New DVD Player vs. Vintage CD Player: What to choose for your audio system

Not long ago, I read an article that asked why anyone would buy a CD player when a modern DVD player could perform the job of playing music equally as well.

I also recall that soon after I began buying and selling audio gear, I had a similar conversation with a friend in which we discussed the future of the CD player, and especially the used and/or vintage CD players. This particular conversation was sparked by the fact that I would often buy complete systems, from which I would end up with all sorts of CD players that I thought no-one would want. Indeed, a year ago I found it difficult to even give these players away; these older CD players were not even worth the hassle of selling.

But a year is a long time in  audio, and good condition, functioning, classic CD players are becoming sought-after commodities.

So what has changed?

For a start, the 30th anniversary of the compact disc and the CD player is nearly upon us, and this means that one, nearly two, generations have always lived in a world where CDs have always been around. This timeframe is also long enough for a certain nostalgia to take hold, and for a number of people to start looking back fondly on these earlier players. More and more I am seeing both serious collectors and “assemeblers” chasing after older CD players. What do I mean by “assemblers”? These are the people that realise the interesting design styles and characteristics of early CD players which makes them stand out in comparison to the blandness of modern players, and these assemblers are adding vintage CD players into the classic audio systems in their super-cool homes as a talking point. (Interestingly, I’ve seen an surge of interest in cassette decks too for this same reason).

I too have come to  appreciate more and more the aesthetics of these early players. Even the 15-20 year-old players have a beauty, a solidity that has almost disappeared in recent CD and DVD players.

Most sought after are from the follwing brands: Philips, Pioneer Stable Platter, Sony ES, Marantz, Onkyo Integra, Technics AA & MASH.

Benefits of vintage CD players:

1) Fast loading of discs.

2) Detailed display.

3) Multiple play options available on the front of the deck.

4) Quiet operation!!!.

5) Fucking cool looking (Check out the Onkyo below. More buttons than you will ever push).

5) Some great, classic DACs to be found in 20+ year old decks.

6) Can often be found cheaply.

Against vintage CD players:

1) Laser strength and longevity are a lottery.

2) Parts (mainly lasers) are impossible to find for many of the better models.

3) Expensive and sometimes difficult to  fix.

4) No remote control (or it’s gone missing).

5) Often don’t play burned discs.

For DVD Players:

1) Cheap!

2) Generally good 192/24 DACs — good enough that it is often impossible to differentiate between low and high end gear (confirmed by blind tests).

3) Lasers can read anything thrown at them.

4) They have optical and co-axial outs, so can be used as adequate transports.

Against DVD players (when used for audio).

1) Slow.

2) Noisy.

3) No display.

4) Shit styling.

5) Lightweight (The top of the line Sony DVD/SACD player below only weighs a couple of kilograms).

Conclusion: if you are just a casual listener that doesn’t really care about sound quality or style, go for the DVD player. Otherwise, jump into the murky world of vintage CD players and hope you get lucky. As for myself, I think the solution may lie somewhere in between, namely buying a high-end older DVD player. There is some amazing quality pieces out there that can be had cheaply as rich people are getting rid of them in order to upgrade to HDMI and Blu-Ray. Look out for big Pioneers, Yamahas, Oppos and Denons as these all used quality DACs.

Restoring wooden speaker veneer

So there I was, with a classic pair of vintage speakers but with the wood veneer in terrible condition. Here’s the thing: audio equipment in poor aesthetic condition is difficult to sell (even if it’s working perfectly), to the extent that you can knock off, perhaps, 50% of the value. It’s very rare now that I will bid on equipment that isn’t in excellent condition.

I knew these speakers were worth doing up but I had no idea of the best way to do it. So I went to a local cabinetmaker to investigate the possibility of having the speaker cabinets re-veneered. Well, he laughed, and told me that it wasn’t a viable economic proposition. The cabinetmaker — Terry, his name was — then gave me a can of Howard’s Restor-A-Finish and sent me away. He asked for no money or contact details from me, and this man had never even met me before. All he said was this: “Pay me if it works for you.” (Isn’t it nice to come across some old-fashioned trust and “done-on-a-handshake” values!)

Well, I paid that man less than a day later and I’m still using the same can of Howard’s more than a year later.

The genius of this product is that it’s made for lazy bastards like myself: each speaker took me about 10 minutes to do and there is no prep or messy clean-up. Just wipe in on with an old rag, then wipe it off. Wonderful

Check out these “before and after” shots and you’ll see what I mean: