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: