What an amazing-looking piece of kit. That was my initial reaction to Shanling’s CD-T1500 CD player. It’s rare to find equipment as well-made as this. The top and bottom plates are made from solid alloy some 2.5cm thick, creating a structure that looks like it could stand being run over by the proverbial Tank.
As you can see, it’s a top-loading player, the disc clamp system being raised or lowered by hand. The CD itself is visible while playing, but it’s protected by a clear acrylic cover. The transport section and feet have clear acrylic mouldings that light up blue when the player is turned on, creating a striking high-tech appearance. Essentially though, the CD-T1500 is a very simple machine. It has a minimal number of controls, with most functions being accessed from the remove handset. The player is built around a high-quality Philips CDM-12 Pro 2 transport and employs Burr-Brown SRC4193 44.1kHz/192kHz up-sampling chips.
Two PCM1794K chips are used for D/A conversion, one for each channel. Four 6922 tubes are employed for the analogue output stage, giving balanced and unbalanced audio outputs – the former via XLR sockets. Three separate power transformers are used for the digital, analogue, and tube sections. The sturdy build quality of the CD-T1500 results in a player weighing about 10kg. Finish is excellent, and the player immediately inspires confidence. It looks and feels like a quality item, and I was intrigued to see if its sound matched its superb appearance. I began by using the player via its unbalanced outputs. Early impressions were of a sharp clear sound that had good detail and definition. Clarity was excellent, and the sound seemed smooth, and well-balanced, yet immediate and focused. It wasn’t especially rich or ‘tube’ like, though the top end was certainly clean. The CD-T1500 offers listeners a choice of sampling rates - standard 44.1kHz or up-sampled to 192kHz. The ASTINtrew At-3500 CD player I used until recently offered something similar, and (once again) I found it far from easy to decide which of the two options sounded best. The up-sampled output definitely gives more detail, creating a sharper more immediate presentation, with slightly greater dynamics and separation. The bass seems a shade leaner and less voluminous too. On immediate switch-over, the response is one of ‘that’s better’. But, after a while, doubts start to surface. When you switch back to 44.1kHz, the reaction is often one of relief – the music sounds smoother, and more evenly-balanced, with better integration. It’s maybe not quite as brilliant and sharp, but it seems more together and nicer to listen to. The bass is fuller and more ‘woody’ sounding – less dry and electronic. It’s easy to get carried away here. If you’re not careful, you can end up switching between the two options all night – each time (seemingly) getting a big improvement… Generally, I preferred to stick with 44.1kHz – though, for some recordings, the 192kHz up-sampling option definitely improved things.
Although Shanling make strong claims regarding the quality of the Philips CD transport used, it has a couple of drawbacks. The first is agonisingly slow ‘fast’ search. It seems to search in four or five second jumps, and if the point you want to reach is several minutes into a track, it takes a fair while to get there. Indeed, it’s so slow, it reminds me of the very first Philips CD players from 1983 – yes, that bad. The second concern is tracking. Playing a Chinese Pirate CD (James Blunt’s Back to Bedlam) which has a nasty radial scratch, the CD-T1500 jumped quite severely, and lost a couple of minutes’ music. To keep things in perspective, the CD-T1500 did not jump or misbehave with any other discs.
Unfortunately, not long before the CD-T1500 arrived, the ASTINtrew At-3500 CD player I’d been using was recalled. It would’ve been nice to compare the two, but it wasn’t possible. Nonetheless, the Shanling made a good first impression, and I lived with it for a couple of weeks before making any serious comparisons. Eventually, I tried it against the UK-made Arcam’s DV-135 DVD/CD/SACD player. This costs less than the Shanling, and (rather obviously) lacks its lavish build quality. But it is a much more versatile machine, playing CDs and SACDs, as well as DVD Movies, yet with CD source material, the Arcam and Shanling sounded surprisingly close. The Shanling was sharper and perhaps a shade more focused and immediate. The Arcam sounded fuller, with a deeper weightier bottom-end and sweeter more airy treble. The Arcam seemed to image better, producing a greater sense of ‘height’ and depth. To be honest, at this point in the listening if forced to choose I slightly preferred it over the Shanling.