Volume VIII Number 1
A $79.95 carousel CD player
A best Buy from BEST BUY!
All reviewers (myself included) should constantly remind themselves that our audiophile world is a very, very, very small part of a giant market known as the consumer electronics industry. It's in this much larger world where the real action is. And contrary to what we elitist audiophiles may spout about "we lead the way", the two worlds do cross pollinate. A case in point: It's Albert the average audio equipment consumer who forced the exclusive high-end audio industry to start including remote operation of various components, such as the preamp. Albert the average went into shock when told that there are audiophile preamps costing $5,000, or $10,000. He then went into fits of laughter when told that these audiophile preamps didn't have a remote control, even for the volume function! I wonder what he would have done if he was told that one of the reasons given for not including remote operation was it would impact the quality of the resulting sound! Anyway...
To stay in touch with reality I visit the various electronic retailers in the area. I try to do this at least on a monthly basis and choose different retailers from month to month. In the course of a year I visit a good sampling of electronic retailers. It's a good way to keep my audiophile elitist tendencies in check. This month (November) I paid a visit to the BEST BUY chain in downtown Glen Burnie. The temptation is great to write about the many things I saw and heard, but I'll confine my writing to one particular CD player that caught my attention and which I purchased. The particular CD player was an RCA model RP-8065, five CD carousel with remote control. What got my attention was first, the price of $79.95, and second, the features included for this price.
There were most of the features you find on much more expensive carousel models. Not all the features of the (much) more expensive units mind you but those features that are really important; a lot of the extra features on the expensive models are nothing but fluff, thrown in to justify the exorbitant pricing. I can count on one finger the number of times I've used the alpha-numeric input capability of carousel units I've owned.
The RP-8065 features include playing of one to five discs in order, shuffle (random) play of one to five CDs, programming up to 32 selections on one to five discs, ability to load up to four discs while a fifth disc continues playing, skipping up to 32 tracks (Auto Track Skip) while in the program mode, listening to the first ten seconds of each track (Tracks Introduction), headphone input with volume control, and repeat capability for repeating a single track, a single CD, or all CDs. Throw in the hand held remote control unit and you've got a carousel CD player that feature wise rivals the best out there.
The RCA RP-8065 has excellent shock resistance, better than most CD players I've used. I had to slap it a bit harder than most to get the unit to go into a mute mode for a second or two and then it would pickup from where it left off. The operation of the changing mechanism is faster and quieter then any carousel CD player I've owned! There's only one output on the back, the usual fixed output (approximately 2.5 volts) via RCA output jacks. I didn't weigh the unit but it's definitely in the featherweight class, probably no more than 10 lbs. max. The display isn't as elaborate as more expensive players but it supplies all the information you require such as playing time, which disc and track is playing, a display calendar showing a maximum of 16 tracks, and various display messages (NODSC, FULL, MUTE, OPEN, etc.). Interestingly, one of the display messages is STDBY (Standby) which is the mode of the player when turned off.; shades of the tweak "leave it on all the time philosophy", but at least there's an on/off switch. A set of interconnects is included which saved me from having to spend at least another $79.95 on set of cheap interconnects (smiley face here)! I really got upset at having to pay an additional $2.00 for the batteries that weren't included with the remote unit (another smiley face here)! Hey, what should I expect for $79.95, huh?
Included with the RP-8065 is an instruction manual (User's Guide) that does a reasonably good job of explaining how to operate the player. There's even an index which is something not seen in many instruction manuals. And that about does it. Well, almost.
I can hear those of the subjective clan sharpening their claws and waiting to hear my pronouncement regarding the "sound" of the RCA player. To eliminate guessing on my part, or biased assumptions (How could a $79.95 RCA cheapie carousel CD player sound as good as an audiophile brand S $3,000 single CD player?) I went blind testing route. The nice thing about making blind comparisons is that your imagination is kept in check by the use of a rigorous approach to listening for differences. That said, I am growing tired of justifying the test every time I use it. If you prefer not to accept the test then that's fine with me; feel free to continue believing you can hear differences that don't exist and go your merry way. Thank goodness new medicines aren't accepted using the same premise. Can you imagine a research team stating that a new medicine works because they think it does and therefore should be sold to the public! Anyway...
