02 December, 2019

Vintage Equipment Magnavox FD 3000 2041 CDB 492 Non-Oversampling

NY Diary (19-19) Reasons to Buy Vintage
Talk Digital: Non-Oversampling, TDA 1540 1543 and Old CD Players

I am not the only one; there are many like me. We always feel we belong to a bygone era. For me, due to my ethnicity, no, not so far back (not in America anyway), but I would not mind to have stayed in the 70's forever. Then was when I, as a teenager new in the country, absorbed everything voraciously. Yes, there will always be the good, the bad and the ugly, but I remember the people as more generous than now via the help I have received.

I have always liked vintage things. I still remember with fondness the beautiful cigarette box cum lighter of my father, and I still hold on to the cashmere cardigan of my father, even if I have outgrown it. Somehow the old black and white photos don't look any less sophisticated than the exuberantly colored ones we take with our cell phones now. Vegetables and meat have lost their taste. Is that progress?

A-323B ; Altec Lansing Corp.; (ID = 1328321) Ampl/MixerBut this is an audio blog, so here are the reasons why you should get into vintage audio:
  • Things always come back Just as vinyl has come back and is staying forever, and soon to outlive CD (physically, not as format, due to CD deterioration), just as books have made an "improbable" comeback, vintage audio is thriving and is here to stay. Not to mention reel-to-reel; even cassettes are showing sign of rejuvenation. And how many of you have discarded your LPs, fully embraced the digital "revolution" and then come back to vinyl? Quite a few, I tell you! It is like the people who follow "prophets" who promise a better life and fulfillment but then become disillusioned that their guide is even more misguided than they are. And then, you find out that that "totally outdated" gear that no one would buy, that you begged someone to buy, now sells on ebay for 10 times the price you sold it for! Sounds familiar? 
  • There is nothing new under the sun Fashion is a finicky thing, even more so now that there are so many "influencers". But "classics" shall always remain so, and above fashion. Things just come and go, but then they "come full circle" with a vengeance. Vacuum tubes were out and then came back fully. The newest circuit turns out to be an updated version of an old idea. Part of the problem are the reviewers, who are either too forgetful or too inexperienced. Which brings us to the next one...
  • New is usually not better Yes, there are new developments, but while they can be exciting, are they better? Usually not. T-amps, Class-D (not new really) etc can be quite good, and I appreciate their green credentials, but they are not better. Only those silly head-fi and forum people believe that every new can, or DAC, is better than the last, and the manufacturers play to that. As I write, I am listening to a vintage Thorens TD-124 and a 14-bit Magnavox CDP and I don't feel much lacking. In fact, they engage me like few new gears!
  • Non-Ownership in Digital and Physical Media "Perfect Sound Forever"? Digital files was the audio mainstream for a while, but it has completely lost ground to streaming, and for good reason. Many digital files are expensive, often corrupted, even of doubtful origin, and often not very good sounding in my experience, whereas streaming has gotten steadily better, and cheaper (witness the recent price drop offering of Qobuz), and is becoming quite irresistible (even for an old fart like me, I think about it). If you can easily have access to a huge library that you do not own, that paradoxically makes Physical Media more attractive than ever. You buy something you can look at, and feel, not to mention with liner notes that make you learn about the music and the performers!
  • Vintage holds value Over time, vintage equipment (by which I mean mostly tube gear) hold their value. Can you say the same about any digital equipment? Today, the day after thanksgiving, I spent half a day perusing eBay, an addiction I have long given up. There are so many beautiful vintage things I'd like to own, but I no longer have room, so I passed. But if I were starting on my audio journey, I'd find the world of vintage bewitchingly beautiful and enticing. The current hi-end offerings pale in comparison (with few exceptions). Salut!
  • Vintage is green OK, not entirely. Tube equipment usually waste quite a bit of electricity, if compared to some of the modern energy-efficient products (like T-amp or Class-D). But, the last decades have seen a despicable trend in hifi hi-end - for no good reason, carving a chassis out of a large block of aluminum (usually expensive solid state gear of low merit) is a sin against the world. Restoring any number of vintage gear is more environmentally sound.
  • Vintage sounds better You may not believe me, but in terms of absolute sound, audio has not progressed. In fact, one can make a case that the best has already happened. Nothing is going to be better than Western Electric, and horns. Why else should vintage gears hold their value?
  • Vintage is Sexy Indeed. Modern equipment mostly look alike, plain Jane. When they do try for a different look, most efforts are failures (there are some exceptions). But vintage stuff differ - it is a huge universe, and there are so many beautiful designs (like the pic above, the Art-Deco Western Electric-era Altec 323, now highly valued). Even the very common Quad 2 is beautiful looking to my eyes. Compare the turntables now, mostly chunky metal and square corners, without the grace of yesterday's Thorens TD-124, Garrard 301. Tonearms too. Even my LS3/5A, it just looks right, as few modern bookshelves do.
Listening to Old CD Players
Suddenly in the mood, I pulled out three old CDP with classic Philips swing arm laser pickup to listen to. The audition was surely affirming of what I wrote above. Read on...


