23 May, 2011

Brief Review: Sony SCD-XA5400ES and BDP-S5000ES

Brief Review: Sony SCD-XA5400ES and BDP-S5000ES

I have long been a fan of certain Sony digital products. Many of their 16-bit and even some higher bit CD players certainly belong to the digital hall of fame. But these days we don't see Sony producing too many good audio products, so it is gratifying to encounter these two. Both I got very recently, so this is more a preview rather than review (perhaps I shall write an overview one day).

BDP-S5000ES as CD player
Sometime ago my friend princetonsound told me his Taiwanese friend was mopping up the recently discontinued Sony BDP-S5000ES flagship Blue Ray player. Besides the sterling picture quality, the sound was said to be quite good and the current steep discount in the US makes it a great bargain. And it was made in Japan (likely the last one of its kind), a sure guarantee of flagship quality! He got one, and so did I, for less than $400.

I used it as a CD player, and indeed the sound after break-in was impressive. If you listen casually, it will sound at least the equal of older but quality CD players like the Rega Apollo and Meridian 506.24. I did not do an A/B comparison, but substituting the British players brought perhaps a tad more rhythm and pace, a little more musicality perhaps, though at the expense of details. The sonic fabric is of one piece and wholesome. For an entry to middle level system this player can face off many dedicated CD players and is highly recommendable.

I don't even have one single Blue ray disc, but that may change. I have not even tested its DVD performance! I did get an HDMI cable and it worked. Next time perhaps.

Useful link: Home Cinema Choice review

SCD-XA5400ES
This one made news when it first came out. As Sony's only flagship SACD player in a while, it is descendant of its acclaimed predecessor, SCD-XA9000ES. Although the lighter built, cheaper price and lower number suggest a lesser product, it was rave-reviewed, generally regarded as an improvement, and awarded Class A+ in Stereophile. Many people bought it and then send it for after-market mods, which I'd not do.

It was discontinued and there were once substantial discounts on the Internet. Then it appeared largely sold out and the price of the remaining offerings went back up. I decided not to buy it until very recently, when I discovered a large new lot available from an Internet vendor at just a little over $800. The price was impossible to refuse and I bought one. This one though is not made in Japan, but Malaysia.

I actually had very few SACDs in NYC, so I played mostly CDs. The sound was pristine from the first disc, and did not require much burn-in at all to sound good (in contrast, the BDP-S5000ES had noticeable grain initially). Sound was so good I did not even bother to substitute another player. This is definitely a high-end player that would not shame itself in much more expensive company. No, it is not the equal of my Ensemble dichrono/Hi-dac combo (what is?), but it never puts a foot wrong. One thing though, the SACD sound output is quite a bit lower than the CD, and that makes comparison difficult. Hurry up and buy one if you're in the USA!

In the USA, at this time, this is a remarkable bargain. If you're interested at all, don't procrastinate and act now! Send me an email to tell me you like it if you do.

Useful link: HiFi Choice review, stereophile review

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