Sony D-55T Discman
Compact discs represent a superb source of high quality sounds for the samplist too lazy to sample their own. What's more, products like this D-55T CD player make the task even easier with their programmable auto-loop function. Paul Gilby explains...
Since the launch of the first compact disc players just a few years ago, we have seen their price and physical size come tumbling down. Paul Gilby looks and listens to the latest and smallest member of the Sony CD family, the D-55T Discman.
It was only last year that Sony introduced the D50 portable compact disc player and opened the door to CD quality on the move! The Discman now takes that concept one step further and offers an even more compact unit with additional features and a stereo radio version.
Maintaining the Sony tradition, the Discman does for CD listening what the Walkman has already done for stereo cassettes. It offers high quality stereo sound in any location, be it walking down the road, in the car or - by utilising the Line Out socket - over your home hi-fi system.
The Discman comes in two parts, the player section and the battery pack. When using the unit as part of a home system you can remove the battery pack, thus reducing the height of the D-55T by almost half, and let the unit draw its power from a 9 volt mains adapter which plugs into the rear.
Next to the power inlet is the Line Out socket which provides the all-important stereo output for feeding your hi-fi amplifier or studio mixing desk. CD audio output levels should be treated in much the same way as a cassette player's, and not like a record deck which has its own special (RIAA equalised) phono type output.
For the portable user, Sony provide a host of goodies. There's a plastic protective case and a substantial carrying strap, plus a very beautiful pair of Sony MDR-M55 lightweight stereo headphones. It must be said that the headphone sound that can be obtained is superb and complements the compact disc player very well. These headphones, which come with a quarter-inch stereo jack adaptor, are worthy of a place in any home regardless of whether or not you buy a Discman.
The fundamental operation of the Discman is obvious and makes use of the usual > play, « rewind, » forward and stop functions found on cassette machines. The Play button also acts as a Pause control. On the Discman the » and « buttons are used to step forwards or backwards through the different tracks on the disc and allow you to move at will from one song to the next with almost instant cueing of the music. The currently selected track number is also displayed in an LCD window which shows the elapsed time of the track being played. By pressing the Remain button, it can be made to show the total amount of time left to play on the CD as well as the number of tracks. We'll come back to these two buttons later.
Situated under the main Play button are three small, blue, buttons, each with several modes of operation. The first is the Remain button already mentioned, which allows you to flip between elapsed and remaining play time; this also acts as the Enter button when in Programme mode - more of that soon. Next is the Play mode selector and the final button is the Key mode. These last two are used to access and programme some rather interesting options instead of merely playing the CD from start to finish.
When the Discman is first powered up, the LCD window shows the letters 'AMS', standing for Automatic Music Search. This indicates the normal play mode and will simply play through the entire CD and stop.
Pressing the button marked Key will change the AMS display to read 'Search'. In this mode the « and » transport controls no longer act as track selectors but allow you to move fast-forwards or fast-backwards through the music as it plays to locate any point you wish. If this operation is carried out in the Pause mode you can cue up a pre-determined start point without hearing the music.
The Play button selects one of five different modes. On power-up it's in the normal play mode. Pressing the button once displays the word 'All' and the Discman will play through the compact disc repeatedly rather than stopping at the end (useful for non-stop music in restaurants etc?).
Pressing the Play mode button again steps the display to the A-B repeat cycle function. Here a segment of the music can be tagged with a start (A) point and an end (B) point. This is a simple operation which can be programmed 'on the fly' by hitting the Enter button at the points you want to fix as start and end marks whilst the music plays. Or, by selecting Pause and the search mode, you can dial up the required time in the display, hit the Enter button to fix the A point and then increment the time to the desired B point and fix that. The resulting repeat segment will then loop around forever until you break out of it with the « or » controls in the search mode. To erase the repeat points you have to switch the Discman off
Still in the play mode, moving the display on from the A-B repeat function, the next play option is 'Shuffle'. The use of this is fairly obvious as it literally shuffles the tracks, like a deck of cards, into a random order instead of playing through them sequentially as track 1,2,3,4 etc. This is particularly useful when you get bored with the usual playing order on the CD itself. When you enter shuffle mode, the Discman assumes a continuous play mode as well, so you can play the same CD all day long and never have the tracks in the same order.
Finally we come to the 'RMS Mem' play mode (Random Music Search Memory). This allows you to programme a pre-determined play order into the Discman's memory. Once selected, the display will show a track number and step number. Using the « and » buttons you can dial up the desired track and hit the Enter button. After you do this the step number increments and the track number goes to zero ready for the next selection to be programmed. A total of 15 steps may be programmed allowing you to hear the CD tracks in any order you choose.
As the Discman comes in two versions, one with a radio the other without, it's worth a few lines to explain the radio section.
Built into the lid of the player is a large tuning scale which displays both the AM and FM bands. Station selection is chosen by the tuning control situated along the right-hand side of the lid, and there are further controls: a mono/stereo selector for the FM stations, and the FM/AM band selector which also has a third position marked 'Local' that's used for tuning into a 'weak' local FM station when reception is being made difficult by a more powerful FM station on a close frequency.
In keeping with Sony's Walkman products, the FM aerial is in fact the headphone cable, so if you want to play the Discman's FM radio through your hi-fi speakers, you'll also have to keep the headphones connected.
The audio quality of the radio itself is very good, though like on any portable, the station you're listening to can fade in and out of tune as you walk around.
For the more alert amongst you, the earlier mention of the programmable repeat function may already have sparked off the idea of sampling from the Discman.
If you are looking for very high quality sounds to sample, a CD is one of the best sources around. The ethics of sampling from a CD are, however, questionable. Nevertheless, Sony have made the idea of utilising the Discman for sampling so much more inviting by allowing you to programme a short section of sound from the CD and loop it, ready to record into your sampler.
With a little practice you can edit very short sections out of the music, even down to a single drum beat. To do this, you programme your start point A in the A-B Play mode, then put the Discman into Search mode and use the « and » buttons to move to the exact end point, and then quickly hit the Enter button.
It is, of course, possible to sample from any compact disc player but the Discman makes it so much easier with its repeat play function. Nice one Sony!
The Discman is superbly built and offers a standard of audio quality that would probably out-perform any tape machine or record deck in your home or studio. Its compact size makes it a versatile unit capable of adapting to a variety of uses and situations. For a portable device it's a little heavy when compared to a Walkman cassette, though not unbearable by any means. As for studio or home use, its small size lets you place it anywhere you like, even on top of your sampling keyboard!
In a word, it is excellent.
The Sony Discman is available across the country from most Sony dealers. Discman D50 £259.95, FM/AM Discman D-55T £329.95, MDR-M55 lightweight headphones £39.95.