Compact Disc Player
Manufacturer: CEC Co., Ltd
he latest Compact Disc player manufactured by the Japanese company C.E.C. (which I am going to simplify to CEC in this article), which was launched at the end of the last year, is officially called “CEC Belt Drive CD Player CD 5” (with the note: “USB Sound System - 32bit/384kHz PCM and DSD128/5.6MHz”). So, everything is clear. As far as I know, it is the first time that a manufacturer associated with the Compact Disc format (that is, a company that has achieved the highest artistry when it comes to reading CDs) has entered the world of DSD (Direct Stream Digital) signal. Although this has nothing to do with Super Audio CDs on which information is recorded using this format, it is still a big change.
We are living in times when “physical” formats are landing on the scrap heap. I think that specialized audio manufacturers, surely offering expensive products and aimed at a market driven by sentiment, will still offer music on discs. However, files are the mainstream now, giving us signal without the “packaging”. These days, launching a CD transport such as the incredible TL0 3.0, or a new Compact Disc player may seem to be an idiocy and, at best, may reflect somebody’s lack of market knowledge.
That is why such an important element of the new CEC strategy is the note that I have already mentioned: “32bit/384kHz PCM and DSD128/5.6MHz”. It informs us that we can send PCM signal up to 32 bit and 384 kHz sampling frequency (DXD specification) to a device through the USB input. We can also send DSD signal, both single speed DSD64 (2.8224 MHz) and double speed, i.e. DSD128 (5.6448 MHz), in the same way. To highlight the marriage of the old and new, both a Compact Disc and a DSD logo have been placed on the front panel of the CD5.
Juergen Stegner (on the left) and Julien Stegner (on the right) from the European branch office of the CEC company, standing in front of the CD5 player – the first one outside Japan. I was able to meet them thanks to Mr. Roger Adamek who invited them to the opening of the new seat of the RCM company, a CEC distributor.
In 1954, when the CEC company was founded, the audio industry was still in its infancy. For example, turntable motors were still an unexplored field. CEC was the first company in Japan to produce turntables and its products were highly valued by music lovers. In the following years, CEC was the leading turntable and CD player supplier on the consumer market as an OEM factory, and its products were sold with the logos of such firms as Grundig, Marantz, Teac, Sony, Sanyo, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Alpine, Kenwood, Sharp and others.
Earlier, however, in the year 1991, CEC started a new chapter in music reproduction, preparing the first CD transport with a belt drive in the world, the famous TL 1model. Engineers who started working on it thought it was necessary to use technical knowledge of turntable design in the process. They assumed that the basic operating principles of analogue turntables and digital CD players are generally the same. Although rotational speed in CD players changes depending on the position of the laser, these changes occur very slowly. In other words, rotational speed in an assumed time period may be regarded as a constant value.
The latest CD5 player is based on the same concept. A heavier stabilizer which is used in it enables much more stable disc rotation, whereas the Belt Drive has eliminated vibration and electromagnetic noise caused by the motor rotation. For the first time in history, a digital input and a headphone terminal have been used in a Belt-Drive player. In this way, the most advanced DAC technology developed by the ESS company has been implemented and listening to music without the necessity of using speakers has been made possible. Signal sent from the computer to the USB input may have the following parameters: PCM signal up to 32bit/384kHz and also DSD to DSD128/5.6 MHz. In this way, the CD5 may operate as a high-resolution system – an independent DAC.
The player was tested with Furutech NanoFlux-18E and Crystal Cable Absolute Dream power cables. It did not stand on its own, but on Franz Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc Classic feet. Signal from the computer was sent using the Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL cable. The device offers two digital filters – I liked the “Pulse” filter more and I used it in the listening test, as sound is fuller and deeper with it. The “Flat” filter offers more “literal” and precise sound.
Recordings used in the test (a selection)
The player makes an excellent impression on the listener from the very first moment. The features of its sound are fairly easy to extinguish, especially if we are well-acquainted with the sound of a turntable. What I will say might be trivial, but it needs to be said: it is (internally) exceptionally calm and refined, “analogue” sound. It is “analogue” mainly because it is not characterized by sharpness or the effect of “brightening up” associated with digital technology. What I have just said is a stereotype, of course, but it is grounded in the 1980s and a considerable part of the 1990s when CD players often performed in this way. I remember well that many producers, journalists, and, consequently, music lovers imagined that the more efficient a high-end system is, the brighter and more detailed the sound must be. I am sure that such an attitude has effectively discouraged many listeners from using digital technologies and, in a broader context, from the whole audio industry.
However, these “dark days” are gone now. Right now the balance has shifted. Most devices and recordings produce warm sound with withdrawn treble. If I am to choose, then I opt for the present state of things without any hesitation – such sound does much less harm, it “does not hurt”. It is often associated with “analogue” sound, even though there is only one thing that is true about this comparison: a lack of inner instability and irritating hardening effects. I can accept this, although analogue sound is something much more complex.
