SONY XA5400ES - Preliminary Observations

As I previously mentioned, I bought this from American TV on Audiogon (they are an authorized dealer for this product; I registered unit and store name came up on Sony list)almost on a lark, skeptical of the maniacal rave reviews but wondering whether just this once . . . .

I will be moving back to NYC later this year and am thinking about how I can reduce number of components to save space. I compared the SONY (on RBCD only) to my CEC TL-1X transport (modded by RAM), with balanced Stealth Sextet digicable to balanced input on my trusty Dodson 218 DAC. EPS 2S PC on transport; Valhalla PC on Dodson, both run through an Audience AR6 conditioner. The transport-cable-DAC combo-PC combos totals some $20K, when new. I am running Valhalla IC's from Sony to my Wyetech Opal Pre (the Sony sounds awful with Stealth Indras; have no idea why)and amusing a LessLoss Sig PC (which I like a lot).

The ravers raved about 500 hrs of burn-in for Sony to sound its best. I don't know if that's true, but it has improved considerably over the 150 hrs or so I have burned it in. It started off way too dark, vague and murky -- almost unlistenable -- but has loosened up, detail has improved, vocals have become clearer and more natural and bass has tightened somewhat, but still is a bit loose and muddy. The preliminary verdict (pending another 100-150 hrs of burn-in: this is an outstanding CDP that fights way way above its weight and which I enjoy listening to and could be very happy with -- and it does not suffer terribly in comparo with my usual setup. My usual combo sounds more natural and realistic, with better detail and clarity, and tighter if not deeper bass than the Sony. Highs are airier and cleaner. The improvement, however, is not jarring; it is, however, definitely noticeable. The Sony is darker, with vocals a bit huskier and strings much warmer, perhaps too warm at this point. But as I said, if I did not switch to my usual combo, I would enjoy the Sony immensely on its own merits. It dors have a smooth, organic presentation and if it sins it is on the side of warmth rather than clinical digital detail. For what the Sony costs, anyone who was considering spending up to $5K or so on a CDP should listen to this first. I only have one SACD and will try that soon, but really cannot comment on its merits as an SACD player.

Will check in again in about a week or so to tell if there is anything to add. I would have no qualms about admitting it's as good as my combo, but remain skeptical it will ever reach those rarefied heights.

Sorry for being so long-winded, but this has been a fascinating exercise for a long-time audiophile and anyway, I am a lawyer, so what would you expect?

Funny I inquired if they were an authorized dealer and my result came up negative
Are they an authorized dealer for Bryston too?
I think not
The preliminary verdict this is an outstanding CDP that fights way way above its weight

"fights way way above its weight"
What does that statement mean please?
I really have no idea what you're trying to say in this paragraph.
The Sony is not dark whatsoever,I would say the balance is near perfect..The Treble is clear and the body of music is integrated.
Marantz sacd player sounded dark to me
Based on my experience, I think the 5400 is an inferior product when compared to the oppo 83se. I have done the comparison in my system. Was the inferior performance of the 5400 due to a defect in the unit. Hard to tell, but it seemed to be 'veiled' even 'muddy' in the lows. I listened to it for about 50 hours. Before I started to listen, I left it playing by itself for about 350 hours via repeat cycle. I did demo the 5400 at a dealer and it did not sound 'veiled'. My sony unit came from SonyStyle, which gladly took back the unit with no hassle and no cost to me whatsoever.
Neal, please keep us posted on how the sonics develop over the next week. Also, I am very curious about running the unit in balanced mode, any input there would be appreciated.

Punching above its weight means it outperforms what you would expect for its class/price, e.g., a lightweight punching like a heavyweight. And I did not say "dark"; I said darker than my combo. The bass is not muddy, it is pretty taut, just does not go as deep as the CEC/Dodson.

I will give it more time. I am in no hurry. I could easilly live with the Sony and be satisfied. I just like my CEC/Dodson combo better so far, and also recognize this is what I am accustomed to.

Unfortunately, my pre does not have balanced inputs so I can only report on RCA.

Fishing716, it's good to be passionate, but don't give yourself a heat attack.

$20k vs $1500. "I could easily live with the Sony and be satisfied." I was already happy with my 5400 purchase, but this is the icing on the cake. Thanks for the review Neal, sounds like fun.
Seems like you are holding back. What's up? Why so down on the 5400?
NO I was making light of the inferior product comment.
I think it's ridiculous to call it as such.
Thanks for your thoughts on this cdp.

I also recently picked up one of these units. My previous two cdp that are both less than state of the art/ Sony x7esd from 1989 (top of the line Sony in it's day), the other a Sony sacd changer from about 2000- the 333es unit. I have known for years these were in need of upgrade, and finally found it time to do so.

Major flaws in my old units were a lack of inner detail and 'life. Especially when compared to playing the vinyl rig. This created a constant feeling of... after a few minutes of cd play tossing on a vinyl album instead, as I 'just couldn't stand it'.

