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Sony SCD-C555ES Hot Rod: sacdmods.com Mods Impressions/Review

post #1 of 233
Thread Starter 
Uh-oh-- another ponderous and over-long markl review...

sacdmods Web Site: http://www.sacdmods.com/

Price: for 555ES mod package: $600

Searching for the ultimate SACD changer
So, I couldn't take it anymore-- the waiting and waiting and waiting for the "perfect" universal SACD/DVD-A/Redbook player, a real giant killer that is to the $1500-$2500 level of players what the Phillips 963SA is to the $400 bracket. The kicker is I need a 5-disc changer (scoff if you like), limiting my options even more. I saw none on the horizon, and even when it does finally arrive, it will be a while before the asking price on it dips to a level at which I would buy (nominally $1200).

My current Kenwood Sovereign DV 5700 DVD-A player ($1200 list) has been serving me admirably, and is a fine CD player, surprisingly good at Redbook IMHO (again, scoff if you like), and just terrific on DVD-A discs. However, since aquiring the absolutely fantastic Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline HR-2 headamp (see here for review: http://www4.head-fi.org/forums/showt...light=emmeline), for my Sony MDR-R10 headphones, it became brutally apparent that this amp demanded a world-class source. It's such an amazingly transparent, detailed and open-sounding amp that it gives you a crystal-clear view of your upstream gear. I am certain this little amp has much more upside than my Kenwood is delivering.

Some may remember that I used to own the Sony SCD-C333ES SACD changer with Modwright Level 1 mods and Bybee filters (see here for impressions: http://www4.head-fi.org/forums/showt...ight=modwright). In all, I found the Modwright upgrade very much worth-while, it corrected all the deficiencies of the stock player (which IMO was just "average" for its price range on CD playback), and expanded nicely on what the player already did well (great tone/timbre, and very smooth analog-like sound). However, I never felt the modified 333ES was a giant-killer, just a very very good SACDP for the money. Ultimately, I sold the Modwright mod-ed 333ES, when I discovered that the Kenwood 5700 that I used chiefly as my DVD player was almost as good in many key areas and slightly ahead in terms of detail retrieval on CD playback. Overall, I just couldn't justify hanging on to the 333ES, and decided to wait for the mythical all-in-one solution I was certain was just around the corner.... (BTW: Modwright no longer mods the 333ES and he does not mod the 555ES).

So, in lieu of such a beast, I decided to take a second look at the the 555ES, and having even more extensive mods done to it than I had done to my 333ES. But if you have looked recently for a 555ES, you know that it is virtually impossible to find anymore, and used players typically sell for $700 on ebay and on audiogon where they are snatched up right away.

After a massive search, I managed to find a dealer who has brand new 555ESs in stock, and at a lower price point than the used models are going for! Needless to say, I pounced! (PM me if you want to know my source).

To mod or not to mod, that is the question
It is important to note that modifying your player VOIDS YOUR WARRANTEE. The Sony ES players have a big fat 5 year warrantee, but word is that if they need servicing, lead-times are insane and repair work is shoddy through Sony's USA network. Nevertheless, this is not a small consideration. So, CAUTION is advised! Most modifiers warrant their work for a small length of time usually around one year.

Sony 333ES vs. 555ES
The Sony SCD-C333ES ($1200 list) was the predecessor to the 555ES ($1600 list), the chief functional difference being that the 333ES is 2-channel only while the 555ES is multi-channel. They both share the same rock-solid, and dead sexy (IMO) chassis with its tank-like build. By far the best made changer I'm aware of, an ideal platform for mods.

Under the hood, the 555ES sports Sony's next-generation SACD DAC chip set (which it shares with the much more expensive XA777ES), which is generally considered superior to the original DAC set found on the SCD-1, SCD-777ES, and the 333ES. Scuttlebut on audioasylum is that while the DAC is better, the analog section of the 555ES is not quite as good as that on the 333ES due to the fact that the 555ES has 6 channels instead of two, which meant some cost-cutting probably took place on Sony's part. There seems to be no general consensus I could find as to which player is better, it may be that the improvement in the DAC on the 555ES are counterbalanced by the slightly less well-built analog section, making it a wash.