CD5 is, however, more than just a substitute of a turntable (as some people might see it). Its sound is characterized by what I have already mentioned, i.e. slight withdrawal of the upper midrange, but this does not have much in common with “closing” the sound. It is “full swing” sound with full deep bass, but also with very well-defined dense treble. It cannot be said that the treble is “sweet” because I do not hear the head of attack that would cause withdrawal. As regards jazz discs from the 1950s, the cymbals were characterized by very nice “looseness” and weight. They were not as three-dimensional as in the case of the reference player using the TL0 3.0 transport, not to mention the Accuphase DC-901 converter. That was not the smoothness of the top-end dCS Vivaldi system either. However, the difference between the prices of these systems and the CD5 is simply incredible.
The CEC Belt-Drive player, which costs almost five times less than the Ancient Audio player which I use every day, proves to be a device whose advantages are so significant for the perception of music that the weaknesses of the device become less important. We are going to discuss the disadvantages, but not yet. Now it is time (again) to talk about the fantastic bass reaching as far as the lower midrange. I think that the way the range is presented gives us a basis for a comparison with a turntable. Here we have both power and fullness, but also density and definition. The sound does not have a hard attack, but the differentiation is still excellent. The player shows the differences in the amount and energy of bass more clearly than in its textures, like in the case of The Yes Album (the difference between a 24/192 file and the CD layer of the hybrid SACD 7” mini-LP which has recently been released in Japan). The file version was shallower and more focused on the midrange, whereas the CD version had more energy and density.
It seemed to me for some time that the CD5 emphasizes the upper treble a little more than the midrange. As regards Ed Sheeran’s X album (the song from the third part of The Hobbit), sibilants in the vocal are stronger than they should be. Players deal with this problem in different ways. The ones that succeed (although each does it in its own way) do not block the treble, because it is a departure from neutrality, but at the same time do not allow brightening up or “hissing”. What is more important in the musical message occurs somewhere else.
The sound of this player is not one-dimensional. We get added value with each recording. The tonality of the player is wonderfully set – it is low, dense, but with open treble. I have not found a recording that would sound weak with the CD5. It is because the sound is deep, saturated and interesting. Our attention is not attracted by details but rather by the way they interact with one another. The interaction is deep, resulting in dense “tissue” and involves more than just elements on the outside. So, the sound is very mature and characterized by inner harmony.
Of course, at such a price, it is possible to model sound in a different way. The CD5 produces very smooth sound. As I have said, it is hard to talk about softening the head of attack – it is not the case here. However, there are no clear textures in the sound which is treated rather as a whole. It is part of the “analogue” signature, but also a specific direction. Perhaps this is why some of the recordings sound as if they do not have problems with the upper midrange, while some of them clearly have a “guilty conscience”. It is a step towards civilizing sound, which is good, but also a deviation from full neutrality.
The USB input with the possibility of playing DSD files is, as it seems, important for the designers. The sound of Nat “King” Cole’s, Nina Simone’s and Ella Fitzgerald’s albums was more than competent – it was smooth, full and incredibly saturated. I was surprised with how good the sound of Perfect’s Unu album was. I got its analogue remaster converted to DSD from Damian Lipiński, for testing purposes. The remaster was prepared in Damian’s studio using the master tape. The dynamics was incredible – I did not know that people could actually make records in such a way at that time! The sound of PCM 24/192 and 24/96 recordings was also very nice, although it lacked the fullness and balance of the sound of DSD files.
However, I kept on returning to CDs with pleasure. Perhaps I am biased, but the so-called “high resolution” of files is still doubtful to me. It is, of course, confirmed by data presented on the player’s display, but it is different when it comes to sound itself. The sound of the CDs was rich, deep and sophisticated. Its inner calmness and coherence were outstanding. The selectivity and energy of the midrange, especially upper midrange, is not very exceptional, but simply constitutes an element of this sound and I “buy” it without any problems. It is an excellent and fairly inexpensive player which can normally be regarded as a high-end device.
Power connectors, power inlets, power distributors and power cables are probably the most well-known products of the Japanese company Furutech. Actually, the company manufactures a broad range of cables and offers excellent RCA and XLR connectors, as well as speaker terminals. Under the ADL brand, it also sells electronic accessories connected with headphones and computers. However, the above-mentioned power accessories are its leading products.