While the new Sony has only been installed with 24 hours of playback I can already get hints of what it is bringing to the system. It does have an ability to show the intent and nature of the 'music' that really inspires me to listen to cd playback again.

I'll allow it to continue it's burn in for the next few weeks- but for now I am quite impressed with the 5400es. Thanks to all the folks that reviewed and spoke well of this unit, I feel the purchase has so far been well worth it.


Good accurate reactions to the 5400.
"What it is bringing to the system. It does have an ability to show the intent and nature of the music"
I gone mine from American Theatre as well and began using it two days ago. I had (still own) the previous incarnation of this player, the ES9100, which sounded fantastic (particularly with multichannel SACD) via the "i-link" to a Sony compatible receiver. Via it's analog outputs, the 9100 was nothing special.
The Sony receiver died on me, and I replaced it with an Onkyo that will play all the new high rez movie formats but doesn't have an i-link. Frankly, I had forgotten just how ordinary the 9100 sounded via the analog outputs. Whike I enjoyed the Onkyo with my Blu=Ray, the degredation of sound in the 9100 was unacceptable. I decided to buy the 5400 which Kal Rubinson waxed so lyrically about.
I must still be in the burn in phase. It is almost unlistenable now and I hope that with further use it picks up. Interestingly, the analog outputs don't seem to work, although CDs will play via HDMI (and sound much better than SACD right now).
hi richard:

are you implying that american theater sold you a defective unit ?

sldo if you are using hdmi, what cable and what dac are using as the interface ?

i am not aware of hdmi direct to pre amp or amp.


i have ps audio pwt and pwd and prefer coax. i tried their silver hdmi. i did not like it.
The XA9000ES was the "previous incarnation" of the 5400, not the 9100 which is a DVD player. In any case, the 5400 manual states that, when the front panel HDMI light is on, sound will come from the HDMI output, when the light is off, sound comes from the analog and digital outputs.
That sounds like it might be your problem.

Based on my experience, if it sounds unlistenable to you now, it may not be for you. While I found it to improve over the months, I never thought it sounded bad, even out of the box.
Have heard the Oppo se version and the modwright upgraded version of the 83. Purchased the Sony 5400. Pretty easy call. 5400 gets even better every day.
I now have burned in the XA5400ES for some 250-300 hrs, and feel than any further improvement will be in infinitesimal increments. (Other users may differ on further improvement.) So time to render a verdict, in comparison to my CEC TL-1X RAM-modded transport and Dodson 218 DAC, with Stealth Sextet digicable. Tried Valhalla and Stealth Indras as analog IC's from Sony to Wyetech Opal pre. Also swapped Valhalla and LessLoss Sig PC's. Used Sony only on RBCD; don't have any SACD's so no comment on its abilities on SACD.

The SONY is an outstanding CDP in absolute terms. For the money, it is a breathtaking steal. I cannot imagine it not competing head-on with $5K range CDP's and acquitting itself well. It is well built, functions smoothly, sounds full-bodied, organic, sufficiently detailed, with good soundstage, good, deep but a bit loose bass, very natural sounding. I could live happily with it. . . . .

BUT, I own what I own, and the CEC/Dodson combo is, to my ears, superior, as perhaps it should be at more than 15X what I paid for the Sony. The combo is just is more detailed, deeper, tauter bass, wider and deeper soundstage and overall sounds more realistic, abeit not as relaxing sounding as the Sony. Is it 10X better -- no, not by a long shot. Is it 25% - 33 1/3% better, yes. The comparison was extremely close on classical -- a dead heat on solo piano -- but the combo clearly (no pun intended)has the edge on jazz, folk and rock.

So I have enjoyed my time with the Sony immensely and will be putting it up for sale, but will be saying goodbye wistfully. (If anyone is interested contact me offline.) Commendable job, Sony. One doesn't need to spend that much for first class digital playback. I could have loved you were I not already committed, and I need the space back.

And Fishing716, please do not assault me!


The XA5400ES has a digital out. By any chance, did you try the XA5400ES as a transport only feeding the Dodson 218 and compare that combination to the CEC/Dodson? I'm curious whether this unit has a particular strength in either its transport or conversion function.
I liked it, and thought for the price is sounds nice and lush. I returned it. But its not a giant killer. No such thing. My very expensive player outdid it by large margins in every aspect (Simaudio Andromeda) including CD layer Andro versus SACD layer 5400. But again at 10X cost, what do you expect?

I was looking for a player to backup Andromeda if it broke. Well, no such thing at a reasonable price..maybe Lindemann, Meridian 808.2, Accuphase, Spectral SDR4000 PRO. Heavens! These are upwards of 18K. But reference players as Hi Fi Palace (Larry Diaz) says are over 10K anyway. Why mention Hi Fi Palace? It had good article on CD players and how some audiophiles want reference performance for $1000 - 8000.