Where to mod/who to use/what mods to get?
There are many different kinds of mods available out there for the Sony SACDPs, and a growing number of installers. Most of these mods (such as Richard Kern's, and Modwright's) consist of tweaking the existing circuits with better parts (chiefly new caps and resitors). This results in incremental improvements over stock CDP without radically altering performance or sound quality. These modifiers also offer additional tweaks from companies such as Audiocom which usually entail swapping the clock in the CDP with a much better one to reduce jitter, and swapping out crummy stock op-amps with better quality versions. However, there are more extensive mods now out there for the truly adventurous, which consist of altering or replacing large portions of the player's guts with better quality, more streamlined circuits.

I came very close to buying another 333ES and having a very radical mod done to it by Allen Wright's Vacuum State Electronics (VSE). Allen's mod is by far the most extensive mod available, and if you can believe this, it *by-passes the DAC* entirely! That's right, his mod is a "DAC-less" design that takes over the audio signal before it is even processed by the DAC set. As a layman, I can't really tell you how it works but if you check their website (http://www.vacuumstate.com/) you can find some information. Basically, the VSE mod is a complete circuit that replaces almost all of the guts of the 333ES. It retails for $695 Euros, which with the lousy exchange rates these days means it will run you around $1000 installed by one of their two US distributors. The VSE mods are not available (yet) for Sony's multi-channel SACDPs, such as the 555ES and the XA777ES, but are available for previous generation Sonys such as the SCD-1, 777ES, and 333ES. The VSE mod is reputed to sound AMAZING, totally holographic and transparent which is achieved by removing the DAC and vastly simplifying the circuit and analog output section. Ultimately, a little too extreme and too expensive for me, but well worth looking into.

sacdmods 555ES mod package
Ultimately, I opted to get the 555ES and have it upgraded by Matthew Anker of sacdmods.com, who installs the LCAudio mods to Sony players, and provides a few extra tweaks of his own. LC Audio is a Scandinavian company that makes a wide variety of mods for CD players, and sacdmods.com is among their U.S. installers.

The LCAudio mods (http://www.lcaudio.com/) are somewhat similar in concept to the VSE mods, in that they completely replace the analog section of the 555ES with a higher-quality, completely discrete op-amp free output section. This mod is called the "ZapFilter", and it effects only the two main channels (other 4 channels still function but are output through the Sony's normal output board). The Zap Filter becomes the analog section for the two main channels (ideal for us headphoners), and by-passes four op-amps per channel that are part of the original Sony analog section. The use of a discrete ouput is said to result in lower noise floor, more detail, much improved dynamics and reduces hash and grit caused by the op-amps. The Zap Filter also is said to result in increased gain for the outputs as well. here is a picture of the Zap Filter:

Here is a picture of the Zap Filter's separate power supply:

Next, Mr. Anker installs the LC Audio XO2 replacement clock. Replacing the clock is generally considered by folks at audioasylum and by the mod-ers themselves to be the most bang-for-the-buck mod there is. Adding a better clock is said to reduce jitter resulting in a smoother more analog sound, greater detail retrieval, superior soundstaging, and perhaps most surprisingly, better defined bass response. There are three aftermarket clocks I looked at, the best being the most expensive, which is Audiocom's SuperClock 2. The LC Audio clock is slightly less expensive, but provides most of the performance of the Superclock 2. Finally, I read up on the Guido Tent clock which is used by VSE in its mod package, but is by far the least expensive aftermarket clock ($25) but is said to not be as good as the Audiocom and LCAudio clocks. Here is a picture of the LC Audio XO2:

The remaining mods are Anker's own home brew. He replaces all internal wiring that is in the signal path with high quality wire from Audio Consulting and Vampire wire. For the power supply he adds Harris/Fairchild HEXFRED Diodes, the soft recovery diodes provide clean power to enhance DAC performance. Finally, he also adds an IEC receptacle so you can add aftermarket power cords (yay!!!!), and replaces stock RCAs with fancy Cardas Silver/Rhodiums:

Here's a peek inside so you can see how the upgrades fit in the chassis:

My player shipped to him today and I should get it back middle of next week. Watch this space for impressions and ultimately a review after sufficient mechanical and mental burn-in. I can't wait!

post #2 of 233
Markl, you will love it. I have had mine for a couple months. It is awesome sounding. You will hear the dacs resetting between cds as the muting relays are bypassed ,which I found disconcerting at first, but I soon adjusted. The multichannel and headphone outputs are disabled as well. This player comes out of the box sounding top notch; it doesnt seem to need much breakin. The soundstage is HUGE, especially with sacds. The zap filter output stage has high output, you will definately notice this. The bass is very powerful and the dynamics are first rate. All this said, the unit is so special because it is unfailingly musical. You will be especially surprised how good regular cds sound.

