In the June 1988 issue, I reported my test results for the Models Philips CD96O and Philips DAC960, the first CD player and separate D/A converter (both with the Philips TDA1541 d/a converter) to be sold in this country under the Philips name. Of course, almost from the start of the Compact Disc era, we‘ve had some excellent CD players available from Philips under the Magnavox brand name. It was rather unfortunate that the first Philips-labelled player proved to be less than state of the art when it came to linear, distortion—free reproduction of program material at all amplitude levels. Readers who follow these test reports may recall that when I played low-level, dlthered test signals, the Philips CD96O exhibited deviation from linearity of almost I5 dB at -90 dB recorded level on one channel and deviation of around 8 dB on the other.
I have learned that Philips is now "grading" their TDA1541 D/A converters. The best, in terms of linearity and freedom from other forms of distortion and noise, are used in top-of-the- line units such as the Philips CD88O under review here; somewhat poorer TDA1541 converters are relegated to low-end players. I have been assured, however, that even the lower grade TDA1541 D/A converter chips are now coming off the line with better linearity performance than was the case in the Philips CD960.
When the TDA1541 top-grade D/A chips are used, as in the Philips CD880, I can attest to the fact that linearity is superb, as are the player’s other performance characteristics.
One thing that has been carried ever from the earlier unit is Philips‘ innevative Favorite Track Selection. Well worth having, this feature allows you to store desired tracks ef a great number ef CDs in the player’s memory. Once you have done so, the next time yeu insert one of these discs, you can select to have only the previously designated tracks or selections played. The FTS system, as incerperated in the Philips CD880, will accept up to l,757 entries, eight of which are used te identify the disc itself. The number of discs that can be stored with FTS depends on the number of tracks per disc that you pregram. For example, if you program five tracks per disc, then you will use 5 + 8 entries per disc, or 13 entries. This would allow you to use FTS en 135 discs (135 x 13 = 1,755.) Tiny numbered stickers supplied with the Philips CD880 enable you te correlate the FTS number encoded in the player with the disc itself.
FTS should not be confused with regular programmed play. The Philips CD880 can be programmed for a maximum of 20 memory blocks. Each track number takes up one block, while an index point takes up two. It is also possible to program play on the basis of start and stop time within a given track, although doing so uses up five blocks of program memory. In addition to the usual convenience features—such as moving from track to track, fast search in either direction for a particular passage, moving to the next or to a specified index number within a track, and several forms of repeat play—this unit offers "Scan" play. With this function, the first 10 S of each track are played in turn, and track numbers can simultaneously be stored for programming. Finally, activating the ‘-‘ShuffIe" switch causes the tracks of a disc to be l played in random order until the command is cancelled.
The front panel of the Philips CD880 seemed particularly uncluttered and neat, in part because some of the functions, such as index access and variable output level adjustment, are available only on the supplied remote control. A power switch, stereo headphone jack, and ’phone level control are all positioned below the disc tray, which is opened by lightly touching a button on the front of the tray. A large display area to the right of the tray provides information about the number of tracks on the disc, the playing time, the state of play at any given moment, and the status of the player’s special functions. lt also indicates when no disc has been inserted or when a mistake is made in operating the player. A "Play l\/lode" switch beneath the display area has three settings. The first of these, "Norm," is self-explanatory. The "Copy" function inserts time gaps between tracks when dubbing onto tape, for use with tape players which have track—seeking facilities to detect such gaps. The "Autc" setting automatically puts the Philips CD880 in pause after playing a track. The other controls beneath the display are pushbuttons for "Shuffle, "Repeat," "Time" (for choosing the type of time display, such as remaining track time, total remaining time, or elapsed track time), "A-B" repeat, "Scan," and
"FTS." Ccntrcls fcr track advance and reverse, play, pause, stop, and fast search are at the far right of the panel, as are the switches and numbered keys for programming desired selections. The remote control duplicates all of the front—panel functions, with the exception of opening the disc tray. The remote also has buttons for index access and output level adjustment.
Optical and electrical digital outputs are provided on the rear panel, in additicn to the fixed and variable analog or line—level outputs. An optical coupling cable and the usual shielded analog audio cables are supplied. Due to the proximity of the digital and analog outputs, an on/off switch for the digital output is provided, just in case the digital signal interferes with the analog signals. There are also remote—ccntrol jacks on the rear panel, an input jack for use with an external infrared remote sensor, and an output jack to ccntrol related Philips stereo components. A pair of easily removed clamps beneath the CD player protect and lock the disc tray’s mechanism during shipment.
Use and Listening Tests
As I might have expected, the Philips CD880 employs one of the most sophisticated tracking and error-correction systems I have run acrcss since I began testing CD players nearly live years ago. There was little I could do to make the laser pickup misbehave—whether by tapping on the sides and top ot the enclosure or by playing the assortment of "defects" discs I have now acquired. With such tests out of the way, I settled back to enjoy some pf my most recent CD acquisitions. Among the discs I used were a pair of recordings of Clara and Robert Schumann‘s works for piano and strings, one of which also includes a piece by Johannas Brahms (Pro Arta CDD 395 and CDD 396). The clarity of thosa digitally mastered discs has to be heard to be believed.
For the listening evaluations, I usad my reference Infinity PS 9 Kappa speakar systems and a high-powered Hafler amp that was in the lab for testing. I did not use any sort of intervering preamp, for tha Philips CD880’s variable outputs enabled me to change volume level from my listening position via the remote control. With this setup, I came about as close to total realism as I have yet come with any electronic sound-reproduction equipment. The selection of spectecular overtures on a third Pro Atre disc, Light Cavalry (CDD 402), including the Von Suppe for which the disc is named puts demands on your system’s dynamic range as only well recorded Compact Discs can. The Philips CD880’s clarity and transparency, especially on low—level passages, was distinctly audible.
It is clear that one does not need high—multiple oversampling (8 times, 16 times, or higher) and 18- or 20-bit D/A conversion to guarantee superb performance from a Compact Disc player. As so many authorities have been stressing recently, if a "perfect" 16—bit D/A converter were developed, there would be no need for more "bits" or more digital multiplication than is provided by four—times oversampling Philips, in the Philips CD880, has come about as close to that perfection as any player i’ve evaluated thus far.