I did not try as transport. I will, out of curiosity. I would be surprised if it compared with the mighty CEC TL-1x, as modded.

Thanks Neal for volunteering to do some extra testing.

I don't think the XA5400ES will best the CEC, either. However, I am curious how large or small the shortfall is.

It's too bad that the XA5400ES doesn't have a digital input to allow a complementary test (CEC transport to XA5400ES converter). A comparison of the two mix-and-match setups might indicate where the strength of the XA5400ES as a CD player lies.
It's not obvious to me what's getting broken in during the 500 hours of playing, but I assume it's caps, etc. So my question is: Does the player need to see 500 hours each of CD and SACD, or is the break-in time simply playing either?

I have had the 5400ES now for 3 weeks. it is an excellent player on both RB and SACD. I have a McIntosh and an Arcam as well which are both very good players. The SACD performance of the Sony offers noticeable clarity, detail and soundstage improvements over my McIntosh SACD. In fact I put the same disc in each (I have a few duplicates) and synced them. I heard better sound on the Sony each time.
I was asked on 2/05 if I thought American Theatre sold me a defective unit. I did not mean to imply that.
The unit has been steadily improving in the past few weeks. There is a break in period.
I think my Sony SCD XA5400ES is a bit on the cold, brite, high pitched side. See my thread for more detail.
Something's wrong with your unit. My XA5400ES sounds anything but cold or bright. Plus this thread is six months old.
I am very sensitive to brightness and don't hear any kind of high-frequency peak from mine. If anything, it is a bit recessed in that area.
this thread reveals the necessity of auditioning the sony before making a purchase. unfortunately since the supply of new units is extremely limited, you pay your money and take a big risk.
Big risk? The reviews of the XA5400ES have been mostly very favorable, so I doubt the characterization as big risk is accurate. I bought my XA5400ES from a listing on AudiogoN without having heard one, and couldn't be more satisfied. It had very few CD hours and no SACD hours on it, but I've since cured that defect. Overly bright, not at all.

the fact that there is a difference of opinion and the fact that one does not have the opportunity to audition before buying makes a purchase risky.

while opinions are a factor, they are a variable, implying probability of truth and falsity.

My previous post was a reaction to your characterization of the risk as BIG. Buying any audio component without extensive listening to it installed in your system entails risk. Regardless of wide praise for a product you can always find detractors.

Regarding your last sentence, "while opinions are a factor, they are a variable, implying probability of truth and falsity," was this meant as a tautology or a lesson in metaphysics?
my statement as to what an opinion is is a reminder to some of its stochastic nature.

i don't think a lesson in metaphysics is necessary.

a big risk for me may be a small risk for you in my opinion the absence of an audition before purchasing is like flipping a coin, regardless of the existence of positive regard for a product.

the variables of one's personal stereo system, differ from theose of other stereo systems.

perhaps the only exception is the recommendation of doctors.

for example, i would place value on a doctpor who said " i would want dr. x to perform a particular operation on me. ". yet, such a statement is no guarantee of a successful outcome, if dr x performs the operation.

however, the point is a medical opinion may have more weight on a medical decision than an audiophile's opinion upon a personal purchase decision.
Metaphysical tautologies may or may not be stochastic.

Or, as a wise man once said, eschew obfuscation.

Or something like that :-)

Best regards,
-- Al
Everyone is entitled to their opinions. However posting the same opinions in multiple threads without adding any other value is a bad forum manner, especially by digging up a really old thread to do so. XA5400ES is unambiguously warm sounding CDP, and it was a bargain at $1500. One person's opposing opinion against dozens of favorable review does not make this purchase a big risk. IMHO, YMMV.
hi jylee:

buying on the basis of any number of opinions is risky, because opinions are not facts, nor knowledge
The main problem with the Sony 5400 is that it is no longer made, and soon, repair parts such as the laser block will no longer be available. Also Sony repair service is poor (the repair people are idiots).

It is possible, but rare, to find an new 5400.

I have owned the 5400 for about a year, and IMO it can not be beat for under $6000.

Perhaps you could find a used one.
I can still buy the optical block for my Sony SCD-XA777ES (the laser assembly fits many other models) which I bought 9 years ago. There is no reason not to expect the optical block for the 5400 to have a similar lifespan.

I also have a 5400.

My XA777ES was extensively modified by Ric Schultz (EVS) and I haven't put it back in to compare since I bought the 5400.

I had been using the same source for 7 years or more, so I was pretty well acquainted with the sound of my system. I wanted to give the 5400 time to burn in and it's done that - I've had it for a year.

I feel that the 5400 is giving me more enjoyable reproduction than the modified XA777ES, but I do need to make that comparison.

Metralla - Where would you get the "optical block" for your 777? Is this the laser? I ask because mine just started acting funny - reads TOC ok, but then won't play. I can hear soemthing inside moving around, bu tno music, no time display.