Having invented the Compact Disc system, Philips have naturally been in the forefront of the subsequent developments affecting every stage from the digital encoding, master disc preparation and processing right through to the final pressing and packaging. When it comes to designing and building CD players, Philips have also taken on the role of championing the European industry in its battle with the almost overwhelming competition from the Far East.
It says much for their design know-how that Philips CD players have been selling well ever since the initial launch in March 1983, and Philips models have invariably been chosen by companies like Meridian and Mission on which to base upgrades of their own devising. A good selling point has been the excellent sound quality associated with their special technique of over-sampling at four times the standard frequency which has brought benefits in noise level and permitted the use of combined digital and analogue filtering.
Over the past year, all the talk has been about price-cutting on CD players with the implication that Far Eastern manufacturers would easily undercut the Europeans. However, Philips have been actively developing new components which look like giving their latest series of players a distinct quality advantage over most of the competition. The simplest version, the Philips CD150 reviewed here, offers a level of performance at its modest price of £229 which should attract many buyers.
My first surprise was the reduced weight of the Philips CD150 compared with its very similar looking predecessor the Philips CD104 (reviewed in November 1984). Most of the reduction from 7kg down to an amazing 3kg is due to the use of polystyrene for much of the casing, and a glass-fibre reinforced chassis instead of the previous diecast aluminium. However the lens unit too has been reduced in weight and size with a new lens construction developed for the new Philips CD1O battery portable, and even the circuit boards are smaller.
Display facilities are minimal, just the Track and Index numbers are usually shown, though this can be changed to show track elapsed time by pressing the Time/Track key. I would prefer both displays to be available together. On the plus side, however, is the pause count-down display of P.02, P.01, P.00 at the lead-in to each track enabling the user to anticipate the start of the music, or go into the Pause mode and produce a disc-jockey type of startup on cue. On first loading a disc and closing the drawer, the display shows the total number of tracks on the disc, and then pressing the Time/ Track button changes this to show the disc's total playing time. The drawer design has been improved and it glides in and out quickly.
There are very few operating controls, but some of these are dualfunction so that the machine is really quite versatile once the instructions have been carefully studied and understood. To begin at a chosen track, the number must be selected by tapping the Previous and Next track-skip keys. If this operation is performed during play, the machine waits 2 seconds and then goes straight to the chosen track and continues playing. This selecting process also works for Index numbers (encoded on only a few operatic and orchestral CDs so far) but the Time/ Track switch has to be used to bring in the Index number display. For example, to go to Track 3 Index 02 it would be necessary to select Track 3 using the Previous/Next keys and then (within 2 seconds) press Time/ Track and again use the Next key to select Index 02.
Operation of the Reverse and Forward fast search buttons is fairly standard. The laser tracks inwards or outwards across the disc at three speeds, depending on how long the button is held down. The sound of the music remains audible at the first two speeds but disappears (and would be incomprehensible) at the fastest speed. Programming a chosen sequence of track numbers involves setting up each desired number by means of the Previous/Next keys and then tapping the Programme/Review button. Up to 20 track numbers can be stored in memory, but they must be all different.
Instead of captive mains and phono signal leads as on previous Philips players, the Philips CD150 has plugin connectors, and a good quality phono-to-phono cable is supplied. The rear panel also carries a socket labelled Remote, and Philips will be marketing an EM2000 remote control transmitter/receiver unit shortly. The Philips CD150 will also be controllable remotely when used with suitably equipped Philips midi systems. There is no headphone socket or output level control, but other new Philips models in this series such as the CD350 will have provision for headphones. Rubber feet are fitted, and an extra set of feet can be pushed on in situations where extra bottom clearance is required.
The technical performance of this new Philips player is quite remarkable. The flat frequency response shown on Fig. 1 is now a commonplace amongst well-designed CD units, but the crosstalk plot achieves new standards, staying down at around — 100dB or better across the entire 20-20,000Hz band. Signal-tonoise ratio too was an astonishing I 05d B unweighted and 1 I 6d B weighted. The distortion figure of 0.003% at peak level was confirmed and of course is better than most amplifiers can achieve. Figure 2 shows the symmetrical response to a 'kHz square-wave which the Philips circuitry normally produces, with very little ripple.
The result of all this was superb subjective sound quality. I brought out numerous favourite CDs and became more and more impressed by the perspective depth, the warm and well-defined bass and a limpid clarity in the treble—so very different from the dry chromium-plated edge produced by some early players. While the added spaciousness from the Philips CD150 made orchestral music more realistic, the effect on voices was a certain roundness and naturalness of tone with uncanny presence. But I could go on: suffice to say that Philips have obviously been busy on CD player developments with real benefits in sonic performance.
Operationally the Philips CD150 has few frills, but the basic operations are carried out speedily and accurately. Time to start Track I was an average 3 seconds, and 5 seconds to Track 15. Error correction on the usual test discs was 100% secure, and the review machine never once mistracked during extended trials. Resistance to vibrations was exceptionally good and I could even play the machine on its side or upside down (thanks to developments incorporated in the battery portable model?). Mechanical noise during play consisted of a high-pitched whirring, but was not more distracting than on the majority of CD players.
But I come back to the quality of the musical reproduction. This new Philips CD150 can stand comparison with the best CD players I have yet encountered—except for some topprice models. At £229 it must represent the best value for money around: the more sophisticated players in the new Philips series will offer more features, but they will be doing very well if they can surpass the Philips CD150 for sheer sound.