeat ‘flag’, battery icon, and track access markers, nothing more… again, very basic!

In terms of overall construction, this unit feels bomb-proof, only the fact that half of the lid is missing (to allow 12cm CDs to play) stops this from having any loose fixings whatsoever, the clamp force of the lid itself is very strong, but be warned, there is no ‘Push’ button here, you just pull on the lid for it to open… which can be done even when the disc is spinning around!

The key thing to note with this player is on the underside, that there is a lever to allow you to move the pick-up motor from the (standard) 8cm CD position to that of 12cm. This is best done with the lid shut, so then it also moves the clamp / puck in the lid into the correct position ready for playback, as if the motor is in one position, and the clamp, in the other, the disc will not spin!

Whilst playing back with 12cm discs, about 1/3 of the CD is exposed, so it is essential that this player is used on a surface where nothing can touch the CD, as the slightest little touch stops playback, although that is where the pleasther pouch that was supplied with this Discman comes in handy, as inside it has a hard plastic holder for the Discman to sit in that has dips, and cuts in all the right places for you to plug in your headphones, power adapter, and allow the (oversized) CDs to spin quite happily.

Power Requirements:
Internal Battery : Non Applicable
External Battery Pack: 4v, 500mah Battery: BP2, Battery life undetermined
Mains: 9v jack, Centre Negative

Main Features
Headphone Output: 9mw x 2 @ 32ohms
Volume Control: Rotary, on the player
Line Output: Non Applicable
Bass Boost: Non Applicable
Disc Retaining method: Overhead Clamp (in the lid) – moveable to cater for both 8cm and 12cm CDs
multibit DAC (oversampling method unknown)

Extra Features
Remote Control ready (via 3.5mm Jack)
Faux leather case, with plastic insert capable of holding the player whilst in use – even if using regular CDs.
Two power inlets, one on the unit only, and one on the battery pack, either of which can power the player

Current Availability : Not seen very often on ebay, but when it comes up be prepared for a bidding war, whilst its not the most practical player on the planet, it has quite a high gimmick / collectability value, which ensures that it normally commands quite a high price!

Headphone Out Output

S-Club start off happily enough, bass is punchy, and tight making the track bounce along nicely, midrange ~ whilst not very strong – is good enough for you to not feel there is a void in the sound, and the treble, whilst being a little brighter than some would like, I feel is still within tolerable limits, adding a nice little zing to this pop based track. Soundstage is clear, and easy to feel, and pinpoint where the instruments are. The finger clicking and tambourine banging is clear to hear constantly throughout the track, front left. The overall speed / attack that is felt with the best players of this review is sadly lacking, but unless you’ve actually heard the likes of the D211 and D311, or have a high quality home based CD player, you’re unlikely to know what is missing in my honest opinion.

Tori Amos’ track starts off with a nice rolling bass that is only known on some of the higher end players here, along with the highly developed soundstage that this track offers, it is frightfully easy to hear the piano about three feet in front of you in your virtual headspace, with Tori’s vocals being very much more in front of them, barely inches from your ears. The cymbal that is played continually through this track is also well defined, and positioned with ease in the virtual headscape. The vocals of this track sound lush, warm and intimate, whilst the treble allows detail to spring forth, but not at the expense of shrillness. This plucky little player really knows what its doing with this track!

Straight away the Gladiator track reveals what I think is one of this players strong points, soundstage! The vast rolling nature of this track is lain before you on a very wide scale, there is virtually no feeling of this track being stuck in your head, as is all to often the case with headphone related music, it really is impressive, and makes straight away for a great listen. The bass rolls along quite merrily, and is weighted very well considering that there is no provision for sound shaping on this unit. Once the intro calms down, and the film vocals come into the mix, they are held very much in the centre of the sound stage with instruments swirling all around. The Spanish guitar sounds delicate and clear, you can almost see the pluckers fingers moving swiftly over the strings when you close your eyes. As is all too common, the crescendo comes with quite a large amount of authority, yet doesn’t seem to let go. A thoroughly enjoyable listen!

Line Out Output

There is no line out on this player, so this section is not relevant...

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
Non Applicable for this player.
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

This Discman really is for the serious collector only. Sure, it’ll play your regular CDs, and will amuse your friends watching their favourite CDs spinning outside of the player, but it is of virtually zero practical use, especially with it not having a line out…Relatively good sound quality does come out of the headphone out, but there is better out there!

Sony D2 (D20 in Europe and the Far East) (Manufactured 1989)

Coming Soon…

Sony D555 (Manufactured 1989)

Now the fun begins... coming into the equation in 1989 was the flagship D555 (sometimes referred to as D-Z555), this unit is absolutely laden with features, two backlit LCDs, one that contains a peak level meter / Graphic EQ, and the other that shows you track / programming information... There is (for the first time) a digital volume control, a 10 stage bass boost, 10 stage - 5 band graphic EQ, 10 stage DDS (Digital Dynamic Sound - (increases low level detail, making the sound more powerful), and a 10 stage 'Surround Sound' feature

Build quality is sublime, as you'd expect from a unit of this era, it gives you a feeling that you could take it to hell and back, and it would still look as new... Metal construction throughout, exactly the same width and length as a CD jewel case, and just under three deep, although it doesn't appear to be as heavy as would be indicated by its size.

The button count on this unit is high, at 14 (including the eject button), there is also an optional remote control unit, but at this time I cannot offer any insight into its capabilities...

All sound altering functions are completed with four buttons on top of the unit, Mode selects which option you would like to change (Cycles between: EQ -> Surround -> Bass Boost -> DDS -> Off) and only one of these options can be implemented at any one time, so you can't EQ your DDS or anything like that... The volume buttons are the largest buttons on the unit, near to the LCD on the lid, so I have a feeling that Sony was showcasing the digital control on this unit, also you have the obligatory track access / scan, play / pause and stop buttons on the top of the unit, and then on the front you have the programming buttons, also a 'remain' button which toggles between track time elapsed, track time remaining, and disc time remaining... Very clever stuff for the time!

Power Requirements:
Internal 4v, 600mah Battery: BP2EX, 2 hours playback from 3 hours of charge time (if battery still operational)
Battery life undetermined
External Battery Pack: Non applicable
Mains: 9v jack, Centre Negative

Main Features
Headphone Output: 9mw x 2 @ 32ohms
Volume Control: Digital
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: 10 stage - variable, digitally controlled
Disc Retaining method: Overhead Clamp (in the lid)
8 Times oversampling multibit DAC

Extra Features
DDS Output: 10 stages - variable, digitally controlled - boosts quiet sounds to make the sound more 'even'
5 band Graphic Equaliser: 63hz, 250hz, 1khz, 4khz, and 10khz - 10 stages, digitally controlled
Surround Sound: 10 stage - variable, digitally controlled
EQ Demo Mode: Hold down 'Mode', and then press 'EQ' and effect '+' and '-' at the same time for the player to cycle through the various different modes available
Peak Level Meters: 10 stage, current level and peak levels shown, two displays per channel
Optical Output: Toslink
Backlit Display: (only when powered by an AC adapter) - Orange

Current Availability: THE gadget lovers Discman, this just has everything you'd ever want on a Discman, a rare unit, as it is now 15 years old, EBay is the most likely place to find one, and even there you can expect to pay up to, if not beyond $200, due to their cult following

Headphone Ouptut

The very first thing I noticed with this player on the S-Club track was the soundstage... very wide, and very clearly defined ~ The bass certainly isn't the most prominent amongst the group, but neither is it found to be immediately lacking. Vocals sound very nice, richly defined and convincing and the treble is kept nicely in touch with the rest of this pop based mix without sounding shrill or harsh... a very finely etched middle path is where this player takes you. With this track, that isn't maybe the most exciting path to take, but it is certainly a dependable one... one that won't lead to unwanted sonic blemishes entering into the equation!

The soundstage is immediately apparent on Tori Amos’ track, placing the drum deliciously over to front left within the soundscape, with the vocals positioned right in the centre, considerably closer to the listener. There is not one single part of this track that offends your ears. The bass is perfectly in proportion, sounding punchy and tight, the vocals ~ heaven… I didn’t realise before this review got underway just how good vocals could sound through portable equipment. Airy, close miked, smooth ~ three of many different ways I could term the vocals on this track, yet none of them would be wrong… All portraying the true nature of this track. There isn’t an amazingly large amount of treble on this track, yet this player does not sound dull… It sounds accurate. A very large thumbs up from me for the D555!

The Gladiator track shows how smooth this player can sound, with very little aggression shown throughout, a relaxing listen. The movie excerpts sound the best that I have heard through any of the Discmen… Period, the D555 wins this particular part of the test with ease! The midrange in general is awesome, whilst being a shade too warm for ultimate clarity… It really livens the sound up, adds an air of life that isn’t apparent on any of the other players. The Spanish guitar sounds awesomely clear, and is heard with ease even with the bass notes going on all around.

The final crescendo is also handled with amazing grace, due to this being a smooth sounding player. No fear of distortion setting in here when things get heavy. Again it has to be noted that the treble is lacking when compared to some of the other units here, but this does not affect the enjoyment of listening to music with this player!

Line Out Output

Musicality... That is what the line output of the D555 is all about! The bass of the S-Club track bounces along very quickly, never feeling bloated, or out of control ~ very in check! Soundstage, as with the headphone out is clearly etched into the sonic mix, sounding convincing, yet not overbearing... a nice smooth sound is what you can expect from this players line output. Vocals have an added sense of realism over that of the headphone output, this is inoffensive listening at its very best... Highly recommended for this droll brit-pop sound ~ The D555 makes this track sound good!

The bass on the Tori Amos track sounds very raspy – not as refined to my ears as through the headphone out which really is very impressive for this track, and Tori’s vocals are bordering on too overpowering – sounding a shade too close miked for comfort ~ This is only within the context of being compared to the very best players here though, and is not necessarily a fault of the D555, just that to my ears the midrange is portrayed slightly too richly on this track. Treble is perfectly defined though, which brings the player back from the brink of getting a negative mark here. Soundstage is also, as should now be expected from an older player, well defined and sharply placed… Not a perfect track to show what the D555 can do through its lineout…

This player has me more confused than any other here, how the line out can sound so different from the headphone out. Whilst the headphone out shows how delicate bass can sound, the line out throws it at you full force…. You’re on a roller-coaster ride with this player! This isn’t a bad thing to my ears for the Gladiator track as the air of urgency is once again laid open plainly for all to hear. The vocal excerpts do not sound as crisp, as clear, as lifelike as those from the headphone output, but are still well within the confines of all other players tested. Treble is again shy, but not to the point of coloring the sound, instead keeping all musical instruments nicely portrayed, sharply etched. The Spanish guitar sounds very convincing and are easily heard over the huge rolling bass-lines that lead up to the crescendo at the end of the track, which is handled with the least amount of bloom of any of the players tested… I’m puzzled by that, how a bassy player can keep the largest of bass well in check. However the Sony technicians wired up this unit, they did it pretty much just right, especially considering the limited nature of equipment they had back then! – Well done Sony!

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

Even though the outputs are highly impressive, The D555 doesn't have that final edge with its line out to take it up to the level of the D311, and could be classed as a little too polite for general music listening through its headphone output (if we’re being hyper critical, even though I personally do like it) ~ if it wasn't for that, this player would get a full five out of five as an overall rating!

Sony D25S (Manufactured 1989)

Much has already been said about this player that suddenly re-appeared in large volumes from Silicon Salvage, I’ll surmise here as I’m sure you’re all more than well aware of this players features…

First off though, I must confess that its smaller, and lighter than I thought it would be, even though it is undoubtedly has a full metal body (even the battery cover is made of metal!). It has a little window cut into the metalwork so that you can see the CD spinning, and has an almost identical opening mechanism to that of the D555.

The playback buttons are nicely recessed, being barely visible above the lines of the player, and the programming / display buttons are not that much more exposed. As has been mentioned elsewhere, this player oozes quality with its physical appearance.

The LCD is mounted vertically on the front side of the player, and shows track information and battery performance (if you have a working BP2EX in any case). The LCD is lit by what I would call an amber glow, it is more of a yellowy color than that of the D555, and also does not look so clean, you can definitely see where the LED glow eminates from, and it is also watered down from the vibrancy of the D555s output.

There is no anti-shock, or DSP of any description on this unit, if you don’t like the sound? Tough! Learn to live with it, or buy another player! Simplistic to the extreme, this is the only player I currently have (except for the D50) that has so few features ~ Good for those that favour minimalism over functionality.

On the lid of the unit it proclaims to have ‘4 times oversampling’ which is a reduction in noise shaping from the D555s eight times. A sign that this player is a cheaper sibling to the much higher specified D555 from the same year? Maybe my thoughts on the players sound will tell you, when stacked up against other Discmen (extra especially the D555)

Power Requirements:
Internal 4v, 600mah Battery: BP2EX (if battery still operational)
Battery life undetermined due to dead battery
External Battery Pack: Non applicable
Mains: 9v jack, Centre Negative

Main Features
Headphone Output: 9mw x 2 @ 32ohms
Volume Control: Analog, Rotary
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: Non-Applicable
Disc Retaining method: Overhead Clamp (in the lid)
Backlit Display: (only when powered by an AC adapter) – Amber
4 Times oversampling multibit DAC

Current Availability: This player surfaced about 18 months ago from Silicon Salvage, who are now unfortunately out of stock. This unit often comes up on Head-Fi though, and can be found for $50 or less normally, although to find one that plays CDs perfectly isn’t always an easy thing to do.

