February 15, 2010

TEAC PD-H600 CD Player

Well, here’s a shockeroo: 2012 will mark the 30th anniversary of the first commercially available CD player. Maybe Sony’s early hype about "perfect sound forever" really was true. Still, it didn’t take long before there appeared to be room for improvement in the original "Red Book" specification for digital music storage. Over the years, audiophiles have witnessed the introduction of various high-density data formats, such as SACD, DVD-Audio, and Blu-ray. The coexistence of these formats, and the fact that none has been able to supplant the original "Red Book" spec in market share, means that there is now a plethora of universal disc players designed to play most or all 5" discs. So what could TEAC be thinking in introducing a new, standalone, "Red Book"-only CD player?

Well, according to TEAC (and my own CD collection), CD remains the world’s most widely used digital music source. How nice, then, to know that such a major audio-electronics company has kept its faith in a technology that has yet to see the end of its popularity and technical development.


The PD-H600 CD player ($999 USD) and AG-H600NT receiver are the top components in TEAC’s extensive lineup. They complement each other visually and, as I mentioned in my review of the AG-H600NT on SoundStage! last November, sonically as well. Their build quality is exquisite, and the well-finished metal switches and resonant-free cases of anodized aluminum fairly scream high-end. Weighing almost 12 pounds and with dimensions (11.4"W x 4"H x 12.1"D) similar to those of the receiver, the PD-H600 is one chunky bit of kit.

Most of the PD-H600’s functionality is available via its remote control; the designers kept the front panel clear of clutter, leaving only a main power switch, infrared sensor, fluorescent display, five transport-control buttons, and a repeat button. The rear panel has an IEC connector for the removable power cord, a pair of line-level RCA analog output jacks, and a digital output consisting of a single RCA jack for a coaxial cable. All outputs are gold-plated. There is also a port for a system control cable (included), for interoperability with the AG-H600NT, as well as a sliding switch that turns this function on. Finally, there’s a ground-wire anchor point with thumbscrew for breaking up any ground loops. I heard no hum or other odd noises with the player in my system, so I didn’t use this.

The nicely weighted remote control was very comfortable to use. It adds to the front-panel functions Shuffle, Display (which dims or completely turns off the front-panel display), Program, and a Time button that allows you to change from elapsed to remaining disc time, as well as to display metadata such as song and album titles from MP3 and Windows Media Audio (WMA) files recorded on CD-R or CD-RW discs. The ability to turn off the fluorescent display is useful: not only does this circuit generate noise, it’s also nice for sitting in the dark with nothing but the music -- at least, it would be were it not for that blue laser shooting out of the Power indicator. It’s way too bright, although a bit of black electrical tape will take care of it. MP3 files of 44.1 or 48kHz and bit rates of up to 320kbps can be played. The PD-H600 also accepts WMA files of 44.1kHz and up to 192kbps bit rate. When the player is connected to the AG-H600NT via the system control link, the receiver’s remote control assumes all of these functions, making the CD’s remote superfluous.

The PD-H600 isn’t just a pretty face -- its technical details, too, are very respectable. The power supply is based on a good-size toroidal transformer that looks big enough for a 50W amplifier, and "carefully chosen" ELNA electrolytic capacitors and resistors are used throughout. TEAC also takes special pride in the disc transport: "The CD tray is constructed using one of the strongest synthetic materials available, contributing to the anti-vibration qualities when the disc is rapidly rotating and ensuring rigidity throughout. In addition, the CD mechanism is positioned at the precise center of the unit, thus optimizing the balance-to-weight ratio."

Whatever the advantages, the centrally placed disc drawer does make for a pleasingly symmetrical appearance. Unfortunately, my review sample at first had a problem with its tray: it opened dependably, but closed on command only about 50% of the time; otherwise, it needed a little push with a finger. The good news is that the glitch worked itself out, and the player has since worked flawlessly. I have not owned a single CD player whose transport didn’t at some point develop some sort of bugaboo. Oh well.

The PD-H600’s D/A converter is a thoroughly up-to-date Burr-Brown Delta-Sigma PCM 1796 chip that operates at 24-bit/192kHz and 8x oversampling. TEAC avoids jitter by using a "master clock generator operated with a finite low-noise current." The published audio specs are stellar, as should be expected in a modern digital player. Finally, as this is of increasing concern, TEAC has effectively addressed power consumption: The PD-H600 uses only 9W in operation, and a piddling 0.7W in Standby. In comparison, my 11-year-old Rotel transport uses 15W, and has no Standby mode at all. Go Green!


I connected the PD-H600 to my reference NAD C 325BEE integrated amplifier (50Wpc into 8 ohms), which drove Snell EII floorstanding speakers through Kimber Kable KWIK 12-gauge speaker cable. Source signals were passed through Kimber PBJ interconnects, and I compared the TEAC’s sonic performance with my reference digital rig of Rotel RDD-980 CD transport and Meridian 203 D/A converter. The digital link was a 2m length of Canare Digiflex Gold 75-ohm coax cable. Headphones were Sennheiser HD 600s. All electronics were plugged into hospital-grade receptacles on a dedicated 20A circuit. My wood-framed listening room measures 12’L x 15’W x 8’H and has two large archway openings in adjoining walls.

