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GROUP TEST

 

PERSONAL CD PLAYERS

 

HEAD

GETTING PERSONAL

 

INTRO

Personal CD players are a good way of listening to quality music on the move, but as Rick Maybury has been finding out, there’s a tremendous variation in performance

 

COPY

 

Aiwa XP-S2, £110

This is the largest player in this roundup, but only by a small margin; it’s also the only one not to have an anti-shock mechanism, though other models in the Aiwa range have this facility. The XP-S2 outfit is based around the XP-220 player, (sold separately for £90), but this package comes with a pair of active speakers, powered by four pen-cells. Additionally there’s with a set of in-ear phones, mains power adaptor/charger and two AA-sized rechargeable cells, that last for between two and three hours, with normal use.

 

Design and layout are both fairly routine; the deck controls and LCD display are grouped together on the front panel, there’s a couple of slide switches on the side, and one on the back. Transport functions include a 24-track program memory, plus one or all track repeat and random play. The deck features a 1-bit digital to analogue converter (DAC) with 4-times oversampling. Playback features are confined to a two-stage bass-boost and volume limiter switch.

 

Although the XP-220 is prepared for in-car use (heat -resistant components and lugs for a mounting bracket), the lack of an anti-shock system on this model is a drawback. The deck is very touchy and skips at the slightest provocation. The in-ear phones are quite simply crap. They grumble at the slightest whiff of bass, producing a harsh, unpleasant sound. The active speakers aren’t much better, they’re quite tinny and are really only suitable for background listening in very small rooms.

 

Sadly this machine will be judged by the quality of the supplied  earphones and speakers, which is unfortunate. Heard through a half-decent set of headphones it performs really well. There’s plenty of detail, the sound is open and well balanced, noise levels are a little below average. Fair value but happiest leading a sedentary life, with good quality cans, or piped through a hi-fi system.

 

Value for money 80%

Aiwa UK Ltd., telephone (0990) 902902

 

 

Panasonic SL-SW404, £180

Panasonic products are normally quite conservative but the SL-SW404 looks like a clear and determined effort to be trendy. The rugged styling and bold blue and orange cosmetics definitely set this player apart from the ranks of big black powder-puffs.  The wide-opening lid is held in place by two strong side-mounted spring clips, they’re a swine to open one-handed, but there’s a reason for that. There’s a water-resistant seal on the inside face of the lid, and rubber bungs for the sockets, that makes the unit splash-proof. It’s not quite waterproof, but it should survive a  heavy rain shower or a brief accidental dunking.

 

Sounds are piped through a matching set of colour-co-ordinated, lightweight headphones, with an adjustable headband. They’re not especially comfortable but they stay in place and can withstand a gentle jog. The player has a ten-second ‘Shock-Wave’ sound buffer, to eliminate knocks and bumps that would otherwise make the pickup skip. An indicator on the deep-set (and difficult to read) LCD panel gives a running check; if the buffer is emptied, and the sound is interrupted the display politely says ‘sorry’. One-bit MASH and 8-times oversampling technology takes care of the digital to analogue conversion and filtering. The deck has a 24-track memory, repeat and random play options; there’s an extended bass mode but the switch is inside the case, almost hidden by the CD, which is very inconvenient. Power is supplied by a pair of rechargeable cells, that keep the player running for around two and a half hours.

 

The smart but uncomfy cans produce a reasonably clean, well-rounded sound. Treble response is mite flimsy, but bass content is solid, even without the booster switched on. It’s well-suited to thumpy rocky and pop material, more detailed, lightweight music can sound a bit fussy, though. It’s quite expensive, but when you take into account the stylish presentation, tough off-road handling and better than average sound it’s actually not a bad deal.

 

Value for money 85%

Panasonic UK., telephone  (01344) 862444

 

Philips AZ-7361, £120

The AZ-7361 looks fairly conventional, though closer inspection reveals some neat cosmetic touches. It’s a compact design and  the silvery trim emphasises the curvy teardrop shape. The in-ear phones are also treated to a silver finish, they plug into a side-mounted jack socket. The only other external connection is on the back, for the supplied mains adaptor. Portable power comes from two AA cells, that last for 4 to 5 hours, depending on volume and operating modes.

 

ESA or electronic shock absorption is the name Philips have given to their anti-vibration sound buffer, (just don’t tell the European Space Agency...). It stores around 3 seconds worth of music; if the shakes continue it apologises  and ‘sorry’ appears on the large and easy to read LCD display. There’s a 25 track memory, shuffle, shuffle repeat, repeat track and disc, and scan, which plays the first ten seconds of each track. Sonic refinements include a 1-bit DAC, and a three-stage bass booster, with a fourth setting for in-car use. This gives the treble a bit of a lift, presumably to counteract road noise.