Headphone Output

I think I can safely say that this player is not designed for bass-heads, no ~ it’s not a thin sounding player, but it does play on the lighter side of normal. Accurate to the extreme in the bass could be another way to put it. The bass of the S-Club track bounces along quite happily, never in any fear of sounding overblown but showing its presence nonetheless. Vocals sound a little thick, as if the midrange has been overdone on the headphone out, not having the finesse that is called for to make you believe that the artistes are stood in front of you singing this song. Treble seems to be very well controlled (almost to the point of being dark), with instruments placed in the right places within the soundstage, but sounding a little flat, without the final little sparkle that would make the track enjoyable (if an S-Club track could actually be enjoyable??) ~ Realistic, and fun to listen to? Not this player, not with this track anyway

The perceived lack of bass from the first track seems to do the Tori Amos track a favour, the bass having a nice amount of bite yet being restrained. Vocals appear again slightly thick, soupy maybe ~ but with this very soulful tune that isn’t really a bad thing, although it does appear to compress the soundstage a little ~ with the drum that is normally far to the front left being held much more closely to my left ear, and again the lack of treble can be heard here with a lack of sibilance that is TOO overpowering. Even though sibilance is generally regarded as a bad thing, it is an artefact of how people speak or sing, and the removal of that is slightly off-putting. It appears with this player that you can’t switch off from the real word because your brain is trying frantically to replace the missing pieces of the tune…

With the Gladiator track, the soundscape is very crisp, although loses some definition when things get really busy within the track. Bass is again, tight but a little thin although it does punch quite hard at certain times. The seemingly boosted midrange on this player does itself a favour when the film vocals come into the equation, with them sounding natural, and clear ~ although the Spanish guitar sounds overly rich, and not as if its being plucked, morelike being synthesised. When things get busy at the end of the track, the excitement value that is missing from some of the players here is apparent, and you can almost feel a nervous tension grip you as the crescendo hits its peak. This track actually appeared to sound quite good for casual listening, where you want to just switch off… Completely the opposite of my opinion of the Tori Amos track ~ Strange

Line Out Output

Much improved is how I’d describe the S-Club track, the bass is more apparent through the line out, with a crystal clear midrange that makes vocals enjoyable, and a treble that soars up to the upper limits easily, and with a gloriously clear soundscape that is very enjoyable… No, I’m not going to admit bopping along to S-Club, but it was close. This is a good sound ~ one that I could get used to easily

Tori’s voice sounds beautiful through the line out, the reduction in midrange compared to that of the headphone output is easily apparent. Treble is apparent in a subtle yet clear fashion, sounstage is represented accurately with all instruments easily put in their place, and well defined. Again this is a player that I could happily acclimatise to with this genre of music. Bass is also represented in a smooth, easy to listen to manner. This is the kind of sound that could send you gently off to sleep, and you’d wake up in the morning feeling much refreshed. There is nothing apparent here that I can fault this player on with the reproduction of this track!

The Gladiator track sounds flat, almost lifeless on this player. There is nothing there to grab your attention. Don’t get me wrong, everything is placed into the soundstage, but the overall tone is thin, with very little emphasis on the midrange, unlike that from the headphone out. The dynamics are lacking all the way throughout the track, apart from when the Spanish guitar is playing, that does actually sound very nice, but could you justify the use of this player on this track just for about 8 seconds of audio? I don’t think so!

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

This player appears to be fussy about what it likes to play through the headphone out. It doesn’t give out the energy required to make pop sound enjoyable, but to a certain extent makes ‘classical’ music sound very listenable, yet the tables are reversed through the line out, complimenting simple pop based tracks much more than tracks than complex orchestral pieces – A mixed bag to say the least

Sony D11 (Manufactured 1990)

I’m not too sure about what other Discmen were produced in this year, I have a feeling that the D180K / D800K was also released at this time, seeing that it seems to share the same ‘logic’ within its LCD display, apart from that I have no particular idea if this was a top of the range player or not… Time, and further insight may well allow me to come to a conclusion on this…

A basic unit, having none of the features that can be found further up the ladder. The only feature of note is Sony’s MegaBass, which appears to have started filtering out in this year / vintage. This replaced the ’Bass Boost’ and DDS from players like the D555 (although these two features are still around for a couple more years yet, namely in the D303, D211, D311 and D515)

Size wise, this player is quite a monster, whilst width wise it fits just within the confines of a CD jewel case, the length being a couple of millimetres longer, and the height fitting in at just over three CD cases tall, but a lot of this can be accounted for by the overhead clamp in the lid, and also the provision of space for four AA batteries to be fitted inside… regardless, still a brick in relative terms…

Button count is quite low – seven buttons, and three toggle switches, along with the volume control – One clever idea on this unit is the lid lock, a little toggle that quite simply prevents the ‘open’ button from operating, quite handy for if you press the wrong button whilst the player is in your backpack maybe? – apart from that, the standard provision of buttons for basic programming and track access are provided… All in all a simplistic (albeit large) design, that gets the job done – certainly won’t win any votes for aesthetic design of the year!

Power Requirements:
Internal: 4 x AA batteries - Approx 3 hours life
External Battery Pack: Not applicable
Mains: 9v jack, Centre Negative

Main Features
Headphone Output: 9mw x 2 @ 32ohms
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary on main unit only (no provision for remote control)
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: 3 levels – MegaBass, Off, Mid and Max
Disc Retaining method: Overhead Clamp (in the lid)
Multibit DAC (from the best of my understanding – Please inform me if this is wrong)

Extra Features
Elna Capacitors (viewable through the gap where the laser is) – sign of a good sound quality perhaps? Time will tell

Current Availability: This is a readily available (and cheap) unit that is easily found on ebay – that being said, the D33 is reportedly of a better grade and can be bought for merely a few dollars – Only avid collectors need apply??

Headphone Output

The S Club track sounds very clean, with a tight bass line that doesn’t interfere with the general music, a wide soundstage, a crisp midrange and a clean (although ‘extended’) treble… In a word this sounds pretty damned good! – The vocals are convincing, with an airy nature that takes them away from just being in front of a microphone. It has been said that the bass isn’t exactly prodigious on this player. I agree in part, using this track as evidence it shows that there isn’t as much as is apparent with other players, but then again what there is, is very tight and well controlled. There is nothing offensive about this CD player playing this track at all. Maybe it lacks the last few words in finesse, but for the bargain price that it can be picked up for on ebay, using this first track as an example… this unit is a steal!

The Tori Amos tracks starts off with bass lines rolling fluidly (albeit maybe a little too heavily for ultimate enjoyment). Soundstage is clean, although not as open as other players in this line-up. Sure, you can tell where everything is supposed to be in the sonic mix, but its just quite as well projected as the best players here. This oversight is soon forgiven after hearing the vocal projection. It is intimate, enveloping. It allows you to almost see deeper than you’re supposed to, allowing a feel of emotion to spring forward. This is depressingly good, seeing that this is afterall a base model. Treble isn’t as apparently extended as on the first track here, but this isn’t processed pop afterall, so that is this players get out clause. Don’t for one second think that this is a dark sounding player, but – I’m simply referring to the fact that on the last track treble was highly noticeable. This track on the D11 almost allows you to close your eyes, and allow you to forget that you’re even listening to a portable. Highly recommended for this track!

The Gladiator track starts with a very clean bass-line again, in the same way as the track before it, but this is a lot tighter sounding, with the instruments swirling around the bass notes with ease. There is little to no feeling of congestion within the beginning of this track. Again, it has to be noted that soundstage is restricted compared to other units here, but it is still satisfyingly believable, and the tonal balance is highly commendable, with once again the treble energy from the first track not showing itself here. When it comes to the vocals, they DO sound convincing, especially when compared to other examples here, only fading out slightly when the Spanish guitar kicks in. That in itself is warm, delicious, crisp. Then, heading on the way to the crescendo, this player doesn’t seem to have quite the speed, or the attack of others here, but it still does an admirable job… and attacks the final crescendo with a fair amount of punch, considering the original value of this player.

Line Out Output

Is there an open fire around here? Warm, that is the first word that springs to mind with the S-Club track. Vocals sound unusually clean, and forward through this player’s line out, allowing them to sound very forward, clear, easy to render / understand. Treble appears to be lacking somewhat, but in the context of this track that really isn’t such a bad thing. Add in a punchy bass-line and you’ve got this player pretty much wrapped up for this track, an enjoyable listen that gets your toe tapping in time to the music, and with no obvious anomalies, this simplistic track really does sound good. Soundstage is not really the key point of this track, as its aimed at a younger audience, and this player doesn’t really deliver, sounding quite flat compared to others in this line-up, but in the context of this track that isn’t such a crime. No real hint of congestion, although if you’re not a lover of rich sounding equipment, this may well prove to be quite a distraction to you, seeing that there is little treble energy on offer…

Tori Amos’ track starts off with a very crisp and clean impression of the cymbal that is playing front of the soundstage, which is pleasingly accurate. Soon this is followed by the bass line which growls away at you almost angrily ~ a very individual bass, probably helped by the multi-bit DAC employed here, a bass that probably wouldn’t be appreciated by all, as it is definitely on the more powerful side of neutral. The vocals to me sound very crisp, and sultry ~ although do have a hint of sibilance which takes away some of the emotion and clarity that you would expect of this slow, inviting track, add in that boosted, growly bass, and things sound a little congested compared to the better units here, although in its own right, if this were your first venture into classic Discmen it would be a very lush sound, one for you to wonder why modern day Discmen really sound so bad. This player doesn’t lose control of the speed of the track, but at the same time doesn’t claim it as its own, doesn’t give you the impression of realism or finesse that would by now be expected… An average listen.

Midrange, and bags of it – that is the first thing that you notice with the Gladiator track. This a seriously rich sounding player. Bass is prodigious – almost bordering on being overdone, this may not be liked by many people, but to me personally it works really well, adding to the sense of foreboding and anticipation that this track attempts to convey. Vocals sound a little recessed, with almost a layer of film over them, for which I hold the soundstage accountable, the soundstage being compressed almost to a two dimensional field, where there is very little perception of forward and back, only left and right so for those die-hard soundstage people, this does not appear to be a player to recommend. Also one thing I noted was that I didn’t even hear the Spanish guitar. Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely there (I don’t think that ANY player could miss out anything so fundamental) but the rest of the track seemed to swallow it up a little. Overall, an easy listen but one that does not convey as much energy or attack as what is shown with other (better) players in this line-up

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

For those of you that love midrange or electronic / processed music, this player may well be your meal ticket to audio nirvana on a portable scale, especially from the line out, but the fact that it seems to miss some of the finer details, and have a boosted bass response may lead to distraction… This doesn’t apply to the headphone out which seems to exhibit similar traits almost to the E905, very clean and crisp… for the bargain price that these can be picked up for, its has to be one of the top 5 to get hold of for a value listen!

Sony D800K (D180CK in Europe and the Far East) (Manufactured 1990)

Coming Soon…

Sony D33 (Manufactured 1990)

Coming Soon…

The Middle Ages ~ 1991 - 1995

Sony D303 (Manufactured 1991)

Well, here we are in 1991, and what do we have here? The D303… This is Sony’s second to top of the range player (after the D-J50) for this year, and it has to be said that it is (relatively speaking) loaded with features. Not only does it have the newer, more economical 1-bit DAC, but also comes with an optical output for those with an external DAC, This Discman is also a bit of a rarity, for having the provision for TWO remote controls. Both in-line, and also a separate wireless / wired remote… very clever stuff for back then!

Sony D111 (Manufactured 1992)

This Discman is the bottom of the range unit from the x11 series, this can be felt in both build quality and general functionality. No metal-work on this unit whatsoever, none of the enhanced features such as [digital] Bass Boost, but instead the (to my ears) inferior MegaBass. No DDS output, no remote control (not even a provision for one, having just a standard jack-plug socket, without the extra ‘connector’ for the remotes) and no provision for an external battery pack… basic is the word!

But, what does the player have? – Well, as mentioned it has three stage MegaBass, it has the provision for a Sony proprietary battery (which could then be charged in unit) – and, that’s it really

In terms of size, the D111 is a candidate for Sony’s ‘D’ shaped policy that followed the company around for the best part of a decade. The unit stands approx 2 1/3 CD cases tall, and whilst it fits into the CD case ‘standard’ in terms of width, there is a small level of protrusion in terms of length, this is caused by the ‘D’ shape of the player

Button / switch count is low on this player, having just nine (not including the rotary volume control). Included are the obligatory Open, Play / Pause, Stop / Charge, track access, hold / resume switch, and megabass slider – The buttons are well laid out though, within their own space. Not too much fear here of getting the buttons mixed up in the dark.