They are all Magnavox, basically Philips at a cheaper price. Two of them were given to me and the third I bought off Ebay. They were all run directly into the LTA MicroZOTL amp that I recently got (2 articles below, or here). These are by no means among the most desirable vintage players, but they performed admirably, and I know the sound of most vintage models quite well, though here, like with vintage amplification, one cannot be entirely sure of one's experience. While the ones that sound good undoubtedly are great, the ones that don't could sometimes be only out of spec, so YMMV.

The Magnavox FD 3000 is the equivalence of Philips CD-300, a 14 bit machine utilizing the TDA 1540 chip. It was built in Belgium, like a tank, with the short-lived CDM-0 (precursor to the legendary CDM-1, also with Rodenstock lens). These early machines have really serious discrete output sections that run hot (likely Class A), necessitating the use of heatsinks in the back. The most undesirable thing about them is the captured analog output. Despite this, the sound was really really good. I was sinking into it when I started to hear popping noise. From my experience, the output sections of these frequently need work. It will take me a while to get it repaired, but I'd sure like to listen again in the near future - it was just so beautiful.

Onto the Magnavox FD-2041, which is the equivalence of the Philips CD-350. Like the FD 3000, this is also a 14-bit machine utilizing the TDA-1540, with discrete output (and heatsink, but not so hot to the touch), also built in Belgium, but with the less desirable and also short-lived CDM-2 laser (much inferior to its immediate predecessor, the FD-2040, which used the CDM-1), and generally to a much lesser and plasticky standard. Despite this, the sound was mellifluous, as good in its own way as my Sparkler S-303 CDP. Not as incisive or rhythmically charged, but warmer and inviting, a sound that bore more than a trace of similarity to its much more expensive cousin above. I really enjoyed it.

Then I swapped in the Magnavox CDB-492, the equivalence of Philips CD-492. Unlike the last two CDPs, this one uses the cheap 16-bit TDA 1543, although by this time the better CDM 4/19 was used ubiquitously. And the analog output now is less complicated (no more heatsink, cool). Although similar in look to the above, (at least lower end) Magnavox by now was manufactured in Mexico. The sound was excellent, but significantly different from the two 14-bit players above, being faster, more open and airier in the treble; in fact it was very close to my Sparkler S-303 (see below). But my machine now does have some trouble. It sputters a little on certain discs, usually initially. Mid-way through till the end is always OK. A couple of hours in, there was hardly any hiccup. If you ask me, the problem is not due to the laser, but rather some servo problem, or simply because I haven't used it in a long time. Right now, it doesn't bother me enough, and I enjoy it very much.

The Issue of Oversampling One common thing about all these early players is that they are all low in Oversampling, or even Non-Oversampling (NOS). The FD 3000 and FD 2041 are 4 x Oversampling, found in all of Philips' early 14-bit machines. By the time of the 16-bit era, almost all of the machines using the TDA-1541 employ 4x (soon later, much higher) oversampling, except for some low-end models that use TDA-1543, like the Magnavox CDB-492 that I have. Here are some comments from the internet:

"...Frank Van Alstine wrote in his Audio Basics newsletter that the CDB 260, 262 and 470 were built without the Philips 4x oversampling digital filter chip (SAA7220) to save a few bucks. They run the DAC at 1x and follow it with a brickwall analog filter. I owned a 470 some years back, and while it wasn't a bad-sounding player, it was definitely not as good as my 460 or 650, both of which combine the TDA1541 DAC with the oversampling filter chip. I gave my 470 to a friend whose CD changer died; he was grateful to get it and is still enjoying it..."

Magnavox CD 2000: a Philips NOS CDP from 1989

Recently purchased this unit (from a fellow DIYer) which seems to be quite an obscure model. Weirdly, the decoder (SAA7210) feeds a TDA1543 w/o DF (ed: digital filter); this is strange as most late-1980's Philips (and other manufs') CDPs were at least 4x OS. This is a bare-bones CDP, but is well-constructed otherwise: CDM4/19, decent PCB layout, OK cap quality. BUT ... output (I/V) section is cheap, and the chassis is partly plastic, like CD650 and others. Some even-cheaper Philips units from the same period, like the AK6xx, series were 2X OS (avoid the AK6xx in the used mktplace) .
The CD 2000 is supposed to be identical to the CDB49x.