Use and listening

Reviewing a CD player should be easy: Patch it into a free set of line-level input jacks, and compare it to a reference rig by switching the input selector at the amplifier. What’s tough is hearing meaningful sonic differences among good digital gear -- and then, once you’ve got that figured out, whether any differences you do hear are improvements, degradations, or just . . . differences.

I had to work very hard to hear differences between my reference and the PD-H600, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Generally, while the Rotel-Meridian pairing and the TEAC were both supremely musical, there were differences that I could hear more clearly with some recordings than with others. Through my reference, "Miracle Drug," from U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (CD, Interscope B0003613-02), had stronger bass but skimped on some midrange detail that the TEAC was able to capture. While there was less of a deep, "heartbeat" pulse to this through the PD-H600, the TEAC really pulled me into the spooky electronic effects whizzing about the speakers just before Bono’s entrance. This slight favoring of the mid- and upper frequencies also presented itself in the guitars and mandolin in "Man of Constant Sorrow," from Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, and Tony Rice’s The Pizza Tapes (CD, Acoustic Disc ACD-41). Through the TEAC I heard more of the strings being struck, while my reference emphasized more of the sound emanating from the acoustic instruments’ bodies. I didn’t consistently prefer one presentation over the other -- both were tasty, depending on my mood.

Still in a Jerry Garcia mood, I continued with "Dire Wolf," from the Grateful Dead’s live acoustic album Reckoning (CD, Arista A2CD-8523). Again, it came down to a question of taste. The reference rig placed Garcia’s voice a bit forward in the mix, the TEAC back a bit. The reference made the band sound a tad thicker, while the PD-H600 put forth a lighter- and perhaps a bit faster-sounding presentation of this live album. Which was "righter" -- that is, which was closer to what the band intended? With gear of this caliber, the issue for me is no longer one of right or wrong, but rather of merlot or pinot noir, Beck’s or Heineken, Coke or Pepsi.

About the only time I consistently preferred my reference was while playing "Part 1" of Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige (CD, Columbia/Legacy CK 65566). Sam Woodyard’s tom-toms are well captured in this 20-bit remastering of the original 1958 stereo recording. Through the Rotel-Meridian combo, each drum was well rounded, with a distinct tonal signature and both horizontal and vertical spatial cues. The PD-H600 settled more on the sound of the mallet striking the skin of the drum head, and held the location of each drum in the soundstage in a much tighter space just to the left of middle, and at the same height. Still, this was a very satisfactory listening experience.

The proper reproduction of a string quartet is not easy for any stereo system. This is probably why it was only much later in life, after I’d acquired some decent electronics, that I began to appreciate the string quartet as a performance ensemble. Getting the right balance among the instruments, to say nothing of capturing the true character of a well-played violin, is all too often lost with systems that substitute stridency and steeliness for power and drama. Here the TEAC player had no difficulty. Playing the Kodály Quartet’s performance of Ravel’s String Quartet (CD, Naxos 8.550249), the PD-H600 presented a nice balance to the upper strings, with plenty of detail, while avoiding harshness even at realistic volume levels.

Finally, since it had one and I’ve got one, I couldn’t pass up the chance to use the PD-H600 as a disc transport, connecting its digital output to my Meridian D/A converter. From a purely practical standpoint, a digital output goes a long way toward future-proofing a CD player, which can in no way be a bad thing. Was the PD-H600 a great transport? Well, it was at least as good as my purpose-built Rotel -- I could hear no meaningful difference between them. I did hear differences between the players’ D/A converters, and this was quite easy to set up: I simply switched between the inputs fed by the TEAC and the Meridian’s analog outputs. Glenn Gould’s piano in his 1981 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (CD, Sony Classical/Legacy S3K 87703) had a lovely, bell-like tone through the TEAC. The Meridian, while completely up to snuff in capturing the subtlety of Gould’s masterful playing, conveyed less of this beautiful tonal quality to my listening room.


I applaud TEAC for giving a vote of confidence to the "Red Book" CD specification. Of course the format is flawed: arbitrarily chopped-off high frequencies and quantization noise are two major bugaboos of being saddled with a word length limited to 16 bits. But what of it? Whether the example is the vinyl record, the shellac record, the cassette tape, reel-to-reel tape, or whatever, history has shown that there is always great untapped potential in any transcription device. How long it takes before that potential is maximized is anyone’s guess, but if advances in CD playback are anything like what has occurred with vinyl, we ain’t nearly there yet. There’s still a lot of potential in the humble CD, and good-sounding, high-value players like the TEAC PD-H600 prove that. Recommended.

. . . Ron Doering

TEAC PD-H600 CD Player
Price: $999 USD.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.

TEAC America, Inc.
7733 Telegraph Road
Montebello, CA 90640
Phone: (323) 726-0303

E-mail: av-tsc-ip-sales@teac.com
Website: www.teac.com