The LCD display is nothing to write home about particularly.. with just track number and time, and battery low indicator (and various programming ‘features’ when called into action) being on show. Build quality, despite being plastic throughout is still quite reassuring – I don’t think it could handle being dropped on the floor too many times, but seems sturdy enough for day to day use. The only thing to note (although of little relevance) is that the D111 has a black body, and a grey lid (and is very light, little weight to it considering that it is still ten years away from the ultra slim players)…

Power Requirements:
Internal: 2 x AA batteries (or equivalent stock battery from Sony which can be recharged in unit) – Approx 4 hours life
External Battery Pack: Not applicable
Mains: 6v jack, Centre Positive

Main Features
Headphone Output: 9mw x 2 @ 16ohms
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary on main unit only (no provision for remote control)
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: 3 levels – MegaBass, Off, Mid and Max
Disc Retaining method: Centre Spindle, Pop-On system
One Bit DAC (Delta / Sigma)

Extra Features
None

Current Availability: This is the most common of the x11 players to be seen on ebay, and due to the limited functionality and its relatively unknown nature (not to mention the low model number, people seem to get surprisingly nervous about that) D111s can be picked up for anything from $30 – A relative bargain!

Headphone Out

One observation with this player, from the offset is that if you’re using batteries only, that the sound muddies, the nearer you are to the batteries faltering. I haven’t experienced this with any other Sony player to the best of my knowledge

The S-Club 7 track seems to lack a little energy. Bass weight is here, but appears a little boomy, slowing the general sense of pace down. This isn’t by any means as bad as is apparent on later generations of players, but considering this units stable-mates, I would’ve hoped for better. Midrange is enjoyable if ultimately a little rich. Vocal projection is crisp and clean, if maybe not the last word in realism. Treble extension isn’t quite as wide as on better players here but is faithful making this track quite enjoyable. Soundstage isn’t the widest I’ve heard, but the panning of the instruments on this track is discernable, you can tell where they are supposed to be, but just feels a little closed in compared to others here.

Soundstage is clear from the outset with this track, maybe not to the level of realism that is apportioned to the better specified units, but still enjoyable and understandable. The bass that this unit produces overpowers the more subtle nature of this track slightly, once again leading to a slightly slow sound. Tori’s vocals are a little too prominent here, normally you could almost envisage her whispering into your ear, but here, you can tell that she is singing. Some of the illusion is shattered here. The drum beats are one thing of note though, despite this players faults the drums do sound very good, and convincing. The backing singer(s) also, with the more delicate nature of the recording are conveyed very well. I think this could be classed as an upfront – in your face kind of player.

The final track sounds once again, a little slow. There just isn’t enough pace in this player to let the full emotion of this track come to the fore. The soundstage sounds once more, compressed, there, but not there… almost masked. The vocals of the track sound convincing, I think due to this players slightly warm tone. It lends them a certain texture which allows them to be conveyed well. The Spanish guitar is crisp, and clean sounding although there is not quite the same level of emotion apparent as what I’ve heard on other units. The crescendo roars away as it should, but feels, once again to be lacking in emotion, you cannot feel the plight that is supposed to be being thrust at you at this point. Listenable, but not immersive is how I would describe this players headphone output.

Line Out Output

Calming, lazy, warm? All of these analogies can seemingly be used for the line out of this player – judging by the first track at least! Bass is crisp, and tight – you definitely could not class this player as overbearing. Soundstage appears to be crippled compared to the best of those on offer within this review, but is certainly still perceivable although on the busier aspects of the track gets a little muddled, and sloppy. Vocals are cleanly projected, sounding natural, although a little set back, and hidden within the more complex parts of the mix. Treble extension is bordering on being over powering, sounding a little sharp on some of the percussion, and allowing a little bit of sibilance to creep in at the peaks of the singers range. Overall this track is pleasing on this player, although by no means exceptional…….

In Your Cloud starts off with a rasping bass that belies this player, it sounds much more authorative than it should. A great start, but then the soundstage once again fails to show up, sounding much more two dimensional than the more elite players here. Toris vocals are lush, maybe a bit too much so, sounding a little plasticky, also that compressed soundstage pushes her voice right into the middle of your head, with the Piano that normally sounds several feet behind her, barely being a few inches away. The overall presentation is warm, and is devoid of energy for which some people will say this is a failing, but for me on this track, if you add any zing it takes away the emotion that is trying to be conveyed. This is a tough track for me to weigh up. Obviously the lack of soundstage is a hindrance, but at the same time the very life blood that feeds most of these players ~ energy really doesn’t do this track that many favours, which is one area where to me this player picks up bonus points.. perplexing.

The Gladiator track roars onto the scene as you might by now expect, the bass is maybe a little slow, slightly less dextrous than you’d ideally want, but it still sounds authorative and convincing, again the soundstage sounds a little compressed, pushed into your head rather than being allowed the full freedom of moving six feet to the left or right. The vocal capabilities for this track are good, sounding a little grey compared to what I conceive as real life ~ regardless they are more convincing than many other players have portrayed. The Spanish guitar sounds very lush, and detailed, although it seems to be a little slower than normal… and the crescendo falls all around you, but doesn’t have the self control of many of the other players here… not bad, but certainly not great either – a mediocre performance…

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

Pretty much as standard and generic as you can get. Nothing is particularly exceptional here, then again nothing is overly bad either… Maybe this player should be the benchmark for all others… I think with me, it might just be!

Sony D211 (Manufactured 1992)

This Discman is the middle of the range unit from the x11 series, which it now transpires were released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the birth of CD, and shares a virtually completely different set of functions and components to its more costly ‘brother’. Whether they are worse in this cheaper player will soon be revealed…

Even though this was a cheaper unit, it still shares the three stage bass boost and DDS that is found on the very much more expensive units (D555, D303, D311, D515) and it appears that any Discman carrying these features is assured of being a good quality sounding unit, A promising sign…

There have obviously been some compromises on this player compared to its bigger ‘brother’, with the shell being made of plastic rather than metal. Also missing is the internal flat rechargeable battery, and the option for an external battery pack. In its place is a much cheaper option of an AA sized battery pack that can be recharged in-unit. There is no provision for external power, other than the mains adapter.

Other than that, the remote control is also cheaper than that of the D311 & D515, having no LCD display, but that is made up for by the main unit having a larger display showing all standard features, but in a more easy to read size – This is on the front of the unit compared to being on the lid (in the case of the D311) – Where the LCD display of the D311 would be, there is a window for you to be able to see your CD merrily spinning around. One addition to this player is a backlight on the LCD display, having not been seen since the D25S. It is orange as per seemingly all Sony players, and has a very even light distribution across the display. If using battery power, the light remains on for approximately two seconds after any button press (if you’re concerned about the effect of this light on battery life, it can be disabled by a switch on the side of the unit) else with mains power the light remains on permanently.

Power Requirements:
Internal: 2 x AA batteries (or equivalent stock battery from Sony which can be recharged in unit) – Approx 4 hours life
External Battery Pack: Not applicable
Mains: 6v jack, Centre Positive

Main Features
Headphone Output: 9mw x 2 @ 16ohms
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary on both the main unit and remote control
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: 3 levels, activated on either the remote or the main unit, altered on main unit only
Disc Retaining method: Centre Spindle, Pop-On system
Backlit Display: Permanently on when powered by an AC adapter, else is on for approximately two seconds when accessing features of the player when powered by batteries (can be switched off to conserve battery power)
One Bit DAC (Delta / Sigma)

Extra Features
DDS Output: Three stage sound enhancement, boosts quiet sounds to make the sound more 'even' ~ activated on either the remote or main unit, changeable on main unit only
Remote Control: Simplistic remote, but all options are separate, no doubling up of button controls (No LCD on this remote).

Current Availability: I’ve only seen one of these so far on EBay, and it’s the one that I’m listening to right now. Grab them whilst they’re cheap! – Expect to pay no more than $50 for a good condition unit now. But, I’m pretty sure the price will sky-rocket once word gets out – As to Head-Fi, I’ve only seen half a dozen references to this player here, so don’t expect one to come up in the For Sale forum anytime soon!

Headphone Output

Instantly (and the Brits here would say, ashamedly) as soon as the S-Club track started on the D211 my head started moving in time with the music. The clarity is supreme. Bass is tight, without any hint of over-saturation. Soundstage is wide, and precise, the air is so… I don’t know, awe inspiring? – Everything just sounds, and feels so free, so effortless. There is no claustrophobic feeling whatsoever with this player. The vocals are very distinctly over the top of the instrumentals of the track. This is potentially bordering on analytical sounding, but to my ears the player holds that feeling in check, enabling a highly enjoyable listen. In a direct comparison to the D311, the D211 sounds cleaner… leaving the D311 sounding somewhat grey and lifeless. I can happily listen to this track on this player without fear of knowing it’s a PCDP, the sound (and the internal amp) are that convincing… A job well done!

I am still amazed at just how clean, clear and powerful this Discman sounds, there really is no real way to describe it, other than being on an even par with my main CD player through the META42… The soundstage of the Tori Amos track is so open and wide that it just doesn’t deserve to be coming from a portable player. Tonally everything appears to be right on the mark, with the bass gently rolling away as an undertone to the track, and Tori’s vocals sit cleanly on top, well infront of the instruments. The air is what impresses me the most overall, that you can feel your way around effortlessly. There is not even the slightest hint of congestion from the internal amp on this player. The sultry nature of the track is captured impeccably, and would not feel out of place on a player costing many times more than what I paid for this unit. At no point through the track does anything feel lost, or out of place. In actual fact one of the best renditions of this track that I think I’ve ever heard!

The Gladiator soundtrack opens up with a swirling soundstage, I’m unaccustomed to this from a portable player, its slightly disconcerting to begin with, making me feel very much that this is a full sized player. Bass is supremely tight and fast, with the strings sat on top, never getting lost in the cornucopia of sound that is the track. Even with the vocal section of the track, the music behind is very atmospheric (another thing that appears to lack from all other players tested so far). As always the vocals from the movie don’t have the last level of realism, but when the Spanish guitar kicks in, it is an emotional experience with a punchy bass just behind it within the soundstage. When things speed up, the internal amp of this player handles it with a complete ease, sounding very comfortable without a hint of strain. Spellbinding!

Line Out Output

The tonal balance is impressive with the S-Club track, but the bass feels a shade bloated. Soundstage is adequate, matching that of the D311s line out, but not being anywhere near as prominent as from this players headphone output. The sound overall is faithful, with the vocals sounding crisp, with the music playing around them still being easily discernable, but to my ears the finesse, the power, the energy… the whole package that makes the headphone out seem so good is sadly lacking from the line out… No, not a let down, but a surprise ~ from this first track I can conclude that the headphone out is better than the line out.. very unusual!

The first second of the Tori Amos track sounds promising, with a very open, breathy intro, but this is followed by a bass that is a little too slow for my liking. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds good, but the exceptional headphone out really does reveal how flawed the line out appears to be. Tori’s vocals are clean and clear but there is a decided lack of energy that makes the overall tone sound a little slow, lethargic. In terms of soundstage, everything is where it should be, but even then, the slow drumming on the left channel appears to be a little too slow, as if the drummer is ready to fall asleep – I ought to say that I’m being a little over-bearing on this player, but then again it deserves it. It promised so much, and delivered it with its headphone output, I thought the line out would be totally out of this world, but it is very much more like the D311 (which as you know isn’t really a bad thing)

The Gladiator track is rich, with a deep rolling bass-line that is hard to ignore. This feels a little slower than on the very best players outputs here, but is still within the realms of acceptability. The midrange is rich, and crisp, allowing the movie vocals to sound almost convincing, with the lush sound of the Spanish guitar just behind. The treble seems to lack slightly on this track, allowing it to sound a little too warm, too comforting, which is not what this track is about… it is supposed to contain anger, and venom, which isn’t quite conveyed even with the crescendo takes a hold. Am I disappointed? – No… Did I expect more? – Yes. This sound is more likely to sooth you into a false sense of security than be able to convey the true emotion that this track has to offer….

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

A different style of sound compared to what I’m used to with Sony portable CD players, there is an aggression, an anger not normally associated with the smooth sounding units, but this is only shown when warranted… A great discovery in the world of all things ‘Discman’ one that I’m happy to say has overthrown the D311 as my personal favourite! – Don’t let the fact that this wasn’t the top of the range model put you off of picking one up! – A player that from its headphone out sounds nearly as good as my full sized setup including the META42 either says there is something chronically wrong with my main system, or else that this players headphone out is a true great… you decide!

Sony D311 (Manufactured 1992)

Considering that this Discman is 11 years old, it is amazingly thin, about 1 1/2 CD jewel cases deep, and about the same size as a jewel case in both width and length... only the external battery pack takes the unit outside of the jewel case size... amazing! Sony’s showcase to the world, of how to make a 'thin Discman'... Only 3000 are reported to have been produced, at an initial retail cost of approximately $450

Things are starting to look a lot more 'modern' now also, the illuminated LCD is gone... replaced by a very much more common place screen on the main unit, also there is a very simplistic remote control that has five controls, Play / Pause, track scan / access, stop, and 'DSP', which switches on either the bass boost (NOT Mega Bass) and DDS enhancement ~ there are three levels of each, but that can only be adjusted on the main unit itself.