I compared the cheapie RCA CD carousel player to several of the more well known audiophile brands. The results-you guessed it-were no audible differences. No, I'm not going to get into brand names used in the comparison; that always causes an uproar from the people who happen to own the expensive components used in the comparison. They don't readily accept the fact their unit isn't distinguishable (sound wise) from the modestly priced component. As usual the blind testing was done with myself and a younger group of ears (late 20s). In several 20 trial tests no one got more than 12 out of 20 corrects. The math used in blind testing requires that there be 15 out of 20 corrects for the result(s) to be statistically significant. So...there's no audible difference between a $79.95 carousel CD player and several very expensive audiophile players, both carousel and single CD types! Son-of-a-gun, what's this world coming to? But back to the RCA $79.95 carousel CD player.
The RP-8065 will be getting a lot of use from me as I like to listen to background music while working around the house or even more so, while reading. I haven't had very good luck with six(!) previous carousel CD players holding up mechanically. The RP-8065 will be used much more than my reference CD player, especially with the holidays approaching. I'll report periodically on how it's holding up.
So here we have a $79.95 carousel CD player that rivals units costing much more. Assuming you purchased a $700 CD carousel this means that you could purchase almost nine RP-8065s, one per year for nine years, before equaling the $700; to be exact, nine of these units would cost $719.55, excluding tax! Oh, there's a one year warranty for parts and labor, and the return transportation is paid for by RCA.
Some time ago (circa 1994) there was a lot of hullabaloo about a Radio Shack portable CD player (Optimus CD-3400) that was proclaimed to be the best buy since we purchased Alaska from the Russians. Its sound (some said) equaled or exceeded that of CD players costing thousands of dollars. I had my suspicions that the whole thing was started by someone in the audio magazine industry hoping to get ad revenue from Radio Shack. I also wondered why no one had done a blind comparison to check out the validity of the unit's sound being comparable to or equaling CD players costing thousands. I had just returned to the states from Germany and was so busy settling in that I just never found the time to so a blind comparison. Well, the RP-8065 is the next CD-3400 scoop, 1998 version! And unlike the RP-8065, a blind test verifies its sound is equal to some pretty good (expensive!) CD players.
Addendum: Just as this article was finalized I happened to serendipitously come upon a nifty device that is called the CD-CHECK. It's a CD which enables the average audiophile to check (objectively and easily) just how good the error correction circuitry is for his CD player. It is possible that the CD payer may be negatively impacting the resulting sound because of problems with the CD player's error correction system. These error corrections may not be so severe as to cause audible popping, clicking, skipping, or muting; they will, however, cause a slight but audible degradation of the sound. The CD-CHECK test CD has five test tracks that impose errors to check for the error recovering ability of your CD player. Every CD player should pass the track 1 test, if it doesn't you know the player has a problem. The other four tracks are each progressively more difficult for the CD player to navigate and tell you just how good the CD player's error correction function is beyond what is absolutely necessary (Track 1).
The $79.95 CD player got to track 3 before encountering difficulties. The expensive CD players all got to track 3-no further-before encountering difficulties! So here we have a $79.95 CD payer with error correction ability as good as the high priced brands! Need I say any more?
For those interested the CHECK-CD can be ordered for $39.95 plus $7.00 S & H from: Digital Recordings/5959 Spring Garden Road/Suite 1103/Hallifax, Nova Scotia B3H-1Y5/Canada. Additional information is available from email@example.com or call 902-425-1154 or FAX at 902-429-9622. A great way to go for practicing objectiveness (and not voodoo!) in your evaluation of sound reproduction.
Addendum number 2: I've now had this CD player for over seven months, using and abusing it (like not turning it off, not removing the CDs for extended periods, and even when I turn it off I don't always remove the CDs, pulling the power cord while its playing, etc.) and it's never stumbled, not even once. Is this a best buy (a description, not a commercial endorsement)? You be the judge. I'll report in again at the end of a year or even sooner if there is any kind of problem, whichever comes first.
Addendum number 3: I've now had this CD player for 19 months, tortured it far beyond any normal usage; my latest trying to bring it to its knees is loading it with five CDs, placing it in shuffle and repeat play, and letting it play for now in excess of 60 days! That's without stopping, amigo, without stopping for in excess of 60 days! It hasn't skipped a beat. Over the years I've owned three Sony ES series carousel players. None, I repeat none, went more than six months without breaking! So much for there is always a correlation between price ($700 for the Sony's and $79.95 for the RCA) and reliability (Three Sony's, treated with kid gloves, none went beyond six months without a major problem. The RCA has gone 18 months without a problem while I've tried to sabotage it). Remarkable!
Disclaimer: I don't own any stock in BEST BUY or Digital Recordings, don't have a friend or relative working in either place, and don't have any kind of commission arrangement with either. But I'm all for getting your money's worth!
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