Simple enthusiasts view
After many early years of collecting vinyl and outdated equipment I decided to purchase a dedicated CD player as I also have quite a large collection of CDs all of which (bar a few) I did not rate next to the vinyl. I thought wrongly as it turns out that as long as you had a CD player that any reasonable amp and speakers would do the rest to produce a good sound.
Well after trawling through the online auction sites and referring back to various review sites I came across this site, liked the reviews, found the player for sale and bought it on the strength of the above.
I have to ask myself where have I been during all of this development and why have I sold my ears short for more years than I care to remember
I do realise that this Sony player is a little "old hat" by todays standards but what a superb piece of equipment. I can hear with great clarity individual instruments none of which overpowers the one sitting next to it, the filters adjust what you choose to bring forward little by little and with a final tweak with your amp settings you can simply dial it right in.
In conclusion this or any other "higher end" player might be a revelation to me at this moment in time as well as the improved quality of CD production/recording that I am now blatantly aware of, but I as an enthusiast rather than a high end audiophile I really cannot see any point in me looking for any other player as a second hand purchase.
I would totally agree with all the reviews that have gone on before me, all far more eloquently expressed, I bought mine for £102.00 and would have paid much much more if I had first heard it perform.
I'm using SONY CD Players for about two years now. My first SONY Player was the SCD XB940 QS. This player was sounding good but it has the disadvantage not to play CD-R's. At the beginning of the years 2003 I bougt the SONY CDP XA 20 ES, This player impressed me very well. At first because of its built quality. Further to mention here is the bright soundstage and the smooth sound. Many people here write about the SCS XB940 that there is not a player under $ 1000,00 which sounds better. Maybe with SACD but not with CD. The XA 20 is better and the CDP XA 30 is much better. The difference in sound quality between XA20 ansd XA 30 is small but you can hear it. The highs are better. The highs of the Xa 20 seems sometimes a little bit thin. The XA 30 sounds more quiet not so nervous. The most interesting thing of the XA 30 are the variable digital filter.
The CD player looks exactly like the XA20ES cd player also made by Sony. The difference in price is 150 pounds though, and this extra money gives you: A better power supply. A Brass stabiliser. Both types of digital out, and a variable out. BSL motor. Variable coefficient digital filters.
This extra equipment means that the player weighs an extra 2 kilograms than the XA20ES.
The sound quality from this cd player is very good. I've compared it at length to a Denon DCD1015. The 1015 definately reveals more detail than this Sony product, due to its Alpha processing. But the way the sound comes to life on the Sony is unbelievable. Complex music is rendered compellingly and accurately and the life is not drained from the music. The Denon had a nasty side effect of its accuracy which was to produce a clinical sound.
The XA30ES has every conceivable feature, is built well, and sounds fantastic on all music. Its music is so good that I often yearn to hear songs through it during the day simply for the life that it gave to the music. The sound is just so smooth and full of soul.
THE STORY: A couple of weeks ago I took a day trip to a huge hi fi shop in a neighbouring city in search of a compact disc player. I'd heard good things about the Sony XA-20ES, but being a student with only a part time job, I didn't think I'd be able to afford one. One thing I was sure of though was that I needed a new cd player, and fast! Playing your music through a computer with a cheap sound card and CDROM drive can be a horrifying experience, and I'd grown terribly sick of hearing hiss and poor dynamics.
As I strolled into the shop and asked the sales assistant about some good CD players, he showed me some Marantz 67 series, and Denon 435, 635 etc. They looked good, but I had to be careful to buy one which I knew about because, you see, this place was a whole hour drive away from my home city. I didn't really want to come back and return the player unless it was imperative.
I was walking around the shop when I saw a Sony XA20ES and XA30ES sitting next to each other, and bearing a discount sticker! How convenient, I thought, and it was at that moment that I knew I was going to purchase one of these babies. Which one though? I asked the sales assistant, and he was hard pressed to spot a difference between these two models. They looked pretty much identical. I managed to discover that the 30 had Variable Coefficent filters and some extra stabilising gear, as well as being a newer model. It also has both kinds of digital out connections. So yes, the XA30ES is a newer model and does have more features than the similar XA20ES.