The remote itself only displays the track number, little markers |<< and >>| depending on which way you're scanning through the tracks, and something that most MD users will be more than familiar with, a spinning 'disc' that shows you graphically if the unit is paused, playing or scanning, by how fast the disc 'spins'... all clever stuff for all that time ago! This was also the first sighting of Sony’s 'Micro-Plug' plug, if you don't have a mini to micro jack plug, you're stuck with either the supplied ear buds, or not using the remote control...

On the main unit, there are nine buttons, two switches, and a volume control, all lined up on the outer lip of the player, all are quite self explanatory, and are seemingly ergonomically positioned... The stop button doubles up as a 'charge' button for the internal battery (3.5v 550mah BP5)... for four hours charge, you would get two hours of playback from that cell, including the external battery pack (two AA batteries) you could get playback up to a seemingly respectable 10 hours or so... unfortunately the D311 that I acquired didn't come with a mains adapter, so I don't know if the internal battery works or not... time will tell

The LCD on the main unit shows track number, time elapsed, three level battery level meter, and Bass Boost / DDS level (if activated)... This LCD wouldn't look out of place, even on one of today’s modern players!

Build quality is up to the usual old school Sony standards, the unit is quite heavy, seemingly having a metal alloy shell, configured into a shallow 'D' shape, with a quite ingenious locking mechanism for the external battery pack... well done Sony!

Power Requirements:
Internal 3.4v Battery, good for 2 hours playback
External Battery Pack, good for 4 hours on fresh cells
Internal & External batteries combined: Approx 6 hour’s playback
Mains: 6v jack, Centre Positive

Main Features
Headphone Output: 9mw x 2 @ 16ohms
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary on both the main unit and remote control
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: 3 levels, activated on either the remote or the main unit, altered on main unit only
Disc Retaining method: Centre Spindle, Pop-On system
One Bit DAC (Delta / Sigma)

Extra Features
DDS Output: Three stage sound enhancement, boosts quiet sounds to make the sound more 'even' ~ activated on either the remote or main unit, changeable on main unit only
Remote Control: Simplistic remote, but all options are separate, no doubling up of button controls.

Current Availability: Very hard to find, Third rarest Discman out there (amongst the 'elite', only the D515 and D626 are rarer) occasionally sold on by Head-Fi'ers, but more often than not its a lucky hit on EBay, due to the rarity, and quality of these units, they have been known to exchange hands for as much as $500 for a mint condition unit!

Headphone Output

With S-Club 7s 'Reach', this appears to be much more airy than the D50, instruments are placed further out to the left and right of the head-space, bass is taut, and incredibly crisp with a more competent midrange that seems to compliment the Eggos that little bit more, the treble isn't the brightest, or the most extended that you'll ever hear, sadly that is only in the realms of the D50, but what you get is certainly clear enough and doesn't offend your ears, even when played at higher volumes... The fact of how easy it is to pick the mix apart, even on this 'pop' track is unnerving, you could literally point to an instrument in the sound-stage, and know exactly what its doing, or when its being used, I can safely say this is the only Discman I have that can do that!

Back to Tori Amos 'In your cloud', the improved midrange of this unit is easily apparent, with Ms Amos' voice being projected much more naturally, both tonally as well as spatially, with the swirling ensemble of instruments to the left, and the piano to the right sounding nothing but smooth, and natural... The bass seems to be a little overdone on this track, it does seem to take a little edge off of the music, but what bass there is, is yet again incredibly well defined, grinding away nicely...

The Gladiator track, homecoming is where things get really good though, Wahoo, the soundstage is magnificent, amazingly wide and well defined... again, you could easily point out exactly where each instrument is within this busy track, again, the film inserts appear to be thin, and not lifelike, so I really do feel that this is a failing on the mastering rather than the players part, but again whilst the speech is going on, there is a delicious guitar solo, where you can almost see the player plucking each string... and then the big bass over the top, its certainly not going to sound as strong or as vibrant as say, a fully optimised DT770 setup, but its damned impressive nonetheless, the 311 very nearly let go at 3:05 though, with the final huge crashing bass note... then again, to most people I probably listen to excess (I am currently listening at volume 7 of 10 on this player)

The separation (soundstage) abilities of this unit do nothing but impress me, yet at the same time everything sounds very smooth, almost contradictory of that... its a very clever thing that Sony pulled off with this player, the ability to have an ultra wide and clean soundstage, but without resorting to thinness, something even a few of today’s players could do with some tips on, and I’m not talking just Discmen!

Line Out Output

Full sized player! - they are the words screaming out of my mouth after the first few seconds of listening to the S-Club track, I can hear fully from first the headphone out, and now the line out why this player is so rare, and highly sort after... Bass weight is absolutely spot on, sounding rhythmic, and again, bouncy, separation is superb, allowing for an immaculate soundstage, vocal clarity is above all I’ve heard so far apart from my (now dead) Aura CD player, and the treble is held seemingly perfectly in check, not a hint of sibilance anyway, yet the sound is anything but dull, the whole sound to be just oozes quality ~ this goes further than just equalling the XE570 I have, it exceeds it, quite happily!

Where with the D50, I can hear a lovely clarity on 'In Your Cloud', the D311 takes it on to another level. the first thing I can hear is a little triangle being tapped, with a great clarity that I’d barely even registered on the other players, the bass is lovely, and rounded... close to being overloaded, but holding together, and sounding rich, along with Ms Amos' vocals that just seem to hang in the air, she doesn't seem to be tied to the instruments that are playing all around her, and even with the bass rolling around her and the instruments, everything can be located, and isolated with ease, the smile on my face would give away a lot, as to how I like the output of this player!

The orchestral Gladiator track, yet again impresses me on this player, is there nothing it can do wrong? you may be asking ~ and to my ears, the honest answer would be a resolute No!, separation, tonal quality, definition, pace... even those lacklustre quality film inserts sound impressive, and almost realistic... and the guitar, oh... no word of a lie, the clarity has brought a tear to my eye! that might sound very unbelievable, considering that this is just a portable player, but honestly... to my ears, this is well and truly up there with the all time greats, very much a 'must have'... Also, the crescendo at the end of the track is handled with complete ease, yet again this player passes a test with flying colours.

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

As good as I've personally heard from a portable, it’s not perfect, then again, neither is a $5000 CD player! Only the fact that this unit doesn't have any form of shock protection stops it being my preferred player of choice for out on the road

Sony D515 (Manufactured 1992)

The Sony D515 is the highest specified model of Discman made in 1992, this was more expensive than the D311 at the time of manufacture. The biggest feature that pushes the original cost of this unit to be higher than that of the D311 is that this is the first player to use Sony’s ‘ESP’ (Electronic Shock Protection) this system in the case of the D515 has a three second data buffer, which is maintained by spinning the CD faster than normal, so that the memory can be filled like a reservoir. This allows the player to be bumped just that little bit more than all players before it that had no shock protection other than the laser transport itself.

One very noticeable change on this player is that the laser, instead of running from top left of the unit to centre, actually runs from centre to top right of the chassis. Whether this is a purposeful change or not, I have no idea. But this is the only Discman I have seen so far that has the laser on the opposite side of the unit.

Another clever thing about this player is the battery compartment. It appears that there is no option for an external battery pack, but what you can have is either a BP2EX battery (from the older generation players) or, inside the battery compartment there is a little slider, which when moved flips out a spring connector for fitting two AA batteries into where the BP2EX battery normally sits. Again, this is the only player than I have seen such a function on, and even now in todays modern era, I do think that this was a very well thought out feature by the engineers 11 years ago. One final feature that I have yet to see on any other Discman but this, is that as soon as you enter a CD into the player, whether you hit play or not, it spins the disc up, and stores the track information into memory. This means that the player can spin up ever so slightly quicker when first used… Good stuff!

The LCD on the main unit shows track number, time elapsed, theee level battery level meter, and Bass Boost / DDS level (if activated). It also has an extra section over that of the D311 for when ESP is enabled, a ‘pot’ with water droplets inside. The more droplets there are, the more memory you have in your ‘ESP’ buffer

Build quality from 1992 is again as good as can be expected. The unit is again made of metal as per the D311, but this time instead of being finished in a matte grey, the top of the unit is finished in a glass silvery grey colour. This unit is squarer than the D311, and again fits within the confines of a CD jewel case. The D515 is slightly deeper and heavier than the average portable CD player of this time though, measuring in at about two and a half CD jewel cases deep. This is probably to accommodate for the BP2EX battery. A shaped rubber grip has been added to the top of this player, by the lid hinge to indicate that it can be used whilst being held in the hand. Another one of features never to be repeated it seems…

The enclosed remote is identical to that of the D311 ~ further details can be read in that section of this review.

Button and slider count is relatively high on this player, on its lid (along with the LCD) you have the obligatory play/pause, stop, play mode, enter, and track skip / search (forwards and backwards) buttons… around the sides of the player you have ‘DSP mode’ and ‘Effect’, which are both tied into the same feature… DSP mode activates wither bass boost or DDS… and effect determines how much of that effect you require (three stage). On the front you have a toggle for ESP, one for hold and another for opening the player, and inside you have one final toggle for ‘resume play’

Power Requirements:
Internal BP2EX Battery, good for 2 hours playback
Internal AA Batteries (if BP2EX battery removed, and slider switched across) are good for about 3-4 hours playback ~ considerably less if ESP is used
Mains: 9v jack, Centre Positive

Main Features
Headphone Output: 9mw x 2 @ 16ohms
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary on both the main unit and remote control
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: 3 levels, activated on either the remote or the main unit, altered on main unit only
Disc Retaining method: Centre Spindle, Pop-On system
One Bit DAC (Delta / Sigma)

Extra Features
ESP – Electronic Shock Protection: Three second data ‘pool’ which enables the sound to be played from memory if the player is knocked, whilst it is trying to recover its location
DDS Output: Three stage sound enhancement, boosts quiet sounds to make the sound more 'even' ~ activated on either the remote or main unit, changeable on main unit only
Remote Control: Simplistic remote, but all options are separate, no doubling up of button controls.

Current Availability: All but impossible to find. Search for either a needle in a hay-stack, or else hens teeth, either are more likely to come up than this very rare player!

Headphone Output

The first track starts well, air is very evident around the various instruments, with a steady, strong, and accurate bassline. But… whats this? The midrange sounds a little thin, vocals don’t have quite the silky value that they deserve, bordering onto the point of sibilance, this is maybe a slight exaggeration… but I am comparing this player directly to the D311, seeing that it is supposed to one of the best Discmen ever made, so the difference is smaller than say comparing the D141 Discman to the D-E905, nevertheless, it is enough to detract from what is otherwise a very good rendition of this S-Club 7 song. Instrument placement is very good, placing everything where it should be within the soundstage, and the player never feels like its going to trip over itself when things get busy, just a shame about that treble…

The opening bass notes on Tori Amos’ track are as prenounced as you could wish, maybe showing an ever so slight hint of boominess, but not enough to be critical of. Instrument placement is again to my ears perfect, placing the piano and drums behind the singer, with her delicate vocals being projected very much in the middle of the soundstage. Its not all good news though, again there is a slightly recessed nature to the midrange which for this track takes the edge off of the sultry vocals, making them sound slightly anemic, almost sterile. Sibilance is also slightly apparent, not enough to make you run screaming down the road, but just enough for you to know that this isn’t a real performance, merely a recording

Straight away, I think I can sense that this player could be geared more towards classical pieces. Instantly the Gladiator track hits you as sounding good. Instrument location is impeccable. Timing is great, and the slightly withdrawn midrange and peaky lower treble seems to suit the genre perfectly. The drums are well in check, sounding punchy, and articulate. The vocals again, do not sound amazingly accurate, but that has come to be expected now. The Spanish guitar that plays on the second half of the track sounds convincing, and exciting, and when the tempo heats up, this player is there throwing it all at you as fast as needed. Only at the very crescendo does the players amp give way (at high volume) which is a slight let down considering the normal powerful nature of this pedigree of player, but with the volume at a more respectable level, the player handles it with ease… a very enjoyable listen!

Line Out Output

Perfect! – The tonal quality is spot on for the S-Club 7 track, sounding bouncy, rich, clean, smooth… all at the same time. This is full sized CD player material, all in a portable package! Soundstage is crystal clear, and easily defined. Seperation is as good as you could ever want also, and the vocals? Ooh yes. They’re good… no, GREAT. Highly convincing, and in the case of the female singers, highly seductive. This is an enjoyable experience even though this isn’t by any means one of my preferred listening tracks. There aren’t enough words really to describe just how good this unit sounds. I’m sure I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this is one of the best, if not the best Discman line outs I’ve ever heard. Great!

The soundstage is great on this Tori Amos track, with the first few notes coming from behind you it appears, and then moving far out to the front-left is the lone drummer, with his pianist friend sitting slightly closer to the mic on the right hand side. Its not all about soundstage though is it! The tonal quality of this track through the D515 is great, seeming to be perfectly weighted, not too slow, not too fast. Just right in actual fact. Tori’s voice sounds as seductive as you could imagine. To me, it sounds like she is in my room with me, that is how convincing this player is, yet it still manages to play the bass notes behind her without interfering with, or smearing her vocals. A true work of art this track is on this CD player, To say I’m impressed would be an understatement. 1992 was obviously a good year for Sony!

