Recently, I had the opportunity to audition the Jolida JD 100A CD player. I'd had a short stint with this player at one of our Detroit meets, and was very much impressed. At a meed dominated by Meridians and Wadias, I found this player that I'd previously heard little about to be one of the genuine surprises. I was impressed by its musicality and sweet presentation. It also appeared to be a very well built product, and just plain looked good. I'd wished that I'd had found my way around to it more quickly, and that I'd been able to spend more time with it. Ah well...
Fast forward a couple of months, and here I am, using that very player for three weeks while its owner is away on business. Thanks very much to Head-Fi member arnaud for his kind offer to evaluate this player. I enjoyed having it very much.
At any rate, on with the actual review:
The Jolida JD 100A is a redbook CD player designed by the Jolida Inc. of Annapolis Junction, MD. My understanding is that their gear is manufactured in China, and will post further info as I receive it.
I was not so aware of this company, and spent some considerable time at their website learning about their philosophy. It can be clearly stated as follows:
At Jolida, the goal of audio reproduction is to provide the highest level of quality sound. In keeping with our mission, Jolida will bring quality audio equipment at a value price.
I cannot think of a product that I have used that is so in keeping with the price/value relationship as the Jolida JD-100. I'm reminded of some of the early NAD products that served as my introduction to hi-fidelity audio. They were not the cheapest products available by any stretch, but they did represent outstanding value...and just plain sounded good.
JD 100A: Vacuum Tube Compact Disc Player
Jolida Website Link
Gain stage utilizing two 12AX7A vacuum tubes. Unit does not utilize op-amps.
24/96 Burr Brown DAC.
Phillips CDM 12 Transport System.
Programmable for up to twenty-four tracks.
Full - function random access metal remote control with search function.
Track repeat and index of track search function.
Variable Headphone output.
Suggested Retail: $900
I found one particular spec to be of some interest: Headphone Output: 35 mW, 32 ohms (More on this later )
The unit that I listened to had been updated with NOS RCA clear-tops, so I did not have an opportunity to test out a "stock" unit. Oh well, I guess that's one of the big benefits of tubes - tube rolling!! It's also worth noting that this is one of the more mod-friendly units out there, with several companies offering varying levels of mods. That tells me a lot about the base unit itself.
My first impressions of this unit were that it just plain looked sweet. It has a very modern appearance, with a minimalist set of front panel controls. The finish is brushed aluminum, which does look very nice...though everything I own is black anodized. Oh well...what to do about that? The player is very solidly constructed, weighing in at roughly 20 pounds!! It also just seems to have the appearance of a well constructed product.
Speaking of solid construction, the remote is amazing for its quality construction - it must weigh almost a pound, and appears to have been machined out of a solid block of steel. If you're like me, you're forever irritated with dropping plastic remotes on the floor and watching them break/open at the battery door. If I were to drop this one on my hardwood floor, it would likely leave a dent. I'm sure that this thing would, in a pinch, make a very handy home defense weapon...but I digress.
The player has both an active and resting mode, which I suspects keeps the tubes somewhat warmed. This is distinguished by the color of the LED displays (red for resting and a sweet-looking blue for active). After a period of inactivity, it powers down.
Emmeline XP-7 w/ AKG K501, AKG K271S, and Grado SR225
HeadRoom Max w/ AKG K501, AKG K271S, and Grado SR225
nOrh SE9 w/ AKG K1000
Tori Amos - Scarlet's Walk
Ryan Adams - Demolition
Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
The Beatles - Rubber Soul
Dave Brubeck - Time Out
Elvis Costello - Imperial Bedroom
Chris Issak - Forever Blue
Dave Matthews Band - Crash
Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds - Live at Luther College
Rolling Stones - Aftermath (SACD Hybrid)
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
Other Players Compared (Redbook Only)
Arcam Alpha 9
Cal Audio Labs Icon MKII
MSB Gold Link III (w/ and w/o 192K mods)
Music Hall CD25
The first CD that I put in was the Elvis Costello. I hooked up the Emmeline/501 combo first, as I wanted to determine what the impact of tubes and solid state would have on each other. I was not disappointed!
I've used this CD on several occasions to test soundstaging, as I feel that it's one of the better ones out there in terms of studio engineering and mastering. I was immediately impressed with the fluidity of the music, without any loss in openness. The highs were sweet and natural, the mids jumped out at me, and the bass was full and strong. A very nice combination.
