Shanling, a Chinese company, is a new player in the western hi-fi world. The company's $2000 CD-T100, which is an extremely gorgeous looking hybrid tube/solid-state CD player, has created quite a buzz over the internet and has received many rave reviews. It was from this buzz that I got to know the Shanling name.
player reviewed here, the Shanling CD-S100, is the little brother of the
CD-T100 mentioned above. It is a solid state single CD player with HDCD-decoding
capability. In the USA, Music Hall is the importer of Shanling products, and
they market this particular model under the Music Hall brand name (called
CD-25). I couldn't confirm, however, whether Music Hall does some
modification to the guts of the player or just rebadges it. I only know that
the remote controls that come with the players under the Shanling and Music
Hall brands are not the same.
The CD-S100 reviewed here has a silver faceplate. In my opinion, the player is beautiful to look at and it is one of those products where its look alone would make you a proud owner. The overall built quality of the player is excellent and it seems to be very solid. It is quite heavy too for a CD player (about 13 lbs).
The CD- S100 has an elegant simplistic front panel appearance. Besides the round power button on the left, there are five slightly smaller round buttons to the right which control the operation of the player (open/close tray, play, stop, skip forward, skip backward). The green LED display of the player is located in the round-shaped window towards the middle of the front panel. It can be dimmed in two levels (medium or minimum brightness), but it doesn't remember the latest brightness level. So, whenever the player is switched on, it always starts with the brightest level. If you like the brightest level on the display, this is no big deal, but because I like it dimmed, I found this somewhat annoying. Curiously, the manual says that turning the display down would improve the sound. However, I did not notice any performance changes due to dimming the display during my evaluation. Perhaps they are referring to some sort of electrical noise that may be generated by bright LEDs.
There is a
small blue LED in the round display window that is lit when the player
detects a disc with HDCD encoding. The readability of the display is good,
however, the information displayed is rather limited, much less than the
information you would find in most mass market CD players. For example, it
displays the time elapsed of a track, but it doesn't have the option to
display the remaining time of the track, a feature which I sometimes find
useful. Also, when the player is put in random mode, it only displays the
number of the first track played. The display will show RAM :xx', where
xx' is the first track number played in the random mode, and stays that way
during the mode. So, unless you memorize the CD tracks, you won't know which
track being played after the first one.
The manual that comes with the CD player is not extensive. Although it is adequate for explaining the operation of the player, I personally would prefer to see more detailed specifications be put in there. For example, only the type of digital to analog conversion is mentioned, no more no less. So I had to go to other sources to find some information about the guts of the player.
The list of components used in the CD-S100 is impressive for a player at this price. The CD transport mechanism is the famous Philips CDM12.10, controlled by CD-7 servo system. This transport is usually found in CD players costing much more than the CD-S100. The digital to analog conversion, as well as the HDCD decoding is performed by the upsampling 24 bit, 96 kHz Burr-Brown 1732 chip. Also, the CD-S100 uses the high quality OPA 2134 op amp.
The remote control that comes with the CD-S100 matches the player, with silver metal face and gold/silver color buttons. But that's about the only thing good about it. The buttons are too small, especially the number buttons, and not convenient to use. Luckily, I have a Marantz learning remote (Marantz RC-2000 mk II), and so I programmed all the buttons in the Shanling remote to my Marantz remote, and just used the Marantz afterwards.
mechanism of the CD-S100 is quick, very smooth, and quiet. It makes my
Yamaha CDC-755 CD changer, which I've owned for many years, look very slow
and noisy by comparison.
For this review, I evaluated the Shanling CD-S100 as a stand-alone CD player and also as a transport with an MSB Link DAC II. I also have a Yamaha CDC-755 changer for comparison. Of course, comparing the CD-S100 with the Yamaha CDC-755 as a player is not entirely fair. The Yamaha was a $400 changer when it was new, but it was a few generations before Yamaha's current player in the same class. In any case, as a stand-alone player, the CD-S100 beat the CDC-755 in all aspects of performance.
The CD-S100 offers detailed and natural sound that is rich in texture, faring quite well compared to much more expensive CD players. With the CD-S100 in my system, music never sounded flat, but rather, the musical presentation through the CD-S100 was always very enjoyable and lively.
The performance of the Shanling CD-S100 was very solid across the whole audible frequency range. The midrange was smooth, the treble was airy, and the bass was controlled and extended.
In going from the combo of Yamaha CDC-755 with the MSB Link II DAC to the CD-S100, the bass output was the first noticeable difference. The CD-S100 produced more bass with better controlled than the Yamaha/Link II combo. Also, the image produced by the CD-S100 was focused and pinpoint, making the image from the Yamaha/Link II combo rather blurred by comparison. The soundstage presentation of the Shanling CD-S100 was deep and wide, and with good recordings, the player was capable of creating a 3D image.
A sense of atmosphere was also created with nice realism. Through the CD-S100, musical instruments were presented with excellent details and nice attacks. Human vocals were reproduced quite naturally, although they lacked a little bit of lushness compared to the better players out there. This slight lack of lushness is not very obvious and should not be a concern to most potential buyers. My experience tells me that such lack of lushness is actually quite common in < $1,000 solid-state CD players.
The HDCD playback in the CD-S100 was excellent, and I didn't experience any glitch in HDCD detection. HDCD playback offered smoother and slightly better resolution compared to the same CD in non-HDCD playback.
Because the CD-S100 provides digital outputs, I tried it also as a transport. Unfortunately for this review, I only had the MSB Link DAC II to try. Nevertheless, I hope that this limited information would be useful for the readers in trying to get a feel on the quality of the CD-S100 as a transport and its internal digital/analog conversion.
There is a school of thought out there saying that the transport does not affect the sound, and only the digital/analog converter (DAC) does, because the digital signal is just 1s and 0s. The other school says that a poor transport can deliver a jittered signal. What I found was that the Shanling used as a transport with the MSB DAC sounded better than the Yamaha used as a transport with this same MSB DAC. The Yamaha changer used as a transport with the Link offered respectable sound. When I changed the transport to the Shanling with everything else down the stream kept the same, I got more controlled bass, more focused image, slightly better resolution, and a deeper soundstage. Clearly, the CD-S100 is superior as a transport in this case, and fits with the second school, namely that all transports are not the same.
As expected, the resulting sonic character between the CD-S100 as a player and as a transport with the Link DAC II was different. Combined with the Link DAC II, I got more bass, but not as punchy as with the stand-alone CD-S100. The soundstage was slightly wider with the Link II, but it was not as deep. I would say, that used as a transport with the Link, the sound was neither better nor worse, but it was just a horizontal change, and certainly, in such situations, preferences come into play. Personally, I preferred the sound of the standalone CD-S100 to the CD-S100/Link II combination. It just fits my taste better. This small test actually indicates that the DAC quality inside the CD-S100 is quite respectable.
The Shanling CD-S100 is a handsome CD player with solid all-around performance. I do have some minor quibbles about the supplied remote control and some of the operational features of the player, but I was quite happy with the sound. It definitely represents an excellent value product.
- Yongki Go -
CD playback: Yamaha CDC-755, MSB Link DAC II