Highly authoritive is the impression I get from this players line out… It means business, and it gives it… by the bucket full! – The Gladiator soundtrack is big, and swirling all around your head, with huge bass at one second, and subtle instruments the next… Soundstage is impeccable, one of the cleanest I’ve heard so far. The on-screen vocals sound compelling, although as is now to be expected fail to share that last trace of intimacy to make them realistic. The bass, and the Spanish guitar that surrounds it both display a certain level of maturity not normally shown in personal CD players. You would expect to hear a sound quality like this on a full sized deck, rather than on a portable unit. And as you can all but expect, the D515 handled the crescendo with an ease only really equalled by the D311. Highly impressive!

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

This is going to be controversial I know, but even though the D515 gets a full five stars for its headphone output, to me it isn’t the best Discman ever made… the sound is too thin in the upper midrange, and too bright in the treble for this to be ‘the best’, but the line out is fantastically solid, and accurate and the unit as a whole is still light years better than 98% of the rest of Discmen out there… An amazing unit if you can find, and then afford to get one!

Sony D141 (Manufactured 1993)

The D141 is a mid-priced unit from 1993, costing originally about $200, it has the (at the time) newly developed 'Mega Bass', a three level system (off, mid, or max), also there is for the first time (at least on 'classic Discmen') AVLS, Auto Volume Limiting System, when engaged, this caps the volume at pre-determined levels, invariably this makes the sound compressed, and disjointed, and is a very poor cousin to the previous feature 'DDS', but with all the talk of excessive volume levels, and potential hearing damage... something needed to be done, and this appears to have been Sony’s attempt to alert consumers to the situation...

The first thing that can be noticed about this Discman is how flimsy the build is, gone is the rigged metal frame of the Discmen that went before it, and now is the 'plastic' revolution, it feels cheap. It has a button count of seven, alongside three sliding controls for 'Hold', three stage Mega bass, and a three stage control for the new feature AVLS...

A simplistic LCD display is on the front of the unit, showing basic track and programming information, and once again the players length and width fit inside the equivalent of a CD jewel case, with the unit being the equivalent height of three cases, battery power is with two internally held AA size batteries, providing approximately 10 hours of playback, there is no option for an external battery pack...

This unit does not come with a remote control, either in box, or as an optional extra.

Power Requirements:
Internal Batteries: 2 x AA Cells, approximately 10 hours of use
Mains: 4.5v jack, Centre Positive

Main Features:
Headphone Output: 15mw x 2 @ 16ohms
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary the main unit
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: 3 levels, activated via a three stage switch on the main unit
Disc Retaining method: Centre Spindle, Pop-On system
One Bit DAC

Extra Features:
AVLS - Auto Volume Limiting System, user controlled (Off / Medium / Max)

Current Availability: Commonplace on both Head-Fi and EBay, can be picked up for as low as $20

Headphone Output

Uhoh... The beginning of the end for Sony’s reputation for good sound! ~ albeit that this is only a midrange, rather than high end player, but straight away on the S-Club 7 track the music seems slower than before, the bass is too heavy (not forgetting that throughout all of this review, all settings on all players are switched off)... the midrange is too shallow also, really throws the vocals off, making them sound artificial, also with that midrange dip, it seems to push the vocals into levels of sibilance that I’d rather not hear, and the treble... ouch, searing! Also another negative feature is that the soundstage seems to have collapsed compared to that of the D311 ~ before we fully write this player off though, I'm listening at the same volume level as the D311 (7 out of 10) which in cheaper Sony units is never a good thing, it really is only the top of the range units that have the extra headroom for increased dynamics...

'Your Cloud' is heavily dominated by the bass, this would probably sound good for the average consumer, but for the more seasoned audiophile amongst us, that could spell disaster... separation is less apparent on this unit, yes, you can still determine where instruments are, but there is almost a veil over the mix that obscures the delicacy, and the intimacy a little.

Ms Amos' vocals seem to compliment this player though, her heavy, sultry voice is lightened a little with the lack of midrange that this player offers, making her voice quite listenable, but the bass is unfortunately overbearing for me on this track...

On Homecoming, it almost needs the extra bass that the D141 offers, it adds a certain depth to the music I hadn't realised with the two players before this... a certain feeling of desperation that was trying to be enforced by the composer... a daunting sound, but the lack of midrange again lets this player down, making it sound thin, and uninviting, the movie inserts sound even more detached from the track than on the two players before this... Even with that in mind, the guitar still sounds very crisp, and articulate, but after this, with the heavy rolling bass that has previously thundered through the D66 Eggos... breaks up, it starts off as one huge wall of sound, no separation at all, and ends up distorting... certainly not what I’ve experienced with the two previous players!

Whilst this player is a bit like a mortal amongst the gods, seeming somewhat out of place, the reason I included it, it seems popular on this board... so I am probably being a little harsh on its abilities... for the cost that you can pick it up for on EBay ($20ish) it is certainly worth a listen, even with taking on board what I’ve been saying!

Line Out Output

Stepping down the quality here aren't we? - well, no! The bass on this player is a little slow compared to the others that have gone before it, but it is well in control and very punchy making an enjoyable, although not compelling listen... a lot of the midrange warmth is gone from this player, making it sound a little analytical, and the treble is boosted slightly, but this does not mean its sibilant, the treble on this unit is actually rather well contained... You lose a sense of soundstage on this busy track, everything just seems to come at you from all angles, although if you concentrate on one single instrument it can still be heard throughout the mix, rather than being lost in the oblivion that surrounds it...

The bass is on the warmer side of neutral for 'In Your Cloud', meaning that the track sounds a little heavy, but not horrendously so... the vocals themselves are warm and airy, almost contradicting my opinion on the previous track of there being a lack of midrange, although I wouldn't be comfortable in saying that you could isolate Tori from the rest of the mix, things do get a little congested, which does detract from the music a little. The soundscape is hearable although not necessarily well defined, not maybe this player’s forte, playing slow music, up-tempo or aggressive material I feel would suit it better...

The aggression I was just mentioning seems to come in aptly for the Gladiator track, the bass weight offers an extra sense of drama or urgency to the mix, although it does appear to get a little out of control, on the quieter passages the air whilst being restricted is still apparent, you can hear where the instruments should be, but they feel a little bit closed in compared to the best players here... The vocals appear to be compressed again (although it looks well established that that is more likely to be a recording issue rather than one of the players)... The final roaring crescendo loses some of its immediacy due to the bass slowing down the mix slightly, but even when things get heavy, this player keeps itself in check, not lowering itself into the realms of distortion.

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

Its a budget player, not one of the 'true greats', but considering how little you can pick up this unit for, on EBay, it still beats most modern players hands down, although primarily in my opinion only good for rock / dance music - Flimsy build may stop this player from surviving through the ages

Sony D151 (Manufactured 1993)

The D151 is the next model up from the D141 from 1993, costing originally about $230, it has a higher specification version of 'Mega Bass' ~ ‘Digital MegaBass’, which means that the bass boost is done at DAC level, without the need of a separate circuit in the signal path. As per ‘MegaBass’, Digital MegaBass is a three level system (off, mid, or max), also as on the D141 AVLS, (Auto Volume Limiting System) is included… as mentioned before when engaged, this caps the volume at pre-determined levels

The build quality is slightly better than that of this units cheaper brother, with a more rounded shape ~ although the players lid is, when open only held in place by two thirds of the plastic shell, the lid is more rounded than the player itself, which could be potentially a week point for the longevity of a working unit. The LCD is now in front centre of the player with all major functions to either the left or right of the display (which is identical to that of the D141). The only real functional difference of note on the D151 when compared to the D141 is that the hold switch is also the door open lever. If the player is in ‘hold’ mode, then the CD cannot be ejected. A function I have not seen before on Sony Discmen...

The players length and width fit inside the equivalent of a CD jewel case, with the unit being the equivalent height of three cases, battery power is with two internally held AA size batteries, providing approximately 10 hours of playback, there is no option for an external battery pack...

This unit does not come with a remote control, either in box, or as an optional extra.

Power Requirements:
Internal Batteries: 2 x AA Cells, approximately 10 hours of use
Mains: 4.5v jack, Centre Positive

Main Features:
Headphone Output: 15mw x 2 @ 16ohms
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary the main unit
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: 3 levels (digitally enhanced), activated via a three stage switch on the main unit
Disc Retaining method: Centre Spindle, Pop-On system
One Bit DAC

Extra Features:
AVLS - Auto Volume Limiting System, user controlled (Off / Medium / Max)
Digital MegaBass – Bass boosting is performed on DAC to limit parts used

Current Availability: Commonplace on EBay, can be picked up for as low as $30

Headphone Output

S-Clubs ‘Reach’ sounds unnatural. Sure, the bass bounces along nicely but the soundstage sounds compressed, and the vocals do not sound convincing in the least. It appears as if there is a boost in the lower midrange on this player, yet at the same time a cut in the upper midrange… making the vocals sound almost honky. There is no sibilance to note which is a good thing, and all the instruments are present, and discernable even if not in their usual positions. Maybe I’m being hard on a player that shouldn’t even technically be in this line up of all time greats… You can excuse it of its faults and listen away quite happily, but the unnatural sounding vocals to me, on this track are very distracting… a turn off.

Tori Amos’ track instantly made me look to see if I’d knocked the bass boost on by mistake. Not to say that the bass is overblown as such, but it is very prominent on this player, with its huge rolling notes… In a funny kind of way the bass is addictive. The more delicate instruments seem to be a little subdued, sure you can still hear them but they’re not in focus as much as they are with the better players in the line-up. Tori’s vocals themselves sound inoffensive, warm, soothing… This player doesn’t seem to have the energy of others here, so I feel that would detract heavily from dance music which appears to be all about treble zing… something this player has very little (if any) of… Smooth, that is the best way to describe the sound that this track offers on this player, but with an extra attention to the bass-line.

The gladiator track sounds rich… TOO rich, with very little energy in the treble area to involve you in its sound. The bass is deep, rich, and tight which is good for this track, but instrument placement seems to suffer as a result, sounding a little too two dimensional for my liking, and that lack of treble seems to blur everything slightly. The vocals do actually sound quite good on this player, only losing the last little bit of accuracy to stop this player doing something barely no other player can… an accurate reproduction. The Spanish guitar has lost a lot of its bite, its immediacy with this player, it seems to get lost in the mix, being hidden in the background, rather than jumping out at you. When the pace speeds up, the player keeps up, but sounds somehow slower than it should. The lack of treble energy really doesn’t help there. But the players amp handles the crescendo with ease.

Line Out Output

Slow bass, ugh. This song is going to take a long time to listen to… thump thump thump, no! – It should be faster than this! On the bright side, vocals sound good, with a good level of integrity and honesty to the sound that won’t offend, but at the same time it won’t necessarily get you into the mood to dance. The midrange is where this unit excels on this track, with the various instruments playing out in a very clearly defined soundstage, but once more the relative lack of treble hinders this player, making it slow, and lazy sounding… A Sunday afternoon listen.

Tori Amos’ track sounds spacious, but at the same time uninvolving, there is a certain level of detail that has been masked by this player. Sure the bass is smooth, and rich, and sure the midrange is lush, making Tori’s vocal sound very sultry and seductive, but there is something missing. The lack of treble is probably one of the reasons, which takes a lot of sparkle out of the percussion on this track. This would be a brilliant player for falling to sleep with, but during the day? – its more likely to send you to sleep!

The Gladiator soundtrack sounds horrendously murky, the loss of both detail and extension are clear to hear from the offset. The bass trundles along rather than striding, and the instruments, no… the whole track, has no life in it whatsoever due to the criminal loss of treble extension. The midrange also sounds unnatural, too syrupy ~ which does nothing to compliment the already bad sounding in-film vocals. The Spanish guitar sounds slow, and has no real authority behind it. This player would sooner send me to sleep than invite me into the musical mix, and in this case that really is not a good thing. Even the crescendo at the end of this track sounds uninteresting. I think that this is the first time that this track has sounded so bad on any of the CD players on test…

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

A real disappointment. No, I wasn’t expecting too much, but this is to my ears far and away the worst player that I’ve listened to so far. Its got plenty of power on tap from its headphone output but both that, and the line output are far too uninvolving, far too… safe, for my liking

Optimus CD3400 (Manufactured 1993)

Whats this? A CD player in my review that isn’t a Sony? – You betcha! – This player has time and time again been held in high regard for its sound quality, so its time to put it to the test!

The original MRSP of this player was around about $179, but to me it doesn’t look like it should have been anywhere near that. This unit is built very cheaply being made purely of plastic from the time when most of Sony’s players were still being cast with metal shells…

Feature count is primeval, with only four different EQ types (presuming that EQ1 is linear, as this is what the player starts up as) and the only other thing of note is a switchable backlight for the LCD display… For those really interested, this is a very nice shade of pale green, and luminescence is spread very evenly across the display… a very good job well done! – That being said, this Disc player reminds me of very much older Sony units. Its motor gets very hot with extended use, which is slightly worrying. How long did the motors run on these older units before failing, if they got this hot?

This player measures up at just very slightly longer than a CD jewel case (by literally only a couple of millimetres), is just under the width of a jewel case, and is approximately the equivalent to 2.5 cases tall. Button count is at medium level, with seven… these are the obligatory track access, play / pause, stop and player open buttons, but also there is a programming button, as well as a selector for the various EQ modes. There is really nothing physically that sets this player apart from much cheaper players on the market… lets hope the sound quality proves the build quality wrong!

