Quality is as Quality does

how to get the better of "bottomline people"…

Quality is as quality does…


I’m having great fun modifying my Marantz CD63SE
CD player. Many folks have great write-ups on how to upgrade this player, with
minimum outlay of $$. Do a Google on "CD63" and it’ll lead you there.
No point for me to repeat the above.

Many of the mods are really simple, consisting of
replacing inferior parts with higher quality parts etc. The mods are basically:

  • replacing electrolytic capacitors with better
    ESR versions, like Elna Cerafine, Sanyo Oscon,
    Black Gates etc. Also, bypassing all electrolytics with small
    plastic/ceramic caps.
  • beefing up the power supply before and after
    the regulators. 
  • improve the decoupling of the power supply by
    replacing resistors with inductors. This reduces/suppresses
    digital/switching noise from coupling via the power supply.
  • improving tolerance of sensitive circuits, like
    those in the I/V conversion circuit, op amp circuits to 1% tolerance (or
  • re-layout sensitive circuitry, like the clock circuitry. (when I showed the PCB layout of the clock circuitry to a knowledgeable friend here, he immediately went "this layout is most probably done by some STOOPID engineer!")

All very simple mods. Definitely recommended as it
transforms a good sounding player to a great player! The gain in sonics is
simply amazing! The modified player should cost couple times more, just by virtue of
parts that don’t cost more than RM100.

What? RM100? And you get a player that could rival
players costing couple times more?

I’m afraid so. 

I don’t know what happened in Marantz as they
designed/built this player. Were they aiming for the budget market? Or is it Ken
Ishiwata’s team designed a very good player but then had to "lower down the
performance" as instructed by the marketing department? I don’t know about
you but I worked in an R&D environment before and one of my pet peeve is
hearing the marketing folks go… "we need to cost down this product".
I’m wondering this as not only the CD63 has inferior parts here and there, not to mention terrible PCB layout, but there’s even an unused slot for a common mode choke! Yes! This part has been
jumpered off and the first common mode choke I found sits in perfectly! Could it
be that this part was taken off just before production in the name of
cost-savings OR Marantz just felt that it doesn’t matter to the sound? (actually there are empty PCB slots EVERYWHERE, all nicely jumpered off. most probably a full-blown PCB was designed, then all the cost-cutting measures came in…)

Okay, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. I mean,
I should be rejoicing that folks around the world don’t need to pay big bucks
for the CD63. Just spend a twiddly amount and you could upgrade it to a great
sounding player. I should be appreciating the genius of these designers who make
great sound with minimal cost. But this is not my point. My point is about
the quality of their work, and its effects on YOUR sonic chain, not
some manufacturers’ bottom line.
Yeah, it looks good on their balance sheet
but it doesn’t do good to YOU.

It’s almost a general rule that every $1 rise in
parts cost will cost a proportionate $4 rise in selling price. (it’s not scary
if your CDP cost RM1000, but it’s REALLY scary if your CDP cost RM20k.) Thus
budget equipment definitely appreciate better quality parts. 

Open up your speakers and inspect your crossover.
See any electrolytics there? Mine has one and I replaced this cap with some GE
metallized polypropylene. (I don’t think it matters whether this cap is GE or
Solen) Guess what? The sonic character is still there but the tonal balance
changed for the better! Before this, the midrange is more emphasized than the
rest of the spectrum but now it’s more even. Better still, I hear more bass now.
Better defined as well! Dang! Just a RM20 cap!

See what I mean? Now take a look at the insides of
your CD player, amp, speakers. See any corner cutting? Better still, want to try
put in some better quality parts?

Ellis Audio has this to say about speaker crossover components in general. Cheap speakers (below USD600) use non-polarized electrolytics or mylars inside. Next up like "B&W Nautilus $2k-$8k" uses made-in-Taiwan Bennic polypropylene. Metallized polypropylene like Solen etc is found in "Tannoy Churchill $14k". More expensive makes will go for oil or even better quality (and expensive) polypropylene. Care to give your speaker the
high end treatment with better parts? Then tell me how it sounds!

Open up your tube amp and see what are the
coupling capacitors inside. Do you see audiophile-approved boutique parts? Names
like Jensen, Auricap, Hovland, MIT… Or do you see some non-recognizable make
that the manufacturer claims to be "specially selected after careful
audition"? You can easily test their claims by substituting the said
component with better ones. Then let me know! 

The point is, there’s definitely room for improvement inside your CDP/amp/speaker. All it takes is a willingness to void warranties and itchy hands. It doesn’t matter whether you bought budget or damn-bloody-expensive equipment as manufacturers still need to reap big profits off you to stuff their coffers. You CAN get the better of them.  

If you want to be El Cheapo like me, buy used equipment and go hacking! I bought a used problematic CD63 and has never looked back! 


*However, at the end of the day, I don’t
recommend going overboard. If you have a RM1500 CD player, and you intend to
splurge RM1000 on upgrading it, I would suggest you forget it. As much impact as
parts have on sonics, circuitry plays a more important role. A good circuit with
cheap parts will sound better than a bad circuit with expensive parts. Be

On the other hand, I don’t understand why folks
complain about high-priced boutique parts. They don’t mind paying RM1000 for
some interconnects that has LESS impact on your sonics than some RM50 cap. Go figure…


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