The company presented its new products, including the latest power cable NanoFlux-18E in January, during the CEC 2015 exhibition in Las Vegas. The cable is equipped with FI-50 (R)/FI-E50 (R) Furutech-engineered, state-of-the-art, rhodium-plated connectors. The connectors are carbon fiber finished and the diameter of the cable is 18.8 mm. The cable is made of α (Alpha) Nano OCC Conductor copper. A cylinder made of the same non-magnetic material as the connectors and having the same carbon fiber braid is placed in the middle of the cable. This is the Formula GC-303 EMI filter. The material has been used by Furutech for many years, e.g. in the e-TP60 and e-TP80 power distributors. All the metal elements were subjected to the Alpha process, i.e. a type of cryogenic (heat) treatment in order to eliminate mechanical stress.
The Japanese cable delivers quite low-set but open sound. It is characterized by subtle upper treble and illuminated, clear upper midrange which is not emphasized, i.e. its level is adequate, but the information that is contained there, e.g. the ‘picture’ of phantom images, is higher than in the case of the Acrolink cable, and much higher than in the case of the Crystal Cable.
The Furutech cable builds large and tangible 3-D images of instruments. The sound is close, but it is not thrown in the face. This is a fleshy message. The background is slightly pulled up, resulting in a vivid foreground – truly, incredibly vivid.
Thanks to using this cable, we will obtain highly dynamic sound. I think that this is part of the “tangibility” that I have mentioned. The sound is dense and set low, and that is why the kick drum beats have almost tangible weight. The tested cable is characterized by better selectivity that the Acrolink cable and the Crystal Cable, while the resolution of the midrange and the treble seems to be a bit better in the case of the Acrolink cable.
This is a cable which produces universal sound. It will prove useful when we want to maintain the dynamics of a system and bass extension, without closing the midrange. It will also come in handy when we want to lower the sound a little, but not at the cost of rounding of what is higher – Furutech does not round anything.
The design of the player is determined by the basic CEC patent, i.e. the Belt-Drive transport. So, this is a top-loader device in which you insert a disc from the top and then close the chamber manually. I usually write that we place a disc on the motor shaft, but not in this case. Here, the shaft which rotates alongside the disc is not the motor shaft. The solution is identical with what we have in turntables. The shaft is a part of a heavy cylinder fixed on precise bearings. The torque is transferred onto the shaft from the motor which is placed next to it, with the use of a rubber belt. The company is very proud of this solution and has exposed the belt so much that we can see it before we insert a disc. High inertia of the disc has been increased further because of a massive brass stabilizer of 70 mm diameter (ø), weighing 330 g.
There is a large acrylic plate on the front aluminum panel and there are displays of different type under the plate. Information on which digital filter (Flat/Pulse) is active is displayed in blue. A liquid crystal display which shows disc information is also blue. Unfortunately, the digits are small (this could have been done better), especially when compared with a completely different greenish LED-based alphanumerical display which shows the input signal sampling frequency (for digital inputs). On the same panel there are also four disc control buttons. At the front there is also a mechanical power switch, a ‘source’ button and a headphone output, alongside a small volume control knob.
The analogue outputs are both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA). There are also three digital inputs: USB, RCA and TOSLINK. We can send PCM signal up to 32 bit and 384 kHz (DXD) through the USB input, as well as DSD signal (DSD128; 5.6 MHz) thanks to DoP protocol. The RCA and optical inputs take signal up to 24 bit and 192 kHz.
It would probably be difficult to question the fact that the most important element of a CD player is transport. The Belt Drive in CEC devices used to be based on Sanyo mechanics. Now, its only remaining element is the optics. It is placed in a plastic casing which is fixed to a metal plate underneath. The plate is placed on rubber absorbers bolted through to solid brass pins. The pins are fixed to the housing. The drive system looks brilliant in its simplicity. A small motor is fixed to a U bar which, in turn, is placed on rubber pads. There is a little brass ring on the motor shaft. The ring is encompassed with a rubber belt of a square cross-section, which also encompasses a larger ring on the other side. The larger ring is a part of a larger brass cylinder. The shaft on which a disc is placed is fixed to the top of the cylinder.
That is the mechanics. In order to make all the elements interact, it is necessary to have appropriate software which has significant influence on sound. The microprocessor circuit is placed on a large plate at the back of the device together with power and sound circuits.
Signal is decoded in a small chip of the ESS ES9018K2M digital-to-analogue converter. The chip is the heart of the whole system. Classic integrated circuits operate in the analogue section. Amplification and buffering is carried out in JRC2068 circuits. Signal is sent separately to balanced and unbalanced outputs. The whole arrangement is surface-mounted, except for nice polypropylene capacitors. All the sockets are gold-plated. The headphone amplifier is fixed on a small plate next to the front panel. Its basis is the JRC2043 integrated circuit and a small Alpsa potentiometer.
The RU-217 remote control is not too beautiful. It is made of plastic and quite large. However, it is quite convenient to use. We use it to change the digital filter, as well as turn on the illumination and displays.
Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer)
Spindle Drive System Belt Drive (CEC Patent)
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One