Sony SCD-CE775 Five-Disc SACD Player
We know all too well that there are lots of new formats out there. We also know firsthand that this means a lot of spending and a whole lot of studying to try to keep pace. If everything falls into place as it should, there will come a day a couple of years from now when you'll slide into that easy chair, throw some high-definition television on the screen or some high-resolution audio into the speakers, and smile from ear to ear, wondering how you ever lived without either. No one ever said change was easy; however, from what I've seen and (more importantly) heard over the past couple of years, I have no doubt that this change will be worth it.
Chalk one up for the audio side when it comes to easing the transition. Sony's SCD-CE775 is proof that crossing over to the outstanding new high-resolution-audio SACD format doesn't have to be nearly as costly as you might think. For the particulars of the format itself, I'll refer you to this month's SACD feature. My purpose here is to explore the idea that $400 isn't a bad price for a solidly performing five-disc CD changer. In fact, from a price perspective, this player's multichannel SACD capabilities can almost be considered a bonus. Once you get an earful of SACD, though, you'll realize that this bonus is actually the heart of the issue—and that your days of listening to the CD as we know it may soon come to a voluntary end.
The SCD-CE775's efficient rear panel is a telling indication of both what this player is and what it isn't. What it is is a digital-audio player that can output high-resolution SACD through either the six- or two-channel analog outputs. It can also output the audio from CDs, CD-Rs, or CD-RWs through the two-channel analog outputs or the optical digital output. What it isn't is a DVD player, which some of the other SACD players and virtually all of the DVD-Audio players are. In fact, there are no video outputs on the SCD-CE775, which means that some of the video extras that are a part of the SACD format (e.g., onscreen tables of content, liner notes, and lyrics) will be inaccessible. However, as there is always the fear of interference between the video and audio circuitry in multipurpose machines, those who are concerned purely with music may find this to be a small price to pay.
Expectedly, the front-panel display plays a heavier role in the SCD-CE775's ergonomics—which, under the circumstances, aren't bad. LEDs clearly indicate whether the player is in the multichannel SACD, two-channel SACD, or CD (for regular CDs or the CD layer of an SACD) mode. I also like the automatic readout of the disc title and track titles in the display, which seemed to work with every SACD I tried. You can also input information manually for CDs, CD-Rs, etc., and the player will remember information for up to 255 discs. The front-panel display also functions as the navigation tool for the player's multichannel management functions—a key addition to these early SACD and DVD-Audio players, since high-resolution signals can only be output in the analog domain (for now) and most preamps and receivers bypass these settings when using the analog inputs. The management settings on the SCD-CE775 include speaker setup and size, individual speaker level adjustment (with test tones), and relative level adjustment between the front speakers and each of the other departments (center, rears, sub). Keep in mind that you have to be in the multichannel SACD mode to make these adjustments or in the two-channel SACD mode to make the minor adjustments that are available there.
Considering the SCD-CE775's price, I tried to remain a little more realistic when I selected its playmates. Granted, SACD can sound simply amazing through a cost-no-object system, but it can also sound pretty damn good through a more-affordable system. This is yet another indication that high-resolution audio should be destined for much more than the halls of audiophilia. Thus, I matched this player with Integra's DTR-9.1 A/V receiver (June 2001) and a multichannel speaker rig from Infinity that consisted of the Interlude IL50 powered towers, IL10s in the rear, and IL25c center channel (see the review in this issue). These components aren't exactly budget products, but they are at least closer in price to the SCD-CE775 than much of what we've got lying around.
My first goal was to determine just how much difference there would be between the three main stereo-playback options that the SCD-CE775 offers from source to speakers. I accomplished this with a pair of Kind of Blue Miles Davis discs—an enjoyable reference, to be sure. At the risk of being anticlimactic, the results were very much as I expected, as simple logic would dictate. First up was the straight CD version, which I've heard many times and can easily say sounded better than I expected it to on an inexpensive player like this one. This tells me that the SCD-CE775 will handle your long-established CD collection with enthusiasm. The sound was clean and dynamic, but it certainly displayed the limitations of the CD format that audiophiles have been lamenting for years and the mainstream audience is now starting to hear about. These problems—most notably, the ringing and distortion in the high frequencies—were still evident when I tested the CD layer of the SACD, which should come as no surprise, as this is just a 16/44.1 PCM track placed on the SACD for compatibility with existing CD players. The difference between it and most commercial CDs is that the track is a studio downmix of the 1-bit/2.8224-megahertz DSD master (see the feature for more info on DSD), and the SACD camp has been telling us that this CD layer will sound better than conventional 16/44.1. From what I heard, I'd have to agree—although the difference is admittedly minor. The CD layer of the SACD sounded more focused and refined, with a touch more detail and a more-engaging sound overall. Any improvement in sound is a bonus here anyway, as this track's role on an SACD is far more one of function than drama.