 

The lick of silver paint on the in-ear phones does little to improve the fit, they start to irritate after about ten minutes. Switch the deck to play mode and they irritate straight away, with a raspy, trebly sound. With most rock recordings you touch the bass-boost button at your peril; they distort horribly at anything higher then two-thirds maximum volume. Once again it’s a case of an otherwise competent player being spoilt by in-ear phones that just aren’t up to the job. Replace them with a pair of headphones and the player comes alive with a clean, evenly balanced sound, that would put some home decks to shame. Worth considering, if you replace the phones.

 

Value for money 82%

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

Sanyo CDP-455, £120

Sanyo have given the CDP-455 a dual personality by supplying it with a car power cord and stereo radio adaptor. This is built into a specially adapted cassette, that contains a magnetic transducer, to beam the audio output into the car player’s tape head. The adaptor is configured to suit both side and front-loading decks. The player itself is a very straightforward design, with all of the controls more or less where you’d expect to find them. It can be used with normal AA cells -- six-hours on a pair of alkaline AA cells --  or an optional re-chargeable pack; a mains power adaptor/charger and in-ear phones are also included in the accessory pack.

 

Replay facilities follow a familiar pattern with a 22-track memory, random play, single or all track repeat, and 10-second intro-scan. The anti-shock sound buffer has a three-second memory, a simple bar-graph shows how well it’s doing. On the audio front it has a one-bit digital to analogue converter and two stages of bass boost, which Sanyo rather grandly call a ‘sound equalisation system’ (SES). The LCD display is quite informative but it’s difficult to see unless you look at it head on, or there’s any bright light falling on it.   

 

It’s the same old story. The in-ear phones produce a nasty noise with clipping and distortion, that only gets worse when the bass wick is turned up. It’s just about okay at low volume levels and background noise levels are very low but it quickly turns lumpy once you get past the halfway mark on the volume control. Using it with even quite ordinary headphones yields a vast improvement in the sound; it instantly becomes crisp and punchy, with a very smooth mid-range. The car kit is a bonus and it sounds a whole lot better through most car stereos or headphones but ditch those in-ear jobbies.

 

Value for money 80%

Sanyo UK, telephone (01923) 246363

 

Technics SL-XP240, £130

There appears to be quite a few similarities between the this player and the Panasonic SW404, certainly they seem to share the same deck mechanism. The controls and operating system also ring a few bells but these machines have a very different persona. Whereas the SW404 is portrayed as rough-tough, go-anywhere player, the XP240 looks and feels a lot more refined; more at home, at home, as it were. Nevertheless, it can take the knocks if it has to and the heat resistant polycarbonate body won’t go all floppy and melt if you use it in a car. It comes with a mains power adaptor, re-chargeable nicads for two to three hours of operation, and a set of in-ear phones.

 

The anti-shock sound buffer memory last for ten seconds, and says ‘sorry’ when its empty. Ten seconds is quite generous and should be more than enough to cope with most outdoor activities, or a life on the bumpy road. One-stage bass boost, eight times oversampling and a 1-bit MASH digital to analogue converter takes care of the sounds, whilst a 24-track memory, random play and single or all track repeat is available during replay.

 

Background hiss is about average and the supplied in-ear phones produce a surprisingly well-rounded sound. They even manage a little bass, without breaking up. Mid-range is clean and detailed though the treble tails off quite early. Needless to say it sounds a whole lot better with proper headphones, though the difference isn’t anywhere near as dramatic as it is with the other players in this review. On balance there’s a not a choose between the SW404 and the XP240, as far as overall sound output is concerned, but if you’re going to be spending any time in the great outdoors, getting wet and bumping around, the 404 is your best bet, otherwise save yourself a few bob and try this very respectable little machine.   

 

Value for money 88%

Technics, telephone  (01344) 862444

 

CONCLUSION                                

Best sound                              Technics

Best build quality             Panasonic

Best value for money             Sanyo

 

FIVE TOP TIPS FOR BUYING PERSONAL CD PLAYERS

* Don’t just take out word for it, always try before you buy, and take along a couple of your own discs

* Anti shock sound buffers are absolutely essential, if you want to use a CD player on the move

 
* Look for a wide range of power options; it’s better if re-chargeable batteries are supplied as standard (you’ll never get around to buying them...), and on-board charging is an advantage

 

* Supplied in-ear phones are usually pretty dire; it’s worth upgrading at the time of purchase, so you can try them out, and maybe negotiate a discount

* If you want to use a CD personal in a car make sure there’s a suitable mounting kit, power adaptor and audio interface available. Listening to headphones whilst driving is a really bad idea!

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1997 0502

 

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