Sony SCD-CE775 SACD Audience Mod
- Product Name: SCD-CE775 SACD player
- Manufacturer: Sony Electronics
- Performance Rating:
- Value Rating:
- Review Date: July 07, 2003 20:00
- MSRP: $ 700 (includes mod)
- Hefty upgrades
- Quality components
- Upgrades cost more than 2x the player
SCD-CE775 SACD Audience Mod Part 1
About a year ago, I decided to take the plunge into SACD by purchasing the very economical Sony SCD-CE775 SACD changer. It had an original sticker price of about $400, but was later reduced in price by Sony to a mere $199 with street prices as low as $179. This seemed like a bargain since the design was based off of the SCD-CE222ES Sony ES series (minus a separate digital/analog power supply and nicer cosmetics) and was favorably reviewed by many audio publications. I figured what do I have to lose. After all if the performance is that bad, I can bypass the DACs, at least for Redbook CD, and use it as a CD changer transport in my home theater system.
Long and behold, I was surprisingly shocked to discover the SCD-CE775 was no slouch to Redbook CD, and also did quite an admirable job on the new SACD discs I recently acquired. However, I felt it was lacking in comparison to my older dedicated, and considerably more expensive, Sony ES changer for Redbook CD. It seemed to convey a more sterile and dryer sound characteristic, and I soon found myself using it solely as a CD changer transport when not listening to my SACD's.
It wasn't until recently I discovered Audience performed after market modifications to stock players to "improve" their sonic attributes. I must say I was quite skeptical about this. After all, what would an exotic cable company know about a CD player design that the actual company who designed it didn't?
After a few phone conversations with Audience's Technical Director Richard Smith, he made a convincing argument about parts selection mass produced players tend to use, which are primarily chosen for budgetary reasons and not necessarily audiophile performance. Richard was nice enough to extend me the offer of modifying my stock SCD-CE775 unit in exchange for reviewing the unit on Audioholics.com. I graciously accepted the offer and shipped out my barely used SACD changer to them.
Audience estimated the price of this modification was around $500 (note price will vary depending on the type of player and the extent of the modifications).
The above modification list was unique to this player and may only apply to other players in a general way. All players are evaluated and upgraded according to their specific needs on a per model, per unit basis. Any necessary repairs are subject to additional charges.
Audience uses Auricaps for all critical audio and bypass applications. According to Audience, they are the best, most neutral sounding capacitors available. Audience also employed Auric hookup wire for the same reasons.
The electrolytic capacitors were selected from various vendors for the parameters that were most important to the particular circuit in which they were used. For critical power supply bypass, low impedance, Panasonic or Nichicon electrolytic capacitors were installed, in conjuncture with appropriate value Auricaps for additional bypass. According to Audience, this provides lower impedance over a broader range of frequencies and leads to a more neutral sound quality. Audience believes careful engineering is the best path to cost effective digital disc player modifications. It is their goal to provide sensible, high-value modifications offering real, easily audible improvements.
The opamp upgrade in critical audio circuit paths seemed quite logical to me given the performance advantages the Burr Brown units had over the stock JRC ones as tabulated below.
JRC 2144 (Stock)
Burr Brown OPA2132
Input Voltage Noise
900 nV / sqrt(Hz)
8 nV / sqrt(Hz)
Input Current Noise
400 fA / sqrt(Hz)
3 fA / sqrt(Hz)
15 V / usec
20 V / usec
The noise floor of the Burr Brown op amps is over 100 times lower than the stock JRC units. Note, depending on the overall circuit gain, this could have a quite dramatic effect on performance. Noise reduction is always a good thing, as it will usually present itself audibly with a more detailed soundstage, and ability to resolve the subtle details in a recording.
Changing out electrolytic capacitors with low ESR units and employing bypassing also has merit to reducing noise and non-linear distortion. This is an obvious area for a vendor to employ budget parts since good quality capacitors don't always come cheap. Prior to my introduction to Audience, I have heard favorable things about their Auricap capacitors, so I was excited to hear the resulting changes to my player with these incorporated parts. I cannot attest to the sonic or electrical advantages to the internal wiring and connector upgrades since I personally feel these would have little to no measurable performance advantages. However, this was part of the Audience proposed modification plan and from a purely cosmetics standpoint I was not objectionable to these alterations.
SCD-CE775 SACD Audience Mod Part 2
The Audience modification process took a little longer than expected, mostly because of parts availability issues and the Chris tmas holiday time frame. However, Audience was always prompt in sending me status reports, and they were always courteous and friendly via phone and email conversations. They soon informed me my player was ready, promptly shipped it to me, and provided detailed pictures of the modifications.
SACD Analog Filters with Auric Capacitors
I was a bit concerned at first with the potentially added inductance of the long lead wires which connected the new capacitors to the daughter boards, but soon realized that the frequencies we were dealing with here would have little or no effect as a result. The quality of workmanship appeared top notch, free from sloppy solder joints and spill. I was a bit concerned that they removed the DC blocking caps at the output stages, however I briefed over the designed schematics and noticed that prior stages were already AC coupled, and the upgraded op amps they chose to employ had very little DC input offset (< 500uV, unity gain). I also alleviated my concerns with a simple measurement and found the DC offset at the outputs to be under 2mV, which is inconsequential.
I soon had my modded SCD-CE775 SACD changer connected to my reference system, popped in a few of my SACD discs, and anxiously awaited to hear its new and alleged improved sonic attributes.
