What am I missing using a 20 year old CD player??

I have the Sonographe SD-1 CD player which I purchased in 1988. Sonographe was a subsidiary company of Conrad Johnson. They modified a Magnavox 2610 CD player to produce the Sonographe SD-1. The unit has operated flawlessly for 20 years. Overall, its sound is clean textured and dynamic, but also can sound hard and somewhat sterile or digital. This "characteristic" has been consistent through several speaker systems I have owned over 20 years. It was formerly mated to Aragon and CJ electronics until recently. My current system is a Creek Classic SE5350 integrated amp; a pair of new(recent) Silverline Preludes and Analysis Plus Oval 12 speaker cable, and a Audio Magic Spellcaster II interconnect. Therefore, I am curious how much better have CD players gotten in the last 20 years. What might I be missing sound-wise that would offer noticeable improvement??? I ask because I am considering the Rega Apollo player. Finally, I was told by a high end audio specialist that I might need to spend to $1500-2000 to better the Sonographe. I question that because it only received above average reviews. I think, though not sure, Stereophile put it in their "C" equipment category..... Any and all advice welcomed. Thanks, Jimbo
I would take your old CD player into a (several) store(s) and AB it with newer models, or if possible, ask to demo new models in your home with your own system. There have been a lot of improvements in DAC and filtering technology over the last twenty years directed at getting rid of the "digital" sound signature. I would pay special attention to comparing how well bass notes are reproduced, overall tonal qualities, and what I would call "granularity" or lack of it in the presentation. If the newer models you can afford don't sound more like music to you than your Sonographe, then you are missing nothing.
It's a great question. There are many here more qualified than I because they have owned many different units. In short, lots has changed, especially with the D/A converters. You won't know which unit bests yours until you compare them side to side. Either take your unit into a dealer and A/B compare them, or better yet bring one home and A/B them in your room. You could consider just getting a DAC, but if the mechanism of your fails, you might not be able to get it repaired. Good luck.
20 years is an eternity in the realm of digital. Do your self a favor and get out of the house and audition some players that may critique your intrest, I think you will be amazed... 8^)
the sound you have described could have been a description of a brand new ten thousand dollar player......yes there are better players than there were at the beginning, but the true leaps have been in the mastering of the software.......sonographe/motif and synthesis gear by cj is very collectable, even that ancient cd player.
An awful lot. As good as my JVC 1010 was for many years, I couldn't believe the improvement when I got an Arcam CD 23. I then went to a Sony SACD XA 9000 ES player and there was a small but not insignificant improvement on CD there also.
Your great experience with Conrad Johnson gear echoed mine. I enjoyed the troublefree 'dual mono' Motif MC7 preamp and eventually had it upgaded by "Bill Thalmann" of MUSIC TECHNOLOGY.COM. Wow! He brought it to another level of musical enjoyment(cleaner more dynamic,etc) very reasonably. I'd suggest a quick call to him about your machine whether to upgrade or sell. I doubt you can upgrade the power cord(ie detachable) without a mod-and I'm not sure it's worth doing; However you haven't mentioned any power isolation or conditioning. You will be pleasantly surprised at the "new" sound after simply adding isolation. Probably "most" of the digital sound you're complaining of comes from noise contamination between digital & analog. Before doing anything else you should audition a few power conditioners, "at least" to isolate the digital, but try it different ways in your system. You could find you're still happy with the Sonographe and if not you'veat least experienced what conditioning & isolation does for your system. If you want a change I believe you'll find a used Denon 3910 a very exciting machine that could be resold w/o loss if desired. It will also allow you to try some power cords-I'd suggest a basic MIT Shotgun AC1 or preferably AC2.
Their cords enhanced my listening all round. If you contact BILL THALMANN say hi from Pete who had him do the MC7. He'll likely remember, and he's a great guy to know in this business. Happy listening.
you might be very suprised when you hear very little diffence compared to your Sonographe SD-1. Many of the older players were very well built compared to many modern gear. Case in point I still have an older player the JVC 1050tn player and it still sounds great.
Just want to throw this out there to everyone:
How about skipping issues??
I have an older CD player too..a predecesor to the SONY ES line before they had ES, and what I love about it, and the reason I still use it, is that it does not skip AT ALL !!
It will still play virtually any disc no matter how scratched or in bad shape the disc is. In the 12 years I have had this player, I have heard it skip maybe three times! AMAZING...what frustrates me now is how new equipment..more expensive gear, skips a lot more often.

I have no idea why this is, I am not an engineer, but I still use my old CD players just for this reason!
CD players improved up to the mid 90's but D/A improvements started to hit diminishing returns after this as they were so good, IMHO. The failure of SACD shows that the ordinary CD player is darn good - so much so that most consumers see absolutely no need for an improvement from something such as SACD.
CD digital technology has come a long way in 20 years. It was pretty new back then. Digital sources are one type of audio component where I shy away from older used or vintage pieces because most new technolgy tends to improve significantly over a period of at least 10-12 years.

I'm on my 4th new CD player now since ~ 1986. Like most new technology, I've found each time it gets better without having to spend too much more each time.