Power Requirements:
Internal Battery: 4 x AA batteries. Maximum playing time currently unknown
Mains Power: 6.2v (6.0v powers the unit perfectly) Centre positive jack plug

Main Features:
Headphone Output: Unsure, but has plenty of volume on tap
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary on main unit
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: None Applicable ~ EQ modes are used instead
Disc Retaining method: Centre Spindle, Pop-On system
One Bit DAC with eight times oversampling

Extra Features:
Four pre-assigned equalisation settings
Digital Output (3.5mm jack)

Current Availability: Virtually non-existant on either head-fi or ebay, this is either because of the poor build quality, and players failing… else is because the unit is held in such high regard, that no-one wants to let it go… The sky is potentially the limit if you’re wondering how much you might expect to pay for one of these classics.

Headphone Output

Yowzers! It sounds like someone has just cleaned my ears out! – boy is this player bright! Don’t get me wrong, bass is clean enough (if a little set back) which allows the S-Club track to race along at full speed without fear of sounding slow, and yes the vocals do sound very clear, but that treble! – Ouch! Imagine sound as like looking through a window, with this player is like that window being missing… You get the good, and bad… extra clarity? Maybe ~ but I interpret it as being bright, and harsh… the instruments sound splashy, and inaccurate and whilst there is no sibilance on the vocals, the instruments completely ruin the sound… a big no no for me on this track

The Tori Amos track sounds much better than the S-Club one, with the bass still being slightly set back compared to other players, but at the same time sounding very credibly rounded. Instrument placement isn’t stellar, you won’t be able to imagine yourself in a concert hall with this CD Player, but the instruments themselves are faithfully reproduced within their own two dimensional soundscape, sounding very crisp, especially the piano, I am impressed by this players ability to reproduce that, and Tori’s vocals themselves, whilst sounding slightly sparkling do actually sound very convincing… I can happily confess to liking this player for this track, where the blatantly obvious overactive treble of this unit does not need to raise its ugly head…

The gladiator track sounds good on this player… The bass rolls along quite happily, sure its not as deep as others here, so bassheads need not apply but what you do get is very faithful to what I assume to be the original. That strident treble that was noted on the first track is not noticed on this track at all. Sure the treble is there, and lots of it, but it is kept in check, and feels much more competent than that of the pop based track. The film vocals sound okay, not great, but not bad… about average from the various CD Players in this lineup. The Spanish guitar sounds very convincing, rich, inviting. And the bass drums, and orchestra that start up around it as the crescendo comes into play are all held in check very nicely, with the crescendo itself passing by effortlessly. This player appears to have lots of energy on tap… maybe too much, as the strident first track may have shown, but on this Gladiator track it works almost perfectly!

Line Out Output

The first track starts with a nice rhythmic bass, which whilst not plumbing the depths, does allow the headphone drivers to flex rather nicely. Gone is the harsh treble that plagued this track through the players headphone out, and what is left is a very clear, yet inoffensive sound which would be good for late night listening. Vocals are crystal clear, if not maybe losing the very last touch of realism in favour of treble extension, but even so there is no sibilance to speak of… The accompanying instruments all sound clear, and accurate within their own portion of the soundstage, although this is slightly compressed compared to the very best in this line-up. I cannot really think of anything to find fault with, with this players interpretation of this track through the line out, I’m highly impressed!

The bass on the Tori Amos track is again smooth, concise, and precise. There is not any sign of bloat at all, with all the instruments fitting very neatly over the top within their (restricted) soundstage. The soundstage itself is slightly flat, but this is excusable when you hear the clarity of this unit, which really is up there with the very best of them. Tori’s vocals are rich, and clean, without a single hint of any form of degradation. This is again a brilliant example of this players line out which, considering it is to all intents and purposes an unknown brand, is now held highly in my mind. A thoroughly enjoyable, and completely infatuating listen.

The Gladiator track sounds great through the line out of this player… I could end it just there and be happy, but I’d better continue… Bass isn’t exactly deep, but to me is weighted almost perfectly… again, bassheads need not apply for this CD player. There isn’t exactly a huge soundstage, but what there is is very apparent, throwing percussion to the left and to the right, and allowing you to pick your way through the mix very easily. The best attribute to this players line out for me is the top-end, the instruments sound crystal clear, and yet again, whilst the in-film vocals don’t have the last word in realism attached to them, the bass that enswirls them, along with the Spanish guitar both sound sumptuous and highly pleasing… I could happily listen to this over and over again, and the crescendo is handled with ease… job well done!

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

Forget this player through its headphone out if you like faster, pop based material. It will give you tinnitus within minutes with all that high frequency sound it would push into your earlobes. Then again, if you’re the kind of person who walks around with a portable amp, this player really could be right up your street… seeming to excel at everything thrown in its direction! This would be right up with the very best of them if there was a larger soundstage on offer, but nevertheless a great (tonal) sound quality from the line out… and to think that the digital output is supposed to sound even better!

Sony D231 (Manufactured 1994)

Coming soon…

Sony D777 (Manufactured 1995)

This player was one of Sony’s first 'Super-Slim' Discman (although if truth be known, it is barely thinner than the D311 from three years previous and is probably thicker than the D-J50 that was Sony’s signature player from 1991), Physically, it looks very much like a large 'D' and has, to reduce weight, a carbon fibre shell of which the lid is finished in a grey gloss finish, as is the accompanying remote control.

Mega Bass is once again employed on this Discman, with the very much standard Off -> Mid -> Full cycle, and this Discman also features a form of 'automatic EQ', if the music gets too loud for the internal amplifier to handle, it cuts back on the bass enough for it to carry on sounding good. This might sound horrific, as if you'd have a wall of treble, but this really is not the case, I don't know what Sony used to enable this feature, but it is very well executed!

Super ESP is the showcase feature for this unit, the first Discman to have a full 10 seconds of anti-shock, using probably the same techniques as on the original ESP, which could only hold three seconds of music, but now with the introduction of the latest version, up to ten seconds could be held in a buffer, in case of excess movement of the unit... A real step up towards a truly portable player!

The, controls are around the edge of the unit, There is no LCD unit on the main unit, only on the remote control, this shows: track number, elapsed time, bass boost level, ESP on/off and a battery low indicator, the remote uses the 'micro connector' mentioned previously for the D311, without an adapter expect either to use the supplied earphones (MDR-E741) else go without the track information on the remote... Sony I believe, scored an own goal with this 'enhancement'

Power Requirements:
Internal Battery: 2 x NH-9WM gum sticks, for 10 hours playback
External Battery Pack: 2 x AA batteries, for 10-15 hours playback
Internal + External combined : Up to 25 hours playback
Mains Power: 4.5v Centre positive jack plug

Main Features:
Headphone Output: 10mw x 2 @ 16 ohms
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary on both main unit and remote
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: 3 levels, activated on the remote control only, cycles through the available options (off / mid / max) when the 'Sound' button is pressed.
Disc Retaining method: Centre Spindle, Pop-On system
One Bit DAC (Delta / Sigma)

Extra Features:
'Super' ESP Shock Protection : 10 second anti-shock, rather than the 'standard' 3 second protection offered on previous ESP enabled Discmen
AVLS
Remote Control: four buttons on the remote, controlling play mode, play / stop, track skip / back, sound settings... buttons are doubled up, press quickly for one function, or hold down for extra function

Current Availability: One of the easier to find 'Classics', invariably pops up on EBay, expect to pay anywhere up to $200 for a mint condition unit

Headphone Output

The first thing that crossed my mind with the first track was, midrange... its not the most striking ever, but what there is, is incredibly well etched, making the vocals on the S-Club 7 track a pleasure to listen to, match that with an incredibly tight bass, without a hint of sloppiness, and a well controlled treble, and you have, quite possibly the most accurate rendition of this song i've heard through a Discman, granted the soundstage isn't quite as clear as that of the D311, and the midrange isn't quite as well focused, but this is a pop-track, its not meant to be accurate, its meant to be something to bop along to... and the smooth treble of this unit allows you to do just that, completely non-fatiguing, and... a must listen!

Bass, smooth, tight, but very nearly bordering on overbearing... that is my first impression of the Tori Amos track, The vocals sound luscious though, there is a certain richness that eludes all but the very best Discmen here, just the lack of treble extension stops this from being a great listen, the soundstage is, as ever ~ impressive, positioning the drummer to front left of the soundstage, and Ms Amos directly in front of you... a warm, but comforting listen is how I would describe this unit, doesn't necessarily offend, but at the same time doesn't excite as much as a couple of the others here...

The smooth treble of this player makes the Gladiator track sound a little subdued, it doesn't have the energy needed to drive the song along, so the bass takes control, making the whole track sound a little slow... the midrange also sounds slightly boosted, which pushes the already poor sounding film inserts even worse, even less realistic, as if someone has put a piece of cloth over the actors mouths, and the guitar also sounds slightly dull, it really needs a little more sheen to make it sound great, which this player cannot provide..

Line Out Output

S-Clubs offering seems to be dominated by a crisp bass, and midrange, lots of it… This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it sounds well contained and bouncy. Vocals sound clear if maybe failing on the last word in accuracy, and treble, whilst brighter than most other units up to this point, does not detract from this mix. Soundstage is apparent, and well defined… There really isn’t anything that I can fault with this output… A nice, easy thumbs up with this track.

Tori’s vocals are compelling through the D777, they dominate the track as a result of the extra midrange apparent here compared to other units. Bass is smooth and well controlled, and instrument placement is better than most other units on test, soundstage as a result is wide, and believable, tonally the instruments sound on the mark, neither offending, or sounding bland, and the bright, excess treble from the last track is not noticed here, a big improvement just by switching CDs… One of the better moments of this listening experience…

The Gladiator track once again sounds convincing, with a delicious amount of bass that excites, but at the same time doesn’t overpower, with fast paced string instruments being heard concisely, and in their place on the wide soundstage. The vocal section is on a par with most other units on test here, slightly lacking but probably caused by deficient mastering of the CD… The Spanish guitar solo sounds enticing, and correct. There is a good amount of decay with the noise that sounds… correct, once things go full swing, the D777 handles things with ease, even the crescendo at the end of the track… I cannot fault this player with its portrayal of the track

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

This player that started me on the road to portable bliss, eight years ago, and it still holds its own… Maybe not the best out of this collection, but by no means the worst, you won’t go wrong if you get your hands on one of these collectable Discmen!

The Dawning Of The Modern Era ~ 1996 - 2003

Sony D465 (Manufactured 1996)

One year on from the D777, the top of the range unit appears to be very much more mainstream. No slim-line chassis, cheaper construction (although it does still manage to have an aluminium lid) and the (for the time) rare gumstick batteries have been replaced with the somewhat more standard AA batteries (originally Sony rechargables).

On the plus side, what does the D465 have? Well, it has an LCD on the lid which is probably one reason why the US model does not come with a remote. Also, a blast from the past, the LCD display is backlit, gone are the days of the orange LEDs from the D555, D25S or D211 and here is the emergence of the EL bluey green lighting… Practically useless for using in the day-time, but at night is a soft light… Works well!

The new ‘innovation’ for 1996’s flagship model appears to have been 20 second ESP. The model below this, the D365 comes with only 10 seconds worth (the same as the D777). This purely just means that there is a bigger memory buffer inside the unit, rather than using the more aggressively reading techniques of the 10 second ESP2 units from the coming years.

Size wise, this is by no means the smallest unit ever invented. It is made in a similar D shape to that of the D777 and E905 (as is confirmed by the fact of the external battery pack of these two players fitting onto the D465 perfectly) but is wider, being a few millimetres wider than a CD jewel case, just over twice as tall, but approximately half a centimetre shorter in length. The added bulk of this player, to my mind goes to the fact that the gumstick batteries were removed from the design, and replaced with internal AAs. This isn’t such a bad thing in either respect – sure, its big, but its not TOO big, and also it allows for easy battery replacement whilst out and about.

One exceptionally clever / innovative feature of this player is its hold switch, which in fact is simply a big slab of metal that covers over all of the buttons. Very simple, but works well – shame there aren’t more Discmen that have this basic, yet handy feature!

On the flip-side, one (what I perceive to be a) bad feature is that when you install fresh batteries, that ESP automatically comes on, and it is up to you to defeat it. Not so good for battery life if you don’t realise, and are not really into using it in the first place!

Two stage digital Mega-Bass is used also via a button on the main unit… Personally I think it sounds a little cleaner than that of the E905, but as with all mega-bass, in an ideal world its best to leave well alone.