NOS and TDA 1543 The innards of the Magnavox CD 2000 cited above look exactly like my CDB 492. Basically, many of these cheap units are Non-Oversampling, followed by a brickwall analog filter, which most theorists (particularly digital ones) would insist are not good. Nonetheless, this brings my Magnavox CDP very much closer to my Sparkler S-303, which employs NOS and TDA 1543 (but I don't know what filter the Sparkler uses). Comparison of Sparkler S-303 and Magnavox CDB 492 is instructive. The two sounded remarkably alike. Take Van Morrison's Moondance, I heard everything the way I heard it on the Sparkler (as written up in my LTA MicroZOTL review, link above)! The spatial clues, the attack, the rhythm, all instantly recognizable. In my opinion, the resemblance is as much due to the use of the same chip as NOS. The ironic thing is, NOS traditionally only existed in the lowest end!

NOS Today After all these years of digital evolution, it is in fact quite startling that many, like me, still prefer NOS. That NOS is used in some of the high end (Audio Note, 47 Labs, Sparkler, Totaldac, etc) is quite amazing, a testament in sort to our age that, despite overwhelming popular perception and professional opinion to the contrary, dissent is heard and thrives. Take a more recent contestant, the Border Patrol NOS 1543 DAC, which I'd love to hear, the good review it got from Herb Reichert in Stereophile and the bad measurements of John Atkinson sparked a controversy (see here, very funny). I do know, NOS is not for everyone.

TDA 1540 and 4x Oversampling All of the (many) 14-bit TDA-1540 CDPs that I have experienced all employ 4x Oversampling, but they almost down to the last one sound excellent. This is for sure due to the excellence of the TDA 1540 (which I love), but perhaps also in part due to the 4x Oversampling, which we see from one of the quotes above some prefer. My feeling is that, 4x is still closer to NOS than later and ubiquitous 256x, not to mention even higher rates and more modern Upsampling, which mostly do nothing for me.

Less is More The beauty of it is, whether the earliest (expensive or cheap) TDA-1540 with 4x Oversampling machines or the later cut-cost budget-sector NOS TDA-1543 machines, they all sound very musical. Amazing!

Hiccups As you can see, two of my three machines have some hiccups. So, beware, if you are a newbie, you'd want to be extra careful in acquiring one. Even good sellers don't test their machines thoroughly enough (no one can), so human judgement errors can and do creep in.

A Recent Shanghai Style Dinner, from bottom: Braised Spare Ribs, Sweet and Sour;
 Braised fish with Brown Sauce; Poached Okra with Garlic dressing;
 Chicken Feet with mild hot sauce. Wine was a Pinot Grigio.


Lobster, Cantonese Style with Ginger and Scallions

4 comments:

  1. Hi John,

    Another great post. You read my mind on these topics. I am 24 years old but have been a serious audiophile for several years. Carefully purchasing very good vintage gear has been a way to get the high-end sound I want in a way I can afford. It is also an investment as I won't lose money if I need to sell these pieces later.

    On the topic of CD players, I own several. Philips CD-303, with early ceramic TDA1540 chip and 4x OS. It plays melodiously. I prefer as well the non-oversampling sound but I have not felt the need to modify this one.

    Mission PCM4000, can be found for cheap because it is ugly and the name Mission does not carry much weight but it is basically a Philips inside. TDA1541, this one I will modify to bypass oversampling soon though it sounds good still with it.

    The Border Patrol which you mention I have heard. It gives a taste of NOS sound for sure but I cannot recommend to purchase. The output is resistor coupled directly to the Vout of the TDA1543 which is just a very poor way to do things and can be heard as an apparent loss of energy. As well, they are charging $500 extra just to have USB in addition to S/PDIF, which just makes no sense. If you look inside this device you will be very disappointed. There are better examples of 1543 DACs ready to purchase for less money.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. Indeed I personally love those TDA 1540 machines and would not modify them. The 303 is very beautiful looking, I'd keep it as it is, except for the output cable (I'd change it if it is captured.

      Also, in HK, many years ago a friend had one who upgraded the output devices and got clearer sound, but perhaps it's up to individual tastes. These are for keeps.

      Thanks for the info on Border Patrol. I have seen pics of the interior, quite amazingly primitive.

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    2. I am really very happy to receive your comment. 24 year old and an audiophile for years!!!!!!!

      Amazing! There is hope in this hobby!

      Music salvages the soul. Perhaps it can be used to counter the opioid and e-cigarette crisis that is devastating so many youngsters.

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    3. If you see this message, please email me at doctorjohn@myself.com

      There is something I'd like to discuss with you.

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