I currently use a $599 Denon player/recorder. I might do better I suppose but really have no qualms with it soundwise even in comparison to good quality vinyl. Plus it makes near perfect digital recordings.

It replaced an $800 California Audio Labs Icon player which replaced a $400 Sony which replaced a $350 Magnavox.

I've considered replacing it with something like maybe a mid-range Arcam player, which I've heard good things about, but have yet to pull the trigger.
I think the biggest difference is in the recording technology.Being a die hard analog guy,the thing I have noticed is how much better the recordings sound compared to those harsh and strident cds and lps from the late 80s.Just listen to some of those fatiguing if not overwhelming early Telarc digitals! Many of todays studios are going back to more analog in their processing.I recently picked up an old PS Audio Superlink Dac that was not even considered superior back when it was new and hooked it up to my laserdisc as a transport and feel it sounds respectable.Old technology with players could sound harsh or respectable as can the newer technology.It is/was all in who designed the product and their interpretation of how it should sound.Japanese typically prefered a brighter sound as evidenced by the speakers they made back then.American designs like your Sonographe appeal more to american tastes.As suggested by the other members home audition is a must! Your "step up" might not actually sound like one.

I agree. Analog was very forgiving. Digital is brutal. A mistake in the recording studio is not forgiven in digital. Digital sounds terrible when it clips or distorts...analog tape machines have a huge advantage over digital when over driven, as it distorts in a much less brutal manner.
I would agree that overall CD recordings have improved greatly as a whole.

Still there were still some good recordings back in the 80's, weren't there? For example, I've heard some good Denon and GRP recordings from that era recently that sound pretty good.

I still suspect that both both recording technology and techniques and CD playback technologies have both improved significantly. The best results as a whole will come as a result of addressing both as needed.

Sunnyjim, I am not familiar with the Sonographe unit you have, but it sounds like it must match your system well if you've stuck with it for so long, which is very important, and was very good for its era. Maybe it really can compete with some of the latest, if not the greatest players? The only way to know for sure, as is always the case when considering alternate options in a hi fi system, is to try something that appears to be a step up, a/b compare with a sample of recordings that represent the best/worst of the old/new, and go from there.

Your question was have CD players gotten. The answer surely has to be "yes". But if you are happy with what you have even after you experience some options, why change?

When I look at new equipment, I often go to various shops and listen to the best they have to offer. This gives me a baseline reference for what is possible. THen a consider what I have currently. If the best is out of my price range, then I search for something I can afford that approaches what I consider to be the best if money were no object. I ususally end up with a good step forward without spending too much in all cases with this approach.

Good luck. Please keep us posted on your findings!


Here's my point. I have no idea how good the Sonographe player is in question, or after 19 years if it is still operating up to spec. I do know that there have been clear improvements in clocks, filters and DACs used in CDPs since 1988 that all have the potential to improve sound quality, and that these developments have trickled down to less than state of the art machines. There are also corners cut in terms of other components inside electronics equipment that tend to offset the improvements in digital components of lower end machines compared with 20 years ago.

So, now we have machines available in and around $1000 with modern DACs, low jitter, and either upsampling (Cambridge 840C) or use other tricks (Rega Apollo) to get the most out of digitally recorded material. Worth a try to see if you can do better than what you currently have within your budget. If not, then be satisfied in the knowledge that what you have is still pretty darn good.
Jimbo, do you think you'll try some power conditioners before changing anything else?
a better question might be:

"what am i missing using a current cd player" ?

both questions are rather ambiguous, or at best could be answered positively or negatively.

the idea is to audition cd players, comparing them to the sonographe. if a player is preferred over the sonographe and is deemed a good value, it would make sense to replace the sonographe.
Good point psacanli.

No point in investing in really good equipment without first assuring good power conditioning!
I have many old cdp's, including the Sonographe SD-1 Beta. I opened it and found it totally similar to my Philips CD-350. It runs on CDM-2 pickup, and two TDA1540P DAC chips.

The similarity ends there, from which point onwards the SD-1 has a revamped output section that uses transistors, no operational amps (opamps) at all.

The output section can be upgraded with better output caps than the two huge German Era MKP 0.1 MFD/600V non-polar cap. I used a pair of T&T 10MFD/1000V, and, another time, I used two British TCC metal cans at 4 MFD/600V. Quite a big change, as the soundstage unfolds with more "presence" (read: higher end spectrum in 12K Hz upwards).

Better still, trash the output board, add a second transformer and install a pair of 12AU7 or 6CG7, or 6SN7 (12SN7 in SRPP typology.

This old CJ CDP can put up a good fight against newer CDP, such as the Marantz CD-94 Mk I. The CJ SD-1 always sounds musical, except when it plays the loudest Telarc CD's. There, it will start to "shout" at the listener. But with an SRPP tube configuration replacing the custom CJ transistor output board, you can definitely take a Cambridge 840C with WM DAC, and hear wonders from a tubed SD-1 during any musical passages.

So I am saying, doing it reversibly, one will find the SD-1 more fun. Still, wait until you do blind A-B-C tests ......!