I also noticed the 555es once modded was more receptive to power conditioning. I didnt like it with my ps audio powerplant p300 until after it was modded. I compared the 555es to my perpetual p1a/p3a combo, with upgraded revelation power cords and I2S cable, and upgraded power supply/ power cord; and I liked it better not only on sacd, but preferred it on regular cds as well. Matthews mods of the 222es are also excellent and less expensive. You can get the 222es new where the 555es is discontinued. I have two of those, and I am listening to it and my gilmore v1 through swans m-200 computer speakers as I write this.

I hope you enjoy yours as much as I do mine!
post #3 of 233
Wait... he disables the multichannel outputs? It's a public service to get rid of the headphone jack but I still would want the multichannel outputs. If that's true I guess I won't be considering to have mine done .
post #4 of 233
Thread Starter 
born2bwire, no he only replaces the "main" L/R channels with Zap Filter. Other channels still function as normal but are handled by the Sony's analog section as they normally would.

post #5 of 233
I couldnt find my brochure but I dont think they still work. The zap filters output wont match the sonys analog stage at all; much higher output. I know the headphone output is disabled for sure. I will go stick a multi channel disc in it tonight and see if I get any sound.
post #6 of 233
I just put in the Hourglass multi channel sacd and there is no sound from any of the other outputs; only the main stereo pair produce an output.
post #7 of 233
Thread Starter 
Uh oh . Is it only playing the stereo layer, or are you only getting the main L/R information on the multi-channel track?
post #8 of 233
I am not sure what you mean, but the additional outputs arent giving any output. When I plug the main l/r outputs(which do output) into any of the other outputs I get only silence. Hourglass is a multichannel sacd and the 555es defaults to the multichannel output automatically when mc is present. I dont like multichannel so I only have one set of interconnects into a stereo amp, but there should be output of some type if the outputs are operational and they are getting a signal.
post #9 of 233
Thread Starter 
Does the 555ES let you select the 2-channel layer on discs with both multi-channel and 2-channel layers? I assumed it would.

post #10 of 233
Yes it does, but you have to set it to two channel when a mc disc is present, I didnt. If there were output from the other channels there should have been sound and all I get is dead silence. I will give it another try later tonight, but I was certain when I initially responded the mc outputs are disabled.
post #11 of 233
Hey Mark, I cant get any type of output from the mc outputs at all, no matter what I do. It is absolutely on mc. I get the phasey r/l channel sound of the mc mix through the main r/l outputs; but when I switch the interconnects to the other outputs, nothing. The complete abscence of noise leads me to believe they are not connected. The 555es was to be a purist design eliminating all the inferior circuitry, so the zap filter bypasses all the analog circuitry of the sony per my understanding, connecting directly to the dac chips. The sony outputs must all be completely removed from the circuit path.
post #12 of 233
Very good. I no a guy who lives near me and he just got one of these. I'll pass this on to him.
post #13 of 233
I emailed Matt and the multichannel outputs are fully functional. I obviously dont have something connected right
Thats ok though multichannel is the devils idea to overwhelm us poor folks
post #14 of 233
Well upon further discussion, I was half right. My mc outputs are disabled. However, anyone else who gets the mod doesnt have to worry because theirs will be fully functional. He even has a new mc op amp mod that matches the mc outputs to the zap filter output.
post #15 of 233

sacd lover and I have been having conversations about this going back a few months and he was incredibly helpful to me. I've been considering doing exactly what you have chosen, myself. 555's have been INCREDIBLY difficult to find though. The ones on Audiogon go within literally an hour of being posted, and, as you noted, often at quite high prices given that they were being closed out for $500.00 for some time before they disappeared!
I've talked to Matthew Anker via e-mail and he seems a great guy to deal with. And, as you already know, sacd lover raves about his modded 555 unit. If I remember our conversation in PM correctly, He told me that its equal or superior to an unmodded XA777ES in SACD playback and, even more importantly to me, notably superior in redbook. I'm extremely eager to see what you think of yours.
Did you go with the full blown "Statement" level mod, or the "Reference"?

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