Next I used my K1000's with the nOrh SE9, as I wanted to get a feel for how two layers of tubes would work together. Again, I was pleased. It's probably got a lot to do with the ocean of detail that the K1000 brings to music, but I thought this to be my favorite combination. My fear that too much tubes would result in a washing out of musical detail proved to be unfounded.
Probably my favorite CD during this evaluation was the Tori Amos. She has such a sweet voice on some tracks, but I've found it to be grating at times on equipment that treats highs more harshly. Not so with this deck. Ryan Adams' "Dear Chicago" also rated as one of the better sounding tracks. Something about this deck and accoustic music (see also DM & TR "Seek Up") that seems to work well together.
In fact, all of my reference CD's sounded sweet and musical, without any of the harshness that I had experienced on some CD players of similar cost to the JD 100A. I felt like I could listen to it all day, as it is one of the least fatiguing players I've heard. The highs and mids were sweet and fluid, and there was certainly no shortage of bass. The bass in particular seemed to lack that "one note" quality that I've sometimes associated with solid state equipment.
I found the soundstaging of this unit to be exceptional, as I had the feeling of the room in which the music was being played. This is all the more impressive IMHO because the one weakness that this player has (albiet a relatively small one) is a loss of some measure of fine detail. In my experience, fine detail has always been a heavy contributor to that thing which we call soundstaging...the capturing of those little nuances that lends itself to the depth of the music. I guess that's all part of the magic of tubes.
I also made some use of the player's headphone jack. This always seems like an exercise in futility, as most decks have no decent jack at all, or at best a passable one that is blown away by most modestly priced headphone amps. The Jolida JD 100A is somewhat different, in that the headphone jack was clearly not just an afterthought. My understanding is that the headphone amp is very much a separate electronic component, and includes MOSFET devices...and no op amps. I gave it an extensive listening, and frankly it does not measure up to any of my separate headphone amps. That said, it's a LOT better than most I've heard, and one could (if one found it necessary) have a very enjoyable listening experience with a decent pair of easy-to-drive headphones. Not bad...and shows a nice attention to detail IMHO.
Of the players that I've heard with which I've been able to spend any significant time, I've found that they seem to break down into two groups: Truly special players (Meridian, Wadia, Cary), while variable in tonal qualities, will tend to have warmth, detail, soundstaging and musicality all wrapped into one. They're also VERY well built, and IMHO appropriately priced based on the value that one gets. My first impression with all three of these manufacturers was always WOW!! Most of the other players that I've listed to are also IMHO good players. However, they tend to have a weakness in one area or another. Most have at least some high-end harshness that I've not found in better players. Soundstaging has always been the thing that IMHO separates a great player from a good one. While most players I've heard in the sub-$2000 category do a decent job with this, IMHO it's difficult to do so without significant gains in detail...which tends towards harshness in lower-end equipment.
The Adcom GCD-750, for example, is a very nice product. It does a pretty good job with soundstaging, and is a reasonably warm deck. However, I'm thinking that any further gains in soundstaging would come at the expense of high end harshness. The Sony CD-555ES (which I also like a lot, btw) had more detail, but sounded to my ears more analytical and less warm for redbook playback. These products, along with the Arcam and Elite products listed above, are probably the closest in overall detail and soundstaging of all those I've heard in the same price range. Of all of them, I like the Jolida JD 100A the best.
As for the other players listed, while I liked many of them, I didn't feel like they had the same musicality as the Jolida JD 100A. In fairness, most of these decks are less costly. However, they all seem to be somewhat lacking in detail or soundstaging or warmth. At this price point, it seems to be difficult to pull all this together. One thing that I think makes a significant difference to MY ears is a tubed output stage. While the Jolida has somewhat less detail than many players (especially the higher end), soundstaging does not seem to suffer for it. I will have to seek out other tubed output players to see if this is the case.
I cannot recommend this player more highly. I've heard a number of different players, and I like this one as much as any I've heard for less than $2,000. Given it's retail list price of $900, that represents a tremendous value IMHO. It's a musical, inviting player...it just plain sounds sweet. If I can talk Mrs. Elrod into another piece of audio equipment this year, it might well end up being the Jolida JD 100A.