Power Requirements:
Internal Battery: 2 x AA batteries (or Sony Rechargeable variant) for approx 15 hours playback
External Battery Pack: (I am unsure of exactly what battery pack was supplied as standard, but the D777 / E905 part is able to be used) ext 2 x AA batteries, for another approximately 15 hours
Internal + External combined : Up to 30 hours playback
Mains Power: 4.5v Centre positive jack plug

Main Features:
Headphone Output: 10mw x 2 @ 16 ohms
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary on main unit (and remote – see below)
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Optical Output: via Line Out Jack
Bass Boost: Digital Mega Bass - 3 levels (off / mid / max)
Disc Retaining method: Centre Spindle, Pop-On system
One Bit DAC (Delta / Sigma)

Extra Features:
ESP Shock Protection : 20 second anti-shock, rather than the 10 second ‘Super ESP’ from the previous generation
AVLS
Remote Control: N/A for American version – backlit unit for the rest of the world, although the unit I’m using is an American version, so am currently unable to comment on the remote, other than being aware that it comes with EL backlighting

Current Availability: Seemingly quite readily available on EBay, can be picked up for as low as $60

One ‘issue’ with the Discman that I haven’t noted before on others is a mistracking on the post at its lowest levels.. at Minimum, there is no output whatsoever (can’t say I’ve noticed this before on other Discmen?!) and also, when you take the volume from Min to 0.5, the output is only on the right channel. It clears up very quickly, by the time you get to approx 1 on the dial, the channel balance is linear, as it is all the way up to maximum – but I’ve never heard a Discman with such apparent misbalance in the lower registers before – although I cannot at this time tell if it is a general attribute of this player, or if the one I have here is faulty…

Headphone Output

Starting with the S-Club track, the first thing to note is just how clean the bass is. Some may consider it as light, but I personally consider it as crisp. Bass-Heads need not apply here, but for the rest of us, this is a very detailed sound.. This continues into the midrange, which whilst not being the richest here, is certainly still perceivable. Vocal projection does not maybe have the last word in warmth, or realism, but what it does carry over is a sense of fun. It screams for you to listen to the music, and not the player. Add into this a slightly recessed, but still appreciable soundstage, and a very clean, well extended treble, and to me you have what could be pretty much perceived as a winning combination. A complete surprise – there was me thinking Sony had gone downhill after the D777 – looks like this player could prove me wrong!

Second track, Tori Amos. Straight away, again – this player sounds pretty damned good. Bass has an almost grainy texture (this is mean in a positive light) which allows you to feel your way around the notes, rather than just hearing them. Soundstage is not as wide as the best here, but is still clearly defined, adding a much needed perception of depth to this track. The cymbal can be clearly heard front left of the mix, although just not as far out as others here. Both Tori’s and also her backing singers voices are intimate, smooth, comforting. The D465 isn’t going to scare you, and give you a white knuckle ride, its going to wrap you up in a duvet, and transport you on your way to auditory heaven. This track sounds really good on this CD player, only really losing out on the last level of resolution that the older units here can provide – but, one thing is for sure, its showing other players for this same time period a run for their money!

The Gladiator track instantly shows off that this player has a pretty great soundstage capability through its headphone out (seemingly contrarily to the previous track), with the sound swirling around your head effortlessly. Bass weight appears to be quite precise, not boomy, not weak, just right in fact for this track. When the more delicate part of this track comes along, the atmosphere shines through, allowing for you to feel quite intimate with this track. Vocal projection is, whilst being a little thin as has been seen so often with this track, at the same time very clear, and easy to comprehend. The Spanish guitar doesn’t appear quite as warm, sultry and inviting as other players here have portrayed it, but it is still very listenable. Add into that the effortless way that this player makes its way to the crescendo, and whilst you might not have an award winning performance, to my ears it is still worthy of an accolade!

Line Out Output

Boo-Di-Boo-Da… Erm, sorry – you caught me bopping away there… To S-Club 7 (Eek!) Seriously though, this track is oozing with energy and excitement through the D465 line out. Its great, With a taut, punchy bass-line, clean crisp midrange, and a nicely extended treble that allows all from the bottom bass-notes, through the vocals, and up to the cheesy hand-clapping noises to sound good. Soundstage is good, allowing a wide angle of perception, with every instrument appearing to be in its own little sound-space, this is a great listen. There are critics of this player, and its line out capabilities, but from this test track I really cannot hear anything too fundamentally wrong. As long as you like a warn, and not brittle presentation, this player will do nothing but please, with pop based music. A real bonus to the review!

The Tori Amos track starts off quite delicately, with the cymbal being clearly audible, sounding very sweet. Soundstage, whilst not quite being the largest of them all is easily discernable, allowing the Piano to be perceived far out in front of the mix, with Tori’s vocals being much more closer to the headspace… This is convincing and also pleasing. The vocals themselves are very clean sounding, lacking the last word in emotion, but definetly listenable. The backing singers vocals sound very sultry as they should do. For a more modern unit, I actually find this player to be very good… No, it doesn’t have the last word in refinement, but what it does do is give you its honest opinion of what the music should sound like, and for that in its own right, I have to rank this player quite highly with this track.

The Gladiator soundtrack sounds dark and foreboding. Really sinister through this player, I think that there is a smidge too much bass-weight here to be completely comfortable with ‘classical’ music, as it slows the heavy music down a shade, but nonetheless the soundstage swirls around the mix, inviting instruments to show themselves in front of, and around the head-space. The vocals are a shade subdued here – then again, there have only been a couple of players so far that have handled these cleanly so this isn’t really a criticism against the player. The Spanish guitar sounds luxuriously rich, and the music generally sounds involving, even up to the crescendo which is handled with consummate ease. Some could say that this track displayed a problem with treble attack, sounding a fair bit darker than most others around, but this does not seem to sap the life away from the music too much, playing on a much safer path of warmth, than tearing your ears off with brightness, and sibilance – it’s a tough juggling act, but I think this player has just about pulled it off!

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

Think of the best features of the D777, and then think of the best features of the D-E905, mix them together, and put them in a bigger package, and I think you’ve then found yourself with the D465. Its almost as if the sound designers of the 777 and 905 collaborated for this player. Personally I find it a highly enjoyable listen – tie that in with a usable (20 seconds) level of shock protection, and ignore the arsthetics, and you have a winning player in my mind! – Quite possibly the best all rounder after the D311! – Get yours whilst they’re still cheap on ebay!

Sony D-E905 (Manufactured 1998)

This player shares virtually all of the same features of its high end predecessor, the D777, same body shell (albeit in a better, marble blue finish on both the main unit, and also remote) except now, with the addition of better grade batteries (NH-14WM) the player boasts 14 hours of playback from two gum sticks, or anywhere between 30-40 hours if additional AA batteries are put into the external battery pack.

One new feature of this player is 'Digital' Mega Bass, for the first time, the DAC controls the bass boost, rather than having a separate circuit in the signal path, also the player now automatically charges the internal batteries (if required) when you plug in the mains adapter... The 'Charge' button from the D777 is replaced with a 'Sound' button on the D-E905, this is really just 'Mega Bass' off / mid / max, and there are no user adjustable values beyond these three default settings

Also, the 'Super ESP' of the D777 is gone, having been replaced by ESP2, which is still 10 second anti-shock, but has a more aggressive way of reading discs when jogged, and a quicker way of capturing the 'data' so there is less chance for your music to be interrupted when engaged, but as ever this takes a few hours off of the battery life expectancy when switched into the circuit

The, by now standard controls are around the edge of the unit, There is no LCD unit on the main unit, only on the remote control, which as with the D777 shows: track number, elapsed time, bass boost level, ESP on/off and a battery low indicator, the remote, again uses the 'micro connector' mentioned previously... the same pitfalls apply as for the D311 and D777...

Power Requirements:
Internal Battery: 2 x NH-14WM gum sticks, for 14 hours playback
External Battery Pack: 2 x AA batteries, for 15-20 hours playback
Internal + External combined : Up to 40 hours playback
Mains Power: 4.5v Centre positive jack plug

Main Features:
Headphone Output: 5mw x 2 @ 16 ohms
Volume Control: Analogue, rotary on both main unit and remote
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Bass Boost: 3 levels, activated on either the remote or the main unit, cycles through the available options (off / mid / max) when the 'Sound' button is pressed.
Disc Retaining method: Centre Spindle, Pop-On system
One Bit DAC (Delta / Sigma)

Extra Features:
ESP2 Shock Protection : 10 second anti-shock, better data collection technique than on previous implementations of 'ESP'
AVLS
Remote Control: four buttons on the remote, controlling play mode, play / stop, track skip / back, sound settings... buttons are doubled up, press quickly for one function, or hold down for extra function

Current Availability: Again, hard to find... occasionally pops up on EBay, expect to pay anywhere up to $250 for a mint condition unit

Headphone Output

The first track, 'Reach', when played through the D-E905 is in a word, sharp... There is a nice crisp sound, with adequate separation for what is essentially a pop song, with a nice bouncing (but well in check) bass-line, but the treble seems to be a little over-keen, especially on the louder passages, which masks the midrange which is the life and soul of this track... on the quieter sections this compliments the poppy sound of the track, but on the louder sections, it gets a little irritating, a distraction.........

Tori Amos' track shows off its delicious soundstage once again, with the opening notes coming from the front left, and staying there, the bass is maybe a shade overloaded, sounding more grating than precise, but its still certainly very listenable, and Ms Amos' vocals are precise, if maybe a little thin, you don't feel like she has swallowed the microphone, how you do with a couple of the other units on test here, This appears to be an 'easy listening' Discman, the difference between S-Club and this track is startling, this one being a lot more listenable, and enjoyable.

The bass on the Gladiator track is very impressive, a nice rolling sound which doesn't overload your eardrums, with very subtle placement of instruments throughout the soundstage, The vocals from the film on this player quite probably sound more realistic than on any other of the players here, they seem to have an air around them, compared to the other players that play them in a rather two dimensional way, and then when the music starts at full speed afterwards, this unit can handle it with ease, you can place all instruments in their set area of the soundstage, none are lost in the frantic action, although the player does wimp out on the final huge bass note... can't win them all...

Line Out Output

The tone of this player is… ‘correct’, that is how I’d term it whilst listening to the S-Club track, the bass is taut, and perfectly balanced, allowing the track to appear to play at full speed, not over-dominating, and slowing down the music as is apparent on some other players mentioned. The midrange is wide open, maybe it could do with a little extra depth, or resolution to take it that last couple of steps, but as it stands, it is more than adequate for listening through my amp, and with a perfectly controlled treble, this player once again makes listening to this track for the umpteenth time, a pleasure rather than a disappointment. Soundstage once again, whilst limited to the confines of the original recording, is reproduced faithfully… I cannot fault this player playing this track, at all!

The first bass kick of the Tori Amos track sounds very much from front left in the soundstage, instantly I know I’m going to enjoy listening to this track as well, Ms Amos’ vocals are projected with ease, and with a warmth fitting to her tone although not overly so, the piano seems extra especially crisp too, closing my eyes I can easily picture the pianist tapping away just behind Ms Amos, with the drummer just to the left. Yes, this sounds good! Treble energy is again restrained to stop any sibilance that could easily offend the lyrics of this track… again, there is nothing that I can fault this player on!

Straight away on the Homecoming track, I know this player means business, the bass rumbles through the CD1700s in a professional manner that would not seem out of place on a full sized deck, with the more subtle instruments beyond portrayed accurately, and with no sense of loss of detail. As can be anticipated, the soundstage once again proves to be very accurate, but once more the film vocals prove to be a disappointment… sounding thin, and unconvincing… The Spanish guitar sounds a little thinner than what I’ve noticed on some of the other players, slightly more metaillic, but certainly no less enjoyable… and the crescendo at the end of the track is handled with ease, showing this… once again to be a very commendable player through its line out!

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

The headphone out of this unit lets it down a little, but that is more than made up for with a great quality line output, add into that the ESP2 system, and a portable amp, and you have a very good portable system!

Sony D-EJ1000 (Manufactured 2002)

Eighteen years after the birth of the 'Portable CD Player' we have Sony’s flagship model for 2002, the D-EJ1000, this has a magnesium lid for rigidity, is finished in silver and is barely the same height as a CD jewel case, and if you take into account its oval shape, it is a whole lot smaller in both width and length, an amazingly small unit...

First, let me say how light this unit is, even with the internal batteries installed, it feels barely heavier than a CD jewel case, You can see some compromises though, the internal plastic is incredibly thin, which can be noted when the unit is on charge, by opening the player, and seeing the LED glow from the charge light shining THROUGH the plastic, but that is undoubtedly how Sony got the unit so small, and so light, and doesn't appear to affect the operation of the player...

The CD, once placed on the spindle in actual fact fits inside the players lid, there have been a couple of comments from other people on Head-Fi that they can hear the CDs rubbing the inside of the lid, I myself have not had this, but there could be an issue with either CD quality, or maybe even quality control issues at the Sony factory.

There again, is no LCD display on the main unit (where could they put it?) and only three buttons on the main unit, two of which are rocker switches, have two functions on each button, the final one being a combination Stop and Charge button... You can connect the unit to the mains either by the standard jack plug connection, else with an included charging stand ~ if using the stand, the player automatically charges the internal batteries, or if you use the standard jack connector, you need to press the 'stop' button to set the unit off...

Externally, two AA batteries are connected via the power jack, in an enclosed pack... this cabled tube is not the most handy device on the planet, hanging limply if you're holding the player in your hand, but if truth be known there is no real need for the extra battery life, not unless you're away from a mains socket for a week or more... such is the efficiency of this unit, with its enclosed batteries!