I bought the XA30ES and took it home where it is hooked up with expensive monster cable interconnect to an old JVC receiver and old Wharfedale Glendale speakers. This is not a crap setup though; the speakers are something amazing and the receiver sounds great too.
This CD player's build quality is simply superb, and as soon as I picked it up, I knew it was not going to ever fall apart. The thing weighs 9.2kgs. The aluminium case is a clear indicator of the level of sophistication of this player, especially compared to its rivals. Gold plated terminals provide the audio output, and the coaxial digital output and headphone jacks are also gold plated.
Sony employed a fixed pickup mechanism in this model, as they also did in the more expensive XA50ES, and the previous XA20ES. This means that the whole disc reading mechanism comes out when one presses the eject button. Because of this, the disc tray resembles a cassette drawer in its dimensions - it certainly looks impressive. When my friends popped over spy this new member of my audio gear they were certainly interested in the loading mechanism; a little 'stabiliser' has to be placed on top of the compact disc every time you load it in to the single disc tray. This prevents vibrations from having an effect on the reading mechanism.
Sony really has really build a rock solid player here and one which incorporates many heavy components resulting in a very stable digital readout.
This CD player has more features than I would ever have expected. There are all the standard ones, like random, program etc, and also custom file which allows songs to be indexed in groups. Peak search, volume control on the remote, analogue fader are present in the feature list too.
The remote is a bit boring looking, but is very intuitive and usable in the dark for the most part. It does a very good job.
One important feature of this CD player is the digital filters, which weren't previously included on the XA20ES. These filters allow the user to choose their preffered method of frequency rolloff, which has a subtle but important effect on the sound. All CD players come with a filter, but the Sony allows you to choose from multiple ones. There are nine filters in total, including an analogue style one. If you don't like the sound of a filter, then you can change it; you're not stuck with a bad sounding player in other words.
Not that the XA30ES is bad sounding. It is in fact a very fine sounding player. With my Wharfedale speakers, the sound is a bit bright, surely a fault of the speakers replacement tweeters, but the increase in sound quality from before is something phenomenal.
When I was testing the quality out properly, I brought the B&W P4 speakers up from downstairs, and hooked them up. When downstairs, they were connected to a Denon DCD 1015g player and Denon amplifier. Connected to my system, the sound was out of this world. The quality of the CD player really showed through, and I believe was a great match for these speakers. The speakers, you see, are warm sounding. The XA30ES is biassed toward the warm sounding side too. Together the sound was like sitting in front of a wood fire on a cold winter's day, with some fine wine.
Don't think that because the sound was warm, the treble doesn't match the bass. The treble and bass are very well defined on this player, but never overly dominating. I don't think this cd player extends its vivid definition into the very high ranges of treble, but that's not a problem. A more expensive unit would certainly provide extra accuracy in the very top end, but the beauty of the Sony is that it doesn't pretend it can. It doesn't try and do everything perfectly, which it can't possibly do for the price, and therefore what it does, it does excellently.
The bass definition is new to me because previously I had none at all; it was just 'bass'. Now it's actually instruments or techno pulses. It has character and form and great presence.
The midrange instruments and voices are to die for. Effortless smoothness, and composed female vocals are something I really love to listen to, but I've found them hard to achieve. This unit does a really good job. The midrange composure and smoothness is overall so well intergrated that it's surprising.
I'm not trying, of course, to say that this unit is the best CD player or anything like that. It's not. For it's price it is an amazing amazing purchase though and has everything I could possibly want except possibly HDCD decoding. What makes this player so good is its balance. It doesn't provide the extremes in quality or the revealing accuracy of the very expensive players, but it is just so brilliantly balanced on all types of music. It sounds competent and sure footed, much more so than I'd ever expect in a cd player of its price. I reckon it would fit right in with some expensive gear worth a lot more than itself. More important is that it sounds nice to listen to. It does that very well, and listener fatigue is not present with the setup that I've been listening to.
Brilliantly built, full of features, and balance that's something supernatural, this player certainly justifies its price tag easily. Sony's monumental size and R&D has obviously gone into this player's design and it has something that other players don't. Build quality, features, and extraordinary sound at a good price, as well as a good looking exterior. When was the last time you found that?
I highly recommend you listen to this cd player.
PS: I wanted to provide a proper review, which is why I've written so much. So many people write "great cd player...". But why is it great? I hope this review provides the answer to that question.