Sony D50 Compact Disc Player
H&SR looks at Sony's tiny compact disc player and offers a few excuses for buying one.
Why are we reviewing a Compact Disc player you may well ask, when you can't record on it and the discs aren't sharp enough to use as tape splicing blades?
Apart from the obvious fact that CD players are fun to play with, they can be put to good use in the studio as a reference. If you want to play a standard piece of music through your studio monitors, what do you use? Cassettes are far too compressed, dull, coloured and inconsistent to be of much use so how about the good old record deck? Hi-fi enthusiasts will argue for hours about the relative merits of one combination of gear as opposed to another and for a good reason; they all sound different. At least you don't have to worry about your amp and speakers because they're the same ones you use for monitoring, but the turntable, well that's a different matter. The turntable itself colours the sound due to its inherent resonances and pick-up cartridges are as different in character as different makes and models of microphone. What this boils down to is that you don't really know what a given record sounds like through your system, and that can be important because it may be the only reference you have as to the quality of your own mixes. You might think that once you've had your set-up equalised, your own ears are all that you need, but after a day in the studio with a loud band, your ears can't be trusted. They might be suffering from temporary threshold shift or just plain high frequency numbness which is why you wake up the following day and think 'Hell... did I mix this?'
Whilst CD players do show perceptible differences between models, these are insignificant when compared to conventional record decks which makes them ideal for regaining a sense of perspective in the studio.
The first thing that strikes you about the CD50 is that it's almost ridiculously small, even when it's plugged into its mains power supply. There's also an optional rechargeable power pack which means you can even use this little wonder whilst roller skating and the CD50 is also designed to operate in a car using the car battery as a supply. To this end, the mechanics have been refined to offer greater immunity to vibration than most previous CD players and indeed it's difficult to make this unit mistrack. If your driving upsets it, you've got more to worry about than the recording.
In order to get all this technology into such a tiny box, Sony have spent a substantial chunk of their R&D money in developing custom microchips and high precision mechanics and I'm told that the total component count for this product is under 600. One of the most amazing things is that the total power consumption is under four watts.
There is a small triangular button at the front right hand corner of the case which releases the sprung lid and shuts off the laser as a safety precaution. The disk, which is almost as wide as the player, slots in label side up and is held in place on a tapered spindle by a spring loaded plate. When the disk is rotating, it makes a little mechanical noise but not much, and the transparent section in the lid means that you can watch the disk go round if you get bored with the music.
Line outputs may be taken from the phono sockets on the rear of the unit and headphones may be driven from a 3.5mm stereo socket provided that their impedance is not too low. The available output power is only in the order of 10mW per channel but with good phones this can be deafeningly loud; fortunately, a thumbwheel volume control is fitted so you can turn this down.
Soft touch switches make up the control panel and the Play switch serves a dual purpose, also acting as a pause control; alternate presses stop and start the playback. The Stop control proper returns the scanning system to the start of the disk.
One area in which CD players excel is in the Automatic Music Search section which can step backwards or forwards to start the next track almost instantly, and an associated Mode button allows the user to scan rapidly through the disk whilst still listening if required.
Another feature not present on conventional record decks is the display section which in this case is a liquid crystal device normally indicating elapsed time and track number. By pressing the Remain button on the control panel, the display shows you how many tracks are left to play and how much time is left on the disc.
So much for the conducted tour but how well does this minuscule marvel work in practice? As a mere mortal brought up on nasty scratchy records, I found the clarity and freedom from noise a real luxury and the thing is so easy to operate that you only need to look at the instruction book as a last resort. Though there have been some compromises made in order to fit everything into such a small package, these are not serious and indeed would probably go unnoticed by anyone except the chap who makes his living by reviewing Compact disc players. Some hi-fi reviewers claim to be able to detect subtle differences at the low frequency end but these may well be due to them reading the specifications first and then deciding on what they want to hear, I don't know.
If you're going to try to justify the cost of a CD player for studio reference use to yourself or your family, it might ease your conscience if the machine you have in mind is capable of playing music for entertainment's sake in its off duty hours. To that end, the Sony D50 fits the bill admirably; its portability means that it can be used around the home or in the car and it works beautifully with headphones.
In its capacity as a sound reference, the concept is valid so long as you build up a representative selection of recordings though the lack of background noise might make you feel a bit sick at some of your own recordings.
This is really a fine piece of technology and it shows up gramophone records for the flattened out wax cylinder recordings that they really are; I hope they catch on.
Further information can be obtained from: HHB Hire & Sales, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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