To be quite honest, I didn't have a stock SCD-CE775 to compare and determine the level of performance increase, so my review is based somewhat off of memory and direct comparison to my stock Sony ES changer for Redbook playback. However, my initial listening tests for SACD playback instilled upon me a level of openness and neutrality I didn't recall when listening prior to the Audience modifications.
Happy with my initial findings, I began loading the changer with five discs and noticed a transport problem that caused the discs to be jammed while advancing to the next disc. I suspect the changer may have been beaten up a little in return shipping, or possibly not properly aligned during re-assembly. In any event, Audience remedied this problem in a timely and professional manner. I shipped the unit back to them and received it within a week or so 100% operational. I was now ready to begin my long awaited critical listening evaluations.
Redbook CD Playback Performance
set up the Audience modded SCD-CE 775 along with my stock Sony ES changer side
by side using similar quality interconnects connected to different inputs of my
preamp/processor in analog pure direct mode. I played a test tone CD to ensure I
properly level matched both players. Incidentally, they appeared to have similar
gain and sensitivity characteristics, meaning no volume gain compensation
between the two players was required. I then proceeded with two identical
well-recorded jazz CD's to engage in "on the fly" DBT listening test
I really like using the Special EFX Collection CD in my comparison for several reasons:
- Impeccable audio quality
- Diverse musical content
- Enjoyable and non fatiguing music
I set up both players so they were in exactly synchronous to each other and always simultaneously playing back identical tracks. I had my wife switch between players on regular one minute intervals, and sometimes "on the fly" within seconds, multiple times, while I took notes on my listening experience. Not knowing which player was which, it was always easy for me to identify the better sounding, more open, more neutral player. In fact, the difference this time was clearly more audible than my last face off between the stock players. However, after considerable DBT listening sessions, my wife revealed to me that my choice player was now the Audience modded SCD-CE775 SACD changer. I couldn't believe this so I choose to do the switching myself, this time knowing which player was which and I still came to the same conclusion. The Audience modded SCD-CE775 was transformed into a formable Redbook CD player.
I must say I was surprised since I have rarely heard a CD player with a 1 bit converter do standard Redbook playback any justice. I was quite taken by how open and revealing the modded player had become. To me it took on a new sound character befitting a truly high end design. Though little was done to improve its cosmetics, I now had a so called common midfi player that had no right sounding this high end. I quietly thought to myself, it would be a fun, but devious, prank to bring this player into a high end shop, not revealing its modifications, and face it off to some of their high dollar stock units to hear how it faired.
SACD Playback Performance
Let's face it, the sole reason why I invested in this player was for its SACD playback feature. It was my goal to mark my inception into this format with at least an entry level unit to hear the formats potential before I fully plunge into it. I started out with Patricia Barbers fabulously recorded Nightclub SACD hybrid disc. I have come to realize that Premonition Records, the Record Label of Patricia Barber and many other Jazz groups, is second to none in producing top notch quality recordings. Thus their records have become my reference when evaluating audiophile performance of hardware.
Track #3 "Yesterdays" is perhaps my favorite on the disc. It starts out soft and mellow and soon explodes to a complex and well orchestrated jazz ballads unfamiliar to the typical self proclaimed jazz listener who's only exposure to this classification of music is the "Smooth Jazz" crap spoon fed to the public on FM radio. What I found when listening to this track on my newly modded SACD player was about the largest soundstage and presence in a recording that I have ever heard. In the past, prior to the Audience modification, I recalled areas in this song with exploding cymbal crashes to sound somewhat spitty in character. However, I breezed by these passages this time with little or no thought. I was no longer hearing limitations from the player, just the quality of the recording. Little did I know with a few critical modifications from Audience, I would have a respectable player that would exceed my expectations. In fact during my down time when Audience was modifying my player, I had the fortune of evaluating the very impressive Denon DVD-2900 Universal Player (review forthcoming), and felt my modded SACD unit performed comparably well to it. I didn't do extended DBT listening tests between the two units since their output levels were quite different and would involve constant volume level compensation when switching between units. However, I can say that my modded Sony SACD player was not lacking in fidelity. I was so impressed with the fidelity of this player that I ultimately decided to integrate it into my bedroom system, replacing my stock Sony ES changer. I was curious to see how it would further bring out the performance of my venerable, and second to none in my opinion, Status Acoustic Decimos mini monitors.
Needless to say, all of the SACD discs I evaluated on this modded unit sounded wonderful. The somewhat analytical sound of the player was gone and instead replaced with a more revealing and transparent character that integrated quite well in both of my systems.
I was quite happy now that I had such a high performing unit in my possession which allowed me to take advantage of the full potential of my favorite little speakers in a well acoustically controlled room in the comforts of the ultimately relaxed environment, my bedroom.
It was quite refreshing to see that Audience delivered as promised. Despite a moderately slow start and minor complications, they ultimately delivered an audibly superior modified product that I can happily live with for many years to come. My initial skepticism and concerns were wiped away after a few short listening sessions. On the surface, it may appear to be somewhat of an expense to fork over an additional $500 (more than twice the asking price of the player) to perform these modifications. However, the end result was a $700 SACD/CD changer capable of going toe to toe with many players at and above this price point. Besides, any true audiophile knows that the laws of diminishing returns do not always apply when seeking the ultimate performance of ones audio system.
If you are looking to enhance the performance of your stock SACD/CD/DVD player, then I certainly recommend you consider Audience for your modification needs. They delivered on their promise, and quite frankly exceeded my initial expectations.
1525 Brian Place
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