Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Sony CDP 302 CD Player

Not that one can tell from this blog, but I really do wield a soldering iron once in a while.

Lately I have had this hankering to revisit the quality CD players of yore. Back when the Ipod listeners among us were in diapers, CD players cost serious money and were actually made of metal and stuff. Inside of these vintage units were parts galore, not just air and a couple of chips. These were serious components built to last a lifetime, i.e. built to actually be repaired instead of chucked in the landfill. These were often very spartan players by modern standards because features (like a headphone jack!) cost you dearly. Over the last few months I have acquired several vintage players in working condition, something I absolutely guarantee will not be possible with the vast majority of current CD/DVD players, and I hope to restore and document a few of them.

The first up is the Sony CDP 302 which was manufactured in 1985 and listed for a non-trivial $550. It powered up and did its best to find the index, but the belts were crispy, of course, so it would not play. I begged belts from Mike, swabbed a few nasty bits, applied a few drops of oil and it worked. Interestingly, it easily played modern burned disks.

The CDP 302 has a nice bottom plate so access is easy. Therefore, I figured it was time to try a total re-cap to see how it would sound. I replaced a total of 44 caps with mostly Panasonic FCs, with a smattering of FMs. The final output coupling caps were replaced with Elna Silmic IIs. The 4 3.3k mfd power supply caps were boosted a smidgen to 4.7k at a slightly higher voltage.

Here is a topless shot:Build quality is very good. The transport is a hoot, stainless steel rails and all. Mike had never seen this mechanism before. The lubrication on the rails had turned to goo so the door barely opened at first. And it has a real transformer, not the chimpy sort of thing found in a modern player. The board at the left is lovely, with the very detailed legend actually printed on both sides. Eg. cap C 351 is identified on the trace side, a very nice touch. The output stage has a significant number of film caps, and there are a total of 6 of those cool clear copper foil caps between the DAC and the output. They obviously cared about the A in the D to A.

Here is the flip side:

The traces were fairly stout although I had several lift when doing hot pulls. Wicking was easier on the traces. Look at all the metal in that transport! Sony is currently a maddening manufacturer. They obviously have lots of very capable engineers, but many of their recent products have very serious QC issues. However, they obviously cared back in 1985 when they built this CD player.

I have been mulling over the CD source at the dawn of the medium, and why it took so long for CD sound to be competitive with that of vinyl. First, CD players were incredibly expensive, so the best of the players were very rare. The vast majority of us heard CD via down market, early generation players because that was all that was affordable. Second, the art of actually producing a CD was primitive, so much of what was available was crap compared to vinyl. Garbage in, garbage out as they say. On the other hand, designing a quality analog stage was easily attainable. Digital processing was a new art at the time, but the analog side of the equation was not. It has seemed to me that a spruced up, high quality vintage CD analog section could blow away your typical modern CD/DVD analog section. So, the sum of these theories has been that the top of the line vintage CD players are worth pursuing despite some digital conversion inadequacies, especially since they are so very cheap to acquire. With new belts and caps the game is afoot!

So, how does the re-capped and re-belted CDP 302 sound?

Very, very good it seems. In fact, it sounds so much better than my workshop Marantz CDR 630 (Professional!) that I am afraid I need to take a soldering iron to it. I hadn't realized how veiled the Marantz sounds. The first few minutes of the Sony were a bit inconclusive, but within 5 minutes the new caps settled in and the sound just opened up. This is a very smooth and detailed player. It gets a bit confused on complex passages, but it sounds great with female vocals. I need to let it burn in a bit more, but the reclamation project has already met my expectations.

UPDATE: it seems that Mike has a Sony CDP 520ES that at least superficially is a dead ringer for the CDP 302. Next week I will pop the top to see what's makes the 520ES worthy of the Esprit line.

Here is one last shot from the front, and I really need to take better photos:


Anonymous said...

Hi there. I'm a bit of a newbie. I've replaced a couple of caps in my life but that is the extent of it. I have access to one of these machines. Thought it might make an interesting learning project. Would you have the details on the caps you mentioned and/or a cheap source for them. Thanks! Marc.

Mike said...

Hey Nat - I've worked on a few older Sony pieces.

The common elements are more point to point wiring that you'd expect, modifications to the PC board (wires here or there, hot glue holding a cap or resistor in place that connects this point to that), single sided circuit boards with no solder masking, and traces that pull up easily. WAY TOO easily.

Still, they tend to keep on going and going. I have one of the first computerized Sony multi-band portable radios that is older than your kids or mine that works very, very nicely.

Later, Mike

Anonymous said...

