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Past Pleasures - 2

Monday, 18th May 2020


Part 2 of David Price's insider's guide to the choppy waters of second-hand Hi-Fi. This time you'll find recommendations for CD Players, DACs and loudspeakers.

CD Players

There’s a vast wealth of great classic CD players out there, and prices have crashed because they’re – for the moment at least – out of fashion. I’m not sure if this is always going to be the case; in some Far Eastern markets for example, silver disc spinners are actually growing in popularity again.

There’s a vast wealth of music on CD and in many ways it’s far easier to use that messing around with flaky computer networks. Also, the truth that often dare not speak its name is that Compact Disc done properly actually sounds better than streaming, certainly when you compare the same resolution files delivered via optical disc and network, respectively.

Your choice of machine depends on your budget, of course. Classic hi-fi nuts love first generation machines like the Philips CD100 (from £200) for their wonderfully quirky styling and ergonomics, and surprisingly sweet – if rather opaque – sound, but spares are no longer available, so it’s a lottery as to how long your ‘new’ purchase will last.


Marantz CD63 KI Signature
Marantz CD63 KI Signature CD player

The Marantz CD63 KI Signature (from £100) launched a decade later is a better bet; it sounded great when it was made, and still does today. Tonally quite warm, it’s an unerringly musical machine and spares are relatively plentiful. The design is reliable, although sometimes the rear panel phono sockets come apart, yet are inexpensively fixed.

Marantz CD 72
Marantz CD72 CD player

Alternatively, if you can pay a little more, the Marantz CD72 (from £250) is a great buy; of the same era, this has similar innards to the CD63 but is way better made with metal instead of plastic parts used throughout. The same reliable Philips transport mechanism is fitted, but it benefits from superior vibration isolation, giving a strong, bold and engaging sound that’s still smooth on the ear.

Linn Karik
Linn Karik CD player

Moving into higher end territory, and the Linn Karik III (from £300) was the high end CD state-ofthe- art in the mid nineties. It has the Glasgow company’s characteristic dry but punchy sound with great dynamics and a highly rhythmic feel. Because it never became ‘flavour of the month’, secondhand prices are lower than they should be – and it can always be serviced back at the Linn factory should the need arise.

TEAC VRDS-20
TEAC VRDS-20 CD player

Those looking for a more conventional Japanese battleship rival should consider the TEAC VRDS-20 (from £500). This is a huge machine with large amounts of metalwork and beefy power supplies inside; it’s distinguished by its excellent transport – for which spares are still relatively easy to source. Sonically it’s bigger and fuller sounding than the Karik, for example, with a quintessentially Japanese ‘high end’ sound that’s very polished and silky, with a fulsome bass. It makes most silver disc spinners sound small or even anaemic, but isn’t quite as musical as some.

Finally, if you want a more modern machine with DAC functionality, the Audiolab 8200CD (from £300) is your man. Just seven or so years old now, it’s a great value do-itall player with modern hi-res capability.

DACs


Cambridge DACmagic
Cambridge Audio DACMAGIC DAC

The man behind the design of the Audiolab – John Westlake – has done great work over the years. One of his early designs was the Cambridge Audio DACMagic (from £30), from 1994. It sold for stupidly little money back then, and still does now. It has the excellent Pacific Microsonics HDCD digital filter inside, and gives an engaging and detailed sound with decent tonality too. It’s crazily good value and great to tweak too, if you’re DIY-minded.

Arcam rDAC
Arcam rDAC DAC

If you have a few more pounds to spare, consider the Arcam rDAC (from £100); this was the first affordable digital converter to have asynchronous USB functionality, and therefore is great for computer audio. It’s a beautiful bit of industrial design, and has a crisp, detailed sound from its Wolfson DAC chip inside.

Rega DAC
Rega DAC

Then there’s the Rega DAC (from £200) which is one of the company’s classic products; launched nearly a decade ago, it doesn’t do today’s top hi-res formats via USB but sings like a bird with CD, so is a fine way to upgrade a budget CD player.

Chord DAC64
Chord DAC 64 DAC

Finally, the Chord DAC64 (from £500) deserves a special mention; one of the finest devices of its type just over a decade ago, it still sounds wonderful with silver disc now. It has a big, smooth, sweet sound that’s beguilingly musical.

Loudspeakers

We could fill the entire magazine with recommended classic loudspeakers, so it’s hard to know where to start!


Mission 760i
Mission 760i loudspeakers

If you want a budget classic, the Mission 760i (from £20) is a brilliant baby box from the early nineties. It sold by the gazillion, so they’re dirt cheap and yet still remain loads of fun by today’s standards.

If you want its bigger, floorstanding cousin, the original Mission 752 (from £100) is a joy. Featuring advanced (at the time) High Definition Aerogel (HDA) cones, it’s super-efficient, yet fast, smooth and warm sounding. Best of all, it’s a very easy load for valve amps.

The opposite is the Celestion SL6 (from £300) which is a true early eighties classic, setting a trend for metal dome tweeters that caught the zeitgeist. It’s very clean and detailed, but a pig to drive so tube amps need not apply!


Epos ES14
Epos ES14 loudspeakers

The Epos ES14 (from £200) was a larger standmounter that followed a few years later, and is highly musical and punchy. The quintessential baby box from that period was the Acoustic Energy AE1 (from £400), which is super-tuneful and far more muscular than its diminutive dimensions suggest.

Finally, if you want an iconic eighties minimonitor for pennies, the Wharfedale Diamond (from £20) is ideal; with a good source and a powerful amplifier it will get your feet tapping – just don’t expect much bass!


Quad ESL57
Quad ESL-57 loudspeakers

If you’re looking for something more exotic, the Quad ESL-57 electrostatic (from £300) is truly special. Trouble is, most will need work of some sort unless you spend an additional £1,000 for minters that have just had their panels refurbished. In fine fettle they’re capable of startling neutrality, seamlessness and imaging; bass is wonderfully taut and linear but lacks extension.

Linn Sara
Linn Isobarik Sara loudspeakers

The Linn Sara (from £400) is arguably the company’s best classic speaker, especially in run-out Sara 9 form. Tuneful and insightful, you will however need a real muscle amp to get the best out of them.

B & W 801
B&W 801 loudspeakers

Maybe the most famous big box however is the B&W 801 (from £500). This monitor was used in many great recording studios, including Abbey Road, back in the late seventies and early eighties. It has a commanding sound with genuine full range ability and excellent dynamic headroom. Considering it can be had fairly inexpensively now, it’s a great classic loudspeaker bargain.

 



This article first appeared in Connected magazine, issue 39, Summer 2017 and prices quoted were correct at the time.

David Price is a Hi-Fi journalist, reviewer and former editor of Hi-Fi World and Hi-Fi Choice magazines. He is currently editor-in-chief of stereonetUK.

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