One step up on this generation of players is the removal of 'ESP', and the inclusion of the new 'G-Protection' system, this holds 40 seconds of data, on level one is the standard retrieval system (spin up and spin down the CD) but with level two more aggressive CD reading techniques are used to ensure that even the most energetic runner would be able to listen to their music on the move.

The remote control contains all required playback features, is backlit, and if a suitable disc is used in the player, CD-Text can be displayed - The remote control is also the only place on the unit where you can access the Digital Mega Bass... Finally the unit can read CDR/CDRW media, but is NOT MP3 compatible.

Power Requirements:
Internal Battery: 2 x NH-14WM gum sticks, for 40 hours playback
External Battery Pack: 2 x AA batteries, for up to 68 hour’s playback
Internal + External combined : Up to 115 hours playback
Mains Power: 4.5v Centre positive jack plug

Main Features:
Headphone Output: 5mw x 2 @ 16 ohms
Volume Control: Digital, on both main unit and remote
Line Output: Standard 3.5mm jack
Optical Output: 3.5mm, combined with line out
Bass Boost: 3 levels, activated only on the remote ~ cycles through the available options (off / mid / max) when the 'Sound' button is pressed.
Disc Retaining method: Centre Spindle, Pop-On system
One Bit DAC

Extra Features:
G-Protection Shock Protection : 40 second anti-shock, more economical on battery life as it spins up, and then spins down the CD, plays music from memory
AVLS
Remote Control: All player functions are obtainable from this remote, track access, track scan, volume, bass boost, and stop / pause - also track time / CD Text data is displayed on the remotes LCD screen

Current Availability: Currently commercially available, expect to pay approximately $200-$250 new (depending on vendor), or anywhere down to about half of that for a second hand unit on either Head-Fi or EBay

Headphone Output

S-Club 7s offering actually sounds not so bad through this player, on a more critical listening stance than normal, I have to say this is probably one of the more easily listenable Discmen for this track, sure its got overloaded bass, but the reduced treble that is painfully apparent actually does this song some good, reducing the onset of sibilance, and also seems to introduce a fun factor to the music... Soundstage is nothing spectacular, but vocals are projected clearly (if not realistically)... Dare I say this, I actually found my head moving in time with the music!

Tori Amos' track, straight away sounded horrifically overloaded, all subtlety has been wiped away in favour of a restricted sound... the soundstage instead of being deliciously open on some of the other players, is now pushed forcefully either left, right, or in-between your ears. Ms Amos' voice is obscured by the overloaded bass, and even when you wade your way through that, her voice seems to be masked by the rich midrange, this is far from enjoyable... The lack of treble extension also seems to detract from this even further, I honestly can't believe how poor this sounds compared to the models passing before it in this review!

With Homecoming, on the Gladiator soundtrack, the first thing that I could hear is just how compressed this player makes the sound compared to that of the earlier generations of Discmen, there is no bass-boost on, but it feels like there is, more so than the slightly oppressive D141, the instruments, rather than being subtly positioned around the headspace, feel very much closer, and ill defined... The guitar though, whilst the film speech is going on, does in actual fact sound quite convincing through the Eggos, but then everything is brought back into focus when the bass kicks off again... Why anyone would need bass boost on this player is beyond me, even with the Eggos, that are regarded by some as being bass light...

One thing that is criminally obvious is the lack of treble on this unit, maybe if there were more treble, it would mask some of the deficiencies in the sound, hide that over zealous bass... or make the midrange sound more natural... It’s a good job that this unit has a line out socket..........

Line Out Output

With a certain amount of horror, I can safely say that the line out of this player sounds very similar to the headphone out in terms of tonal balance, when compared to the older units on offer here… The bass is overdone (although not totally so, it is still listenable afterall). Midrange texture is overdone, making vocals sound less than complimentary to the artistes original tone I would imagine on the S-Club track, and there is a distinct lack of treble which makes the player sound… Dull!

Soundstage is still audible, but in a much more compressed way than with any other player on test (with probably the exception of the D141). Don’t get me wrong, this is listenable, and probably quite enjoyable in the long term, but after just listening to some of the greatest Discmen that Sony has ever produced… I’m not convinced!

The midrange appears to be too strident again on the Tori Amos track, making the vocals sound thick, syrupy, and with that over zealous bass, this is an easy way to get yourself a bass headache! The treble is credible though, hearing the brushing of a cymbal through the left headphone, whilst certainly not sounding realistic, does sound comfortable… You could excuse the treble inaccuracy just for the fact that it is something to distract you from the bass and midrange. Instruments are placed in approximately the right places, which is good, but they also seem at certain points to be gelled into one… hard to differentiate…

The excess bass and midrange of this player seem to compliment the Homecoming track a little, as mentioned before, extra bass lends this track a sense of urgency, of desperation, even if it does blur out some of the more subtle aspects of the track, and the strident midrange adds some warmth to the instruments, so whilst not having a particular level of realism, it does seem to mask some of the more severe problems with this player, namely the severe lack of treble. The Spanish guitar doesn’t sound as enthralling as on other players, but it does sound relatively accurate, but at the same time seems devoid of emotion… and the final bass rush, as the crescendo takes hold, is as ever overloaded… overall, not very impressive.

Personal Rating

Headphone Output :
*****
Line Output :
*****
Build Quality :
*****
Portability :
*****
Overall Rating :
*****

If you like simplistic, and undemanding pop music and want the most convenience from any unit in this review, this player could be your thing, it is by far and away the most portable unit, and has extra bass through its outputs which would suit most modern music down to the ground, but for more complex, or subtle material better can definitely be achieved elsewhere!

Epilogue

My favourite Discman of this collection without doubt is the D211, its ability to be smooth one moment, and aggressive the next is highly impressive, and more akin to a full sized player ~ although I will admit that this might not be to everyone’s taste. If you prefer things slightly smoother, then there is the D311, it has a very natural sound that seems to compliment the Eggos perfectly, ‘hand and glove’ is a phrase that springs to mind right now… Only the D303 could upset my opinion, having read the opinions of others for that player. Hopefully given time, I will be able to obtain a D303, and add my opinions of that player to this collection. The biggest disappointment of all was the D-EJ1000, for a top of the range player, it is very lacking in the audio department, even if it is by far and away the most portable unit.

The biggest surprise of this roundup was the D141, granted its not up there with the best of them here, but considering it was, in its day ~ a standard player, it really has highlighted the degradation of the outputs over time, and for the little amount of cash you can pick one of these players up for.. A bargain!

I think this plainly shows what a lot of us 'Discman Collectors' already know, that the older generation units are really the ones to look for ~ with one exception (the D-E905) pretty much all players after the D777 from 1995 have been pretty much worthless, certainly not what Sony’s intention started out as ~ bringing good quality to the masses... Sure, you can listen to most modern players quite contentedly with an external amplifier, but is that the point? - The true classics amongst this group don't need an amplifier to sound good!

I think it is clear to see from my review that 1992 was the last year of truly great Discmen… sure others followed, but they were few and far between, and without doubt the exception rather than the rule… If you want a good quality (albeit deskbound) CD source… look for models from 1992 or earlier!

Its with a heavy heart that I know the more that time goes on, the Discmen will get worse, and the old school ones will get harder to find, and less likely to work fully... So, I’m going to listen to them as much as I can now, So I can treasure the memory that is... Good Quality personal audio.

Hopefully someone from Sony will read this thread, and my opinions, as well as those of every other avid collector on this forum, and realise that we don't all want 150 hour battery life, or 200 seconds of compressed anti shock memory, especially with RAM prices being so cheap these days, there is no reason that there couldn't be 128mb of memory in a unit, to provide 15 minutes of uncompressed memory... What we want is sound quality... GOOD sound quality... Listen up Sony, we are your consumers!!

Whilst I know this is quite an established group of Discmen, I know that there are other classics out there that I don't have, namely the D303 and D626... I'm on the look out for these players. Whilst this review isn't completely exhaustive, please be assured that as and when I can get my hands on these other 'rare' Discmen, that I’ll update this post with my opinions...

Disclaimer:
If after reading this review, you can see errors in the technical specs, or you just feel that some of my general information is incorrect, please PM me with the relevant information, and I will update this review ~ I want this to be the most complete review there is for 'classic Discmen' and your input would be most helpful... Thank You

Admittedly, opinions could change if different headphones are used, but the Sony MDR-CD1700s and MDR-D66SLs are my preferred headphones at this time, so I feel most at home reviewing equipment with them. I could have used more headphones but I’m not sure if this really would have proven anything. If you disagree with me, please tell me which of the headphones within my collection you’d like me to review one of the CD players with (rather than doing a whole new review) and if there is a difference in my opinion, I will add that to this review.


Thank you for reading this review. I hope that it has been informative!

Updates and honorary mentions:
  • 04/28/2003 - Added revised opinions of the Sony D555 Discman now that I have a fully functional one…
  • 05/02/2003 – Added review of Sony D25S Discman and amended a couple of minor technical specification errors
  • 06/21/2003 – Added review of Sony D515 Discman and Optimus CD3400 Personal CD Player – resolved some minor editorial errors
  • 07/08/2003 – Added review of Sony D211 Discman, and tidied up various parts of the review… Have also included ‘gold stars’ for aspects of the players that I find to be above and beyond the call of duty… expect more as time goes on and the review grows
  • 10/05/2003 – Added reviews of Sony D11, D111 & D465 Discmen…
  • 10/18/2003 – Added review of Sony D88 Discman

Confirmed for the NEXT update: Sony D2 (D20), D180K (D800K), D303 & D33 Discmen

Personal thanks go to Head-Fi member Pappucho for the extended loan of both the Sony D515 ‘Discman’, and the Optinus CD3400, member Maler23 for the loan of the Sony D465 and member Muzikk for the loan of the Sony D303 ~ your help in making this review more complete is valuable to me – Thank You![
post #2 of 292
Fantastic! can someone put this into "Featured Full Portable Audio Reviews"?
post #3 of 292
Thread Starter 
All done Sugo

I'm glad you liked it
post #4 of 292
Duncan, nice comparative review on the various Sony players here. I do agree with you that the D-EJ1000's headphone-out has bloated bass and rolled-off highs. But I'm starting to agree with you that the highs are also rolled-off somewhat from its line-out.

I also agree that memory prices are low. But the flash SRAM memory that is almost always the type used as uncompressed buffer on PCDPs remains astronomically expensive compared to SDRAM variants, so that a PCDP with a 128MB buffer would cost far more $$$ than what the masses are willing to (or can afford to) pay for. Thus, instead of the popular $50 PCDPs littering the market, the cheapest PCDP that has a 128MB buffer for anti-skip would cost more than $400. At that price, I'd rather buy a mid-fi full-size home CDP.

I'm beginning to actually compare the line-outs from all of the non-MP3 PCDPs that I have in my possession - Panasonic SL-SW850 and SL-CT470, and the Sony D-EJ721 and D-EJ1000 - and then compare the sound (with my Grado RA-1 amp and Sennheiser HD 600 headphones) to the headphone-out on my Panasonic SL-CT790 (damned Panasonic having decided to eliminate the line-out completely from all of its North American-market PCDPs for 2002). The point of this comparison is not only to determine the potential sound quality of the units, but also to determine how much of a sacrifice (if any) that the USA-market SL-CT790's headphone-out takes in its sound quality compared to the line-outs of the other players.

I will post my impressions later.
post #5 of 292
Very well put together review Duncan! I don't know you managed to endure 30 seconds of "S Club 7" let alone listen to the same track over and over again in a variety of machines...... your ears must be zinc plated mate!

Pinkie.
post #6 of 292
Great Read! I now love my D-777 even more... lol!
post #7 of 292
Quote:
Originally posted by krayzie
Great Read! I now love my D-777 even more... lol!
Great review Duncan! Yeah... I love my D-777, even before this review, and wouldn't think twice about getting a D-311 again.

Looking forward to you re-review of the D-555, as well!
post #8 of 292
(round of applause)

Excellent work Duncan!!! Probably the best comparison and review i've read in ages.
post #9 of 292

Very impressive review

Duncan,

I agree with you completely on your impression on these outstanding players. However, I personally prefer the D-E905's headphone out to those of the D-777. I believe that D-E905 is capable of more air in the strument, and capable of wider soundstage.


Purk
post #10 of 292
Wow, Duncan! You're a master reviewer. I hope some day I could have the knowledge (and enough English) to do something like this. I have to print this and enjoy it. Some little pictures could be nice too.
I'm sad that you don't like the D-141 better, because I'm getting one this week, and was very tricky to get it to Venezuela. But I hope this is a matter of reference (you have the very best) and that unit still will blow away the anoying sounding Aiwa I bought recently . Actually I compare the last one to a Sony Sport D-SJ301 and is about the same thing, maybe a little better bass in the Sony but better highs in the Aiwa.
Thanks for share the pleasure!
post #11 of 292
Thread Starter 
Thanks Everybody for your warm reception to my review

Sacriste, as mentioned in the review, the D141 is a good player for its vintage, its just outclassed by other much more costly machines here

I hope you like your D141
post #12 of 292
very nice review Duncan....


m.
post #13 of 292
a thoroughly enjoyable read.

many thanks
post #14 of 292
Awesome review Duncan, you make me regret selling my D-311 I hope you can get your D-555 working right so we can really see how it stacks up.
post #15 of 292
Good job, man! Nice review.
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