Hello Nat,

THe Sony CDP-302 was one of those players I really, really wanted in the early days of CD. It was built well, but also built differently. Sony used a linear motor to drive the laser head assembly. Think of it as an electronic monorail. Disc loading and track access is faster than greased lightning on a banana peel. It was unique for that capability in its day -- except for its lower priced cousin the CDP-102. The 102 used membrane buttons, the display is not quite as fancy and no headphone jack. I have both players and they work perfectly. These were the days before CD players became mainstream consumer items. Sony continued the linear motor for its higher end models but nothing else was like the shock of changing a CD track in a blink of an eye in 1985. Nothing else could touch it.

Paul B.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where I could pick up a CDP 302 in good quality? It's a very fond memory from my childhood; the first CD player that my family every owned. I remember how well built that it was. The disc tray in particular always impressed my with it'd solidity. I also loved the small window just above the tray that showed the disc spinning inside to a greenish light. If anyone does know where I could find one, could you please email Mike at Haven't found any on ebay recently. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Another thing we did back in the day is change the op-amps in the output stages.

Anonymous said...

I have a later model CDP-CX400 in perfect condition EXCEPT one side of the output is gone, and would love to get a circuit board to replace. Any ideas as to where to find one
Thank you for your service and any help.


Bill said...

I have a well-taken-care-of CDP-302B that I'd love to give to someone who needs it for parts or otherwise desires it. I have had trouble with the transport for years, despite rebuilds and lots of lubricant, but otherwise it has been flawless. Please send a note to if you are interested.

Anonymous said...

just had my this treatment done to my cdp 302 and all i can say is wow, you can not believe the difference. i highly recommend this. these are great cd players built to last, you wont be dissapointed. thanks for posting this info.

Anonymous said...

Good job! I do the same thing but sometimes use Blackgates and Elna Silmic II. The better the cd player, the better components it will want to sound even better. You should replace the opamps in the A section like the 5532, 5534 and maybe some 4550. My preference would OPA2134/134 and if you want the best (expensive) OPA-627. It will open up the sound about 3-4 times what the capacitors did. Good luck. wsjoe at yahoo dot com

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Anonymous said...

Hi, I too have a Sony CDP-520ES that plays very well, but the tray will no longer open or close on its own. How can this be fixed?
Thanks, Ray

Anonymous said...

I have owned only one CD player in my lifetime - the Sony CDP-302ES I purchased in 1985. Still performs great, but I have one problem that I hope someone can help me with. I need a new pot for the headphone output. I have tried off & on for years to locate one but always give up. It's an ALPS, but I do not have a part no. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Pacific Stereo said...

The drawer not opening is usually caused by a combination of old belts and lube that's turned to glue. Replacing those belts is somewhat difficult, as the mech must be torn down quite a ways to be able to remove and replace them.

The P/N for the headphone output control is 1-230-313-00. It's NLA, of course. Your best bet will be to try to find it elsewhere, like perhaps another Sony player or unit. Very difficult to say where another one might come from. It's a 20K part. Sony shows it as TWO parts, but it's a single, ganged unit.

Jim in Dairyland said...

I have a very nice Sony CDP-302 for sale to anyone interested. Unit is cosmetically near perfect and works flawlessly, with box and manual. Also have a Sony CDP-C445 5 disk CD changer for sale, also excellent. Location: Madison, Wisconsin. If interested, please make me an offer. Contact Jim at

Juan Sánchez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juan Sánchez said...

I have since 1 year player Sony cdp-103 and now I'm happy with it and it works perfectly, buy it at a great price on ebay. On the other hand was in awe by the laser transport system BU1c is not magnetic and gear motor.

But like you to reach me on the appliance to the top tray transport did not open or close properly and to top it all cd's jumping. To fix it I made a clean transportation system tray and then regrease given it had been a hard paste and so took no disks had to adjust the servo servo system and the laser that was given to unadjusted or maybe this laser is wearing due to its 28 years.

Finally I hope this has been helpful if you come to have this kind of problem, when I can I'll post an article on my player.

msn said...

I have owned a sony cdp-302 since 1985. I recently took it out of storage and had to lube the transport to get it to work smoothly. I used white lithium and it worked well. It still sounds great. I know capacitors fail over the years, but this system still sounds good. Have not used it much over the years. Do you think it is necessary to replace all capacitors? If so, could you send me the info needed to do the job. my e-mail is

Anonymous said...

I've had my cdp302 since '85 also. Other than couple of new belts (not an easy task) and cleaning off old and putting on new lube on drawer mechanism, it is untouched. It sounds fine in direct comparison to newer ones (better, actually), and it built so much better. It aint broke , so I aint fixin' it! CLG

Dude said...

Have you tried a Bourns PTD90 series ganged potentiometer?

Dude said...

For those with headphone jack problems, I had meant to say...

... Have you tried a Bourns PTD90 series ganged potentiometer?

And I have Two CDP302's, one of which is actually a CDP302ES. Almost identical inside, but the ES has some nicer bits, and some bigger voltage regulators (I think)