by Xin Feng, Ph.D. (Updated on 07/20/05)
First, let me point this out clearly: although Sony does make many good electronics and has the best reputation in USA, you should not always try Sony first. There *are* many other good brands around, but unfortunately you never knew them before Internet age. That was why I had wasted too much money on Sony before I eventually turned my eyes on Sennheiser, Grado, Koss, etc. And that was why I posted this article and I don't want you to do the same stupid thing. Thanks to Internet, now we can find unknown brands you never found in those audio magazines. Internet gives us opportunities to share our discoveries without having to depend on these magazines. For example, have you ever read a review about the Koss KSC/35 headphone other than from Headroom? Even though it is absolutely the best headphone that everyone can afford (only $20-30) and carry with (so portable)! Believe me, once you give it a try, you'll throw all your Sony headphones out your window, no matter they cost you $3 or $300.
Love music? Everybody does. However, there are so many brands and models of CD-players and headphones on the market for you to choose. Which one to go for? You are lucky, here I have really good recommendations for you and they do not cost you a fortune. If you buy what I recommended, you'll never regret, I guarantee you.
CD player: Panasonic SL-S230 $79.
SL-S230 is the new model replaces the SL-320 and SL-340. This portable CD player gives absolutely real sound: large extent of dynamic, full range of bass and treble. All Sonys simply can not compare. Two AA Alkaline batteries last 20 hours and two rechargeable batteries can serve you a whole day. Its 10-sec anti-skip memory II makes shock almost impossible and will not reduce battery life, not at all. I do not want to mention all other great features it has, only its great sound quality makes it the best buy for all. You must throw away the headphone that comes with it though.
Headphone: Koss KSC/35 $19.
If you need both portability and sound quality, KSC/35, from Koss, is the best for you. Its sound is even better than Sony's MDR-D77, which costs $179. I am not kidding. Powerful bass, vivid treble, wide sound field, high resolution and rock impact. Its unique earclips design makes it attached to your ears both securely and comfortably. You'll probably get an impression, just like me did, that these things are not comfortable to clap on your ears. No, they are actually very, very comfortable for extended long listening, without neither the pressure of band-headphones nor the face-covering hassle of bigger headphones. They never drop or lose while jogging, skating, biking, stepping or walking. With Koss, you'll no longer need to turn on the XBS or MEGA bass again, as these light, small and comfortable headphones give incredible low ends, far beyond anything I know in the $3-$300 price range.
Now, go buy a 24 CD-wallet and carry your favorite CD collections, you have got a real hi-fi music system with you wherever.
If you want even better sound at home, go get a pair of Grado SR-60 headphone for only another $69 dollars and you've got the ticket to enter the world of audiophiles without spending thousands dollars. Believe me.
You can also buy a Panasonic SL-SX300 CD player for $20 more than the S230. Both of them use the same Panasonic ICs (MN41V4400TT-08, RS10002), that explains why both are better than Sony's Discmans. Sony's ICs are simply not as good as Panasonic's. Compared to S230, SX300 has a deeper bass, richer harmonics, higher S/N ratio (96 vs. 94 dB) and larger dynamic range. And it matches Grado 60 better than S230 does. However, the 3-mode EQ, NOR/XBS/LIVE, is useless to me and it is, I think, responsible for its fuzzier, narrower, more pushing and forwarding image. SX300 also comes with two 1000mAh rechargeable batteries, but you can not charge them while listening as you can with S230. What a pity! They never want you get all at once. I still prefer S230 to SX300. But you'd better go for SX300 if you want to use Grado 60. The following picture shows a look inside a SL-S230. Both S230 and SX300 uses two 220uF output capacitors which result in better bass with KSC/35 which has a higher impedance (60 ohms) than the Grado 60 (30 ohms). I replaced the 330 uF power filtering and two 220 uF output isolation capacitors with three 1000 uF capacitors and seems got a deeper low and cleaner high.
One more step from SL-SX300 up is the top SL-SX500. SX500 seems very close to SX300, in and out. These two boys are obviously based on the same design and SX500 just enabled some features disabled in SX300. So their sound quality could be exactly the same. You can see, for example, the battery meter is already on SX300's screen, but only SX500 has lit it on. I personally do not need any those features added on SX500, such as the battery meter, 40 seconds ESP, remote control, aluminum top cover and free car kits. If it were not so more expansive than SX300, $149 vs. $99, I would have bought one and had a look inside it to see if it uses better capacitors. I really wish they have, for the extra $50, put larger audiophile capacitors or a FM/AM tuner in the SX500, instead of the useless, expensive and marketing-purposed 40-sec memory. Unfortunately, most people are attracted by hyper specs and features other than sound quality, because all CD players sound exactly the same bad on their own headphones. All of them, including Panasonics, come with garbage headphones. I hope this article could help you to get the real sound which is the #1 reason for you to buy a CD player. Fortunately, Panasonics have both the sound and features, except a built-in FM/AM tuner. Sony D-T401 ($150) has FM/AM, but unfortunately its sound sucks and it even can not track some of my CD collections. Even worse, D-T401's FM receiver seems never be sensitive enough to give you clear reception. One main reason for Sony's deterioration is that most of them now are made in China.
Here are some online shops that selling Panasonic CD players:
Here is Koss's homepage:
Here is my favorite link for portable audio: http://headroom.headphone.com
Updated: I bought two KSC/35 from Wherehouse (a Video rental like BlockBuster) for $19 each on a sale. Fry's currently carry it for $29. Here is another resource I received from Robert:
I found a source for $24.68 ... Media Management (414) 251-5511 they are a wholesaler and don't like to sell just one... but will sell several at that price. I ordered six pairs (good christmas gifts) they also carry the other Koss headphones with that driver at very good prices. You can get the Porta Pro Junior from them for $28.19 or for $30.00 from J&R Music World 1-800-221-8180 . J&R doesn't carry the full line though...just the PPJnr model.
Many thanks, Robert. Let us work together to make this site better and better!
(12/12/98) Many people asked me for recommendation on PC speakers. The answer is quite clear: PCWorks ($69) or SoundWorks ($99). Both of them are from Cambridge SoundWorks. Both sounds the best than any speakers under $500 I have heard. SoundWorks has a tighter bass than the OCWorks.
From Alvin Wu:
I just wanted to drop a line and suggest to you one more
(01/09/99) Both Sony and Panasonic claim that you have to use their proprietary rechargeable batteries in their personal CD players. You actually can use any normal rechargeable batteries without any problem. Here is the secret:
For Panasoics, cut off the plastic envelop for about 3-4mm height from the bottoms of the batteries. So the open metal will touch a little metal in the battery chamber of the player and the battery will then be able to be charged. It is a good idea not to use this modified batteries for other devices.
For Sonys, there is a little plastic switch in the battery chamber. Push it down with whatever that does it. Then, any battery will be charged with no modification to the battery, including non-chargeable ones. So be very careful with non-chargeable batteries after push down the switch, as charging non-chargeable batteries could cause explosion! This is another instance that Sony does not always give a good design. You should think twice before buying Sony as you do with any other brands.
[02/10/02] Among all the headphones I have, MX-500, SR-60, ER4S, etc., Koss KSC/35 is still my favorite for its rich sound and easy of wearing. However, KSC/35 is somewhat too bassy. I did too things to improve it.
1) Remove the foam pads. This reduces bass and increases treble significantly. The bass is still not well controlled though.
2) Add two 75 ohm resistors to each channel. Now the bass is tight and well defined. If you don't want to do the soldering, you can simply buy one of these adapters.
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